It’s normal for motivation to ebb and flow during eating disorder recovery. As clinicians, we expect it and factor it in to our treatment plan. And it makes sense – recovery is an exhausting process!Continue reading
Since you are reading this, you may probably be aware of why diets don’t work. but how do we approach and respond to diet talk at home, in the office or out with friends?Continue reading
The science behind seed cycling and regulating your hormones
Seed cycling has sparked interest online over recent years as a way to potentially optimise our hormone levels.
Many have claimed its value in helping them to balance the symptoms that we face over our monthly cycles. Others have reported it to have boosted their fertility or reduced the severity of menopausal symptoms.
But how effective can the consumption of specific seeds be for our reproductive health, and what is the research behind it? Read our article to find out more.
What is seed cycling?
Seed cycling comes under the branch of naturopathic or alternative medicine and is a practice thought to help regulate hormone levels in people who have periods. (1)
During seed cycling, the diet is supplemented with four different seeds: flax, pumpkin, sesame and sunflower, grounded to aid nutrient absorption and eaten raw each day. (1)
In the first phase of the cycle, known as the follicular phase, a mixture of pumpkin and flax seeds are consumed at the amount of 1 tablespoon (tbsp) per day. (2) This is usually from around day one (the start of your period) to about day fourteen or ovulation. This phase is when eggs are ripening and is thought to balance oestrogen levels. (3)
Following this, a 1 tbsp blend of ground sesame and sunflower seeds is consumed daily from approximately 14-28 of the cycle during the luteal phase. These seeds are believed to boost progesterone levels. The seeds are believed to contain optimal amounts of nutrients, fats, and vitamins that help to best support hormonal function in the body. (2)
For those who are going through or have gone through menopause, it is recommended to follow the moon’s cycles for guidance, which similarly last 27-29 days. (2)
What are the supposed benefits of seed cycling?
As well as aiding in hormone levels and regulating period cycles, seed cycling has been said to improve acne, ease fatigue and mood swings, and improve thyroid hormone levels.
Furthermore, many have claimed it to better menopausal symptoms such as hot flushes, night sweats and aided with hair health and cellulite. (2)
What does the research say?
As diet and nutrition professionals, it is vital for us to look at the literature on any topic before making recommendations to clients or patients. Evidence-based research holds far greater strength in being valid and reliable as opposed to word-of-mouth or anecdotal claims.
There remains to be no evidence or studies undertaken on the seed cycling method, so we cannot claim its effectiveness from a scientific viewpoint. Most of the perspectives we hear about are simply anecdotal, which we know is not always a reliable form of evidence as it merely lacks data and numbers.
There is a discrepancy between the claims made on the benefits of seed cycling. Remember that some changes to your menstrual cycle are expected, and it is normal to experience different changes and symptoms to your friends or family members. (2)
Although there is no consistent data around the benefits of seed cycling, there also probably may not be any dangerous or detrimental effects of incorporating more seeds in your diet.
Some small studies undertaken on women have shown that flaxseed intake may regulate cycles and reduce breast pain. (4) However, other research surrounding the oestrogen promoting and inhibiting effects remain unclear. (5)
Should I try seed cycling?
Whilst we don’t recommend this specific method due to the lack of research and its uncertain benefits, seeds remain to be a fantastic source of mono and polyunsaturated fatty acids and protein.
Furthermore, consuming a range of seeds provides essential vitamins such as E and B6 and minerals such as calcium, magnesium, and zinc, which play fundamental roles in reproductive health. (6, 7, 8, 9) However, studies show neither zinc nor vitamin E has shown to impact hormone levels or improve menopausal symptoms. (10, 11)
Remember – not one food will have all of the nutrition, and no food has zero nutrition. Seeds can absolutely be enjoyed as a part of a varied and balanced diet, and consuming a tablespoon a day is not considered excessive.
