Hungry Haley

it's more than food

Beyond the Nutrition Facts

Nutrition, Health, FoodHaley Hansen4 Comments

Allow me to set aside Nutrition-Student Haley for a second. 

Beyond the Nutrition Facts
Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank Him for all He has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.
— Phillippians 4:6-7, NLT

I didn't know if I wanted to write this, and if I did, I didn't know how to. But those verses practically jumped off the page at me this morning as if to say " YO I got the words you need." So, read them one or two more times, let them sink into your mind, and we'll come back to them later on. 

Many of the questions coming into my email inbox have been asking how I came to Intuitive Eating/how I found a way to... well, set aside Nutrition-Student Haley when muffins and cupcakes and nachos and pizza are on the menu. Also let me point out that I'm not a Registered Dietitian, nor do I intend to become one, but I share this because I can relate to many of the questions regarding creating a healthy relationship with food. And I don't think I need to be an RD to be able to help others create their own healthy relationship with food, too. 

I used to see food as nothing more than just a lump of calories - protein, fat, and carbohydrates - blind to the idea that food can bring actual enjoyment. Now, I sometimes see the nutrition facts, but most of my view and thoughts surrounding food are based on what my body craves in that moment. This change didn't take place overnight, but rather over the course of about a year. Timing is different for everyone, as God has a different layout for your life and my life and the next person's life. So, be patient. Be faithful. Trust. Persevere. Challenge yourself. 

Beyond the Nutrition Facts

Here are the steps I took in implementing this change: 

1. DELETE THE APP: I'm talking about the calorie-counting app. Not everyone uses it, I know, but if you're reading this because you struggle with viewing food as more than calories, then chances are you've used or are still using a calorie-counting app. You are not alone, though! I used mine on and off for almost four years. Ugh. Somehow, knowing my calorie- and macronutrient-intake at the end of each day brought me a sense of comfort (but only if I didn't exceed my limits, of course). That small sense of comfort was nothing compared to the amount of stress that overwhelmed me as I frantically searched for menu items at restaurants that fit into my requirements, or when I saw that I ate "too much" fat or sugar one day, or if I didn't meet my protein requirements, etc. I couldn't take it anymore. I deleted it and had to consciously make an effort for a while to push numbers out of my mind before each meal, because using the app habitually for so many years made me a fantastic calorie-counting machine. So, step one: get rid of the damn app. 

2. EAT "RESTRICTED" FOODS: Mhm - that's right. This could also be called "facing your fears". You've heard that one before, huh? And I'll bet you've faced and conquered some of your biggest fears already - this one is no different. "Restricted" foods in my diet were fried foods, foods with refined grains and/or refined sugar, fatty meats (before I went vegan), and the list goes on. Last summer, I landed a job at this super cool donut shop - d o n u t shop - and was, for six months, constantly breathing in the luring aroma of fresh fried and glazed and hot and... tempting donuts. Sure, I was vegan at the time, but there were shelves with vegan donuts, too (still fried and made with refined flour and sugar). Our boss rewarded us hard-working employees with unlimited donuts each shift. The first few were certainly a challenge, but I wanted to prove to myself more than anything/anyone that I could eat a donut, enjoy it, and happily move on with my day. After just one donut, I didn't feel the need for anything more because I finally felt satisfied in not just the taste of the donut (which is amazing, by the way), but in allowing myself to freely enjoy something I once restricted. 

Beyond the Nutrition Facts

Now that I'm no longer vegan, I'm going through a similar process all over again. I'm craving cheesy pizza, juicy burgers, rich ice cream, and cakes and donuts and so many other foods I always wanted but never trusted myself enough to just eat. I forced myself to honestly admit that I feared these foods because I thought that eating them would make me gain weight. Overcoming this was a combination of accepting that my body needed to gain weight in order to truly be healthy (i.e. regain my period, strengthen my bones, etc.) + believing that these foods have no power over me. Food is not worth fearing - doing so pulls our minds away from trusting and fearing God.

3. HAVE F U N: This process can be scary - changing the mindset, accepting a potential physical change, eating foods that (used to) evoke fear and maybe even anxiety. It sure did freak me out when I asked God for courage to begin. So, I promised myself I'd have fun with it. I'd bake cookies (butter, sugar, flour, eggs - all the good ol' real ingredients Grandma uses) and reminisce on childhood memories of Mom pulling a hot baking sheet out of the oven with warm, gooey cookies ready to be dipped in milk and devoured. I'd go out with friends and drool over nachos and pizzas and sometimes split/sometimes eat a whole ice cream cookie sandwich. I'd laugh. I'd dance. I'd talk about how GOOD whatever I'm eating tastes. After some time doing this, I noticed my friends notice my smiles and they pointed that out to me. Some of you guys even did that, too! "You seem so much happier, so much more free and... fun!" - something along the lines of what I've commonly heard. My tummy and my mind are ecstatic eating these foods I forgot I loved so much, and my heart is relishing in the freedom and joy with which these moments explode. Food doesn't have to be scary or controlling. Food SHOULD be fun and connecting and joyful. 

Beyond the Nutrition Facts

Man oh man, does it feel good to write this - almost as good as nachos and buttery chocolate chip cookies feel... almost. Maybe I'm letting go of Nutrition-Student Haley more than I thought, and stepping into the most genuine, exciting version of Hungry Haley. 

I hope these tips have been helpful and I hope that, if you're feeling called, you find strength in God to take the steps necessary in accepting and embracing the body He's given you, looking beyond food's nutrition facts 24/7, and actually enjoying what you eat. 

:)

If you're looking for more information on Intuitive Eating and body acceptance, these are my favorite bloggers: 

The Real Life RD
Hummusapien
ImmaEatThat
Emilie Eats
Constancely Eating
Winnie's Balance

Beyond the Nutrition Facts

Leptin & Cortisol in Eating Disorders (aka My Research Paper)

Health, NutritionHaley Hansen1 Comment

Eating disorders can leave harmful effects on survivors, prior to the destruction that takes place while the disorder is in full effect. In the midst of an eating disorder, one can suffer from digestive issues, fatigue, and dry skin, among other symptoms (“Anorexia nervosa – medical complications”, 2015). An in-depth look at the most common eating disorder - anorexia nervosa - reveals a physiological effect beyond a thin stature and restricted food intake: potentially serious hormonal imbalances in levels of leptin and cortisol.

Anorexia Nervosa Explained

The most prevalent of all eating disorders, anorexia nervosa is one characterized by weight loss or inadequate weight gain, difficulty maintaining a proper weight, body image distortion, and sometimes exercise addiction (“Anorexia: Overview and Statistics”). A collection of studies in the International Journal of Eating Disorders found a prevalence rate of up to about 1% among young females for strictly defined anorexia nervosa (Wijbrand, 2003, p. 385). The vast majority of these studies found significantly higher prevalence rates for partial syndromes of anorexia, meaning that the full set of diagnostic criteria for AN was not met, but rather a smaller handful of signs of the disorder. While a mere 1% of the world’s population can seem a small number, and while most medical professionals do classify anorexia nervosa as a rare mental illness when compared with others, the incidence rates are rising rapidly in the 15-19 year-old female age group (Smink, 2012, p. 408).

Survivors of anorexia nervosa can likely vividly remember the signs and symptoms associated, though during the disorder, one probably would have denied anything unusual at all. What typically begins with an innocent decrease in calories/overall food intake in pursuit of weight loss often progresses into a restriction or elimination of at least one entire food group (i.e. carbohydrates or fats). From there, specific food rituals, like excessive chewing and/or organization of foods and eating patterns develop. Concerns about eating in public and/or social gatherings promote withdrawal and isolation. Other mechanisms of avoiding meals include random excuses to exclude oneself and denial of hunger, as well as consistent over-exercising (“Warning Signs and Symptoms”).

Psychologically, a preoccupation with food often clouds one’s mind with thoughts of how to consume the least amount possible, how to “burn off” calories consumed, fear of eating or gaining fat, etc. Additionally, denial of one’s low body weight, extreme influence of one’s weight or physical shape on emotional and mental state, and body dysmorphia – fixation on a perceived flaw or imperfection in one’s physical appearance, body shape, or specific feature – become mentally and socially consuming (Phillips). Flexibility with daily life occurrences like eating and making social plans diminishes as one seeks control and relies on specific, strict dietary patterns, and isolation and withdrawal often result (“Warning Signs and Symptoms”).

