8 Ways to cope with stress with PCOS

Studies have shown that women with PCOS are more inclined to suffer from stress, anxiety, and depression. It could be due to their diagnosis and the features of PCOS, underlying hormonal imbalances (already high cortisol levels), as well as the stress we put our bodies under by following strict diet and exercise regimes in an attempt to control our symptoms.

Managing stress is often one of those things that are a lot easier said than done. In an ideal world we would be able to think about what it is that’s causing the stress in the first place and then remove that cause, however, when that cause is work, family, relationships it’s not quite as simple as removing them.

 

For this reason, it’s important to find other ways to help you cope with the stressors in life because unfortunately, they will also be there in some shape or form.

 

I’ve pulled together a list of some of the things that I have found most helpful when it comes to dealing with stress because like you, I’ve had my fair share and have suffered for it too. I hope this list will give you some ideas and inspiration to carve out some time for yourself.

 

  1. Schedule time for you – it’s so easy to rush into another busy week with a jam-packed schedule and get to the end feeling exhausted. YOU need to break this cycle by spending some time at the beginning of the week to protect some ‘me time’. This may mean turning down an invite for a social event, it might mean not letting your boss put that after hours or early morning meeting in, perhaps it’s having a chat with your partner so that they can prepare dinner or do the bed/bath routine one evening for you to have some alone time. Remember that it’s okay and important to sometimes say no. You can’t pour from an empty cup; you need to recharge your batteries too.

 

  1. Meditate/Breath – I have such a busy mind that even the thought of sitting still for as little as five minutes stresses me out because I know my mind will fill with all the thoughts I’ve been trying to avoid. This is why I found the calm app so great, it’s five minutes of your day and it gradually introduces you to the concept of quietening your mind. Doing this every morning grounds me for the day ahead. For a free month’s trial of calm visit: https://www.calm.com/calmhealthtrial

 

  1. Yoga – Once again this is something, I was so sceptical of, but wow does it make a difference. Often, I find that my brain is so occupied with figuring out the pose and pushing through any discomfort I feel during the class that there is no headspace for the things that are stressing me out. And weirdly pushing through those uncomfortable poses kind of feels like you’re pushing through the uncomfortable situations/emotions that you’re experiencing. Sounds weird I know, but you should give this one a go! Sarah is one of my favourite Yoga instructors and is now offering online classes.

 

  1. Journaling – My mind races with everything that I need to do, that I didn’t do, of situations or confrontations that need to or could happen along with a full analysis of how they could play out – often the worst-case scenario. Sometimes when this happens, I find it so helpful to do a mind dump and write all of these thoughts down on paper to get them out my head and be able to either move on with the day or get to sleep that night. It doesn’t have to be a fancy ‘dear diary’, a simple list of things that pop into your head does the trick.

 

  1. Nourish your body – through wholesome food and movement. When I’ve eaten well and made some time to move my body (whether with a walk or a gym session) I feel so much better and more confident that I can face whatever the day throws my way. If I give in to my emotions and have a meal that makes me feel heavy and sluggish I find it impacts my mood and how I tackle the challenges that the day throws my way.

 

  1. SLEEP!!! I can’t emphasise this one enough, when we’re busy and have so much to do it’s easy to feel like we need to wake up at the crack of dawn or stay up past midnight trying to get everything done. We do not function at our best when we’re tired, and sleep deprivation wreaks havoc with our mood, food choices, and how we respond to stressful situations. So please make sleep a priority!

 

  1. Laugh and have fun, when last did you allow yourself the time to let your hair down, enjoy a good old rom-com, or go to a comedy show? It feels so indulgent to take time out for yourself when things feel a little stressful and busy, equally when it’s emotional stress that’s getting us down it just doesn’t feel right to ‘have fun’. But it’s one of the best things you can do, a little bit of optimism sprinkled over your stress and you might see things in a different light and feel a little better equipped to deal with the thing’s life throws your way.

 

  1. Acupuncture – There is growing evidence showing the effectiveness of acupuncture for PCOS and stress. How it works is still not yet completely clear, but it has been shown to help with ovulation and to regulate androgen levels. I went to the lovely Hannah and couldn’t recommend her enough. Click here to find out more about Hannah and her amazing work.

 

It’s important to remember that what works for one person will not necessarily work for everyone. These are merely suggestions to give you some ideas of things you could try, if you try something and it just doesn’t feel like you’re benefiting then there’s nothing wrong with scratching it off the list and moving on to the next thing.

What blood tests should you have for PCOS?

What blood tests should you have for PCOS?