Still, like all other foods, they are NOT a ‘superfood’ (it’s just a marketing term!), and other food groups such as whole grains, fruits, vegetables, dairy (or dairy alternatives) and protein sources should also form the basis of your diet.
As always, we are passionate about eating intuitively and embracing all of the foods we love as a part of our meals and snacks too – some foods bring us emotional and cultural values that a green juice or salad may not always offer, and that is perfectly normal and even worthy of celebrating!
We know that reproductive health can be a difficult area to navigate, so feel free to get in touch with us to explore this further via a consultation. You can also check out our other articles on optimising your nutrition for fertility, and steps to get your period back.
Be mindful of your body, and if you are facing any symptoms that may be aligned with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), endometriosis, irregular bleeding, infertility, or amenorrhoea (the absence of periods), then it may be best to speak to your GP as soon as possible to help to diagnose and/or work with these conditions.
If you already have a diagnosis or suspected PCOS, why not read about how to manage symptoms without restricting your diet?
Finally, take short a moment to remind yourself of all of the amazing recovery you are making with each day. Just by reading this, you are a person who is full of courage, curiosity, and kindness.
If you enjoyed this article and want to read more, please get in touch with us and let us know other topics you would like us to cover in the future!
Priya Chotai, BSc ANutr
EHL Team x
Toler, S. Seed Cycling: I tried it. (And dug into the research on whether it works.) Clue 2020 Jan 28. Available at: https://helloclue.com/articles/culture/seed-cycling-i-tried-it-and-dug-into-the-research-on-whether-it-works
Healthline., Can Seed Cycling Balance Hormones and Ease Menopause Symptoms?Available at: https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/seed-cycling#effectiveness
Jabbour HN, Kelly RW, Fraser HM, Critchley HO. Endocrine regulation of menstruation. Endocr Rev. 2006 Feb;27(1):17-46. doi: 10.1210/er.2004-0021. Epub 2005 Sep 13. PMID: 16160098.
Phipps WR, Martini MC, Lampe JW, Slavin JL, Kurzer MS. Effect of flax seed ingestion on the menstrual cycle. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 1993 Nov;77(5):1215-9. doi: 10.1210/jcem.77.5.8077314. PMID: 8077314.
Rodríguez-García C, Sánchez-Quesada C, Toledo E, Delgado-Rodríguez M, Gaforio JJ. Naturally Lignan-Rich Foods: A Dietary Tool for Health Promotion? Molecules. 2019 Mar 6;24(5):917. doi: 10.3390/molecules24050917. PMID: 30845651; PMCID: PMC6429205.
Kontic-Vucinic O, Sulovic N, Radunovic N. Micronutrients in women’s reproductive health: I. Vitamins. Int J Fertil Womens Med. 2006 May-Jun;51(3):106-15. PMID: 17039854.
Kontic-Vucinic O, Sulovic N, Radunovic N. Micronutrients in women’s reproductive health: II. Minerals and trace elements. Int J Fertil Womens Med. 2006 May-Jun;51(3):116-24. PMID: 17039855.
Traber MG. Vitamin E inadequacy in humans: causes and consequences. Adv Nutr. 2014 Sep;5(5):503-14. doi: 10.3945/an.114.006254. PMID: 25469382; PMCID: PMC4188222.
Favier AE. The role of zinc in reproduction. Hormonal mechanisms. Biol Trace Elem Res. 1992 Jan-Mar;32:363-82. doi: 10.1007/BF02784623. PMID: 1375078.
Sunar F, Gormus ZI, Baltaci AK, Mogulkoc R. The effect of low dose zinc supplementation to serum estrogen and progesterone levels in post-menopausal women. Biol Trace Elem Res. 2008 Dec;126 Suppl 1:S11-4. doi: 10.1007/s12011-008-8211-y. Epub 2008 Aug 31. PMID: 18759067.