DSM-5 diagnostic criteria include restriction of energy intake to amounts far lower than recommended, intense fear of weight gain despite one’s current weight, and a disturbance in one’s own perception of body shape and consequent extreme self-evaluation and denial of the disorder (“Anorexia: Overview and Statistics”). Atypical anorexia occurs when one shows some or all symptoms of AN but is not underweight, despite weight loss.

A main consequence of prolonged AN is a disruption of the body’s ability to regulate hormones. Two hormones most significantly affected include leptin and cortisol, which involve maintenance of appetite and satiation and management of stress levels, respectively. At first, this disruption might not manifest itself obviously, but if not treated, can over time lead to inability to regain a healthy amount of weight and/or damage and even loss of cognition.

Leptin

Leptin is a hormone directly tied to and secreted by body fat. Sometimes called the “satiety hormone”, leptin’s main function is signaling to the brain that energy is present in the body, so appetite can decrease (What Is Leptin?). Specifically, leptin “travels from fat to the bloodstream and binds with the hypothalamus region of the brain, which is involved in regulating appetite” (Tara, 2016, p. 42). Therefore, a higher level of circulating leptin in the blood typically equals a lower appetite (assuming no metabolic issues like obesity or diabetes are present) (Margetic, 2002, p. 1409-1410).

A study published in the International Journal of Eating Disorders compared the plasma leptin levels of patients with anorexia nervosa to that of normal control women without the disorder. Each individual’s level of various hormones including leptin was measured, as well as menstrual score, percent body fat, and eating behavior score. Researchers found a significant relationship between leptin levels and body fat mass, eating behavior score, and menstrual status. Eating behavior score was defined on a scale of one to five based on the patient’s 48-hour diet history prior to blood testing – a lower score was given to patients with lower calorie intake and a higher score to those with extreme caloric intake. Menstrual score on a scale of one to three was based on regularity of the menstrual cycle for the three months prior to blood testing – amenorrhea for at least three months was given a score of one while a regular cycle was given a score of three. Overall, lower leptin levels (observed mostly in the patients with AN) were seen paired with lower body fat mass, eating behavior score, and menstrual score. This signified that symptoms of AN, mainly decreased caloric intake and excessive exercise leading to extreme weight loss, lower the body’s leptin levels, and consequently, menstrual regulation (Nakai, 1999, p. 32).

The same study also pointed out that leptin has been linked to reproductive function. Though it does not play a direct role in the initiation of puberty and the reproductive cycle, leptin does act in a permissive fashion, as “a metabolic gate to allow pubertal maturation to proceed” (Nakai, 1999, p. 34). In another study, both male and female mice with mutations resulting in leptin deficiency were observed to be infertile, and only achieved proper sexual development when provided with leptin. Mice with low leptin levels displayed “morphological and biochemical abnormalities”, like low sperm counts and underweight, underdeveloped reproductive organs (Elias, 2012, p. 842). Similarly, the pituitary contents of luteinizing hormone and follicular stimulating hormone, two main hormones that regulate ovulation, were low in leptin-deficient mice (Elias, 2012, p. 843) (Martin, 2013).

Researchers for the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism found that during the weight restoration phase of AN treatment, leptin levels reached what was considered “normal” (that of healthy individuals without AN), but patients were still significantly underweight. This helps explain why some suffering from AN struggle in gaining weight even after recovering from the disorder – leptin levels have increased, so appetite has decreased. Leptin levels likely increase at a faster rate than weight gain does, which represents potential difficulty some might face in the treatment and full weight-restoration process (Mantzoros, 1997, p. 1850).

A study published in the research journal PLOS ONE found results that agreed with that of the previous study. These researchers found that in previously high-severity AN patients, now weight-restored patients, an increase in leptin levels was correlated with an increased incidence of psychological disturbances like depression, anxiety, and stress. Researchers are unsure of the causes and mechanisms behind this occurrence, but it is possible that the reality of weight gain could have shocked and upset patients who weren’t mentally recovered and prepared for the changes in physical appearance that weight gain brings (Stroe-Kunold, 2016, p. 10).

Current research surrounding hormone restoration, especially that for leptin levels, rests on the side of the more overweight and obese who likely suffer from leptin resistance, rather than deficiency – explaining how to regulate leptin in speeding up metabolism and increasing the body’s rate of burning fat as a source of energy and decreasing appetite. This is not the desired mechanism in restoring hormone levels for those with AN, as a fat-burning metabolism and decreased appetite will likely worsen the existing weight issue.

It is clear that leptin levels are low in those with anorexia nervosa. Low leptin levels should display an increased appetite and amount of food consumed, but the opposite is seen in those with AN, probably due to a preoccupation with the nutrition facts of foods, body weight and appearance, and overall fear and anxiety surrounding food (“Warning Signs and Symptoms”). During the weight restoration and treatment phase, leptin levels have been seen to increase in patients with AN in a linear fashion with weight and BMI – a good sign. However, to maintain this weight, reshaping the mindset of one with AN is just as important, if not more so. Without a positive relationship with food and an understanding of its essential role in everyday life, a patient with AN who gains weight and restores leptin could lose the weight after a period of time due to leptin’s function in decreasing appetite. 

Cortisol

A steroid hormone that helps regulate metabolism, prevent inflammation, enhance memory, and control electrolyte balance and blood pressure, cortisol is the body’s main hormone when it comes to handling to stress. When the body experiences stressful situations, cortisol secretion increases to respond to the stress-inducing situation (Cortisol, 2017). Stress arises not only when the body is under harmful physical attack, but also when it is unable to mentally and/or emotionally cope with certain situations, and this is usually when disorders like depression and anxiety develop.

AN induces stress on the body not only by forcing the individual into a nutrient-deficit, but also by altering the neurological systems within the brain, specifically those that regulate enjoyment of food and emotional sensitivity. Psychologically, the brains of patients with AN show enhanced feelings of pleasure and reward when starvation is chosen over eating, which helps explain the difficulty these patients find in gaining weight. “Disturbed interoceptive awareness of satiety and hunger” play a significant role in preventing patients with AN from recognizing bodily cues to eat. Additionally, these patients tend to feel high levels of anxiety in situations involving food, and therefore turn to starvation as a coping mechanism to decrease the anxiety (Kaye, 2014, p. 1-2).

Patients with AN show abnormalities in CT scans similar to patients with Cushing’s syndrome – ventricular enlargement in the brain and cerebral atrophy (Kellner, 1983, p. 191). This particular study found that the degree of cortisol secretion and ventricular size shared a strong linear relationship. A significant increase in cortisol can increase brain ventricular size, eventually leading to a condition called “normal pressure hydrocephalus”, in which the cerebrospinal fluid does not drain, but rather builds up and causes further expansion of the ventricles. The resulting pressure on the brain from the ventricles typically results in symptoms like compromised memory and cognition, also known as dementia (Lava, 2016). Methods to prevent NPH, specifically that caused by AN, includes reaching and maintaining a healthy weight and exercise routine (Lava, 2016).

Of the several harmful consequences an eating disorder can cause, the hormonal disruptions – specifically leptin and cortisol – can be the most physically detrimental. In the recovery phase, survivors can find the weight-gain process challenging because leptin levels tend to increase at a faster rate than actual weight gain. Increasing cortisol levels during AN, if not treated in time, can cause brain alterations similar to that which occurs during Cushing’s syndrome. Though these changes are often difficult to deal with, they can be prevented and treated by increasing awareness of the damaging effects of AN, and decreasing negative stigmas surrounding AN. As society becomes more aware of eating disorders and proper prevention and treatment methods, these hormonal disturbances can become less and less prevalent.

Bibliography

"Anorexia nervosa - medical complications." Journal of Eating Disorders 3.11 (2015): 1-8. PubMed. Web. 7 May 2017.

"Anorexia: Overview and Statistics." NEDA. National Eating Disorders Association, n.d. Web. 3 May 2017.

Elias, C. F., & Purohit, D. (2012). Leptin signaling and circuits in puberty and fertility. Cellular and Molecular Life Sciences,70(5), 841-862. doi:10.1007/s00018-012-1095-1

Phillips, Katharine, MD. "About BDD." International OCD Foundation. International OCD Foundation (IOCDF), n.d. Web. 7 May 2017.

Smink, Frederique R. E., Daphne Van Hoeken, and Hans W. Hoek. "Epidemiology of   Eating Disorders: Incidence, Prevalence, and Mortality Rates." Current Psychiatry Reports 14.4 (2012): 406-14. Springer Link. Web. 7 May 2017.