Although blood tests are not required for the diagnosis of PCOS (read about diagnosing PCOS here), they can help rule out any other hormonal conditions which could be causing your symptoms.

The difficulty can be getting your GP to send you off for blood tests and ensuring they send you for the right blood tests. Unfortunately, many GP’s don’t know a lot about PCOS and how to manage the condition or what to look for. I hope that this article arms you with the correct information to enable you to have an informed conversation with your GP about what blood tests would be most beneficial for you.

This is by no means an extensive list, there are many other things we can test for with PCOS, however anything more specific will be linked to your symptoms and would need to be discussed with a PCOS specialist or your GP.

Tests to exclude other conditions which have similar symptoms

Prolactin

Thyroid stimulating hormone

17-hydroxy-progesterone

Other tests to confirm the diagnosis and any hormonal imbalances:

Testosterone

The most accurate way to check testosterone levels is to test DHEA-Sulphate, testosterone levels fluctuate throughout the day therefore not giving you an accurate reading. DHEA-S remains the same for a few days and will therefore provide a more accurate reading. Elevated testosterone levels are often the cause of excessive hair growth, acne, and irregular menstrual cycles as it can prevent the maturation of follicles in the ovaries.

LH & FSH

These are both involved in ovulation and your ability to fall pregnant. FSH can be low in PCOS and LH can be high, often due to increased insulin and testosterone levels which stimulate the pituitary gland to produce more LH than FSH. High LH levels can prevent regular ovulation. The ratio of these hormones is important, ideally, we are aiming for a ratio of 1:1, we often see ratios of 2:1 or 3:1 (LH to FSH) in women with PCOS.

Liver Function test

If insulin resistance is present and not managed damage can be caused to the cells of the liver. It is important to check for any damage and help identify whether lifestyle changes need to be made to better manage insulin and glucose levels to prevent further damage to the liver.

White blood cell count

Our white blood cell count can help us identify inflammation which we often see in women with PCOS. This can indicate that might benefit from supplementing with things like Omega 3 to help reduce inflammation and make lifestyle changes that help reduce inflammation.

Glucose metabolism

Here we are looking for insulin resistance as well as prediabetes or diabetes. PCOS increases your risk of developing diabetes so it’s important to pick this up as early as possible to ensure you get the right treatment and manage your lifestyle accordingly to prevent developing diabetes in the future. Most GP’s will send you for an HbA1c test (this looks at your glucose levels over 3 months) which is great for identifying prediabetes or diabetes, but it does not always show us where there is insulin resistance. Glucose tolerance tests are slightly more accurate but not routinely checked as they involve drinking a glucose solution and then having blood tests at regular intervals for 2-3 hours afterward. Ask your GP about both tests, you might get lucky and be able to get both done.

Lipid profile

This includes things like triglyceride levels and cholesterol levels. With PCOS there is an increased risk of developing heart disease which is why your GP needs to check these indicators to ensure you make the correct lifestyle changes to keep your heart healthy.

When it comes to interpreting your results, it’s important to note that most GP’s use reference ranges when looking at the results of your blood tests. Reference ranges are not based on what is considered normal or optimal, instead they are the levels that 95% of the normal population fall in to – this includes women of all ages and stages of life including postmenopausal. It is for this reason that women who are clearly showing signs of elevated testosterone levels (excess facial hair, acne) get a ‘normal’ testosterone reading. Be sure to take your results to someone who specialises in PCOS and will be able to interpret your results correctly.

If you are not getting anywhere with your GP you can request to see another GP, alternatively it might be worth working with a health care professional (preferably one that specialises in PCOS) who can communicate with your GP on your behalf and request these blood tests. 

11 Things we tried that helped us conceive with PCOS

When I was diagnosed with PCOS in my early twenties I was told very little about it, like most others I found myself consulting Dr. Google and the results were pretty devastating. “May have difficulty conceiving”, is what I remember reading before I burst into floods of tears. I knew I wasn’t ready to have children right then, but I was 100% sure that it was something I wanted in the future.

 

I was told that going on a hormonal contraceptive, for now, would help with all my symptoms and that I had nothing else to worry about until was in a position where I was ready to start trying for a baby.

 

After about 5 years on oral contraceptive, I decided I’d had enough of simply putting a plaster over my ‘wounds’ and wanted confirmation that my body could function on its own, if it couldn’t I needed to learn how to help it because being on the pill was not going to help me fall pregnant one day.