Kronenberg F, Fugh-Berman A. Complementary and alternative medicine for menopausal symptoms: a review of randomised, controlled trials. Ann Intern Med. 2002 Nov 19;137(10):805-13. doi: 10.7326/0003-4819-137-10-200211190-00009. PMID: 12435217.
Recognising and challenging your eating disorder thoughts
At the beginning of the recovery process, many of our clients worry about who they’ll be without their eating disorder. Oftentimes, the eating disorder has ruled over their thoughts, emotions and behaviours for so long that they fear it has permanently taken over their identity.
However, through the privilege of seeing many people recover, we know that this is not the case. Instead, as the person progresses through their recovery journey, what we actually see is their true identity becoming stronger as the eating disorder retreats.
This is where the idea of having a healthy self and an eating disorder self comes from. In this article, we’ll talk you through how to tell them apart and how doing so can help you in your recovery.
What is the concept of the healthy self and the eating disorder self all about?
The concept of the healthy self and the eating disorder self is based on the work of Carolyn Costin, a renowned eating disorder clinician, founder of the first eating disorder residential treatment program, and author of ‘8 Keys to Recovery from an Eating Disorder’. You can learn more about Carolyn’s incredible work here.
When we explain the idea of the two selves, many people resonate with it right away, clearly seeing it reflected in their own thoughts and behaviours.
The healthy self is the part of you that was in control before your thoughts and behaviours became warped by diet culture, trauma, fear and so on.
It is the rational, kind and non-critical part of you that, over time, has been hijacked by your eating disorder self. This is the part of you that is harsh, fearful and has a distorted view of the world and yourself.
To make sense of this concept, you might like to think of an angel on one shoulder and a devil on the other, battling to be the dominant voice. This is similar to how your healthy self and your eating disorder self interact.
Ambivalence is incredibly common in eating disorder recovery. It would be very unusual to have a client whose commitment to recovery is steadfast throughout the entire process! This phenomenon a representation of the conflict between the healthy self and the eating disorder self.
When part of you wants to recover and part of you is terrified to get better, that is the two selves at work. When part of you knows that the eating disorder behaviours are irrational and part of you feels compelled to engage in them, that too is the two selves. As you become more aware of the two voices, they will become more distinct.
The ultimate goal isn’t to eradicate your eating disorder self – this is the part of you that alerts you when something is wrong, when you’re struggling to cope or when you’re feeling afraid.
Instead, the goal is to strengthen your healthy self and reintegrate the eating disorder self to form one single embodiment, where the latter continues to do its job of alerting you to problems. When prior you may have used eating disorder behaviours to silence these alarm bells, once the two selves are integrated, you will be able to use more constructive strategies to address the issues you are being alerted to.
How can I strengthen my healthy self?
There are several ways you can get more in touch with your health self, in order to strengthen this part of you over your eating disorder self.
One of the simplest ways is to consider what you would say to friend or a small child in a similar situation. For example, while your eating disorder self might tell you to engage in restriction to compensate for a large meal, we’re sure that’s not what you would recommend to your little sister! Your healthy self tends to emerge more strongly in your compassion for others.
Once you have identified the voice of your healthy self, you can use it to dialogue with your eating disorder self. In other words, you can come up with “healthy” responses to your eating disorder thoughts, either in your head or on paper. You might like to utilities this worksheet from EDIT™
As an example, if your eating disorder self says “If I gain more than x amount of weight, I’ll be miserable”, you may come up with a response like “The number on the scale does not define me and it won’t change the way I feel unless I allow it to”.
This can assist you in your recovery by helping you to turn up the volume of your health self and strengthen it over your eating disorder self.
Saying all this, be sure not demonise your eating disorder self. As we mentioned above, it has been acting as a coping strategy during a difficult time in your life. However, through the process of recovery, we can support you to find new, healthier behaviours to replace your eating disorder.
Remember that your eating disorder cannot be stronger than you are, because you give it all of its power.
