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Period Story Podcast, Episode 39: Jen Wright, Listen To Your Body When It Tells You To Rest

On today’s episode of Period Story, we have Jen Wright, a cyclical living mentor. She supports creatives working with their natural rhythms – menstrual, lunar, seasonal – as they build their small business. I really loved this conversation – we talked about the importance of rest, the power of working with your menstrual cycle and Jen shared her own story. Jen has just launched Life, Aligned, a 3 month productivity and wellness journal. I can’t wait to get my copy!

Jen shared the story of her first period and how she felt shame and embarrassment about it. She says she always felt that it had to be a secret, hidden thing.

Jen says that she’s lost any shame and embarrassment and thinks she’s perhaps a bit too open about her period (I love it!). Listen to hear about how Jen’s fertility journey forced her to learn more about her menstrual health and how she fought for what was right for her personally.

Jen uses everything she’s learned in her work as a mentor and she talks about she helps her clients connect with the highs and lows of energy across their menstrual cycle. She says that if your body is saying that it’s time to rest, then listen to your body, rest and you will be so much more productive.

Jen also talked about how to use the lunar phases as a way for people who don’t have periods to connect for the ebbs and flows of their energy. Jen says that it’s so important to listen to our bodies and that rest isn’t selfish. Thank you, Jen!

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JEN’S BIO

Jen is a cyclical living mentor, supporting creatives working with natural rhythms – menstrual, lunar, seasonal – as they build their small business. Jen offers 1-2-1 mentoring, and runs gatherings with a bit of a twist. Last year it was Networking for Introverts, and Silly Heart Wanders (walking in the woods and gentle conversation with a small group of like-minded creatives) and she has a lot planned for post-lockdown meet-ups! 

Jen launched Silly Heart in 2018, knowing (from experience) that there was an easier way to run a small business than to work all hours, sell low, and risk burn out. She had happily left the advertising industry and office jobs behind to build her own stationery brand, Inky and the Beast, but the idea of busyness and constant working had followed her home from the city. In 2016 she became mum to twin girls and everything shifted.

Jen had believed it was good to be busy. “Busy” meant she was contributing, she didn’t have to feel guilty, she was moving forwards, and that she wasn’t “just a mum”. She thought, when she hit that wall, she could outsmart her body with caffeine and sugar and the right playlist… and then she discovered menstrual cycle awareness. Now Jen creates when at her most creative, writes and plans her marketing when feeling confident and social, and rests when she needs it. This small step of listening to and respecting her own body has been revolutionary, and she’s very happy to now be supporting others as they learn to work with their body, not against it.

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SHOW TRANSCRIPT

Le’Nise: Welcome to the show. 

Jen: Hi Le’Nise.

Le’Nise: Let’s start off by getting into the story of your very first period. Can you share with us what happened? 

Jen: Yeah, it was, I don’t really remember all that much about it, which is strange considering how much time I spend thinking about my period in my adult life. I think I was about 13 or 14. I know I was in high school and all I really remember about it is that I came out of the bathroom and into my mom’s room and said, I think I’ve got my period. And she went, “Oh, God” in this kind of like, it was a kind of happy sound, but it also sounded a little bit bereft, which I feel like I understand a bit more now that I’m a mother myself. Yeah. And and other than that, I remember that she gave me that she gave me pads to use, but yeah. Otherwise, I don’t remember anything about the blood or cramps or any kind of embarrassment around it, but I do remember later on when I was in high school, remembering the embarrassment around it and the shame and like, I hope that no one sees anything, flush the toilet twice and hide everything at the bottom of the bin. And the pads were so thick back then that the other girls could hear it as I was walking along the corridor, things like that, and just always feeling like it had to be this very secret, hidden thing. 

Le’Nise: Why do you think that you developed this shame and embarrassment? 

Jen: I don’t know, because I remember other girls at school talking about it, you know, almost kind of showing off about about it and doing a little kind of skit around it and making the others laugh. But I also remember friends of mine telling stories of one girl saying that she was at her friend’s house sitting on their sofa. And when she stood up, there was blood on the sofa. And so she quickly wiped it on her hand and went, “oh, no, I’ve cut my hand” and just ran out of the house and didn’t didn’t look back. And this idea that it had to be hidden and I don’t think I was explicitly given that message at home. I remember my mum talking about about it with me, but I also grew up in a house with three older brothers. So I feel it was always quite a private thing between me and my mum and just between me and my friends. And it wasn’t talked about in the rest of the house for fear of being made fun by these rather loud older brothers.

Le’Nise: Do you feel that you carry any shame and embarrassment now?

Jen: No, no, no. On the contrary, I think I’m probably a little bit too open to the point where a little while ago, I think I finally found my boundary with it when I was on a Zoom call with with my daughters and their classmates in their nursery. And we arranged like a group Zoom call, a few of us in lockdown. And one of my girls announced that I had blood in my pants, that that morning really loudly and I was like, “oh, no” and I kind of tried to, like, pass it off because it was like this whole group of parents, mums and dads and things like that. Yep. I think I finally found my boundary with it, actually.

Le’Nise: Was it one of those situations where you’re just kind of like, oh yeah and you kind of explain it away. 

Jen: Yeah, exactly. Like, “no, that’s not, yeah, anyway, so as I was saying…” And I think there was so much noise going on with kids screaming and shouting. I don’t think anyone had any idea.

Le’Nise: Yeah, a nursery Zoom call. I could just imagine the chaos of that. I want to go back to the story of you around when you started your period. So you said that your mum she was, she was fine but she was a little bit bereft perhaps because it was a transition from your girlhood through to now puberty. How did you learn about what was happening to you? 

Jen: I, I honestly, I don’t I honestly don’t really remember much. I remember, I remember classes at school. I think a very, very brief lesson on what would be happening in our bodies. And I was talking to my mum about this a while ago when when I knew I was going to be coming on to the podcast and saying, “do you remember having that conversation with me?” And she doesn’t remember either. I’m sure that we must have. But yeah, unfortunately, yeah, I don’t, I just, I don’t remember it. I remember talking to my peers about it at school later after we’d already started discussing the products that we used. And my friends were always trying to convince me to use tampons because I was just using pads. And it’s funny, but even from that kind of early age, in the early stage of the menstrual journey, I felt like my body wants it to come out. I don’t want to block it in. And it just seemed really odd to me to try and stop it from coming out. If my body is trying to expel something, then surely I’m better to just catch it when it’s already come out. So I was just yeah, I couldn’t be convinced and I remember them making fun of me and and like saying that I wasn’t really like, I wasn’t really a woman and I wasn’t really grown up for it. I was just kind of steadfast on no, that’s not that’s not right for me. 

Le’Nise: They said you weren’t really a woman because you didn’t want to use tampons?

Jen: Yeah. It was like, it was seen as like the, the oh when you get your first period, you use pads. 

But when you’re really, like, grown up and really having periods, then you use the the grown woman’s product, which is the tampon, which again is just feels like it’s more hiding it away, you know. So yeah, I was just I was pretty diligent about that. 

Le’Nise: Yeah. But that’s interesting that you knew your body so well at that point and you know, you could connect this feeling of I want, the blood, wants to come out with the the the need to use pads instead of tampons. That I find that fascinating. I’ve never heard anyone express it like that before.

Jen: Oh, OK, good.

Le’Nise: And so do you still use pads? 

Jen: I now use period pants.

Le’Nise: Oh, OK.

Jen: But yes, I was using pads up until a couple of years ago. I went on to discover period pants and then again, just haven’t looked back. It’s amazing. It’s amazing. And so much less waste as well. Plastic free in so many areas of my life. But again, when I was out to dinner with them with a group of mum friends and talked about how I just just discovered period pants, isn’t this amazing and just the looks of horror on everyone’s faces. 

But but what then you have to you have to think what? You have to rinse them out. You have to touch the blood and everyone just seemed, yeah, totally horrified by this idea. 

I was like, yeah, guys, it’s just blood, so it’s completely natural. Yes. They didn’t seem quite on board with it. I was very excited. 

Le’Nise: And it’s so interesting especially that you had that interaction with a group of mums, because when you become a parent, you become very connected with or familiar with fluids, bodily fluids. Yeah, exactly. And it’s like the that blood is still seen as like kind of the last frontier and that it provoked those reactions.

Jen: Yeah. 

