For many women, the new year means one thing: changing how we eat. After the indulgences of the holidays, we often feel pressure to clean up what’s on our dinner plates and reset our health with food. So we jump on whatever food fad is trending this month, whether it is a “hot” new diet, a detox regimen, or eliminating a whole group of macronutrients (“No more carbs!”).
We’re determined to undo holiday damage. But do any of these approaches actually work?
Every diet that crosses your social media feed this month will promise to transform your life, but the only approach that will actually give you results is the approach that matches your unique hormonal needs during each week of your 28-day cycle.
If you struggle with any hormone-related symptoms, including weight loss resistance, severe PMS, irregular or heavy periods, PCOS, fibroids, hormonal acne, or impaired fertility, it’s imperative that you understand your hormone cycle and how to match what you eat to your shifting hormone needs throughout the month.
Why THESE Popular Diets Don’t Work for Women with Hormone Imbalances
Let’s take a close-up look at why some of today’s most popular eating plans don’t work for most women.
The Ketogenic Diet & Women
This low-carb plan is intended to put your body into ketosis, which occurs when you restrict glucose and start burning fat as a fuel source. People on this diet get 85 percent of their calories each day from fat, 10 percent of their calories from protein, and 5 percent from carbohydrates. The diet is used as a medical intervention for children with epilepsy and it is being studied as an adjuvant therapy for certain cancer patients. While studies suggest that the diet may have health-promoting potential, the protocol restricts carbohydrates so severely that most experts recommend doing it only with medical supervision. No one, whether you wrestle with hormone imbalances or not, should undertake a ketogenic diet lightly or without trusted medical support.
- The potential upside: People who follow a ketogenic diet tend to feel full for a long time after each meal (because fat is so satiating) and this can lead to eating fewer calories overall. It also means most junk food is jettisoned from your diet because almost all packaged foods have more than the allowed limit of net carbohydrates.
- The hormonal downside: There is conflicting information on how the ketogenic diet affects of thyroid health, with studies suggesting that it might negatively affect T3 production. The thyroid is one of the master glands of the endocrine system and for optimal hormone health women need optimal thyroid health. The very low number of carbs on the ketogenic diet can also put stress on the adrenal system. Adrenal fatigue is, by definition, a hormone imbalance. And it is best to avoid any diet has the potential to contribute to an existing hormone imbalance.
Eating Raw Vegan & Women
Eating an abundance of rainbow colored vegetables and fruits, whether cooked or raw (or a combo of both, is a major win for health and hormone balance. But a true raw diet consists only of plant-based foods that haven’t been heated over 104-118 degrees F, and that can come with some drawbacks. The diet also dictates that nothing you eat is pasteurized, refined, or processed. Advocates of raw veganism believe cooking food destroys important enzymes and reduces their nutritional content.
- The potential upside: Loading up on organic, fiber-rich vegetables and fruits is always a good idea. An abundance of these phytonutrient-rich foods can improve digestion, enhance heart health, reduce inflammation, support cellular health, and have anti-aging benefits.
- The hormonal downside: Studies have linked strict raw food diet to amenorrhea. If your gut microbiome is out of whack (perhaps because you have a history of taking synthetic birth control), your body will not be able to absorb the important nutrients in raw foods. As many functional medicine practitioners say, “We aren’t what we eat. We are what we can digest and absorb.” Nutrient deficiencies can compromise your entire hormonal system and show up as a host of symptoms, from missing periods to mood issues to weight gain.
Eating Grain-free & Women
Gluten, which is the main protein in wheat, has gotten a particularly bad rap in recent years, and for good reason: it’s not good for your hormonal health, which is why I recommend removing it from your diet when you follow the FLO Living protocol. But many diets advocate removing all grains as a way to lose weight and optimize health.
- The potential upside: If you cut all grains and replace them with healthy fats, proteins, and complex, phytonutrient-rich carbohydrates, you may lose weight in the short-term. Some people also report a reduction in brain fog.
- The hormonal downside: If you struggle with cravings and binge eating, going grain free can set you up for major cravings and make you vulnerable to moments of binging carbs, which can lead to blood sugar and insulin spikes—and turbulent blood sugar and insulin can interfere with ovulation and wreak havoc on metabolism and fat loss.
Intermittent Fasting (IF) & Women
Intermittent fasting is going for short or intermediate periods of time without food. This “not eating” window can be as short as 12 hours and include sleep time—for example, you could stop eating at 8:00pm one night and not eat again until 8:00am the next morning and call it a fast—or as long as 16, 20, or 24 hours.People fast in different ways. Some people try to go 12 or more hours without eating everyday. Others try to go 12 or 16 hours without food a couple days a week. Some people don’t eat for a full 24 hours one day each week.
A disruption in one hormone system in the body can trigger other hormone imbalances. The other major hormone considerations for women when it comes to intermittent fasting are cortisol, the stress hormone, and thyroid hormone. When cortisol is imbalanced, symptoms include:
When thyroid hormones are imbalanced, symptoms include:
- Weight gain
- Brain fog
- Dry skin
- Dry hair
- Irregular periods
- Trouble regulating body temperature
So while intermittent fasting may have some benefits, this cascade of negative health effects for women may outweigh any benefit.
The Best Way for Women to Eat
These disparate diets do have some benefits, but none of them fully support a woman’s hormonal health. The cyclical nature of female biochemistry isn’t supported by eating the same way day in and day out. We must shift what we eat each week to support our unique micronutrient needs that specific week...which is something that none of these plans take into account. Your body isn’t the same every day and your diet shouldn’t be either! I created my phase-based eating concept 15 years ago to support each stage of a woman’s cycle.