 

Armed with my degree in dietetics I started doing loads of research about what I could do to improve my symptoms without medication or the pill. And oh boy was this insightful! There is so much nonsense and nutribollocks out there about what you should/shouldn’t do to help overcome your PCOS symptoms. It took a lot of sifting, but I got there eventually – I finally got to a place where my acne had cleared, and I went from never having periods to having a regular monthly cycle. Wooo Hooo!

 

Roughly 3 years after this my partner and I decided we wanted to try for a baby, we knew that the sooner we started the better because it may take a little longer than others due to my PCOS.

 

I won’t go into the details on our journey here as I covered this in a previous blog post which you can find here.

 

This post is about what we used that we believe helped us conceive, hopefully it will help others on their journey too. So here it is:

 

Sleep – We forget how important sleep is. Research has proven that when we are even just a little sleep deprived we make poorer food choices and are more susceptible to the effects of stress. I’m an 8 hours a night kind of girl so I tried my best to get my full 8 hours. Sure, this isn’t always possible but when it is take it! Avoiding any screens an hour before bed and creating a calming night-time routine can help you fall asleep a bit quicker. A bath filled with Epsom salts and lavender oil became a frequent indulgence for me.

 

Stress management – Over the years I have come to realise that stress is one of the biggest contributors to my PCOS. When I’m stressed my symptoms flare including my cycles going wonky. So, finding a way to manage my stress levels was incredibly important for me. I used the calm app for daily meditation, and I was by no means consistent – I skipped days now and then but tried to do it as often as possible. I also learnt to say no which is so hard when you’re running your own business, but the benefits of creating boundaries quickly became clear.

 

Acupuncture – this is linked to stress management, but the benefits of acupuncture extend far beyond stress management. The evidence for acupuncture in PCOS is growing and shows that somehow (they’re still figuring out exactly how) it helps with ovulation and to regulate androgen levels. I used the lovely Hannah Pearn who specialises in acupuncture for fertility and can’t recommend her highly enough.

 

Inositol – Inositol improves ovarian function and metabolism of women with PCOS. It does this by decreasing insulin resistance, reducing testosterone levels, regulating menstrual cycles, and promoting ovulation in women. Inositol also supports normal lipid (blood fat) levels and improves egg quality in women trying to conceive.

 

Vitamin D – We started trying in summer, so I originally wasn’t worried about vitamin D however as we moved into winter, I started taking a vitamin D supplement as I do every winter. The months then got warmer, however, I continued with Vitamin D as we were in lockdown and weren’t getting out and about as much as we usually would.

 

Fertilily conception cup – A friend had shared an article with me about using a moon cup to help with conception which I thought was a really interesting concept but wasn’t quite ready for that step. Inserting a cup inside your ‘foof’ felt like a pretty big step to take and something I just couldn’t quite get my head around yet. Then as if by fate, I saw a competition on Instagram, by the fertility help hub (an amazing site with lots of great resources), for a cup that is similar to a moon cup but that has been designed specifically to help women conceive. I figured what the hell, entered the competition, won and it arrived the week that I was allegedly ovulating (I say allegedly because although I used the CLUE app to track my cycles these things are never 100% accurate, especially for those of us with PCOS). We started using it straight away and that was the month we fell pregnant! Go figure.

 

It starts with an egg – A client of mine recommended this book and whilst some of the information and evidence in there is great it’s important to remember that some of the studies referenced include very small groups of people and are not necessarily robust enough to make solid recommendations. I took from this book what I wanted and what I felt I could change. The biggest change we probably made was to continue to keep our use of plastics low and I bought some glass storage containers for foods and tried to use these as much as possible over plastic (NOTE: I did not throw out our plastic containers as that would be wasteful).

 

I stopped tracking – Whilst I will always recommend using an app like Clue to keep track of your cycles and help you notice any patterns; these are not always accurate when it comes to letting you know when you ovulate. At the very beginning, I bought myself a thermometer and did my daily temperature, but this soon became an unhealthy obsession and one that added to my stress when I couldn’t see any patterns or dips or spikes in all the right places. I kept an eye on cervical mucus but to be honest with you I never experienced that oh so fertile stretchy, egg white mucus (not even the month I fell pregnant). It’s easier said that done but try not to get caught up in all the science and what every else experiences – no one has your exact genetic make up and body, what your body does and how it behaves is truly unique.

 

And because it takes two people to make a baby my fiancé also took the following supplements:

 

Inositol – I did some research that showed that inositol helped with improving sperm motility (their sense of direction) and morphology (their shape) as previous tests had shown these were slightly lower than average.