Le’Nise: And I really wonder, when did we become so afraid of our own blood? When does that when does that start and…

Jen: Well, it’s so interesting, isn’t it, because and again, it’s not just any blood, it’s just period blood that is still seen as dirty. And that message is given to us from such a young age and through, throughout our lives with the simple fact that they’re called feminine hygiene products and called sanitary towels and everything makes it sound like, oh, that area is dirty and what you’re dealing with is dirty and needs to be cleaned up. And it’s just this subliminal message that’s constantly told to us that, yeah, as you say, even after becoming parents, when we’re basically either covered in jam or poo, we’re still worried about talking about period blood. 

It’s, yeah, it’s crazy. 

Le’Nise: So you talked about how you found your boundary when it comes to talking about periods. 

But I want to ask you, when did you start to become more open in terms of talking about your period because you described when you were a teenager this shame and embarrassment? When did things change? 

Jen: I think probably on my fertility journey, they, things had to change because I was discussing with so many different doctors and consultants, so it took us about three years to get pregnant. And again, I didn’t I, I kind of resisted intervention for a while. I was diagnosed with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) when I was in my early 20s and told that it would be very difficult to get pregnant. And added to that, I had been on the contraceptive pill on and off since I was 15 years old, which obviously didn’t, didn’t help matters either. But when when I was off the pill and we were actively trying for a baby, I was going in and out of all these different kind of doctor’s appointments. And so that was when I started to get to know my my very irregular cycle.

So sorry, going back a little bit when I was when I was still a teenager. After my period arrived, I would only have one, maybe once, one or two year. So they were they were still very rare for me. And they stayed there for a couple of years when I went to the doctor and said everything’s still very irregular. And I remember that they were very heavy when they did come. And so no other questions were asked. I was just dropped straight onto the contraceptive pill and I stayed on it for six years. And it’s only as an adult I’ve learnt that actually more questions should be asked to find kind of the underlying issues and also that it’s quite normal as a teenager for your periods not to regulate until until you’re older. But we’re not really given a chance before we’re given the contraceptive pill. I’ve lost my train of thought now.

Le’Nise:Go back to what you were saying about the pill and talk a bit more about why you came off it, because you started at 15 and then you came off. You were on it for six years. So you came off when you were 21. What made you decide to come off the pill? 

Jen: So I think a number of reasons. I, I had been quite, quite miserable and quite moody throughout my later teenage years, which again, I think everyone put down to adolescence. I put it down to my own adolescence and boy problems and things as well. Actually, looking back, I do wonder whether it was something to do with that, because when I came off the, the pill, things did change for me emotionally. Over a couple of years, I found myself in quite a toxic relationship and it was kind of like I saw sense a little bit and like something in me woke up and I, I found my way out of that relationship, fortunately. And I then, I then went back on the pill again, feeling like everything’s still irregular. If I if I don’t want to keep going out and being surprised by my periods arriving when I’m out and about, then the only option for me is to go on the pill. 

So I went back on the pill for a few years and then as I say, my husband and I wanted to try for a baby. And so I only came off the pill like literally a few months before we actively started trying.  

So I started going to different appointments where they started to tell me all of the options for me, which all sounded just like something that I didn’t, I didn’t want. And I was very I was adamant with my husband from the beginning that I, I wouldn’t want to go down the IVF route if things were difficult for us for years. I wouldn’t want to go down the IVF route. And again, it kind of comes back to that not wanting to do the opposite of what my body wanted to do. If my body is telling me that it’s not ready for whatever reason or it’s not doing it for whatever reason, then I need to sort out my body, not force it to do something it doesn’t want to do. And that was just what felt right to me personally. So before before I tried any of the options that the doctors were offering me, I was going back for blood tests and hormone levels and all that. While I was having that, I went to acupuncture and started taking Chinese herbs and things and tried that for about six months, I believe. But unfortunately, it didn’t seem to be having the right, the right effect. If anything, I felt actually a little bit poorly over the months that I was taking the Chinese herbs and my acupuncturist was so wonderful. She said, “I think that you’re just very sensitive to this to this style of intervention. And maybe it’s time to try something else.” “OK, I’ll try something else.”

And so I ended up taking a drug called Clomid, which was to kind of force ovulation and again, they said that I needed to take it when I started my periods and my period was still only coming once or twice a year. They offered me progesterone to bring on a fake bleed. And again, I said, “I’m not taking that because to bring on a fake bleed, how is that going to help you get pregnant?” That’s nothing to do with my natural cycle. So I said, “I’m just going to wait. It might take a few months, but I’ll wait until my period actually arrives.”

And fortunately, about six weeks later, my period did arrive. So I took the Clomid and fell pregnant with twins, which was a bit of a shock. And oh, so my body obviously was just ready to wake up by that point. Yes.

And then obviously no menstrual cycle while pregnant. And at the beginning I had my my girls I was expressing and attempted to breastfeed and it didn’t, didn’t work for me with the two. They were premature and both had tongue tie and it turned out quite serious dietary issues with one of my daughters as well. And so I ended up switching to formula. 

And so quite early on, my period returned and I remember being furious about it, just like I waited so many years for my menstrual cycle to sort itself out and now at this point where I don’t need to ovulate and I don’t want to have more babies now, it’s suddenly going to start turning up like clockwork. And it did. It started becoming more and more regular and more and more frequently, almost as if my body had gone, ‘I understand what I what I’m supposed to do now, OK? Yes, I’m going to kick it into gear.’

Le’Nise: Your story is so interesting because you ostensibly had PCOS, but then but you because your periods were so irregular when you were a teenager, which is actually really common, that, you know, then you started taking the pill, which suppresses ovulation, came off the pill, went back on it again and then came off the pill, then had to take a drug to stimulate ovulation. It’s fascinating. 

And then you got pregnant and gave birth and your periods, your menstrual cycle resolved itself.

Jen: Yeah. 

Le’Nise: And so it’s really fascinating how quick the doctors were to put you on the pill when you were 15, when perhaps, you know, hindsight being 20 / 20, it may have been better to just wait to see what have, what what what would have happened naturally to your body. 

Jen: Yeah, completely. And and I wish, I just wish I’d known then what I know now, because I don’t believe I would have taken the pill at all. And yes, maybe I wouldn’t have spent most of my life thinking, oh, I have huge and irregular periods because the fact that they’re regular now I mean, they are every kind of 35-36 days usually, but that’s still regular. I can still plan around it and I can still track it. 

Maybe that’s what would have happened anyway if I’d just let my body kind of ease itself into it rather than going yeah you’re not doing the right thing, we’re going to fill you with drugs again and years later, and you’re not doing the right thing filled with drugs. And and again, it wasn’t raised when I was talking to consultants about all the different things they were offering me to help me get pregnant. 

It was never really addressed the fact that I’d been on the contraceptive pill for that many years, it was never you know, I was told, “oh, well, you only came off such as much time ago. So you need to give your body time to regulate itself.” But it was it, otherwise, that was it was never mentioned again. 

Le’Nise: You said something interesting about you, you were going to go on the Clomid, but you were uncertain because you felt like, or prior to that you didn’t feel like your body was ready to do to go on, that you wanted to find another way. And that’s again, then another example that you’ve mentioned where you’ve really been able to tune into your body and be able to listen. 

And it’s fascinating because that’s something that I’m starting to see more and more, more women being able to start to listen to their bodies and listen to what what their bodies are telling and actually respond to that, not just hear it and then just kind of carry on. 

How do you continue to develop that kind of connection with what your body is telling you? 

Jen: So well, not so early last year, I was I was talking with a with a friend and she recommended the book Period Power to me. And I think from reading that it was just it it was just like a mind blowing moment, learning all of this all of these facts about my body and my hormones and just how how much is affected by hormones, because we still talk about it as if it’s just we get, we get kind of emotional and pain for a week and then we bleed for a week and that’s it. And the rest of the time, we’re not on our period and that’s it.

But actually, the cycle is constant. We are always on the cycle of of different hormones flowing through our body. So, of course, that’s going to affect us every day in a different way. So, yeah, everything that I’ve learnt from. Period Power and my own fertility journey, and I then I then became a voracious reader of anything that was about the menstrual cycle and also reading and I mentioned before the book How the Pill Changes Everything by Sarah Hill, which was fascinating and gives you so much more insight into everything that the hormones do, because, again, you think of it all just affecting your uterus, basically. And actually it’s all these signals from the brain, they affect your entire body and mind. 