Wijbrand Hoek, Hans, and Daphne Van Hoeken. "Review of the Prevalence and Incidence of Eating Disorders." International Journal of Eating Disorders 34.3 (2003): 383-94. Wiley Online Library. Web. 3 May 2017.

"Warning Signs and Symptoms." NEDA. National Eating Disorders Association, n.d. Web. 7 May 2017.

Phillips, Katharine, MD. "About BDD." International OCD Foundation. International OCD Foundation (IOCDF), n.d. Web. 7 May 2017.

Tara, Sylvia, PhD. The Secret Life of Fat. N.p.: W. W. Norton & Co., n.d. Print.

Margetic, S., C. Gazzola, GG. Pegg, and RA Hill. "Leptin: A review of its peripheral actions and interactions." International Journal of Obesity 26 (2002): 1407-433. Nature. Nature Publishing Group, 2002. Web. 7 May 2017.

Martin, K., MD, & Pinkerton, J., MD. (2013, May). Women's Reproductive Health Information. Retrieved May 22, 2017, from http://www.hormone.org/diseases-and-conditions/womens-health/womens-reproductive-health

Mantzoros, C. (1997). Cerebrospinal Fluid Leptin in Anorexia Nervosa: Correlation with Nutritional Status and Potential Role in Resistance to Weight Gain. Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism,82(6), 1845-1851. doi:10.1210/jc.82.6.1845

Nakai, Y., Hamagaki, S., Kato, S., Seino, Y., Takagi, R., & Kurimoto, F. (1999). Role of leptin in women with eating disorders. International Journal of Eating Disorders,26(1), 29-35. doi:10.1002/(sici)1098-108x(199907)26:1<29::aid-eat4>3.0.co;2-h

What is Leptin? (n.d.). Retrieved May 24, 2017, from http://www.hormone.org/hormones-and-health/what-do-hormones-do/cortisol/leptin

Stroe-Kunold, E., Buckert, M., Friederich, H., Wesche, D., Kopf, S., Herzog, W., & Wild, B. (2016). Time Course of Leptin in Patients with Anorexia Nervosa during Inpatient Treatment: Longitudinal Relationships to BMI and Psychological Factors. Plos One,11(12), 1-14. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0166843

Cortisol. (2017, January). Retrieved May 25, 2017, from http://www.yourhormones.info/Hormones/Cortisol.aspx

Eating Disorders. (n.d.). Retrieved May 25, 2017, from https://www.adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/related-illnesses/eating-disorders

Kellner, C. H., Rubinow, D. R., Gold, P. W., & Post, R. M. (1983). Relationship of Cortisol Hypersecretion to Brain CT Alterations in Depressed Patients. Psychiatry Research,8(3), 191-197. doi:https://doi.org/10.1016/0165-1781(83)90062-8

Kaye, W. H., & Weltzin, T. E. (1997). Relationship of depression, anxiety, and obsessionality to state of illness in anorexia nervosa. International Journal of Eating Disorders,21(4), 367-376. Retrieved May 25, 2017, from http://eds.a.ebscohost.com/ehost/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?sid=c7d63f5b-ddd5-4df4-aecf-01592439a021%40sessionmgr4007&vid=2&hid=4105

Lava, N., MD (Ed.). (2016, September 11). What is Normal Pressure Hydrocephalus? Retrieved May 27, 2017, from http://www.webmd.com/brain/normal-pressure-hydrocephalus#1

Kaye, W. H., MD. (2014, May 6). Eating Disorders: Understanding Anorexia Nervosa. Retrieved May 27, 2017, from file:///Users/haleyhansen/Downloads/Psychiatric_Times_-_Eating_Disorders_Understanding_Anorexia_Nervosa_-_2014-05-28.pdf

College Tips - Everything You Need to Know

HealthHaley Hansen8 Comments

As per popular request, I've gathered up some of my tips for college - everything from moving in to the freshman dorms to learning to cook for one person to finding the group of girlfriends God calls you to. 

YOUR QUESTIONS, ANSWERED

two of my first college friends! that one on my right - she's my best friend AND roommate! 

two of my first college friends! that one on my right - she's my best friend AND roommate! 

How do you budget your groceries each week? I never want to pressure anyone to adopt a vegan lifestyle, nor do I want to make it seem like the perfect way to eat/live, buuuuuut the grocery bill of a healthy vegan diet says it all. On about $30-$40 a week, you can load up your bags with tons of produce (yes, even organic!) and other staples like beans, bread, nut butters, and snacks. Here are some healthy, inexpensive items to always keep on hand:

  • rolled/quick cooking/steel-cut oats (I love Bob's Red Mill brand) - good for oatmeal (overnight or hot), baking
  • nut butters (peanut, almond, cashew, etc.) (the ingredients should be nothing more than the nut and sea salt) - good for topping said oats, quick PB & J sammies, and mid-day spoonfuls
  • bread (whole-grain, whole-wheat, sourdough, etc.) - good for toast, sammies, and the like
  • oils (coconut, olive, avocado) - good for cooking
  • beans (canned or dried) - good for adding easy protein to meals, buy canned if you don't have a stove
  • rice (I prefer brown) - good for pairing with beans to make a complete protein
  • bars (I love GoMacro, Larabar, and Square Organics) - good for snacking
  • frozen fruits and veggies - good for... everything! also usually less expensive than fresh produce, but still just as nutritious

Should I shop at my local farmers market? Yes yes yes! By doing so, you can support your community and reduce fossil fuels emitted during the shipment process of other store-bought produce, you can buy organic for less than what it's sold in the store oftentimes. Farmers markets can seem pricey at times, so don't hesitate to ask about any deals the farmer(s) might offer. 

  • I'm relatively new to shopping almost exclusively at farmers markets, so here is an article loaded with tips from The Spruce. 
  • If YOU have any helpful tips, leave them below!
like I said, the local farmers market - DO IT. 

like I said, the local farmers market - DO IT. 

How do I make friends?/ What if I don't like my roommates? Let me tell you - I struggled with both of these for almost six months. I called my parents crying multiple times a week. For someone as introverted and independent as me, I didn't expect to feel so lonely, but moving away from my parents into a completely new city put those qualities to the test. I refused to leave, so I set out to integrate myself any way I could.

plz plz plz plz plz never pass up a late-night donut run. especially if you're in SLO - HELLO SLO DO CO :)

plz plz plz plz plz never pass up a late-night donut run. especially if you're in SLO - HELLO SLO DO CO :)

  • I found a job in the downtown area working as a cashier/hostess-type-thing at Bliss Cafe SLO.
  • I had been involved in a bible study, but another girl and I just didn't feel connected, so we both sought out another group to join and immediately fell in love with the girls we met (thanks, God!).
  • I signed up for clubs pertaining to my interests - mostly related to food/sustainability.
  • I spent time OUT of my own room. Study in the library or in other common, populated areas on campus. Put your phone away while walking or eating or waiting in line for coffee. Go to the gym with a classmate/new friend and sign up for fitness classes. 
  • BIGGEST TIP: I let down my "wall". During a phone call with my mom regarding my struggle in finding friends, she told me I come off as intimidating. Part of me was slightly offended, and the other part felt a tingle of confidence in that. Why? Can't tell ya'. Buuuut I can say that I knew my mom was right, and that in order to make friends, I needed to break my intimidation wall and let others in. That meant smiling at passersby, turning to the person next to me in class to start a conversation, and reaching out to the few friends I did have at the time to make plans. 
this was taken during the last week of my freshman year - p a t i e n c e. 

this was taken during the last week of my freshman year - p a t i e n c e. 

If you're just not feeling a connection with your roommates, I've been there, too. I blindly trusted God in giving me roommates, and He sure did throw quite the mixture of girls together. About 60% of the time, we got along. The other 40% we spent arguing over whose dish belonged to whom, who needed to take the trash out, and how often boys were allowed to spend the night. Each of us had been raised so differently, which hindered our ability to understand another's annoying habits. To learn to get along, or maybe just manage the remainder of the time we had together...

  • Use those tips above from the previous question to get out and make friends with those whom you DO find a strong connection. 
  • Pray for patience and understanding. God didn't put you into a weird roommate situation so that you could light up your anger and frustration at the others. 
  • Have "roommate meetings" - use this time to discuss different chores around the dorm/apartment, rules about having other friends over, noise limits, etc. 

