Exposure to sunlight in the morning is essential. Bright morning light tells your body to suppress melatonin production and gently increase cortisol – which is good for you in small doses – and serotonin. Opening your blinds or curtains as soon as you wake up sends a signal to the brain to produce these hormones that not only improve your mood and energy throughout the day, but also help you sleep later. The first 30 minutes after waking are the most important – during this time, I avoid my phone and caffeine, get out of bed straight away and ideally get outside.
If you feel sluggish in the morning, your cortisol levels need some TLC. When we wake up, our cortisol levels should increase around 50% in the first 30 minutes then drop progressively throughout the day. In this instance, cortisol gives you energy and gets you fired up for the day. This is known as your cortisol awakening response (CAR). Consistent patterns of light exposure, physical activity, nutrition and stress management create a robust CAR. However, chronic stress blunts this hormonal response, making us less resilient to stress and affecting digestion, immunity and metabolism. It can even affect your menstrual cycle. Therefore, the first 30 minutes of your day play such a crucial role in hormonal balance.
A burst of cold water in the shower boosts energy. Even if it’s just 20 seconds, cold water therapy is a great way to support thyroid health. In the winter, I skip the cold shower but do a cold flannel face wash. I also do a quick neck, face and shoulder massage. I’m a big fan of facial reflexology, which not only offers a moment of self-care, but also supports lymphatic drainage and stimulates blood flow.
Imbalanced blood sugar causes havoc with your hormones. Following an overnight fast, it’s important to think about how you’re fuelling your body – eating carbs on their own, such as toast or cereal, is guaranteed to throw your hormones off kilter. Always pair carbs with protein and healthy fats. I’m currently loving a chia seed pudding made with Clearspring matcha, Plenish coconut milk, Coco’s Organic coconut kefir and fresh or frozen raspberries. It’s even better when made the night before and is a great balance of good fats, protein, flavour, antioxidants and gut-loving bacteria. As the cooler months draw in, it’s important to prioritise antioxidants and a warmer breakfast is a good option. A protein-rich, two-egg omelette with a serving of berries is my go-to. A source of healthy fats at breakfast is important as your sex hormones are made from cholesterol, making fat a vital raw material for balanced hormones.
I fast from 8pm to 8am. This 12-hour window is the sweet spot for my hormones and digestion. I’d never push it to more than 16 hours – for women, going for too long without fuel can affect your cycle. The hormones regulating ovulation, metabolism and mood are incredibly sensitive to your energy intake. If you want to fast for longer than 12 hours, start earlier, finishing your dinner by around 6pm, and aim to finish earlier the following morning to put the least amount of stress on your body.
Coffee can cause a temporary rise in cortisol. For this reason, I have a cup of coffee after breakfast. We all respond differently to caffeine, but if you want to create an environment for your hormones to thrive, you must prioritise your nervous system and avoid stimulants first thing in the morning. If you drink coffee on an empty stomach, it can blunt your cortisol response.
My supplement routine is very streamlined. After years of working on my hormones – I struggled with burnout followed by PCOS, endometriosis and eczema – I’m now at a stage where my protocol is simple but effective. I take a multivitamin, Bare Biology omega 3 and zinc. Depending on what’s going on with my health, I’ll occasionally take a probiotic and high-dose vitamin C supplement, too.
When it comes to exercise, you need to get the balance right. Physical activity is vital for our energy, hormone and overall health – it’s been shown to reduce stress, improve focus, mood and even insulin function (the way your body uses sugar). But too much under-fuelled exercise or the wrong type of exercise (at the wrong time) can increase cortisol levels, ultimately leading to low energy, anxiety, irritability, weight gain, and missing or irregular periods. I avoid fasted workouts to keep my nervous system happy and exercise mid-morning. I combine cardio on my rebounder with resistance training using dumbbells – a great way to boost endorphins. Variety is key, too. Throughout the week, I mix things up with yoga and long walks.
Lifting weights improves blood sugar control. Muscle mass is now being referred to as the new measurement of health, and rightly so. The more muscle you have, the more storage space there is for glucose, better strength and a higher resting metabolism. As you lift weights, your body uses your blood sugar to fuel the activity you’re putting it through. The more fuel you burn, the more room you’re making for your body to take the edge off sugar spikes, which creates an environment for your hormones to thrive. A weekly spin class is great, but if you’re doing it daily you may end up causing more harm than good. Instead, aim for a balance of some cardio with weights and restorative movement, like yoga or gentle walking.
I try to avoid snacking. If I need to eat between meals, I’ll opt for a savoury, protein-rich snack, but I try to stick to three main meals a day with no snacking to improve insulin sensitivity. This is something I encourage my clients to do, too.
Lunch is as colourful as possible. Like breakfast, I make sure I’m getting a source of protein, healthy fats and complex carbs, as well as plenty of colourful fibre. Salads don’t need to be boring – beans, legumes and homemade dressings are a great way to mix things up. I always try to include a source of phytoestrogens at lunch; these are found in edamame beans, organic tofu, sesame seeds, garlic, beans and legumes, and flaxseeds. They are structurally like oestradiol (one of the main types of oestrogen), which means they can bind to oestrogen receptors and reduce symptoms of both PCOS and menopause. Cruciferous vegetables are also incredible at helping the liver to detoxify hormones – top your salads with broccoli sprouts whenever you get the chance.
Tap water can be a source of toxins. These chemicals can interfere with hormonal balance. I used to use a Berkey water filter – regarded as the gold standard – but it took up too much space in my kitchen, so I now use a LARQ Pitcher PureVis. I also avoid plastic containers at all costs and instead store food in glass and pay close attention to the cosmetics I use to avoid any nasties that could be considered endocrine disruptors.
For deep sleep, you need good levels of melatonin. Your body’s ability to sleep – or wake – depends on the proper functioning of your internal clock, known as your circadian rhythm. As part of this cycle, the body produces melatonin, the sleep-promoting hormone, that increases as it gets dark and decreases as it gets light. Encouraging the body to wind down in the evening and dimming the lights will support melatonin production. I’m obsessed with my Drowsy sleep mask, keep my bedroom as dark as possible and avoid using my phone for at least two hours before bed.
Getting on top of stress is vital. Reminding the body it’s safe is one of the most powerful things you can do for your hormones. At the end of the day, stress happens when the body feels under threat, so anything you can do to tell your body it’s safe helps. For me, breathwork is a great tool, as is spending time with the people you love, laughing, creativity and filling your day with pockets of positivity – when it comes to hormones, this is as important as eating your vegetables. I’ve lost track of the number of women who come to see me who are overworking, not saying no, not taking time for rest and eating too many ultra-processed foods. Prioritising self-care is essential if you want to get in control of your hormones.
Ultimately, you need to take a holistic approach. Hormonal imbalance manifests via three main drivers – stress, inflammation and insulin resistance. This is the triple threat of hormonal health. It’s never just about one thing and diet alone won’t solve it. Your body is talking to you constantly and symptoms are clues that something bigger is going on. Some of the most common problems I see with clients include irregular periods, weight gain, mood swings, irregular ovulation, acne, anxiety, fatigue, sleep disorders and IBS. If any of these sound familiar, see them as a sign to act and change the environment for your hormones to thrive.
DISCLAIMER: Features published by SheerLuxe are not intended to treat, diagnose, cure or prevent any disease. Always seek the advice of your GP or another qualified healthcare provider for any questions you have regarding a medical condition, and before undertaking any diet, exercise or other health-related programme.