So, yes, I’ve just been kind of trying to bring that learning into my day to day life and then into my mentoring work as well. So when, when I start, when I started mentoring women back in 2018, I already was very adamant with them when we were talking about the kind of their to do list and their ideas and everything they wanted to do, something that was always key for me to bring up in the conversation was, “OK, but when are you resting? When when are you going to do something fun for you? When are you creating just for the sake of creating” and how frequently the answer was just, “oh, no, I don’t I don’t have time to do that or no, I haven’t even considered that. How could I possibly do that? I’m already running on empty.”

Well, yes, you’ve just answered your question. 

If if you rest and give yourself a chance to just sit and breathe and you know, the ideas that you feel blocked around will flow more easily and give your body a chance to to recoup. And I guess I’ve just, just now increased those questions with my clients and we work them around the menstrual cycle. So I talking to a client a couple of days ago and she was laying out all of all of this work that she wants to get done over the next few weeks and saying, “yeah, it feels it feels manageable. You know, I’ve got this lot of stuff here in this little stuff here,” “OK, but when when these your bleed due? Aren’t you due soon?”

“Yeah, I’m actually due the day of that deadline. Maybe I should shift that.” I’m kind of trying to bring that consideration into, into our work because it it does affect us. And I think a lot of a lot of women still fight that saying, no, I am in control. I say, that I need to do these things and I will get on and do it and say, well, you are your body. And if your body is saying that it’s time to rest, then listen to your body, rest and you will be so much more productive and feel so much brighter and more positive for having that rest. 

Yeah, and I’ve been trying to practise what I preach for the most part. 

Le’Nise: Why do you think we’re so resistant to rest?

Jen: Oh, the patriarchy. I think we’re just we’re just indoctrinated with this belief that we have to be busy. We have to be busy all the time to really be seen as contributing and really being seen as being productive. And I’m a victim of that myself, of you know, I had a very busy, very stressful office job for years. And even when I started working for myself, I ran a stationary brand for a few years. I just still felt like if I wasn’t working all the hours, then how could I possibly ever be successful and how would people take me seriously? And it just it’s just a one way ticket to burn out. And you don’t do your best work in that space. So and it’s mad that we leave these jobs going, oh, I don’t want to be in the rat race. I want to start my own business. And then we work harder for ourselves than we would ever accept working for somebody else. And there is this this old kind of patriarchal view of, you know, I must work the same every day, day in, day out, must make money, must, you know, just keep going no matter what. 

Le’Nise: It’s interesting what you’re saying about this patriarchy and productivity and needing to work harder for yourself, because I could completely relate to all of it. I I’m actually on day three of my period right now. And so Saturday I, I usually have lots of stuff to do in the morning, but for whatever reason, things got cancelled out of my diary. So all of a sudden I had all of this free time. My husband and son were out of the house off to play football. And I said to myself, Why don’t you just read and rest? I had a book that I wanted to really get into. It was in a fiction book which I love reading fiction, and I don’t read enough of it. And I, I was like, just lay in bed. You don’t feel good, you’re tired, just lay down and read. And there was so much resistance to it. I kept looking over at my laptop and thinking maybe I should just do this. No: read. And in the end, I read, I actually finished the whole book.

Jen: Oh wow.

Le’Nise: Yeah, I’m a fast reader, so I read the whole book and I felt so much better by the end of the day. And I just, it was just a reminder of firstly, practise what you preach. And secondly, that rest is so important. It’s like almost feels revolutionary at times. 

Jen: Yeah, it does. And it’s like you say you’re looking around going, oh, well, maybe I should do that first. Almost like you have to earn the right to sit down and read your book.

You’ve already earned it. And here is your permanent permission slip when you feel tired it is a message from your body to sit your butt down and rest. We listen to all of these other messages from from our body. Just the simple case of the circadian rhythm of just, it’s night time, I’m tired, I’m going to go to sleep. And obviously there are a few people I know, who say, “I will stay awake for as long as humanly possible”, and fight against that. But the average person will go, will accept, I’m tired, I’m going to go to sleep. 

And yet, I really feel like I need a rest. I better do all of the housework and also all of my emails and just sort all this out first. And no I just just sit down. 

Le’Nise: I want to talk more about the mentoring work that you do and how you’ve managed to tie in the ebbs and flows of the menstrual cycle around that. 

Talk a little bit more about how you educate your clients about that and whether there’s any resistance they have to incorporating that into the way that they work. 

Jen: So, yeah, I don’t think I’ve actually encountered any resistance with my clients, which has been brilliant other than kind of, they’re not being aware of how much it affects at the beginning when we start talking about it to a mere few weeks later or a month later going, “I can’t believe now I’ve been tracking it I can see exactly where it is that I should be, you know, resting or where I should be planning that deadline.”

And that’s that’s such a good way of looking at it rather than resisting this idea that you’re not in control. It’s taking control of it and going, right. I’m going to I’m going to track, track my cycle so I can plan for my next one and know that, oh, there’s that networking event that week that I’d really like to go to, oh, God, I’m going to be on day 28 or for day 1. And I’m really not going to feel like talking to people. I’m going to mess up my words. 

Oh but there’s this networking event that falls around ovulation when I’m going to be like really confident and feeling sexy and I’m going to go and talk to everyone and sell them what I do. 

And just being able to be able to plan that way is is hugely empowering and liberating. And I did it myself the first time last year. OK, I’m actually going to put this theory into practise for myself. And I booked my first professional photo shoot going getting some some photos taken from my website and she offered me some dates. Oh, great, that date falls on kind of as the moon is becoming full and I’ll get into the lunar phases as well. And just as I’m coming up to ovulation, so I’m going to be feeling like more confident, more energetic, a little bit more playful. And and I did I felt great, something that would usually fill me with much dread. And I had to get up the early hours and it was a freezing cold day. And like travelling on the train delays, I had to go up north and usually I’d be just a ball of stress by the time I got there, I was still just so excited and and it was a brilliant, brilliant day. And I think that if I booked that a couple of weeks later or earlier and I was, you know, in the middle of my period or something, it would have been a completely different experience. 

Le’Nise: Yeah, can you talk a bit more about the lunar lunar phases, so you have a brilliant Facebook group for anyone who’s listening. I’ll put it in the show notes: it’s called Life, Aligned

And you talk about not only menstrual cycle tracking and what that can bring to in terms of work and life, but you also talk about the moon phases. I don’t know a huge amount about it, so I’d love to hear more from you about what it what what it’s all about.

Jen: Sure. So, yeah, because the group stemmed from my desire to kind of bring, bring what I was learning to a wider audience because I work one on one with, with people, but I started the group to just to see kind of how it would work in the group setting. Talking about cycles, but obviously it would be very difficult to talk about everyone’s individual menstrual cycle if you end up with lots of different people in different, different timing. So I thought, well, we’ll do it around the lunar cycle and I’ll talk about how that reflects the energy of the menstrual cycle because it does mirror it.

So from the new moon would be reflective of your menstrual stage, your bleed when energy is at its lowest and light is at its lowest. And you just feel like being kind of indoors and cosy and hibernating. Waxing moon would be spring, energy to return, in spring, your follicular phase, when you’re coming out of your bleed and heading towards ovulation and oestrogen is starting to rise in your body and you feel a little bit more energetic, playful. And then Full Moon is reflective of ovulation when you’re feeling most confident and outgoing and productive and you kind of want to share your ideas with the world. And then as the moon wanes again, the energy starts to wane also and it starts to wane, it would be reflective of the luteal phase. So post-ovulation and oestrogen drops, progesterone starts to rise and you just kind of want to hunker down and get back into that hibernation mode. 

Le’Nise: So in terms of the lunar cycle, do you talk about, because you can see the connection for people who are still menstruating, but for someone who is either going through perimenopause, menopause or post menopause, do you talk about, how does it work in terms of connecting your lunar phase with whatever else is going on in your life. 