What do I do when homesickness kicks in? (it will) Building off of the previous questions, feelings of homesickness are pretty much inevitable, at least for the first few months. In all honesty, this struggle was probably my hardest, and I didn't seek help for it or open to anyone but my parents about it. Truth is, everyone feels it, and I found that out only after revealing my struggle to my friends. To my surprise, they admitted feeling the exact same way! Many of my tips for overcoming homesickness align with what I've talked about thus far: 

  • Get connected - seek friendships with like-minded people and spend time with them to take your mind off of missing home. 
  • You might have to let go of some things. During my freshman year, I was still hanging onto the last couple frayed strings between my recent-at-the-time ex-boyfriend. When I mustered up enough courage to respectfully tell him I needed space, I felt enough freedom and motivation to integrate myself into my new community. This is NOT to say that you need to break up with your current boyfriend - it's just what I needed to do. For you, it could mean FaceTiming your parents/hometown besties less frequently and encouraging yourself to seek out new friends and opportunities. 
  • If the feelings only become more overwhelming, don't shy away from asking for help. Colleges know that homesickness is a common occurrence (along with other mental/emotional struggles) and strive to provide as much help as possible. Look for on-campus counselors/psychologists (if you're coming to Cal Poly SLO, here's ours), open up to your friends and family. This is part of breaking down your intimidation wall, which I talked about earlier. 
  • "call home, then go hang out with people. Try your best not to travel home too much as you won't solve the root cause of being lonely. Surround yourself with people at your college - friends or just random people. Like I commented before don't stay hauled up in your room. Hang out in common places- lounge, library, dining hall...just being surrounded by people helps! Also join a new club, it may be scary at first but then you meet people. And do be afraid to tell people you are feeling homesick, they probably are too and would love to go get a coffee with you and talk about it!" - Dana, fellow reader
  • "It's normal to feel lonely and homesick during your first year, and it's important to remember that you're not alone. It might look like everyone else is having the best time of their lives and making so many friends (thanks social media), but that's not a reflection of reality. So many freshmen are feeling the same way as you are. Don't keep it bottled up, talk about how you're feeling! And remember it won't last forever, everything gets better over time." - Haleigh, fellow reader
  • "I've been out of college for 5 years, but I still live 1000+ miles from home/any of my family members so I deal with homesickness often! One of the things that helps me feel connected to what I'm feeling homesick for is to do FaceTime (usually it's with my mom). Especially if it's during an event like Thanksgiving, birthday meal, etc! Just have them set the phone up like you're sitting at the table with them and join in the conversations :)
    Seems lame, but I love doing that with my family when I'm missing them!" - Melissa, So Much Yum
  • "Something that stuck with me that I heard early on in college was 'there are no ordinary moments'. Every day is an opportunity to meet a new friend maybe while waiting in line for your lunch, join a club & discover a new passion or your own potential, and an opportunity to make an impact on the world around you! College provides you with so many opportunities through different organizations, your professors, and your peers. Take advantage of them! & if you want to break out of your shell & be who you really want to be that might be different from who you were in high school, college is the time to do it! Just be you & enjoy the ride! :)" - Samantha, fellow reader
  • "Went through it this past year because I was a freshman. The best piece of advice by far is to distract yourself by doing things you love!! For instance, I would often go for walks with friends because I have a beautiful campus! Not only would it distract me, but walking and talking helped me get closer with my friends! Finding things you are grateful for is also a big one because it helps you (or at least it helped me) conceptualize reasons why being at school is the best choice when sometimes all I wanted was the comfort of home. I'm most grateful for the puppies that people have all over campus!!  When feelings of homesickness were really bad, I would take breaks from social media just because it would trigger the feeling more seeing people from home!! Hope that helps :)" - Natalie, fellow reader
  • "... the best thing I did was surround myself with people—whether it was other college students or people in the community. When I was homesick, which was a lot throughout college, I would walk around my local Whole Foods or farmer's market, walk through neighborhoods with families and people of all ages, take a group fitness class, sit by the pool on campus, or take a day trip with friends. All of those things, plus regular (daily) calls with my mom :)" - Emily, My Healthyish Life
invite your parents to come visit you! show them around town - your favorite restaurants, coffee shops, and introduce them to your friends!

invite your parents to come visit you! show them around town - your favorite restaurants, coffee shops, and introduce them to your friends!

Is it hard being vegan in college? I always say "no, of course not!" to this question, but I do remember running into some obstacles. Halfway through my first year, I went from something-like-paleo to vegetarian, and I kicked off my second year by going completely vegan. During my first year, I ate on campus most of the time, but had to adjust to packing my own meals and snacks when I transitioned into my second year. 

  • FOR THE FRESHMEN: when you go to the cafeteria, find the salad bar! By no means am I saying that all you can eat is salad, but this is likely the place that will offer the most and freshest fruits and vegetables, so load uppppp. Next, find protein - beans, nuts, seeds, tofu. If you can, branch out! Most sandwiches, pasta bowls and breakfast items can be made vegan. Don't hesitate to ask the server!
  • FOR THE UPPERCLASSMEN: Learn to pack your own food and meal prep. Make large batches of rice/pasta/etc., beans, and fresh and/or cooked veggies for the week - this makes packing lunch and prepping dinner less stressful and time-consuming. 
  • Choosing a vegan diet in college can pose a challenge in terms of developing friendships, too. People will ask questions - some will be respectful and others may seem rude and arrogant. First, identify your reason for choosing veganism - ethical reasons, environmental protection, health promotions, etc. - and defend those. Next, understand that not everyone may have been raised with an emphasis on seeing another person's perspective. Some may be farmers who have always raised and milked their own cows, and others may just be insistent for whatever reason on eating meat and dairy. Don't pass judgements on these people for their food choices (just as you wouldn't them to such to you) and don't push veganism on anyone. Doing so can create an awkward environment and give an "I'm-better-than-you" sort of name to the vegan diet. 
  • Oh, and check out this post from my girl, Emilie! 
  • Here is another article I found that offers tips on everything from conquering the cafeteria to holding respectful conversations about veganism with others.
Whole Foods salad/hot food bar is a life-saver. 

Whole Foods salad/hot food bar is a life-saver. 

and Chipotle squeezes itself into just about every single town, so go find one. 

and Chipotle squeezes itself into just about every single town, so go find one. 

What are some tips for dealing with stress? Ahhh, stress. That word has moved up to the top 3 on my vocabulary list. As with many of the topics here, I'm NO expert. I deal with stress almost everyday and I could most definitely utilize some helpful tips myself. However, I have made a few habits that help reduce the powerful hit of the stress wave when I see it coming in the distance: 

  • Sleeeeeeeeeeeep. Several studies prove that the tie between sleep and stress level is significant. A recommended seven to nine hours per night can seem impossible in college when homework piles up or when friends want to go out, right? Prioritize your sleep! Not that you have to say "no" to every late-night activity, but do keep in mind what you have going on the next day, how well you've been sleeping lately, etc. Don't let FOMO (fear of missing out) keep you from prioritizing your sleep. Missing one night out a week won't sabotage your friendships - it will benefit your sleep, stress level, and overall health. 
  • Just a couple basic tips: eat well and exercise. Like sleep, these habits contribute to your physical health most of all, and how you feel physically plays a significant role in your mental health. 
  • Know your limits when it comes to workload. Taking four classes each quarter or semester might feel overwhelming, and that's okay! Next time around, take on less units and fill that extra time with a job and/or hobby you truly enjoy, one that brings you joy and helps distract you from school. If you choose to work, let your boss know that you are a student above all else, so school takes priority over working. Send him/her your class schedule as soon as you get it and make sure you aren't scheduled for an insane amount of hours each week. I found that 15 hours of work per week was just enough to fill my time and my bank account without stressing me out. 
  • Take a step back and a deep breath in. Remind yourself that this situation, this stress is temporary and is NOT more powerful than youare. Seek help from a family member, a friend, and/or a counselor if you need it. 
when pizza calls, ANSWER and just ask for vegan cheese or none at all, with extra veggies. 

when pizza calls, ANSWER and just ask for vegan cheese or none at all, with extra veggies. 

get in the habit of packing your own lunch. news flash - it's not that hard! 

get in the habit of packing your own lunch. news flash - it's not that hard! 