 

Wellman Conception – These contain vitamin B12, zinc, and selenium which are known to help improve the health of sperm.

 

Alcohol – This is not one he added to his list but removed. He wasn’t drinking a lot, but he decided to give up alcohol completely until we conceived. Lucky for him this only lasted around 5 weeks (3 weeks in we conceived) and it was lockdown so there was no social pressure to drink.

 

Now I’m not saying that the above list is the answer for everyone, and it’s hard to know which of the things listed did the trick or perhaps it was a combination of everything we were doing that helped us on our journey? We’ll never truly know.

 

What I hope you’ll notice is there are no extremes in the list above, I did not eliminate certain foods from my diet, or follow any crazy diet or exercise regime. I was gentle with my body and put more focus on sleep and stress management than I did on food and exercise. It’s so easy to feel like you have to do everything to take control of the situation but often that can do more damage than good.

 

Be gentle with yourself and make small changes over time that you feel comfortable with and try and enjoy the process, baby making is meant to be fun after all.

Our infertility journey with PCOS

The irony isn’t lost on me that you spend a huge portion of your life trying not to fall pregnant and then when you want it to happen it doesn’t; turns out falling pregnant isn’t as easy as what it’s made out to be. That small window of opportunity (24 – 48 hours every 28 days) is so easily missed, add PCOS on top of this and that window is suddenly more like a tiny crack in the wall.

You won’t be able to conceive naturally”. I will NEVER forget hearing those words over the phone from the GP. I have never for a second doubted that I want to have children, hearing those words felt like my world has collapsed around me.

 

I knew that having PCOS would make conceiving slightly more challenging than normal but never in a million years did I think that this was how my journey to being a mum would begin or worse yet, end.

For the last three years, I have had my PCOS under control. Through changing my diet, understanding my PCOS root cause, exercising for enjoyment not punishment, managing my stress levels and prioritising sleep, I have managed to regulate my cycle to roughly 31 days. My skin was acne-free, my energy levels were great and insomnia was not something I had struggled with for a long time.

Until a few months prior to this conversation with the GP.

As a business owner my schedule was ridiculous, for three months I was insanely busy and constantly felt like I was running around like a headless chicken seldom pausing for breath. Suddenly my hair was falling out, my energy levels were at rock bottom, my periods were only lasting 2 days, my weight was dropping even though I was constantly eating and craving all the carbohydrates.

In hindsight, it’s so easy to see what was going on, but at the time I kept telling myself that I just needed to get through to the end of the year and once we broke for Christmas things would calm down and come January my load would be more manageable. It was just 3-4 months of go, go, go, and then I’d be through the thick of it.

What I chose to overlook was the fact that as someone with PCOS I am more prone to the effects of stress. I also know that for me stress is a huge contributor to my PCOS symptoms flaring. My body was so busy trying to survive and just get through every day without breaking down that there was no chance in hell it would allow me to conceive – my body was not in a state to grow and nourish myself let alone another human. This was confirmed by blood tests which indicated that I was not ovulating, which meant we were referred to the fertility clinic at guys hospital.

So, I slowed down. I made some changes to my schedule that gave me the chance to pause and breathe. I had to learn to say no and create boundaries between business and my personal life because this line had become so blurred. Basically, I chilled the F*@k out and prioritised managing my PCOS, regulating my cycles, and trying to get my body ready to grow a human.

December was a month of rest and recuperation, followed by a 3-week holiday in February. These came with the promise of ‘I bet it happens on holiday because you’ll be nice and relaxed’. It didn’t and the disappointment simply seems to escalate.

On the day we came back from our holiday we had our first appointment at Guy’s fertility centre – it was a little glimmer of hope that they would be able to find out what was going wrong and fix it. The fertility team was incredible, and I will be forever grateful for how kind, compassionate, and caring they were. I was immediately whipped off to a room to have an internal scan and some blood tests. Both of which confirmed that I was ovulating and nothing abnormal was picked up. On one hand, this was great – maybe all that rest and sunshine did do the trick and I was on the road to recovery, but I also had Negative Nancy on the other shoulder thinking what if there’s something else wrong that they just haven’t picked up on yet.

We left the clinic with an appointment booked for my partner to have a sperm test (it takes two to tango after all) and for myself to have follicular monitoring once my next period had started.

And then lockdown happened, I received the email I’d been dreading to say that due to COVID-19 all non-essential (fertility) appointments were cancelled. Our journey was now on hold and there was nothing we could do about it. I felt more helpless than ever.