Jen: So, yeah, that’s that’s exactly when when you’re not having that menstrual cycle for whatever reason, if you’re pregnant, perimenopausal or for whatever reason, and having the lunar cycle to look to, to ensure that you’re still taking time to rest and that you’re still kind of working on that cycle rather than working on a treadmill is is really important. So, yes, I lost lost my train of thought again, sorry…

Le’Nise: So you were saying that for people who who don’t have a period, for whatever reason, using the lunar cycle is a really nice way to to rest, to remind yourself to rest because you don’t have that menstrual cycle to connect with. I think that’s really interesting because I get those questions a lot when I talk about menstrual cycle, menstrual cycle, tracking a lot. And people will say to me, “oh, well, I don’t have, I don’t I take the pill so I can do this or I’m menopausal or post menopausal. How does it work for me?” And I love that lunar cycle tracking as a tool because again, it’s a reminder to rest and it’s a reminder that we are still cyclical beings, even if we are, don’t have a menstrual cycle for whatever reason, we need to rest. Rest is important. Rest is our right.

Jen: Yes. It is our right, yes. It gives some still, gives women a way to kind of grounds themselves rather than going back to kind of working every day in the same way. OK, so it’s we’re coming to the new moon. I’m going to schedule in a couple of days to just take a break and really practise self care. 

Le’Nise: So if you had one thing to say to someone who’s listening to this podcast, what would you what would you want that to be? What would you want to leave them with? 

Jen:Oh. Yeah, I think the most important thing is, you sound like a broken record is listening and listening to your body. Again, so often we we do fight. We automatically fight against this idea of taking a break and this fear of looking like we’re not contributing and we’re not being productive. And the brilliant Untamed by Glennon Doyle, which I feel like almost everyone has right now. If you haven’t, I highly recommend it. She speaks about how, you know, the what we’re all striving for is to be selfless, to kind of make ourselves disappear so much that we are seen as completely selfless. And this is like the epitome of being a good, a good person, a good mother, a good woman. And I think that is so ingrained in us that we feel it’s, it’s selfish of us to want to, as you say sit down and read a book. But actually, it’s so, so important for our own mental health, physical health, to just keep ourselves rested so we can carry on, like keeping our brain firing on all cylinders and keep bringing our brilliant ideas to the world and keep like looking after whoever we’re giving care to, children or family or community. We need to be rested in order to do those things. 

Le’Nise: That is such a brilliant message and I really encourage all of my listeners to take that to heart. Rest is so powerful and it’s not necessarily just about being productive. It’s also about feeling better in yourself and just feeling your best self to, to quote Oprah. How can listeners find out more about you? 

Jen: You can find out more about me on my website, which is www.sillyheart.co.uk and I am sillyheartco, all one word across pretty much every other social network going. And you will most likely find me hanging out on Instagram.

Le’Nise: And your Facebook group?

Jen: My Facebook group is Life, Aligned and it’s a closed group. So everything you can share in there is just within, within the group. And it’s such a friendly, warm, calming space. It’s really lovely. Yes. You can find me on Facebook on Life, Aligned.

Le’Nise: Thank you so much for coming on the show, Jen. It’s so brilliant to talk with you, connects with you and find out more about what you do. 

Jen: Thank you so much for having me. 

Period Story Podcast, Episode 16: Lina Chan, We Should Celebrate Our Bodies

On today’s episode of Period Story podcast, I had the pleasure of speaking with Lina Chan, the founder and CEO of Adia, a digital health platform empowering women through their fertility journey. 

Lina shared her fertility journey which led to three children and two angel babies and said this is what inspired her to start her company. 

We discussed the story of Lina’s first period, with Lina explaining that because she comes from a conservative Asian family, nobody had talked to her about what to expect. She said found her period embarrassing and shocking, especially growing up in Brazil, where swim classes were held year round in school.

Lina describes the life changing moment when she discovered how she could hide her period. She says now this is one of the taboos she aims to break down with her company, Adia. 

We had a very honest discussion about breaking down the taboo of discussing miscarriage. Lina says that women shouldn’t underestimate the impact that miscarriage can have emotionally and that it’s very important to talk about it and seek the support you think you need.

Lina says that we should celebrate our bodies and I completely agree! 

Get in touch with Lina:

Website

Instagram

Twitter

Facebook

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Lina’s Bio

Lina spent most of her career working as a private equity investor in the UK. After experiencing pregnancy loss and difficulty conceiving, she realised the need to build more companies by women for women to help make health more proactive. She is now the founder CEO of Adia, a digital health platform empowering women through their fertility journey, and mother to three children and two angel babies.

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Show Transcription

Le’Nise: On today’s episode, we have Lina Chan. Lina spent most of her career working as a Private Equity Investor in the UK, after experiencing pregnancy loss and difficulty conceiving, she realised the need to build more companies by women for women to help make health more proactive. She is now the founder and CEO of Adia, a digital health platform empowering women through their fertility journey, and mother to three children and two angel babies. Welcome to the show.

Lina: Thank you so much for having me.

Le’Nise: So let’s start off by getting into the story of your first period. Can you tell us what happened?

Lina: Yeah, I got my period fairly early. I think I was 10 at the time, which was kind of early, I think, when I was growing up. I don’t know. I feel like now girls are having their periods earlier and earlier. So at school, I hadn’t yet learnt about it. And I come from a very conservative Asian family and nobody had talked to me about it. So I remember just one day going to the bathroom and seeing blood and just really being scared and not quite knowing what to do. And my first instinct was to feel really embarrassed. And I remember just putting a lot of, I rolled up a bunch of paper and put it there, but then it went away like literally it was just a day and it went away. And then it didn’t come back again for a few more months, like three or four months. And then it came back and I did the same thing. I didn’t even have pads. It was, I think, a bit serendipitous because my sister had come to visit and she’s a lot older than me. She’s twenty two years older than me and she brought it up and I was like, oh, my gosh, yes. I’ve been having these these bleeds and I don’t know. And she was the first one who gave me a pad. So and it’s kind of like, oh, well, you know, you’re going to get this or I’m going to get get these things for you a that was it. So there wasn’t really much of a conversation. And then I learnt it at school. So it was all a bit shocking.

Le’Nise: You what you said you were embarrassed. Why did you feel embarrassed?

Lina: I don’t know. I think it’s because it felt like a private area. You’re always taught that it’s a very private area and it was something that I had not ever thought of. And I think it’s because also it’s stained. Yeah. There was a lot of shame associated with it and it’s interesting to think of why, already at that young age, I felt shame with that. Because I even remember, once I started having periods, I didn’t want to tell anybody because I must have been one of the first two girls in my class to get my period. So I didn’t want other girls to know that I had my period. I grew up in Brazil where it’s very hot, so you pretty much have swim classes around the year. I remember just being terrified of swimming because I would swim with my period because I didn’t want to tell people that I had my period and I couldn’t swim. And it would always be this like, you know, dashing out of the pool, running to the bathroom, it was awful. Months and months of dealing with it. I remember always struggling with it.

Le’Nise: So you grew up in Brazil. There is a culture of being outdoors, swimming, and you were one of the first in your class to get your period. So the support of your sister, who was twenty two years older, must have been really helpful, to kind of navigate you through this time.

Lina: Well, yes and no, because she didn’t live with me. She was already married and she already had her kids. So she only gave me the pads and I didn’t really have anybody else to talk to. And my mum didn’t talk about it. You know, Mum kind of didn’t really kind of engage with any of that. And so I actually didn’t speak to anybody about it until more of my closer friends had their periods and then that became more of a topic amongst us and we then discovered things together. So we discovered the tampons together, I remember a friend of mine going, well, you can use this to help you with the swimming and I tried it, but I just couldn’t get it. I couldn’t get it in. And I was like, I just can’t. I was like, maybe I don’t even have, like, a hole. But I think because I was so tense that I couldn’t put a tampon in. She had travelled to the U.S. and come back with those plastic applicators rather than just the cotton ones that you had to insert with your finger. And so she’s like, try this one. And then I managed to use a tampon and I remember that was completely life-changing because suddenly you could hide that you have periods. It was only really through my friends that I discovered more about periods and how to manage it and all that.

Le’Nise: And so you were all kind of learning about it at the same time helping each other. If you think back to what you were learning: were there any myths that you were kind of circulating among you where you think back and think that wasn’t right or why did we talk about that?