The idea of the healthy self and the eating disorder self is, of course, just one way to look at and understand eating disorders. It may resonate with you and it may not!
If you take only one thing away from this article, let it be this: you are not your eating disorder and recovery is possible.
Reach out to us at email@example.com to find out how we can support you on your recovery journey.
Karli Battaglia MDiet, APD
EHL Team x
Still care about what you look like?
You will probably not be surprised to hear that “body neutrality” is a huge buzzword in anti-diet spaces at the moment.
Body neutrality first gained popularity in 2015 as an alternative to the often-toxic “body positivity” movement. It pushes back against beauty ideals and the promotion of appearance as the ultimate success or failure; instead, the key ideology of body neutrality is that how you look is not what makes you an amazing human being.
However, this begs the question – can you practice body neutrality and also put time and effort into how you look?
In short: absolutely!
Adopting a neutral perspective of your body doesn’t mean that you are suddenly blinded to your own appearance and aren’t allowed to put any thought towards it – instead, it means that your goals shift from aiming to conform to beauty standards to aiming to achieve contentment within yourself.
To learn more about the fundamentals of body neutrality, you can check out our blog “Four Ways to Practice Body Neutrality” here. As noted in that article, this concept is relatively new and as such, scientific research in this area is limited. However, you can learn more about body neutrality from people such as Anuschka Rees (find her on Instagram @anuschkarees and check out her book, Beyond Beautiful) and Jameela Jamil (follow @iweigh on Instagram and take her free course on FutureLearn, Exploring Body Neutrality and Body Image).
In this article, we’ll unpack three ways you can care about your appearance AND live a life of body neutrality.
ONE: Remember that self-worth is not reliant on appearance
Although your self-esteem may change from day to day, your self-worth is unalterable. Just like the value of a £5 note can’t be changed by the perceptions of others, neither can yours!
To practice body neutrality, you must disconnect your identity and worth from the way you perceive your appearance. The way you look does not define who you are.
Remove the pressure to feel positively about your body! There will always be aspects of your appearance that you like less than others – that’s okay! Body neutrality isn’t about feeling neutral about your appearance; instead, it’s about neutralising the impact of how you feel about your appearance on your mood, self-worth, identity and actions. In other words, focus on not allowing negative thoughts about your body stop you from living your life to its fullest.
TWO: Take care of your body
Another component of body neutrality is the idea that regardless of how you feel about your body on any given day, it’s important to show it care and respect.
Some days, this might take the form of brushing your hair, applying skincare or putting on clean clothes in the morning. On other days, taking it easy and staying in your PJs all day might be how you take care of yourself. Your appearance doesn’t need to change in order to care for your body!
This moves the focus from how you look at your body to how you feel within your body.
THREE: Utilise your appearance as a source of self-expression
The way we choose to show ourselves to the world is an incredible opportunity for self-expression. Through our clothes, makeup, hair and jewellery, we get to experiment and experience joy.
When you get ready in the morning, choose to present yourself in a way that makes you feel powerful, without an emphasis on how you look or how other people might perceive you.
In her book, The Curate Closet, Anuschka Rees writes ‘If something is your style and you love it, I believe you should wear it, regardless of whether it supposedly “flatters” your body or doesn’t. Plus, if we are being honest, to flatter almost always means “make you look thinner”, and that definitely shouldn’t be your prime objective when it comes to getting dressed’.
When you practice body neutrality, you can still feel a sense of peace in your body on days when you don’t get dressed up.
There is such a stark difference between using our appearance to conform to societal pressures and using it to show our uniqueness! This shifts the balance from your body having the power over you to you having the power over your body.
The take home message from all of this is that you can absolutely still take pride in your appearance while practicing body neutrality! Your body is simply a tool for you to use as you desire.
If you’re experiencing body image concerns, we’re here to help! Reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org to find out how we can support you towards introducing body neutrality in your own life.
Karli Battaglia MDiet, APD
EHL Team x