Just before we went into lockdown my fiancé managed to send off his semen sample, after weeks of waiting for the results we finally got them back with confirmation that all was normal – a relief, but it didn’t give us any answers. Then a week later we found out that the results he was given were not his (angry doesn’t begin to describe how we felt) –  his actual results were slightly abnormal. Although his sperm count was high, his swimmers had little sense of direction and weren’t quite the right shape (in more medical terms their progressive motility and morphology were slightly below normal).

Although we now had a possible reason for our infertility it didn’t feel like a huge relief, instead it felt like another obstacle that we had to contend with, and our dreams of parenthood felt more impossible than ever before.

What’s more, there was no advice given. We were just told that if we could (dependent on the COVID situation) my fiancé should have another test done in 2-3 months. Helpful!

We did our own research and my fiancé decided to give up alcohol for a while and started taking some multi-vitamins which claimed to help.

In some weird way, I’d resigned myself to the fact that it would take at least three months for his lifestyle changes to take effect and that I would just need to dig deep and find some patience and not lose all hope the next time my period arrived.

And then two months later my period was one day late, I knew it, my fiancé knew it but neither of us dared say anything in case we got one another’s hopes up. In my mind, it was too soon to test but I could not resist the urge, I popped into Superdrug and bought a pack of three tests, that way if the first one was negative and my period still hadn’t arrived a week later I could test again.

I snuck into the bathroom with my tests (the last thing I wanted was my fiancé to know I was doing a test because I didn’t want him to experience that same drop of all hope when the test was negative).

That first minute of waiting for the results felt like a lifetime, instead of being filled with the thrill of the possibility of seeing two lines I was filled with dread. I’ve been here so many times before; the sight of that single line confirming another month of a failed attempt followed by spending the rest of the day beating myself up for allowing myself to feel the slightest bit of hope that this time we might have got it right.

And then there were two lines, I did not know whether to laugh or cry, so I think I went for something in the middle and immediately did a second test. Just in case.

I couldn’t believe it, after almost a year of trying to conceive we had finally made a baby, naturally too.

I know how lucky we are, I know some women have struggled for years and they continue to struggle. But I wanted to share our story to give you some hope, that even when you are told it will never happen that is not necessarily true, even when it feels like everything is working against you it can still happen. I want this to be a reminder that if you have PCOS this does not mean you will never fall pregnant; it simply means you may have to work a little harder. I want this to remind you that male infertility is a thing too, it’s more common than you think and it’s okay.

I want every woman who has struggled to conceive to know that this is not your fault, you are not any less of a woman because of this. I am so grateful that we did not have to go down the road of drugs and IVF, but if this is where your journey has led you then know that this is ok too and I have everything crossed for your rainbow baby to happen soon.

How is PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome) diagnosed?

How is PCOS diagnosed?

Many women who suspect they have PCOS feel they don’t need to worry about it until they are ready to start having children. Truth is, the sooner you understand the type of PCOS you have and how best to manage your symptoms the easier things will be for you when you are trying to fall pregnant. Managing your symptoms is also important for reducing your risk of other conditions linked to PCOS.

If you have any symptoms of PCOS it is important that you get an official diagnosis, as this will help you manage your symptoms going forward.

As a reminder not everyone will have all the symptoms, the most common symptoms of PCOS include: hirsutism (excessive hair growth), acne, difficulty losing weight or unexplained weight gain, irregular or absent periods (typically menstrual cycles that are shorter than 21 days and longer than 35 days) and alopecia (hair loss).

The most widely accepted diagnostic criteria are the 2003 Rotterdam criteria, it states that women need to have two of the following three:

  1. Hyperandrogenism (increased androgens):

This includes hirsutism (excessive hair growth appearing in a male pattern e.g. around the chin) and acne. It can be diagnosed on clinical appearance or through testing serum androgen levels or both.

  1. Ovulatory Dysfunction:

This is typically defined as a menstrual cycle that is shorter than 21 days or longer than 35 days. It is important to note that regular periods every 21-35 days do not indicate normal ovulation in women with hyperandrogenism (increased androgen levels). Around 15-20% of women with hyperandrogenism and regular periods suffer with ovulatory dysfunction.

  1. Polycystic ovaries:

This is currently defined as 12 or more follicles (2 to 9mm in diameter) in either ovary, ovarian volume greater that 10ml in either ovary, or both.