Lina: I think there’s still a lot of feeling ashamed of it or embarrassed about it and for really kind of no reason. I don’t know what made us all kind of feel like we had to hide it. I think part of the reason was because it always felt like a topic that you couldn’t talk about openly or be proud of and kind of celebrate as being very feminine. There was always something that was associated with being dirty, being smelly, being yucky. It’s almost as if you had a condition. And I think that’s an issue around a lot of women’s health topics. It was also definitely one that I encountered when I had problems conceiving and having pregnancy loss.

And that’s the reason why it was a big push for me to start Adia. It was around breaking down a lot of these taboos that women face. And I think it starts at the very early stages of periods and it happens over and over again as women go through their different life stages. So, you know, you start with periods and being ashamed of those and if you have period problems like endometriosis, PCOS, fibroids, you struggle with it in silence if you’re not comfortable talking about it at work. It’s so debilitating. All the way to struggling to conceive, having pregnancy loss, blaming ourselves, not feeling comfortable, not getting the right support, all the way to menopause and women struggling with those symptoms, not getting the support. So I think now, and that’s why I was saying how I love what you do, is because I think we need to as a society and as women, completely change the dialogue around women’s health and these things to actually be a lot more celebratory, so that when my daughters kind of, you know, go through this phase that I went through, they don’t feel ashamed and they don’t feel like they need to hide about it or they need to speak to their friends in secret, that it’s something that they should be very proud of.

It’s funny, we were we were working with this charity, Bloody Good Period, and we were doing a campaign. So we were trying to figure out like what are some social stigmas, a social norms that we want to break down. And one of the questions one of the girls asking is like, “Do you still hide your tampon or your pad when going to the bathroom?” And I was like, “Oh, my gosh, I do.” I’m working so much with women’s health? It’s just so subconscious. I do, I roll it and push it under my sleeve and I go off to the bathroom. It is still very much ingrained, even in us who might be kind of a bit more progressive already in the way we think. So I think a lot of it was around being such a taboo subject.

Le’Nise: Are there any other taboos that you think we need to break down in order to be more celebratory about our periods?

Lina: Definitely. So what is it? Celebrate that it’s life itself rather than something that you’re  ashamed of. I think sex around periods, I think that’s something that girls struggle in and try to figure out what does all that mean? You know, which then goes to talking about sexuality, talking about fertility. I think that can be the early stages of kind of like the next phase, that’s something women should talk about more and share more and break taboos around that.

Le’Nise: And I just want to go back a little bit to what you were saying earlier. So you were having these conversations with your friends and learning along with each other. And then as you got older, so went into high school, then university. What other things did you learn about your period and what were your discoveries then? And how did you educate yourself?

Lina: So in the teens it’s kind of like the managing it. I think it ends up being sex and contraception, was the next big kind of period health, period management of learning. I remember I tried all these different types of contraceptive pills and I just had such bad side effects from mood swings to hair loss to the point that I just stopped, didn’t take them at all. And I think there’s, again, a lack of knowledge around the contraceptive pill for women and which ones work for them. And I think for a very long time women have taken it and struggled with the symptoms and just kept getting fobbed off as like, “Go take three months for your body to adjust.” But like some women just don’t and it needs to be looked into more. And, you know, there are companies now trying to match women’s DNA or kind of like existing conditions to the right contraceptive pill, because I think people are starting to recognise that there is a link between your hormones, your mental health, physical health, and kind of then how to manage that and then, I think the next phase of taboos and and things that women can learn is, OK, so now I want to start having families and getting off the contraceptive pill, re-learning what their cycle is like, because sometimes, because they’re on the pill, it’s a quote unquote artificial cycle and you get off it and you don’t quite know when your period is going to come back.

So you’re kind of totally re-learning your body and then something that you used to hate having is the one thing you keep looking forward to so that you can conceive every month. So then again, it becomes like this, this relationship that you have with your body and it can either feel very comfortable or very foreign. And because I think somebody who conceives it’s a nice thing, it happens quickly, but for somebody who can’t conceive, it becomes a source of anxiety every month. And we talk about it in Adia about women who struggled for a very long time that it can almost feel a little bit like trauma, because every month, that period reminds you of something that you don’t have and that you really want. So, again, it’s a struggle with your own body.

Le’Nise: And with you having been on hormonal contraception and did you have any bad side effects?

Lina: Yeah, had terrible ones, that’s why I got off it. I think I tried three and then with one and I lost a lot of hair. I mean, I remember they were coming out in chunks. And it’s funny because now at Adia, I was talking to a woman who was working on a business to help match women to contraceptives and she was like, “Oh, so you have the blah blah gene” and I was like, “Finally, 20 years later, someone figured out why I kept losing hair when I go on a certain pill.” And then the other two, I just kept getting extremely bad emotional side effects, so like crying for no reason. I was like, “Why am I putting up with this? Why am I doing this to myself?” So then I just never went on the pill. I literally tried it for a year and then never, ever went on it again.

Le’Nise: Was at the end of your journey with hormonal contraceptives?

Lina: Yeah. I never went on hormonal contraceptives. So it was a lot of condoms or just avoidance and using the tracking system.

Le’Nise: Ok. And so how did you learn about that? Was it trial and error?

Lina: I mean, I guess because I never went on the contraceptive pill. I’ve just been very lucky with an extremely regular cycle. My cycles were always 27, 28 days. The only time that I went to a very irregular period was when I started working and it was extremely stressful. I worked around the clock, I barely slept. So I don’t think my body even knew what was day and night. And I was getting my periods every two weeks. I was too engrossed with my job that I didn’t really think much about it. But then when things calm down, it became regular again. So I kind of always had a sense of when I was ovulating. And I kind of became quite smart about my fertile signs and what to look out for. So I became very tuned in with my cycle, which has helped me in other ways, even now with food. I kind of listen to my body, I can tell when I’m not feeling quite right. So I could usually predict when I was going to start bleeding.

Le’Nise: You said you were quite tuned in and now you’re quite tuned into your cycle and with food as well. What do you mean by that?

Lina: So when we started trying, I struggled. So I lost my first two pregnancies, one fairly late stage at six months and then managed to conceive and I had three kids but during that phase of loss, I really, kind of stopped trusting my body. I didn’t really connect with it and I think it was the trauma. And I went to the doctors to figure out what it was. But during that time of trying and failing, I needed to learn how to trust my body again. And I did it through yoga and I did it through nutrition. So I became a yoga teacher and I did a couple of nutrition courses. And I think all of that was so that I couldn’t kind of feel a little bit more empowered and a little bit more in tune to something that can become can become very foreign. Something that had always given me what I had put into it. I was very athletic. I always did a lot of exercises. So I knew that, OK, if I train I could reduce my time by X. Like what you put in, I could get out like I understood my body. But during pregnancy, I just didn’t. Whatever I did, just didn’t do what I wanted it to do. So I just needed to kind of calm down and and relearn it and I did it through exercise and nutrition. So yoga really helped me kind of move with consciousness, it taught me about mindfulness, it taught me to sit with my feelings. And nutrition kind of helped me because I did, you know, I was athletic, I pretty much just eat whatever I wanted. I never was quite conscious about what I was putting into my mouth. But during that phase, I learned about the vitamins. I learned about what made me feel good, what didn’t make me feel good, when was I eating for anxiety and when was I eating mindfully? And all of that kind of just helped me be more present and more grateful for what I had in my body. And then we went on to conceive and all that. So it was through that journey that I learnt to trust it again and I did it through those two venues.

Le’Nise: You sound amazingly tuned in and it sounds like you’ve been on this incredible journey and of understanding not only what nourishes you physically and nutritionally, but also being really open to what’s going on with your body. Amazing. Absolutely amazing. How long was this journey for you?

Lina: Oh, gosh, so three years from the first time we tried to having my first daughter was three years because we had the two losses and conceiving between them took almost a year each. Our first was born at 32 weeks, so she was born quite early, that was a fairly stressful kind of fourth trimester but then we had two others in quick succession. So from beginning to three children, it took us five years. But to get from beginning to first child, it took us three years. So, yes, the other two came very quickly thereafter. I think it’s you know, part of it was I had a lot less anxiety around it. I knew how to take care of my body to prepare for pregnancy. I also knew that because I had struggled, we started trying six months after me having one. And I think a lot of women prefer to wait a year and I think the recommendation is to wait for a year. But, you know, I was of my age and I that I had struggled. So we tried sooner and then we were lucky to conceive sooner. But I took much better care of my emotional and physical health in the subsequent pregnancies.

