5 Things I Learned That Transformed My Health In 2018
It probably comes as no surprise, but as the health editor here at mbg, 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, in particular. 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.)
4. Indoor air quality matters, especially when it comes to humidity in my apartment.
This year our sustainability editor, Emma Loewe, wrote an article about humidity that really caught my attention. I had no idea humidity was such a huge indicator of the health of my home! According to Aviad Elgez, N.D., a naturopath focused on environmental toxicology, if it doesn't fall into the 40 to 50 percent range, you run the risk of breathing air that is either too dry, which could cause respiratory irritation, or too damp, which can mean mold. I was definitely having the "too dry" problem in my apartment, especially as the seasons changed and it got cold outside. My skin was dry and I would sometimes wake up at night with a scratchy throat. Luckily, the Dyson AM10 Humidifier ($399) Emma recommended fixed all my cold weather problems; it reportedly kills 99.9 percent of bacteria, and it's certified asthma- and allergy-friendly.
5. I should care about fertility health long before I want kids.
Fertility health is something I've always been interested in, and this year, I took my knowledge to a whole new level. I learned that so many women are waiting way too long to think about their fertility health. "The focus for young women is almost exclusively on not getting pregnant. And women see celebrities in their 40s having kids galore, so they are often unaware that fertility wanes as you get older," explained Victoria Maizes, M.D., executive director of the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine and author of Be Fruitful: The Essential Guide to Maximizing Fertility and Giving Birth to a Healthy Child. If you can relate to this, it's time to do a little reading up on fertility—sooner rather than later—to make sure you're supporting this part of your health.
There's a lot of health information out there, and it's easy to get lost in the "shoulds." In other words: what you should be eating and when, the products you should be buying, or the workouts you should be doing. It's also easy to get stuck in your ways and continue to do things that no longer serve you. 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!
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