As part of your diagnosis it is important that your GP rules out any of the following: late-onset congenital adrenal hyperplasia, Cushing’s syndrome, or an androgen-secreting tumour. It is also recommended that the following tests are carried to assist in diagnosis:

  • Total testosterone
  • Prolactin
  • Luteinizing Hormone and follicle stimulating hormone (LH & FSH)
  • Sex hormone-binding globulin
  • Thyroid stimulating hormone

Getting an official diagnosis is not always easy, unfortunately not all GP’s are up to date with the latest research around PCOS. If your GP does not see the need to test the above, then I encourage you to see another GP who is slightly more up to date on PCOS.

 

 

References:
Azziz R, Carmina E, Chen Z, et al. (2016) Polycystic ovary syndrome. Nature Reviews Disease Primers;2.
Rotterdam ESHRE/ASRM-Sponsored PCOS consensus workshop group. Revised 2003 consensus on diagnostic criteria and long-term health risks related to polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). (2004) Human Reproduction; 19:41–7.

What is PCOS (Polycystic ovary syndrome)?

What is Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)?

PCOS is the most common endocrine condition affecting women of a reproductive age (15 – 49 years, WHO). The reports vary but it is said to affect between 5-20% of women in that age group worldwide; that’s between 1 in 6 and 1 in 20 women.

Although the name suggests the presences of cysts on the ovaries, this is in fact not the cause, but rather one of the potential symptoms of the condition. These ‘cysts’ are not in fact true cysts, rather follicles that have not matured into ovulation.

The cause of PCOS and the hormonal imbalances associated with this condition are still largely unknown. It is thought to be a genetic condition that is triggered or exacerbated by environmental conditions. The hormonal imbalances seen in PCOS are thought to be responsible for the severity and type of symptoms.

What are the symptoms of PCOS?

It’s important to remember that PCOS shows up differently for everyone. Some women may experience all the symptoms listed below, and others only a few. Because PCOS seems to be impacted by our environment as you go through different stages in your life, some symptoms may vary in severity.

Some of the more common symptoms of PCOS include:
– Acne
– Irregular periods
– Excess facial and body hair
– Insulin resistance
– Anxiety and depression
– Infertility
– Weight gain and difficulty losing weight
– Alopecia (hair loss)

What else do we know about PCOS?

Other conditions associated with PCOS are:

Insulin resistance
It is thought that 65-80% of women with PCOS have insulin resistance. This is one of the reasons women with PCOS struggle to lose weight. Elevated insulin levels also stimulate the ovaries to produce excess testosterone which causes excess hair growth, acne, and irregular periods. Women with PCOS are also more susceptible to developing diabetes because of this insulin resistance.

Cardiovascular disease
Evidence suggests that elevated androgens, insulin resistance and low sex hormone-binding globulins result in increased risk factors for cardiovascular disease, particularly high blood pressure, elevated LDL cholesterol, decreased HDL cholesterol.

Infertility
Caused due to anovulation. It is important to note that women with PCOS have successful pregnancies all the time, it often just takes a little longer due to irregular ovulation.
Psychological disorders
PCOS has been linked to increased rates of anxiety and depression, although the cause has not yet been confirmed. It is thought to be closely linked to other PCOS symptoms including acne, hirsutism, infertility and difficulty losing weight.

Pregnancy complications
Gestational diabetes, pregnancy-induced hypertension and pre-eclampsia and premature births are more common in women with PCOS. This is thought to be caused by hyperandrogenism, insulin resistance and metabolic abnormalities.

Currently there is no cure for PCOS, and although all the above sounds very doom and gloom it is important to remember that PCOS is manageable through lifestyle changes. The good news is that most symptoms can be controlled through a healthy diet, supplements, exercise, adequate sleep and stress management. This will also help reduce your risk of developing other conditions and risks associated with PCOS.

If you think you may suffer with PCOS it is important to ask your GP for a diagnosis to rule out other conditions and start managing your symptoms straight away. For more information on how PCOS is diagnosed and what to ask you GP for, read my blog post on diagnosing PCOS.

 

 

 

 

 

 

References:

1. Azziz R, Carmina E, Chen Z, et al. (2016) Polycystic ovary syndrome. Nature Reviews Disease Primers;2.
2. International PCOS Network (2018) International evidence-based guideline for the assessment and management of polycystic ovary syndrome 2018. [Free Full-text]
3. Marshall, J. C., & Dunaif, A. (2012). Should all women with PCOS be treated for insulin resistance? Fertility and sterility, 97(1), 18–22. doi: 10.1016/j.fertnstert.2011.11.036
4. McCartney, C. R., & Marshall, J. C. (2016). CLINICAL PRACTICE. Polycystic Ovary Syndrome. The New England journal of medicine, 375(1), 54–64. doi:10.1056/NEJMcp1514916
5. National Institute for Health and Care Excellence. (2018). Polycystic ovary syndrome. Retrieved from https://cks.nice.org.uk/polycystic-ovary-syndrome
6. RCOG (2014) Long-term Consequences of Polycystic Ovary Syndrome. Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists. www.rcog.org.uk
7. Rotterdam ESHRE/ASRM-Sponsored PCOS consensus workshop group. Revised 2003 consensus on diagnostic criteria and long-term health risks related to polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). (2004) Human Reproduction; 19:41–7.
8. Spritzer PM, Marchesan LB, Santos BR, et al. (2019) Prevalence and characteristics of polycystic ovary syndrome in Brazilian women: protocol for a nation-wide case control study. British Medical Journal Open;9: e029191. doi:10.1136/ bmjopen-2019-029191
9. Yu, H.F., Chen, H.S., Rao, D.P. et al. (2016) Association between polycystic ovary syndrome and the risk of pregnancy complications: A PRISMA-compliant systematic review and meta-analysis. Medicine (Baltimore) (51), e4863.

Potato and Kale Breakfast Hash

This is great for a Sunday brunch! The sweetness from the sweet potatoes, tanginess from the mustard and smoky paprika pack so much flavour in to this simple recipe. It may be gluten and dairy free but it’s still delicious.

25 – 30 minutes

Serves 2

 

Ingredients:

1 small potato

1 small sweet potato

1 Leek

1 Cup Kalettes or Kale (stalks removed)

1 Tbsp mustard

1 tsp smoked paprika

4 Eggs

Salt and Pepper

Method:

  1. Heat the oven to 180 degrees
  2. Chop the potatoes in to small cubes and pop in boiling water for 10 minutes, or until soft
  3. Wash and finely slice the leek, heat a frying pan (preferably one you can pop straight in to the oven) with some olive oil and gently fry the leeks until soft
  4. Pop the kale in the water with the potatoes for the last 2 minutes to soften the kale
  5. Drain the potatoes and kale and add them to the frying pan until the potatoes are lightly browned
  6. Add the paprika, mustard and season with salt and pepper
  7. If your frying pan is not oven proof, then transfer the mixture in to an oven proof dish
  8. Create two holes in the potato mixture and crack two eggs in each
  9. Place in the oven for 10-15 minutes

Dish up and enjoy!

I got my kalettes from Morrisons, but if you can’t find any then ordinary Kale works just as well.

Is dark chocolate good for you?

“If you’re craving chocolate you should have dark chocolate because it’s healthier than milk chocolate”. I’m sure most of you have heard this statement before and wondered what the difference is and if it’s even true.

Let’s take a look at the differences and why dark chocolate is promoted as the ‘super hero’ of the chocolate world.

What’s the difference?

Calorie for calorie, there isn’t much of a difference at all, in fact dark chocolate is slightly higher in calories containing 580 calories per 100g and milk chocolate containing 534 calories per 100g.

An important question then follows, where do those calories come from and why is dark chocolate higher?

I’ve put it in to a table for you, so you can clearly compare the two:

Milk Chocolate (per 100g) 70% Dark Chocolate (Per 100g)
Energy 524kcal 580kcal
Fat 30g 42g
Saturates 18g 25g
Carbohydrates 57g 36g
Sugar 56g 29g
Fibre 2.1g 10g
Protein 7.3g 9.1g
Salt 0.24g 0.08g

 

You’ll quickly see that the biggest differences are in the fat and the sugar content, dark chocolate contains 7g more saturated fat and 27g less sugar than milk chocolate and because fat is more calorie dense than sugar this is what drives the total number of calories up. In addition to this, dark chocolate is also slightly higher in protein and in fibre.

The difference in the two comes from the quantity of original cocoa found in the chocolate, the quality of the other ingredients and the additives.

A standard bar of milk chocolate contains 10-20% original cocoa, whereas a bar of dark chocolate contains anywhere between 30-80% original cocoa, the higher the cocoa concentration the more bitter the chocolate.

Looking at the ingredients list is always a good way to understand the difference;

Milk chocolate bar Dark chocolate bar
Milk**, Sugar, Cocoa Butter, Cocoa Mass, Vegetable Fats (Palm, Shea), Emulsifiers (E442, E476), Flavourings, **The equivalent of 426 ml of Fresh Liquid Milk in every 227 g of Milk Chocolate, Milk Solids 20 % minimum, actual 23 %, Cocoa Solids 20 % minimum, Contains Vegetable Fats in addition to Cocoa Butter Cocoa Mass, Sugar, Cocoa Butter, Natural Bourbon Vanilla Bean, Cocoa Solids: 70% min

As you can see there are very few ingredients that go in to dark chocolate. And although sugar is listed as the second ingredient in each of them the quantities vary greatly, as mentioned in the first table.

