Sally is a holistic nutritionist, life coach, and the founder of Women With Sparkle. Her work takes a broad-spectrum approach on health and happiness, focusing on hormone health, the menstrual cycle, and all the internal and external factors than can contribute (or prevent) us from feeling like our very best selves. We had a chat with Sally about learning to listen to your body, why the secret's in your cycle, and how to navigate a world built around the male hormone cycle.
[CW: food, illness, mental health]
Our bodies are whole beings and we should treat them as such (and not as a series of disparate, disconnected problems!)
When I was younger, I suffered from various issues, including extremely painful periods, IBS, adult acne, and PCOS. When I went to see a doctor, they’d treat every problem in isolation, as if my body was not connected in any way! At 30 I developed a cystosarcoma, which is a fast-growing breast tumour and I had to have two operations to remove it. That really affected me as I had to take months off of work, go for scans every 3 months, and lived in fear of it growing back and needing further surgery or treatment.
After 12 months I was exhausted, flat, and just sick of being scared of my own body. I decided to find out what could have caused the tumor in the first place and what diet and lifestyle changes I could make to protect myself from further medical issues. Taking matters into my own hands felt far more empowering than waiting for a doctor to tell me I was ok - and I was shocked by what I learnt in the process. All of my medical issues had been linked. My body had been severely inflamed, likely due to my stressful work life, staying in a toxic relationship, eating badly, and drinking alcohol like I now drink water. All of this had been throwing off my hormonal balance by over-producing oestrogen (which can wreak havoc on a female body, is known as ‘oestrogen dominance,’ and is one of the most common issues I treat women for in my online clinic). I had been taking doctor-prescribed medication to suppress each of my individual symptoms, but hadn’t been doing anything to address the root cause of them or viewing my body as a whole.
Cycle tracking changed my life
After discovering all this, I decided to make changes to my life. I worked to reduce my oestrogen dominance by cutting out dairy and alcohol, increasing my water intake, embracing my emotions, and starting a supplement regime tailored to my own personal needs. Thanks to my diet and lifestyle changes, I no longer experience PMS or painful periods and no longer have PCOS.
I only started tracking my cycle when I was 35, six years ago now, and it’s been a total game-changer. Where possible, I’ll work around my hormone levels and not just the external demands being placed on me. For example, unless absolutely necessary I will not book in clients, presentations, meetings, or talks, etc, for the first 3 days of my period as this is when my energy is at its lowest and I know I need to take more time for myself and rest if I’m to have more energy for the rest of the month.
Not being aware of these hormonal patterns and fluctuations means we’re trapped in a work/life cycle that has been set up around the male hormonal cycle, demaning that we participate in the same level of activity, exercise, productivity, and food intake every day or week. It's no wonder so many of us are exhausted and feel unsatisfied. While the male hormone cycle is 24 hours long, our cycles are, on average, 28 days long, meaning that over the course of a month our needs - everything from our calorie intake to the amount of alone time we need to our libido - changes.
It’s important to respect what your body is going through
My period doesn’t ‘interfere’ with my life like it used to when I experienced crippling pain, but I do make space for it and adapt to it. My body is shedding the lining of my uterus which is a hugely energy intensive process; I need to eat and rest more during this time. My hormone levels are also at their lowest; if I engage in high intensity exercise or lots of socialising then this could be hugely stressful to my body and mind. My brain chemistry has shifted on my period, with the left and right sides (logic and feeling) at their most connected. This means my mind will be best positioned to analyse my life and business - what’s working, what isn't? What’s making me happy, what isn't? What changes do I need to make to have a better month ahead?
Your period is when your body is urging you to take a "step back" and make some simple or big changes to bring you greater happiness in the month ahead. Coincidently this is why many people can feel emotional on their period - it's their body and mind telling them what they are unhappy with - the tears and anger that are often associated with our periods come when we ignore this crucial information, push it down, or minimise this wisdom by dismissing it as us being ‘hormonal.’
Your menstrual cycle is not a mistake - you just have to learn how to work with it, not against it
Hormones are powerful and they can help us live our happiest, healthiest lives. Our cycle is not a mistake and we need to work with it and the information it gives us and not just try and ignore it/medicate over it.
If you’re suffering from PMS - which, contrary to popular belief, is not something you have to put up with - or particularly difficult or painful periods, you may have a hormonal imbalance. Hormonal imbalances will be caused by different roots for each person, so it’s worth working with a professional who can help personalise a plan to bring your body back into balance, provided you’re in a position to afford that. If that's not possible for you, I’d recommend educating yourself on your hormones and learning about which foods and lifestyle habits can negatively impact us or cause inflammation.
Sugar and stress are two of the biggest culprits, so reducing those things even slightly will help your body so much. Nourish yourself with good food - you don’t even have to go wild buying loads of expensive ingredients. Think: increasing your intake of fruits and veggies, cutting down on dairy (which is loaded with oestrogen), and aiming for at least 2-3 portions of greens per day. I always whizz up a few into a smoothie in the morning. And do not ignore your emotions. Suppressed emotions cause a great deal of stress to our bodies which again will throw off your hormones!
We all know what it feels like to lose our ‘sparkle’
Whatever causes it - be it grief, a bad relationship, health problems - the feeling of losing your ‘sparkle’ is something we can all understand. Many who have lost their sparkle think that it's gone for good (I know I did) but I'm a firm believer that we’re all born with sparkle and will die with it. Sometimes it gets covered up by the crap of life but if we choose to actively love and help ourselves (even in the smallest of ways), we will get to live with and feel our sparkle again.
I practise a holistic approach to nutrition, which means I look at the whole person. Yes, I focus on your diet to see if you are getting all the nourishment your body needs, but I’ll also take into account your whole lifestyle - work, stress levels, what you’re struggling with emotionally - to get a fuller picture of what could be causing your PMS, heavy periods, IBS, anxiety, etc. Your diet is just one piece of the puzzle!
In my day to day I work I see clients online. I work with women to help them get to the root cause of the issue that is stopping them from living the life that they want - in other words, I help them get their sparkle back! I love what I do; seeing women whose lives have been blighted by heavy periods, low energy, and anxiety learning about their bodies, healing, and learning to live the lives they always wanted to is one of the most rewarding parts about my job. I feel so privileged to do the work that I do.
My morning routine staple is… oil pulling! My morning routine generally consists of getting up, oil pulling, drinking a huge glass of water, walking the dog and making a green smoothie - those morning practices help me know that I’ve done some wonderful things for my body no matter what else happens in my day.
My favourite self care product is… I just adore matcha green tea in the morning and Epsom salts in a bath at night.
The thing that keeps me grounded is… Definitely walking my dog! Being in nature and seeing how my dog just takes her time and isn't stressing or rushing to reply to emails or upload an Instagram post is just utterly inspiring!
words by Women With Sparkle
Image credit: @womenwithsparkle