How did you keep your faith, amidst all of the college-life temptation? I kept (and still do keep) my faith because it's the only consistent thin in my life. Sure, I have my family and friends whom I know will always surround me, but the love of Jesus is inexplicably perfect in that way. He never leaves our side, and during my first few years of college, He showed me just how much I needed Him for that (and much more). Here are a few resources that I've referenced time and time again since my freshman year: 

  • Throughout the second half of my freshman year, I read the book of Psalms from cover to cover, making it the first time I've ever done that for a book in the Bible. Though I didn't understand what it truly means to be a follower of Christ, mostly because I was so consumed by my ED, reading one Psalm each day and meditating on it as much as I could was one of the major steps I took toward finding God in the mess I was in. David writes from a place similar to what I was feeling much of the time, so I felt I could relate to him, like God was calling me to this book (which He totally was, duh). 
  • During the summer after my freshman year, my mom gifted me with the book "Jesus Calling", by Sarah Young, so I spent some time each day during the summer and for the next year reading the devotionals. Each one "hit home" (if you will) in some way, shape, or form. Plus, they were short - perfect for focusing my mind and heart before a busy day, without forcing me to sit down and read an entire chapter of a book. Of course, this set of devotionals is not, in any way, a sort of Bible-substitute, but I still found it very powerful and moving. 
  • Towards the end of my sophomore year, my discipleship leader introduced me to the book "Idols of The Heart" by Elyse Fitzpatrick, and I'm convinced to this day that God put that book in my hands to help me take one of the biggest leaps out of my ED. Whenever someone asks me about it, I'm practically speechless, except for "YOU MUST READ IT." So, there you have it. You must read it. 
  • I also spent last summer diving into the book of Isaiah, as well as "Girl Defined" and "Captivating". Highly recommended, but again, these are not replacements for actual Scripture. 
disclaimer - we don't always dress up. actually, we NEVER dress up. but anyway, these are my roomies and I love them.

disclaimer - we don't always dress up. actually, we NEVER dress up. but anyway, these are my roomies and I love them.

If you have made it this far, WOOOOO! This was a long one, but only because I wanted to stuff it full of information for those of you preparing for college or finishing up your first or second year. Wherever you are, I hope it was beneficial in some way! If you did find it helpful, or maybe you want to contribute your own tips or resources you utilize, leave them in the comment section below :) 

Thanks for reading! 

College Tips - Everything You Need to Know

When Food is More Than Fuel

Food, Nutrition, HealthHaley Hansen11 Comments

"Food is fuel." You've heard that saying, right? Are you tired of it like I am? 

I'm a human. But I'm more than just a human. I'm also a student, in some situations. I'm also a blogger and a Jesus-lover and a plant-based-diet enthusiast and a 20-something girl who is still figuring life out (baby steps, ya' know?). My point is that I'm more than a pair of legs and arms attached to this chunk of torso. 

In the same way, food is more than fuel. 

True Food Kitchen - seasonal salad + some kind of pizza. Both duh-licious. 

True Food Kitchen - seasonal salad + some kind of pizza. Both duh-licious. 

Think back to that one professor in college who captivated your attention in every lecture. For me, it's Dr. Nicholson (where're my Mustang Nutrition Majors at?!). She's my professor for Cal Poly's Contemporary Issues in Foodservice lecture, and she's one of the - if not THE - very best professors from whom I've ever learned. The class isn't really anything challenging or bursting with new information, but that's just it. There's something simple yet intriguing about digging into the various reasons we, as a culture and as individuals, eat. 

Last week, in class, she shared with us a story of when she was a working RD volunteering at an ethnic food festival. Several visitors approached her questioning how they can make one of their culture's staple dishes - latkes - lower in oil or oil-free, without stripping it of its classic flavor. She paused to think, as did I in that moment. Well, you can bake them in the oven or possibly "fry" them in vegetable stock... but...

Bliss Cafe - eggplant parmesan + protein buddha bowl + turmeric jasmine rice.

Bliss Cafe - eggplant parmesan + protein buddha bowl + turmeric jasmine rice.

But the oil serves a deeper purpose than an ingredient to crisp up the potato latkes - it represents the presence of God's Spirit. By frying the latkes in what an RD might see as a swimming pool of oil, the Jews who celebrate this holiday see it as recognition and honoring of their God. 

The oil is more than the crisp-factor. The oil is more than fat. The latkes are more than shredded potatoes. The latkes are more than carbs. 

Clearly, my professor's story triggered the turning of some wheels in my brain. I let those wheels turn as they led my thoughts into how I view food in different situations, which I realized I want to change. 

Whole Foods - two messes of a salad. 

Whole Foods - two messes of a salad. 

When food IS mostly fuel...

There's no denying that one of food's main purposes is to provide energy for the human body. The brain needs carbohydrates for cognition and the limbs need them for movement. The muscles need protein for structure and function. The bones need vitamins and minerals for stability, and fats to absorb those nutrients. 

Viewing food from the "food is fuel" perspective can be beneficial if weight loss is the goal. For an overweight individual or for one who doesn't have a grasp on proper nutrition, developing the understanding that food provides nutrients and energy the body needs in order to function optimally (or minimally, at the very least), can be a key in attaining/maintaining health.

GT's kombucha - my favorite non-water beverage, besides coffee.

GT's kombucha - my favorite non-water beverage, besides coffee.

  • After a workout, the body usually needs proteins and carbohydrates most of all. Why? To rebuild the muscles that broke down and refuel the glycogen stores that provided the energy. 
  • Before an exam (for all my fellow students), the brain can best remember important material when it feeds on berries, walnuts, and leafy green vegetables. Oh, and don't forget the carbohydrates.
  • While recovering from emotional eating, I viewed food as just macro- and micro-nutrients - protein, carbs, and fat, and vitamins and minerals. I didn't allow myself to see it as anything that could lift my mood because doing so would encourage me to continue eating and continue eating and continue eating until I felt better (after which I only felt worse). 

When food is MORE THAN just fuel...

A virgin margarita from some restaurant in Claremont, CA.

A virgin margarita from some restaurant in Claremont, CA.

Now, whaddya' say we have some FUN?! Food is fun! Food is a vehicle for creativity and self-expression. Food encourages exploration of various cultures, values, tastes, and cravings. 

And most of all, food provides the ropes for and ties the knots within in a community or group of people. Take Food52 for an example. This was one of the first food-blogging communities I discovered way back when I first began, and I fell in love immediately. At the time, most of my mind revolved around food's nutrition label, but a small part spoke up and craved the culinary experience that Food52 highlights behind each recipe. 

Donut Friend - apple fritter + donut holes w/ chocolate drizzle & caramel sauce + blueberry classic donut.

Donut Friend - apple fritter + donut holes w/ chocolate drizzle & caramel sauce + blueberry classic donut.

  • When a group of close family and/or friends are gathered around a table, whether in the comfort of a home or the excitement of a restaurant, food is about sharing and tasting, and the food is only a small part of the get-together. 
  • Even though one meal may have been big (possibly too big) and filling beyond comfort, sometimes there's just magically room for a vegan apple fritter. And some of that room might be influenced by friends who crave said vegan donuts, but hey, that's okay, too. Either way, there's still room. 
  • Backyard barbecues in the summer, movie nights with friends, and late-night cravings for donuts (can you tell I like donuts?) just scream "I'M MORE THAN FOOD". Don't they?

I'm not saying that food is never fuel or that it is only fuel. Isn't that part of what makes food to indescribably worth it, though? It is all of the above. 

Oh, hey look. More Donut Friend. And more friends! (@beazysbites, @constancelyeating, @emilieeats)

Oh, hey look. More Donut Friend. And more friends! (@beazysbites, @constancelyeating, @emilieeats)

Want to read more about why food isn't just fuel? Check out this article from the founder of Precision Nutrition. I love his perspective, his scientific evidence, and of course, his support of food as a cultural celebration. 

Me in my element - aka a kitchen, cooking vegan food, eating Minimalist Baker's vegan lentil sloppy joe's. Happy. Hungry. 

Me in my element - aka a kitchen, cooking vegan food, eating Minimalist Baker's vegan lentil sloppy joe's. Happy. Hungry. 

Food is sometimes pre- or post-workout fuel. In that moment, its usually a banana and peanut butter or a protein smoothie for me. But, other times it may be a communal celebration with my roomies at the end of a rough week, in which its a ginormous pizza topped - no, piled - with veggies and vegan cheese. 