Le’Nise: What would you say to women who are going through similar things, who maybe have had a miscarriage and who are trying to conceive again?

Lina: I mean, I think the first thing is to really not underestimate the impact that it can have on you emotionally and to talk about it. It is something that women feel really ashamed about, but it’s very important to talk about it and seek the support that you think you need. One of the doctors that work with us, she actually just released a study last week and was picked up by quite a few of the newspapers showing that one in seven women who experienced even just one miscarriage go on to develop PTSD. And that can have really big consequences. And sometimes we don’t even realise that we have it. So I think recognise that it will affect you emotionally, so seek help. I think, you know, it took me too long to recognise that I needed that support. And I think learn to trust yourself again and your body again and find whatever works for you to feel grateful again about the body that you have. Some people practice mindfulness, some people talk to friends, some people practice gratitude, some people dive into nutrition. Find what works and reconnect with your body so that you can start trusting it again and really get informed. The NHS makes you miscarry three times before you seek a specialist but if you trust your gut, if you think that you want to see a doctor sooner, try to find that support if you can, because there are tests that they can run, there are things that they can do without having to make you wait for three miscarriages. And the more empowered you are with information and the more balanced you can feel mentally and physically, I think the better chances we arm ourselves with.

Le’Nise: Talking about taboos. Do you think that miscarriage is still as much a taboo in terms of talking about miscarriages as it used to be?

Lina: Yeah, I think so. I think there’s definitely waves of it becoming more talked about. So I think it’s positive, it’s definitely moving in the right direction. But I think it’s still is taboo. And I still think that a lot of women attribute shame and faults to themselves. And I think one of the key things is, a lot of women when they fall pregnant, they’re told not to say anything for the first twelve weeks. But that’s when the majority of miscarriages will happen, like 85% of miscarriages, I think it’s 85% of miscarriages happen in the first twelve weeks. And so typically you haven’t told anybody at work, you’ve probably felt rotten because it’s the worst 12 weeks of the pregnancy. And then when you go to the hospital, you know, if you’ve miscarried, they’ll be like, okay, just go home and try again. So we haven’t set it out in a way that women can feel supported during those first 12 weeks, so actually, it’s quite hard. And so then you’ve gone from not telling anybody, to then saying, oh, I’ve miscarried. So women find that it’s a pretty big step, it’s hard to bring that topic up. So I think one of the first things we should think about is why is this this 12 week rule? We should just, you know, recognise that it’s something that’s very common, happens to one in four pregnancies in women. So it’s funny because it’s more common in circles of women who have struggled or tried because as soon as they get pregnant they say, they say, and they fully acknowledge that there’s a very high risk of losing it but you’re recognising it, it’s not something that you’re trying to hide. So I think there needs to be more to be done. But, you hear as more celebrities talk about it, as more women like me and you talk about women’s health, I think then you’re starting to move the needle for the next generation.

Le’Nise: Yeah, absolutely. I remember when I had a miscarriage before I had my son and I wasn’t sure what was happening, but I didn’t know who to talk to because I thought, “Well, okay, like, it didn’t happen for me this time so I will keep trying.” But I think back to how I was feeling at the time and I remember feeling sad, but also thinking, “Well, I shouldn’t really talk about it because you know what’s the point?”

Lina: Yeah, yeah, exactly. And I think that’s why this study is so important, it shows that even if you just miscarry once, you have such a higher chance of actually having a mental distress out of it. So it is something that we should talk about and make women more aware of it. I mean, I think even just the awareness that it could be quite common that it could happen to you and if it happens, these are the things that you need to do. I think this is really key.

Le’Nise: Talk to me about your company and everything you’re doing to support fertility and support women as they go through their journey. Can you tell us a little bit more about what you do?

Lina: Yeah, sure. So when I was going through all the things that I went through, there were two kind of big pain points for me. One, I didn’t feel like I could access the doctors that I needed and two, the information that I got was so confusing. So that’s the two main things that we try to really break down, the barriers we try to break down. So women can come onto our platform, they create an account and they can immediately speak to women’s health specialists. And they range from obstetricians, fertility specialists and nutritionists, clinical psychologists. And we really recognise that it’s important to support somebody from medical information, but as well as nutrition and mental health. So there’s no GP gatekeeper, there’s no waiting three times to miscarry in the NHS. You can come and ask the questions, whichever question it is. And it’s through that information that we can really empower women, and because you’re actually asking experts in the field , it takes out all the noise because you know that the information that you’re getting is trusted. And that’s the key thing that we really want to help women with, because I think the more we can help women get the right support, the quicker they are in that journey. And then we really hope that through the articles that we publish, the community that we’re building, that we’re starting to break this taboo around it, so more and more women can talk about it, feel comfortable getting the support that they need. And then lastly, what we also do is we provide hormone tests and sperm tests that women can take at home because, again, it’s something that the NHS will typically ask you to wait for quite a long time before qualifying for those or if you go privately, it’s extremely expensive. So we’ve partnered with companies that are able to really reduce the price and we can just do it in the comfort of your home. So it’s really kind of disrupting the way health is delivered now to make it a lot more accessible to women.

Le’Nise: And what made you decide to start this amazing company?

Lina: My personal journey, I think it was kind of going through it and just wanting to help women have an easier journey than I had. And my husband, who’s a co-founder, he’s a tech entrepreneur and he’s like, I just don’t understand how technology hasn’t helped reduce the price and the barriers to this, we need to do something. So it’s very much my personal passion and a personal pain point that we wanted to change other people’s journey and improve that for them.

Le’Nise: Do you have any success stories that you can share?

Lina: Yeah, I mean we don’t promise people they’re gonna get pregnant. I think it’s more what we promise is that you’re going to feel supported, you’re going to get the right information and we’re gonna help you then liaise with the right people that you need to. But we’ve had quite a few women come and say that they’ve gotten pregnant or that they’ve felt very supported, that they were able to access services that they hadn’t thought about before. Some women had taken our test, discovered that they had hormonal issues that they weren’t aware of and that enabled them to get the right care. So it’s really kind of heartwarming to get those messages from our users.

Le’Nise: Is it UK only or international?

Lina: Now we have users from like 35, almost 40 countries. So people have found us, they come and they chat with our experts, they read the content. So it’s worldwide.

Le’Nise: Oh, amazing. Amazing. So if a listener could take one thing from everything you’ve been saying, what would you want that to be?

Lina: Celebrate your body. You know, be really proud of the body and grateful for the body that we have as women. It is so strong. It’s you know, it gives life. It nourishes and take care of it and love it. And don’t underestimate the connection of your mind and your body and trust it and wherever your mind goes, your body will follow.

Le’Nise: Amazing, amazing. Thank you so much for coming on the show.

Lina: Thank you. Thanks for having me.

How well do you know your menstrual cycle?

swan at the round pond

This isn’t a trick question!

 

There are a few signs that tell you it’s worth becoming more familiar with your menstrual cycle.

 

Are you surprised every month when your period arrives? Do you get hit like a brick with PMS every month, feeling like it’s come out of nowhere? Do you track your period by when you get PMS symptoms?

 

Ladies, there is a better way!

 

Knowing more about your menstrual cycle and embracing it can benefit you in so many ways.

 

Firstly, I encourage you to download one of the many period tracker apps out there and start tracking your menstrual cycle and symptoms. At the very least, you won’t be surprised when your period arrives every month #whitejeansallyear

 

After a few months, you start to get a sense of the length of your cycle. And it’s really important to know  that not every woman has a 28 day cycle. Some women’s cycles can be as short as 21 days and as long as 35 days. Every woman’s cycle is different so don’t compare yourself or your cycle to your friends.

 

Once you know when your period is scheduled to arrive, you can then start tackling your PMS. Many women get PMS in the 7 days before their periods, with symptoms like bloating, anger, irritability, brain fog, weepiness, pain and acne. PMS is a sign that something is wrong, so please don’t accept it as normal!

 

But your cycle isn’t just about when you get your period. Did you know that you have four phases to your cycle, where each of your sex hormones will peak or decrease depending on the phase?  This is why you might have more or less physical and emotional energy at certain times of your cycle or your libido might be higher or lower. It’s all connected to your hormones.

 

Knowledge is power. Knowing the ins and outs of your menstrual cycle can help you manage it better, get to grips with PMS, period pain, heavy bleeding and emotional ups and downs.

