It probably comes as no surprise, but as the health editor here at Mind Body Green, I learned a LOT about health this year. I also made a number of changes to my diet, medicine cabinet, and daily routine. When you’re writing and reading about wellness all day—and listening to and learning from some of the world’s top experts in integrative and functional medicine—you can’t help but apply some of what you’ve learned to your actual life.
This was one of my healthiest years yet, and I owe this good health to a few lessons. These are the things I learned this year that really changed my health for the better—and that I think everyone should be aware of:
1. Intermittent fasting was messing with my hormones.
I’ve been experimenting with different types of intermittent fasting and fasting for a few years now, and I think it’s made a huge difference in my blood sugar balance. But this year, I learned not to push it too far in honor of my hormones. According to Amy Shah, M.D., integrative medicine physician and mbg Collective member, “Put simply, women are extremely sensitive to signals of external starvation, and if the body senses that it is being starved, it will ramp up production of the hunger hormones leptin and ghrelin. When women experience insatiable hunger after undereating, they are actually experiencing the increased production of these hormones.”
Pushing fasting too far can be bad news for your menstrual cycle. “In animal studies, after two weeks of intermittent fasting, female rats stopped having menstrual cycles, and their ovaries shrunk, while experiencing more insomnia than their male counterparts,” Dr. Shah explained. Knowing this, these days I stick to a 13- or 14-hour fast instead of 16 hours or more, and I also eat three meals a day.
2. Cooked foods are better for my belly.
Earlier this year I experimented by following a personalized metabolism diet plan for a few months. I noticed a lot of positive changes in my mood and energy levels, but the biggest benefit I received was totally unexpected: I was no longer bloated, like, EVER. I can attribute this to the fact that the plan I was following consisted of almost all cooked foods; I was eating roasted Brussels sprouts and butternut squash galore (and yes, it did eventually get old). Making this connection was a game-changer for me, though I had never even considered that my beloved Sweetgreen salad was leaving me bloated. Now, I try to eat as many cooked foods as possible, and if I am eating salads or raw foods, I take some digestive enzymes and try to keep the ingredients pretty simple and non-cruciferous.
3. Maintaining a consistent sleep-wake cycle gives me tons of energy.
I’ve always been a great sleeper. And believe me, I know how lucky I am to be able to say that. Naps are one of my favorite forms of self-care, and I’ve just always been an eight-hours-a-night kind of person. That said, I hadn’t thought much about maintaining consistent sleep-wake cycles until I started diving into the science of the circadian rhythm. And let me tell you, what I learned blew my mind. According to Satchin Panda, Ph.D., author of The Circadian Code: Lose Weight, Supercharge Your Energy, and Transform Your Health From Morning to Midnight and a leader in the emerging science of the circadian rhythm, “When you don’t honor this daily rhythm or let this cycle get out of whack, it can contribute to weight gain, diabetes, high blood pressure, and many other diseases.” Learning this made me think a lot more about going to bed before 11 p.m. and rising a little earlier—every single day, even on the weekends. (This one’s a work in progress.)
In that vein, the last lesson I learned this year was to stay open-minded and adaptable and always be willing to switch things up or try something new—especially when what I’m doing is no longer working for me. Cheers to a very healthy 2019!