Just like you are not a static being with just legs and arms and a body, food is not just protein and carbs and fat. Just like you wouldn't want to be narrowed into in any one category (i.e. student, athlete, girl/boy, etc.), don't try to squeeze all foods into "good"/"healthy" or "bad"/"unhealthy". 

I'm no dietitian, though I am studying to become one, so please don't think of me as your one-stop-shop for all things nutrition- and ED-recovery related. If you'd like, I can point you towards some of the RD's who have helped me immensely in my journey, and I can share my story with you. 

I hope you've found this helpful! Leave a comment below and tell me your favorite foods - when is food fuel for YOU? When is it a form of community and celebration? 

Bliss Cafe (again) - cacao walnut brownie cookie. The chocolate chip to cookie ratio is what keeps me coming back. On. Point. 

Bliss Cafe (again) - cacao walnut brownie cookie. The chocolate chip to cookie ratio is what keeps me coming back. On. Point. 

Thanks for reading!

Coconut Oil - The Healthy Fat

Nutrition, Health, FoodHaley Hansen6 Comments

Coconut oil coconut oil coconut oil! It's made its way up the food chain (of my life/diet?) in the past few months or so, and I'm here to explain why. You can thank both my absolute obsession with this oh-so-good for you oil - yes, this is a HEALTHY oil #mindblown - and my newfound passion for chemistry, biochemistry if you want more specificity. 

What is coconut oil? (MCT oil)

Coconut oil is classified as a medium-chain triglyceride (which refers to the length of the fatty acid chain as it moves through and stores itself in our bodies). Many of the fats included in the American diet today are long-chain triglycerides, and the two of these function differently in our bodies: 

  • MCT's: on a chemical level, these fats are typically 6-12 carbon molecules long. Unlike long-chain triglycerides, MCTs are sent straight to the liver for oxidation, which decreases the amount of time and space they have to be stored in the body (aka adipose tissue). 
  • LCT's: on a chemical level, these fats are typically longer than 12 carbon molecules. These fats are sent through the lymphatic system before they reach the liver, allowing them more time and space to be taken up into adipose tissue. 

So, what's the big deal?

Welllllllll, let me tell ya'. I've been researching like crazy for some actual primary sources on this topic, and finally found a study posted in the Journal of Nutrition - can you guess how excited I got? No, you can't. I got R E A L L Y excited :) anyway, enough about my inner nerdiness (also, how "inner" is a quality if everyone you know knows about it and considers it a main quality of yours?) 

Please excuse my diversion. Let's dive in. 

  1. Increased metabolism - the study found a 45+% increase in energy expenditure (aka calorie-burn, metabolism, whatever you want to call it) before and 6 hours after eating when participants consumed a meal containing about 30% MCT's. immediately after a meal, researchers observed a 16% increase in baseline calorie-burn for the MCT participants compared with only a 5% increase for the LCT participants. MCT's also showed a greater impact on the thermic effect of food (TEF, the amount of energy the body uses in digesting food) - an increase of 8% with MCT's compared to about 6% for LCT's. 
  2. Decreased fat depots - these results aren't as concrete as the previous, but they are still noteworthy! animals trials show decreases in number and size of adipose (fat) cells, but researchers haven't found concrete evidence reflecting this in humans. however, they have concluded that the increased metabolism and potential decrease in number and size of adipose cells is typically greater in men than women. 
  3. Increased satiety - from this study, researchers saw that men who replaced LCT's with MCT's in their diet over a period of 14 days consumed significantly less calories than the men whose diet was higher in LCT's than MCT's. similarly, body weights of men in the higher LCT group showed an increase in body weight, while the men in the higher MCT group showed a lower body weight after the 14-day experiment. 
  4. Body weight management - the past three observations lead researchers to believe that MCT's can increase weight loss, but the evidence isn't set in stone. at most, they conclude an optimal weight loss of near 3 pounds per month with highest potential MCT effects and at the least, a weight loss of about 1 pound per month with minimal MCT effects. these suggestions can only be made for short-term circumstances, however. 

Where/how do I use it?

Pretty much anywhere/in anything! I've always lovvvvved roasting veggies (sweet potatoes, especially) in coconut oil - nothing beats the smell of coconutty cinnamon + sea salt roasted sweet taters. I'm probably the newest (and maybe last) member on the coconut oil-coffee train, but hey, at least I'm here, right? For a while, I opted for unsaturated fats in cooking - sauteing, roasting, stir-frying, etc. - because the liquid quality made coating food much less of a hassle. But, seriously Haley, how hard is it to scoop a teaspoon of coconut oil onto the pan instead of spraying or drizzling olive oil? Not that hard.

I take the extra steps in cooking with coconut oil because it actually has a higher melting point than other oils like olive, avocado, safflower, etc. Coconut oil is a saturated fat, while olive, avocado, and safflower are unsaturated - the molecular structure of saturated fats keeps them stable at temperatures higher than that of unsaturated fats. When heated, saturated fats don't oxidize or become rancid as easily. Cooking with oxidized oils (oils that have been exposed to oxygen causing them to create dangerous molecular compounds) has been linked to higher rates of cancer and heart disease. Since coconut oil's saturated structure is stronger against the effects of oxidation, it's a much safer option to cook with. 

Unrefined vs. refined? 

Does anything refined ever win over it's unrefined counterpart? Not really, especially for coconut oil, according to Dr. Bruce Fife. Unrefined coconut oil doesn't undergo as much processing as the refined version, so the fatty acids and other important compounds remain intact and can carry out their function in the body much more efficiently. However, refined coconut oil does have a higher melting point than the unrefined version, so keep that in mind when cooking with whichever version you choose.

Of course, other oils like olive, avocado, grapeseed, and almond carry several health benefits and have certain properties that make them more suitable for certain cooking methods than coconut oil. Finding the right balance of dietary oil is essential is benefitting from the nutrients of each. 

But, what about cholesterol levels? 

Saturated fats DO increase cholesterol levels, but not all saturated fats are created equal, right? Similarly, two different types of cholesterol work in the body - HDL (high-density lipoprotein, the "good" cholesterol) and LDL (low-density lipoprotein, the "bad" cholesterol). Though saturated fats - coconut oil included - can increase the LDL levels, they also improve the quality of LDL cholesterol, while increasing HDL levels, too (information from Dr. Mark Hyman). All in all, coconut oil can't be blamed as the main contributor to dangerously high cholesterol levels because it simultaneously weakens the potential damage by LDL cholesterol, lowering triglyceride levels and improving overall lipid profiles.

Bottom line? Not all fat makes you fat. Not all calories are created equal. Whole-food, plant-based fats carry with them various heart-healthy, figure-friendly benefits and should not be limited in the diet. Fat promotes satiation, nutrient absorption (like vitamins A, D, E, and K), increased metabolic activity, and healthy body weight and composition. 

Fear not the fat, my friends :) 

Eating Disorders + Veganism

HealthHaley Hansen2 Comments

Sigh. Get ready for a LOADED post, people. Loaded. 

Does a vegan lifestyle promote/cause eating disorders? Can you recover from an ED as a vegan? I could not be more passionate about this topic, as veganism played a huge role in my ED recovery.

Does a vegan lifestyle promote/cause eating disorders?

Well, Psychology Today calls vegetarianism/veganism the "perfect cover for disordered eating", and while that may be true in some situations, it also gives the lifestyle a bad rap, but that's another topic for another time. So, yes - vegetarian/vegan diets can definitely feed an eating disorder by excluding fatty, unhealthy foods like meat, dairy, eggs, and fish, and replacing them with an abundance of low-calorie plants. Now, do they always cause eating disorders? No. My going vegan actually kick-started my recoveryThe diet forced me to conquer my fear of carbs, which grew a few years ago as I saw pounds practically fall off the fewer I ate. Plants - fruits, veggies, beans, grains, etc. - are mainly carbohydrates, after all. Most of these are healthy, complex carbohydrates our bodies love for fuel, but the few bad ones (i.e. processed sugars, refined grains, etc.) can sometimes hog the spotlight, causing fear and anxiety in those with eating disorders.