 

Do you need help understanding your cycle and your hormones? Book in for a free 20 minute Hormone Health Review!

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Stories I loved this week.

Happy weekend! I can’t wait to hang out with my husband and son and relax this weekend.  And it’s Bonfire Night on Saturday! We’re going to check out our local Guy Fawkes fireworks display and let J have a few sparklers  – can’t wait!

What are you up to this weekend?

How it feels when your friends have babies. (Refinery 29)

What to eat when you have no idea what to cook. (The Pool)

I learned how to sharpen knives on Leiths knife skills course last year and it has been a revelation for my food prep. (Lucky Peach)

I love this idea of fine dining club for young children and their parents. I was a part of one when I was on maternity leave and it was incredible to be able to try some of the top restaurants in London with my son with me. (Bon Appetit)

The woman is incredible – doing so much, with a little toddler by her side. (Motherly)

How to choose a probiotic that will actually work. (Well + Good)

This is one of the best things I’ve read in a while. (Nplusone)

In case you missed it earlier on the blog…

I made chestnut pancakes and they were sooo good.

I’ve been wondering why we don’t talk about nutritious eating more.

Intentions not resolutions: how to create good habits in 2016

fireworks

It’s almost 2016 (eep!) and it’s that time of the year when the best of 2015 and 2016 to do lists come rolling out.

Do you make resolutions at the beginning of the year?

I don’t. Controversial, I know.

I prefer to set intentions. Ahem, you ask, how are those different to resolutions?

Intentions are about setting the focus for the year and aren’t as vague as resolutions. Intentions are about creating new habits and breaking bad habits. They’re much much more focused and specific, taking into consideration personality traits (i.e. are you a Questioner or an Obliger? An Abstainer or a Moderator?). Research shows that it takes at least 10 weeks to build a new habit, good or bad.

So rather than just resolving to lose weight in 2016, a more intentional approach would be to identify a realistic (to you!) and consistent plan of action (i.e. a green smoothie  with protein for breakfast each morning, putting 3-4 workouts or classes in the diary each week, going to bed by 10:30pm each night, etc) with each part of the plan helping to establish good habits and remove bad habits. A few checkpoints, be they monthly or quarterly, will help to course correct if the plan isn’t working.

The main thing is that your plan needs to be specific to your needs and wants, not something cookie cutter from an off the shelf programme. Only you know if you are the type of person that responds to outward or inward motivation, that needs to abstain from certain food or activities or can indulge every once in a while.

What are my intentions for 2016?

Time: My biggest intention is to be more aware of how I spend my time. I find myself drifting back into spending a lot of time surfing the web, reading trashy gossip sites. I want to be more intentional with my time, focusing on the things I need to do, like my coursework and research and use books (including the Kindle app on my iPhone) not the internet to unwind. My plan is to give myself 20-30 minutes each day to web surf and after that, any internet time needs to be focused and productive.

Exercise: I want to continue my habit of exercising 4-5 times a week, with a scheduled (and booked!) spin class on Mondays and 4 at-home resistance training sessions. I’ve just started Kayla Itsines’ Bikini Body Guide 2.0, which is nicely split into 4 workouts per week, running a total of 12 weeks. Getting from week 13 to week 24 is a good target for me, especially knowing that I was able to finish weeks 1 – 12 of Kayla’s guide with good progress.

Writing: I want to post at least 3 times a week on this blog – a mix of recipes, nutrition information based on what I’m currently studying and other wellness / self-improvement posts. I’ve finally made 2 posts a week a habit and want to experiment with 3 posts for the next three months.

What are your intentions for 2016?

Photo by kazuend

What happens after baby led weaning?

Photo by leonie wise

When my son was three months old and I felt that we really had a handle on breastfeeding, I started to think about the next step – introducing him to solid food. My plan was to start giving him solids at six months, the age NHS recommends and the age when baby’s gut lining becomes less permeable and they have have a more mature, closed gut.

At five and a half months, all the signs of food readiness were there:

  • J could sit up without support
  • He had lost the tongue thrust reflex and was not pushing things out of his mouth with his tongue
  • He was trying to chew
  • He had a pincer grasp and could pick things up between his thumb and forefinger
  • He was grabbing food from my plate and seemed genuinely curious about trying what we were eating

So one day, I gave him some avocado, he seemed to enjoy eating and playing with it and we started to introduce more food slowly from there.

Anecdotally, many parents expect breastfeeding to reduce when they introduce solids. I can personally attest to the fact that this is not always the case. At seven months, J was still breastfeeding 5 times during the day and at least three times at night. It was only at 8-9 months when M and I started giving him three meals and two snacks a day, did the breastfeeding cut down to three times in the day and a few times at night.

Now that J is 17 months old, past the baby led weaning stage and no longer breastfeeding, what do we give him to eat? I started to think about this properly today after receiving the latest NHS email (which I find very informative). This email included a link to a Netmums page with lots of toddler recipe ideas, which got me thinking.

There is no doubt that feeding a toddler can be tricky.

They go through food fads, they refuse to eat when they’re tired, timing is key when you want them to try new things and they’re prone to throwing food all over the kitchen if they don’t like something. But the thing is, they’re capable of eating a lot more than we think and we need to trust them when they tell us they’re full – when J starts throwing food, the meal is over and I take him out of his high chair.

I’ve never really understood the recommendation to give babies and toddlers bland food. How will they develop a complex palate if they’re only exposed to mushy purées with no seasoning from the time they start solids? The same applies to toddlers. They are capable of trying and eating a much wider range of food that we seem to give them credit for.

Image courtesy of Maya Picture at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Maya Picture at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Think of the Koreans, who give their babies and toddlers kimchi, gradually increasing the spiciness until they’re capable of eating the same kimchi as their parents. The same goes for Indian and Pakistani parents who start their kids off with a mild daal, increasing the spiciness as they get older.

My personal experience of this comes from my Bahamian mother, who loves the spicy food from her native country and other surrounding Caribbean countries and would think nothing of giving my brother and I a spicy conch salad or rice and peas when we were toddlers, because she knew it was good for our palates and that we had to build up a tolerance to spiciness over time.

I try to apply these principles to my son J, who loves his food and generally loves to try new things. When M and I go out to eat, he’ll typically eat what we eat – steak, fish, bunless burgers, chicken, fish, curries, roasts, etc. M and I aren’t fussy eaters and enjoy trying new things, so J will generally eat from our plates as I’m not a massive fan of ordering from kid’s menus in restaurants.

At home, a typical day of food might look like this for J:

Breakfast: Omelettes, scrambled eggs or oatmeal with fruit

Lunch: Quiche, savoury tarts, stews, couscous with veg and hummus

Snacks: Banana, sweet potato, cheese, raspberries or blueberries, chorizo, fruit pouches (we like Ella’s Kitchen and Plum Baby)

Dinner: Leftovers from our dinner the night before. J eats his dinner a lot earlier than us so we typically eat something different to him and I make enough for him to eat the next day.

We definitely haven’t cracked it. Someday J eats a lot and will eat everything we offer and will do so with a fork or spoon. And then I do my happy mom dance!

Other days, he’s in discomfort from molars cutting through, sick, distracted or just plain tired, he doesn’t want to try anything new or eat much at all. What I’ve learned is that you just have to roll with it, not take it personally and know that they’ll probably eat more the next meal.  If you look at what they eat over a week, it all balances out.

Operation rebuild the gut bacteria!

During the summer, M had some trouble with his nose and his doctor put him on two four week courses of really strong antibiotics. You all know the story… the antibiotics managed to clear up the nose problem, but killed all the good bacteria in his stomach.

He was prescribed some probiotics to take with the antibiotics, but forgot to take them. Cue the last two months of upset stomachs, colds and general fatigue and grittiness. After M went to bed at 9pm the other night with an upset stomach, he finally decided to look at ‘alternative’ medicine to help heal his gut bacteria and get him back on the right track. I’m hoping that this becomes a slow route to paleo eating, but we’ll see as I’m dealing with quite the cynic over here!

After throwing quite a lot of good research on how many bacterial cells there are in our bodies – there are over 100,000,000,000,000 microorganisms and over 400 known bacterial species –  at him, I went over to my local branch of As Nature Intended and had a long chat with the store’s in house nutritionists about the best way forward.