You may have heard Jordan Younger's story, probably most widely known as Breaking Vegan, a book in which she explains how she stepped away from her 2 years of veganism in an attempt to leave behind "obsessive 'healthy' dieting". In Jordan's case, her vegan diet was not her eating disorder. Her "obsessive 'healthy' dieting" (also known as orthorexia) WAS. In this article, Jordan says that her vegan diet "was stopping her from leading a normal life full of social activities and other interests." My eating disorder caused me to do the same thing - in fact, that is a significant characteristic of eating disorders! That is NOT, however, a characteristic of all vegan diets. When Jordan's friend, also suffering from orthorexia, suggested she add a little fish to her diet to regain her period, Jordan said she felt she was finally "back on track" and more energetic. Fish didn't solve her problem (amenorrhea, in this case) - what did was eating a higher concentration of calories, protein, and fat. I regained my period 8 months into my vegan diet, after 18 months of amenorrhea. In Breaking Vegan, Jordan discusses what to do when "our solution becomes the problem...". Well, first of all, the "problem" here is not veganism, but rather the eating disorder. The "solution" is not fish or eggs or dairy or meat, but rather whatever foods cause such fear and anxiety. She currently follows a mostly plant-based diet, so much so that she "could practically be considered vegan", but she just prefers to leave off the labels. Exactly - the problem is not the vegan diet, but rather the obsessive disorder inside whomever follows the diet. 

When I became vegan, I did NOT nourish myself properly. At the time, I was still wrestling with my eating disorder and, I will admit, part of me loved the lifestyle so much because I could cut out unhealthy fats, reduce my calories, and use my increased energy level to push even harder in workouts. God didn't allow much time to pass before showing me the consequences of my harmful restriction - within a month or two, my knees always ached, my eyes occasionally blurred, and my weight rapidly dropped. Of course, He didn't allow this danger to consume me, and soon enough I found strength and desire to whole-heartedly love Him and my body

I'm not the only one who found veganism a key factor in my recovery story: 

My story and each of these girls's stories answer my second question...

Can you recover from an ED as a vegan? 

Recovery is possible on any diet/lifestyle, as long as that lifestyle includes foods around which the ED provoked fear and anxiety. In my favorite of Amanda's videos - the one confessing her past ED - she explains how veganism brought to light all the damage she caused to her body and ignited a certain passion in her heart since. Jasmine, on her website, admits to initially using veganism as a mask to hide her eating disorder, until she faced head on the reality of such bodily harm and realized the truth that "[veganism] is about abundance, not restriction." Steph, former competitive dancer and current world-traveler, held onto veganism as a means for control when she felt her family was falling apart at the seams, and now spreads some of the most amazing, encouraging words I've ever heard. And Emilie, not the only girl whose ridden the diet rollercoaster more than once, has held onto a vegan diet throughout her pageant life and all it brought along into her life.

 Let me clarify: veganism is NOT the key to recovery. In some cases, yes - a vegan diet can promote, or feed, an eating disorder, but the two need not be used as interchangeable terms. ANY diet can technically be deemed "disordered eating", especially to one who does not follow the diet. ED recovery can be a long, challenging process, and without God, in no way would I have been blessed with the courage and strength to begin. 

Veganism taught me how to eat in abundance the foods healthiest for the body and the planet. It convinced me of the nourishment and love my body needs, and helped me crush fears preventing me from nourishing and loving the amazing powerful body through which I live every single day. 

As always, thank you for reading! I hope this has answered some questions, and maybe sparked in you a little more curiosity about veganism. Still have questions? Leave them below or send them over in an email! 

How I Regained My Period (Secondary Amenorrhea)

Nutrition, HealthHaley Hansen5 Comments

Secondary amenorrhea - the loss of 3-6 consecutive menstrual periods, according to HealthLine.

From August of 2014 through January 2016 - about 18 months - I lost my period as a result of all that my body suffered during my eating disorder. Of all the negative side effects - the aching knees, the abnormal blood tests, the fatigue, the extreme weight loss - amenorrhea scared me the most. This fear wasn't like most others, though. It didn't want to be talked about (I kept it to myself and tried to shrug it off whenever someone asked), but rather wanted to just pinch away at my insides until what remained was just an immiscible lump in my throat. 

Immiscible for two years. Will I have children someday? Will my body change because of the lack of hormones? So many questions tore up my mind and I prayed and prayed and prayed that God would humble me enough to let Him take control (and therefore help me embrace weight gain and recovery) so that I could find real sustainable health for the first time. 

Since August 2016, I've been seeing my period once every month! Though I still can't pinpoint exactly when it will come or for how long, I know I can expect it at some point. Besides just prayer, I took a few intentional steps in order to regain it and I want to share those with you. First, though, I should note that in my research, I came across TONS of information, tons of possible causes and effects and this and that with which eating disorders and amenorrhea play a role. To narrow down what therefore could become a days-long post, I'll just discuss the relationship between anorexia and amenorrhea, and concluding with some of the steps I took in conquering both those obstacles and some I've found via my research. 

Now, bear with me as I take you through a brief science lesson explaining a little bit more about what happens to the body during a period. The sympathetic nervous system is responsible for the "fight or flight" response and controls hormone release (specifically adrenaline, norepinephrine, and cortisol). By producing gonadotropin releasing hormone, the sympathetic nervous system manages the female menstrual cycle. Like most mechanisms in the body, certain things (substances, situations, foods, etc.) can alter the body's ability to produce GnRH. New research shows that high levels of cortisol - also known as the stress hormone - can inhibit GnRH production. Similarly, "stress also increases brain levels of a reproductive hormone named gonadotropin inhibitory hormone, or GnIH...", according to researchers at UC Berkeley. All this to say, stress plays a huge role in human reproductive ability.

To touch on what exactly "stress" is - well, it could be mental stress from those upcoming exams, that job presentation, the financial weight on your shoulders, or the daily strenuous workouts, the constant worrying about and fearing of certain foods, the dangerous calorie-deficit characteristic of eating disorders. All of those situations fall under the category of "stress",one of the main causes of amenorrhea, especially in younger women. I'm not here to freak you out about the effects of stress, but these possible outcomes of extremely high, prolonged levels are nothing to shrug off. 

Maybe you are working to regain yours or maybe you know someone else who is. Either way, take these into consideration: 

  1. EAT MORE: Think about the main cause (as it pertains to this post) - calorie deficit/low energy intake. Our bodies run on calories for energy to regulate everything from simple arm movements to hormone production. Guess what happens without enough calories? Our bodies have to prioritize the most important bodily functions and send as much energy as needed to those areas, and in the process, some functions are sacrificed. In the case of hypothyroidism, our bodies leave the thyroid gland without enough energy to produce hormones that regulate the menstrual cycle. How to solve that? Eat more! Ahhhh, but it's not that simple, Haley. Oh, believe me - I know! I've been there.
    Now, when I look back at my previous portion sizes I'm like, "Um, yeah I'm still hungry just looking at that...". I learned to increase my portion sizes when I went vegan. A plant-based diet is naturally low in calories, so I had to adjust to filling bigger plates with more rice, potatoes, beans, or whatever it was I ate. Of course, eating more doesn't mean an extra cupcake or scoop of ice cream or even a slab of fatty fish. No, eating more means more of those high-quality, nutrient-dense calories from plant-based foods like avocado, brown rice, tofu/tempeh/soybeans, etc. 
  2. STRESS LESS - I'm in college and sometimes - no, like 94.7% of the time - "stress" might as well be my middle name. Now, that isn't totally just college's fault because I play a role in regulating my own stress levels, too. If you're currently a student or if you've been one before, you know what I'm talking about when it comes to exams, studying, working outside of school, and managing all of that plus a social life. Now, throw in a high cognitive dietary restraint into that mix. High cognitive dietary restraint is the act of constantly trying to limit "food intake to achieve or maintain a healthy weight" (check out This Girl Audra's YouTube video for a better understanding of the term). Research shows that this mentality in college women can likely cause menstrual irregularity. In fact, women with high cognitive restraint levels are more than 2x as likely as those with low-medium scores to report irregular menstrual cycles. 
    Stress isn't limited to only the mental aspect, though. Workouts are "stress", too, just more along the lines of the physical aspect. Too much physical activity can and will contribute to that calorie deficit/low energy intake discussed previously because the body burns calories in order to push through that workout. During a workout, the body uses calories to fuel jump squats, bicep curls, and uphill climbs. After a workout, the body uses calories to REfuel, replenish, and restore broken down muscle tissue. Again, the thyroid's hormone production function is not prioritized, resulting in a missed period. 
    I used to workout 6-7 days every week. HIIT, weight lifting, and running were my go-to's, but I set aside 1-2 days each week for lighter exercise, like walking and practicing yoga. My strict workout regimen - though motivating to many - combined with my low energy intake to inhibit my body's thyroid gland function. Only about a year ago (which seems both long and short at the same time, somehow) did I finally just how much I induced on my body on a daily basis. After a series of eye-opening, heart-softening conversations with God, I wrote a love letter to my own body (also in the spirit of Valentine's Day), apologizing for all I'd put it through and thanking it for pulling strength from places in which I didn't even know I had any in order to fight for life. Last January, I took an entire week - which may not seem like much, but for me it felt like years - off from workouts. I walked, but that was it, and guess what I saw for the first time in almost 18 months? That little red dot most women dread, I finally embraced and thanked God for. 
  3. PRAY - Of course, these aren't in particular order of importance, because if they were, this guy would bump up to the top immediately. Anyway, a fellow blogger asked me the other day if all I did was pray and magically my period came back. At first, I second-guessed myself - why does that sound so simple, even though it was such a challenge? Is that really all I did? Well, yeah, I guess. Of course, I still had to fight - I had to punch that voice in my head constantly telling me to eat less and workout more, despite my absent period. And I used prayer as my weapon during those battles. I prayed not only for a regular period, but most often for actual, sustainable healthy habits. My eating disorder (my not-so-healthy, definitely not-sustainable habits) caused my amenorrhea, so I knew I needed to rid my life of such destructive behaviors and adopt ones that will last a lifetime because I want my period to last a lifetime. Makes sense, huh? 
    Prayer made all the difference in this whole battle. Through it, God brought me peace in gaining weight, trust in the waiting period (6-7 months of waiting before it became regular), and inexplicable gratitude when it finally did set in every month. So, no, I didn't only pray for my period to come back. However, prayer was at the root of every step I took in order to regain it. Looking for some scripture about prayer? Here are some of my favorites: Philippians 4:6-7, Matthew 11:24, Romans 8:26, Acts 2:42, 1 Peter 5:7. 

YOUR QUESTIONS, ANSWERED

"How were you feeling mentally and physically?" Over a span of about 12 months (from the time I began focusing on healing my amenorrhea until now), my emotions flew everywhere. At first, I was stoked to begin the journey because the only thing in sight was the end result - a regular menstrual cycle. However, I was considering every bump I'd face along the way. Since last December, I've gained weight. How much? I don't know, probably around 5-7 pounds. While that may not sound significant, it was enough to pull me way down low emotionally, convincing me that I'd lost everything I once worked so hard for (i.e. my slim thighs, my flat stomach, etc.), and then lift me so high on the pure joy of seeing red for the first time in almost two years. Gaining weight was, by far, the hardest part of it all. BUT I'm now even more stoked than I was to begin with because I see that red every single month and I know that I'm healthy. I know that my body is doing what it's designed to, as a woman. Now, physically, hmm... Well, I'm currently on my period, so I'm dealing with the cramps, moodiness, lower back pain, and breakouts I definitely didn't miss. On the other hand, I'm so grateful for the muscle AND FAT - yes, I'm grateful for the "fl(abs)" lol - I've allowed myself to gain. My body amazes me everyday, as it survived all that it endured during those disordered two years. Again, I couldn't be more grateful :) 

"Were you hungry and tired all the time?" During my eating disorder? Yes. During my regain-my-period mission? Not really. Though I wasn't working out as much, I didn't feel as lazy as I'd expected, which is probably because I was finally consuming sufficient calories to meet my body's high energy needs. 

"I've gained the weight, but where's my period?" Oooooh, I actually don't know. I tied my returned period to my weight gain, so if you've also gained enough weight (key word = enough) but aren't seeing yours again, I'd ask what your stress levels are like - are you feeling overwhelmed in work or school or any other areas in life? If you've come this far in this post, you know how stress can affect the menstrual cycle. I would also consider the quality of your diet - vegan? vegetarian? paleo? low-carb? You may have gained weight, but you may still be low in some essential nutrients and/or vitamins/minerals. I suggest tracking your food intake using an app, analyzing your nutrient amounts, and fixing what's too low or too high. If you've still got some questions, head to your doctor or dietitian for serious deficiencies. When I went vegan, I made sure to increase my vitamin B12 intake via supplements and nutritional yeast. And YES a vegan diet provides enough protein, sooooo don't get me started. 

"I'm vegan... help!" Heeeyyyyy I'm vegan, too! It's been over a year since I made the switch, and my period disappeared before I became vegan. I truly believe filling my diet completely with plants made a huge difference in battling not only my ED, but also amenorrhea. Because a vegan diet is packed with low-calorie plants, it's important to be sure to eat more. Sound familiar? During the first few months of my transition, I played with the high-carb, low-fat lifestyle, which required MUCH larger portion sizes as the main foods (fruits and vegetables) are so low in calories. Though I didn't stick with HCLF, those portion sizes - bigger than any I've eaten before - stretched my stomach and proved that I really CAN and NEED to eat more, despite the branch of veganism I follow. 

"Did you consider birth control?" No. A few people suggested trying it, but my gut told me to stay away for a few reasons. 1) I don't really believe in relying on pills. If I have a headache, I take a nap, drink water, and eat a snack if I'm hungry. If I've got period cramps, I use a heating pad or take a relaxing bath. Joint pain? Rest, ice, stretch. A cold? Rest (again), eat well (as always), supplement lysine and zinc in tablet form, and then maaaaaaybe turn to medicine if nothing else succeeds/my doctor suggests. That being said, birth control is last on the list of pills I'd take if I needed to. 2) So, let's say I take birth control to regain/regulate my period. What happens when I stop taking it? Doctors have found that my period could again disappear for several months, so then what? I have to find another solution to the same problem - I've just made a circle back to where I was. Bottom line: it doesn't seem sustainable, and that's why I haven't tried it. My prayer in this journey was that, not only would I regain my period, but that God would heal my broken relationship with food and form a healthy mindset, one that will sustain me for the rest of my life.

"Can I still workout while I'm trying to regain my period?" My answer: yes. Last year at this time, I'd been following my friend Amanda (@applesandamandas) for months and we were both struggling with amenorrhea. Her advice and her method of healing was cutting out exercise, but I didn't feel that I needed to completely stop working out. Instead, I took a week off - I walked and stretched, and I ate and relaxed. By the end of the week, my period showed up! Of course, I'm not attributing its return solely to my decreased exercise for that week, but I took it as God's way of comforting me in my choice to continue exercise, but simply change my routine up a bit. Since then, I've decreased the amount of cardio session per week and replaced them with either time for rest or more anaerobic workouts, like weight training, barre, and yoga. However, simply changing your workout routine might not solve the problem. Athletes everywhere suffer from secondary amenorrhea - runners, gymnasts, even bodybuilders - because of their extremely low body fat content. Without enough fat, the body cannot produce estrogen, and without enough estrogen, the body cannot regulate or produce a menstrual cycle. So, is it okay to exercise while trying to regain your period? Talk to your doctor to discuss your body fat content and seek help in designing a fitness plan geared towards achieving and maintaining a healthy body composition. 

Wow - I feel like I could go on for days with this post. It was, by far, the most demanded and the most rewarding post I've written yet, simply because of how many of you guys reached out to me asking for help and thanking me for taking the time to post. Honestly, your support means SO MUCH to me, guys. 

Please please please remember that I'm NOT a doctor, and I always recommend you see your health professional first, and then take my advice. That being said, all of this information stems from research backed my health care professionals themselves, so this is all still worthy advice. 

And lastly, if you're struggling with anything - amenorrhea, eating disorders, or school, boys, faith, whatever - I'm here. I cherish the time I spend on my blog. This is my passion and I can't thank God enough for lighting this fire in my heart :) I hope you've found what you were searching for here, and I hope you keep coming back! Thank you to everyone who contributed questions and read all the way down here. I know it's a long one, but I needed to cover tons of information in order to make this post as effective as possible. 

Alright, I'm done I promise! Love you guys! 

RESOURCES: 

Robyn, The Real Life RD, created a whole series of posts dedicated to this topic. Also, she is ahhhhhmazing and I always open up her blog when I'm in need of some intuitive-eating inspiration and body-positive encouragement. 

Here's one from Rachael, aka Avocado A Day Nutrition, which discusses the sheer importance of a woman's period. You need it for more than just making babies, people! 

I'm new to the name Dana Magee, but she is an RD who specializes in non-diet approaches to health - woooo! - and she, too, has an extensive informational post about periods and bone health.