I ended up buying some kimchi and sauerkraut, but I would be completely amazed if M actually ate any of it, as he can be a bit picky about his food choices. As you can see from the photo below, I also got some coconut kefir and some probiotic capsules.

I’m personally very intrigued at how this little experiment is going to go, as it’s better to try these things out, rather than suffer, right? After all, the stomach isn’t just for food – there’s a huge gut – brain connection that we’re only just scratching the surface of. I’ve been listening to Underground Wellness’ most recent podcast on digestive health and I’m super excited to check out The Digestion Sessions to go deeper into this fascinating topic!

I completed the #whole30!

And here it is, 30 days later and I’ve completed my first Whole 30. What did I learn (because I always have to be learning something)?

1. My craving for wine was so very real and only really left me after day 20.

A glass of nice red wine with dinner and one after dinner used to be my ritual. When you have a baby and a new freelance gig, rituals and routines are important for a sense of stability. It was so very hard to break this habit. Even tonight, I had a brief hankering for a glass.

2. I am an emotional snacker

My venture back into the world of work has started with a nice freelance gig, which means I’m back to being a desk jockey for more of the day. My stress levels have also increased, which has corresponded with an increase in snacking on fruit, mainly mangos. I reached peak snacking last week when I ate a whole tub of mango in one sitting. I realised that I need to be much more mindful about the way I eat in between mealtimes and really ask myself the ‘Am I hungry / thirsty?’ question.

3. I am stronger than I think

My new normal is moving an 11kg baby around, so it took me a while to realise that this was contributing to an increase in muscle. Then I started a 30 day push-up challenge and went from being able to competently do 20 modified push-ups to as of yesterday, doing 25 ‘real’ push-ups! I’m so very excited about this as this has been a long time goal of mine.

4. Once you’re in the swing of things, eating strict Paleo isn’t too hard.

I’ve been eating primally off and on for the past two years, so going into the Whole 30 wasn’t a huge transition for me. Ordering in restaurants can sometimes be a bit tricky, but generally wait staff tend to more au fait with off menu ordering than they used to be.

5. I struggle not to weigh myself.

My weight has gone up and down my whole life, so it’s been really, really hard not to weigh myself on my fancy digital scales each morning. My jean size has gone from a 31-32” to a 29-30”, which I’m so very happy about – I’ll take that #nonscalevictory!

My body is still settling down, hormonally, after stopping breastfeeding, so I’m going to go for a Whole45 and maybe even a Whole 60. This will really give my body a break and allow my hormones to return to some sort of equilibrium.

Should I give my son cow’s milk?

Photo by Sonja Langford

My son has just turned one.

One is great – he’s an older baby, not yet a toddler, and still has that squishy cuteness I love.

We’ve been doing baby-led weaning with him since he was 5.5 months old, which for the most part, has been very successful. He controls how much he eats and generally eats most of the food we offer him. He LOVES fruit, especially bananas, dates, flat peaches and blueberries – long may this continue.

Turning one also means that he can start having whole milk. Hmmm. I’ve always been a bit skeptical about milk, mainly because I have a slight intolerance to lactose and too much of it sends me running to the nearest loo. So recently, as baby J has been dropping breastmilk feeds, going from constant all-day nursing, to just one, before bed, I’ve been getting some pressure to start him on whole milk as a replacement.

According to the NHS, children between the ages of one and three need to have around 350mg of calcium a day and about 300ml of milk (just over half a pint) would provide this. 300ml is about two small Medela bottles of milk – a lot of liquid to give to a baby that’s already drinking lots of water and eating a very diverse diet! Let’s not even get into how you get all that liquid into them when the NHS recommendation is to cut out bottles around age 1. To contrast, the US recommendation for infants age 1 is 500-700mg of calcium a day!

My view has always been that plant and seed based calcium is much more bio-available that calcium from milk. The calcium in dairy products is not as well absorbed as that in many dark green leafy vegetables – calcium absorbability from kale is considerably higher than that from cow’s milk. But we’ve been suckered into thinking that milk is the best source of calcium by some clever folks at the Milk Marketing board. Everyone knows the famous got milk? campaign, in which a very smart tagline and celebrities were used to sell the benefits of drinking milk. Ever since my teenage flirtation with vegetarianism / veganism, I’ve always wondered why we drink so much milk from another species. We’re the only mammal that does this!

And now that I have a child, I’m really resistant to the idea of giving him cups and cups of whole milk as an easy source of calcium. When I’ve discussed this with M, his question back to me has always been, “But will it harm baby J to have milk?”. My answer is yes. I can’t always guarantee that he will have organic whole milk, free from antibiotics and hormones, especially at nursery. What I can guarantee is that J eats a varied, nutritious diet.

What’s also really important is that I make sure that J gets enough vitamin D to help absorb calcium. With the amazing summer that we’ve had, we can make vitamin D from sunlight on our skin and during the winter, I need to make sure J eats a lot of oily fish and egg yolks.

So what foods have I been giving J to make sure he gets enough calcium each day?

1. Chia seed puddings

These are so easy to make and J loves them!

2. Kale in smoothies

I’ve been blessed with a baby that loves fruit and (some) veg. I whack some kale into a fruit smoothie and J drinks it down!

3. Dates, dates, dates

J loves dates and usually eats at least two a day. He also loves the almond date bars I make – a bonus!

4. Cheese and yoghurt

I only organic cheese and focus on giving J the really rich tasting, complex cheeses, to help develop his palate. He loves strength 7 cheddar, Camembert, mozzarella, goat’s cheese, amongst many, many others. If I give J yoghurt, I only give him greek yoghurt or goat’s milk yoghurt.

Here’s a handy little chart of calcium-rich non-dairy foods.

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Spicy tuna cakes!

I’ve been obsessed with nomnompaleo‘s cookbook since I bought it a few weeks ago. And like any good cook, I often add my own twists and adaptations to the original recipes.

This afternoon, while baby J was sleeping, I decided to try out the Spicy Tuna Cakes recipe, as I had eyed it last week and made sure I added some nice albacore tuna to my Ocado order.

I changed things up from the original recipe by adding red peppers, garlic and onions for some crunch and colour and ground coriander and smoked paprika to give it an additional depth of flavour.

If you haven’t invested in these silicone muffin cases, I highly recommend doing so. They are so easy, environmentally friendly and no-fuss! After they cooled, the fish cakes slipped right out of the cases and on to the plate.

What’s the verdict? Well, I’ll definitely make them again, but…next time, I’ll use more seasoning and reduce the amount of mashed sweet potato, as the fish cakes were a little too wet for my liking.

The added red pepper, onion and garlic was good for the extra texture and next time, I’ll probably add some shredded carrot as well for even more crunch!

Paleo granola for the non-paleo

My husband has always loved granola and for years, a bowl of Jordan’s granola with milk was his go-to breakfast. For the last few months, I’ve been really conscious about getting him to think about what’s in the packaged food he likes to eat. When I mentioned the gut-busting 12.4g of sugar in a 45g bowl of his favourite Crunchy Oat Granola with Raisin and Almond, he finally seemed interested in trying paleo and primal alternatives.

I made my first batch of primal / paleo granola a few weeks ago and it was a really big hit. We finally ran out on Friday, so I decided to make a fresh batch this afternoon after a tough night with a poorly bub. I find cooking so therapeutic and relaxing; the perfect thing to do (other than nap, which I also found time for this afternoon!) when the baby’s napping.

After feedback that the last batch had a little too much coconut oil in it and not enough honey, I made some tweaks to this batch. In my trusty Mason Cash bowl, I mixed:

  • 400g flaked almonds
  • 200g pecan nuts
  • 100g macadamia nuts
  • 200g walnuts
  • 100g dessicated coconut
  • 100g currants
  • 100g chopped dates

Then I added 1.5 tablespoons of ground cinnamon and 1 tablespoon of ground nutmeg and mixed it all together. I upped the cinnamon and nutmeg to the entire recipe because I reckoned that it would add the sweet flavour that my husband wanted without creating a massive insulin response.

In a small pot, I then blended 100g of coconut oil, 50g of raw honey and another tablespoon each of ground cinnamon and ground nutmeg under a low heat for two minutes.

Once you’re happy, you can store the granola in big Tupperware containers and should last for a week or two, depending on how many people you need to feed in the morning.

Et voila! Enjoy!