Lower quality versions of dark chocolates may contain added butter fat, artificial flavours or colours and vegetable oils so always check the ingredients list.

Milk chocolate contains milk, sugar and fats to make a creamier, sweeter and less bitter variation of its darker counterpart.

Although dark chocolate has a higher amount of fat, nutrients should not be looked at in isolation, it also has higher amounts of protein and fibre, less sugar and other additives. Dark chocolate is also usually consumed in smaller quantities than milk chocolate due to its rich flavour.

Why then is dark chocolate said to be so much better?

The ‘health benefits’ of cocoa come from the flavanols which are naturally occurring in the cocoa plant. These flavanols are anti-oxidants and studies have shown they decrease our risk of heart disease, lower blood pressure, improve glucose metabolism and provide cognitive benefits. As dark chocolate has a higher percentage of cocoa it generally contains a higher amount of flavanols which means gram for gram it offers more health benefits than milk chocolate and you’d need to eat a lot more milk chocolate to gain the same benefits.

But before you think of using this as an excuse to add dark chocolate to every meal of the day to improve your health there’s something you should know. Most of the studies looking at the benefits of these flavanols contained doses of between 100-800mg, the average bar of 70% dark chocolate contains approximately 100mg, therefore to reap the benefits you would need to consume 100g (that’s 1 bar) of 70% dark chocolate a day. When you look at the impact that the fat and sugar content may have on your health it’s clear that this wouldn’t be a wise move.

However, having a few squares of dark chocolate alongside a healthy balanced diet that included other good sources of flavanols such as apples, pears, grapes, tea and red wine (no more than one glass) may be beneficial to your health.

Because dark chocolate has a slightly richer and bitter taste it’s less likely that you’ll over indulge. Milk chocolate on the other hand just tastes like more and before you know it you’re left trying to hide the evidence of an empty wrapper, choosing dark chocolate is a handy tactic to help control your portions.

Should you avoid milk chocolate completely?

Firstly, if you can do this I’m not sure if you’re an alien or a superhuman but I need to meet you! Secondly, no! If you put yourself on a milk chocolate ban you are likely to be left feeling sad, deprived and haunted by images of galaxy bars floating around your head. Practice moderation, if you allow yourself a bar of chocolate (maybe not the whole slab) every now and then, alongside a healthy balanced diet that’s ok!

If you are making a conscious effort to be healthier and know you struggle to cut down on your chocolate intake, then try having a few squares of dark chocolate (70% or more) as a tactic to help you eat smaller quantities.

And let’s be honest not all chocolate bars are created equal, when that craving for a Twix or a Kit-Kat strikes no amount of dark chocolate is going to help. So, eat the darn Twix, just not too often.

What about flavoured dark chocolates?

This is hugely dependant on the brand. Some flavoured dark chocolates contain roughly 20g more sugar per 100g compared to their plain bar and only contain around 40-50% cocoa. Other brands use oils to flavour the chocolate which has little/no impact on the sugar or cocoa content – so choose your brand wisely and ALWAYS read the label!

Its true then, dark chocolate does have more health benefits in comparison to its milk chocolate counter parts but like anything if consumed in excess it’s not going improve your health and it shouldn’t be used as your only attempt to improve your health. Eating milk chocolate is not BAD and it’s not going to have a negative impact on your health unless you consume it in excess.

Eat your fruits and vegetables, be active, and nibble on some chocolate when the craving strikes – it’s all part of living a healthy, happy and balanced life!

What is mindfulness?

Hearing the word mindfulness often conjures up images of someone sitting peacefully on a yoga mat, surrounded by candles, the sound of calming music, eyes shut and breathing rhythmically as they shut out the outside world. Whilst this isa form of mindfulness (more mindful meditation), mindfulness is the every day practice of being in the present moment. It’s the practice of focusing all your attention and senses on one moment and acknowledging the feelings and emotions that arouse from it.

 Why is mindfulness important?

We live in a fast-paced world in which we are constantly multi-tasking and thinking about the next thing on our to-do-list. Have you ever gotten to work and not really remembered the journey? Watched a television programme and not been able to recall what happened, or eaten a meal and not paid attention to the flavours and textures? For many of us we spend our free time scrolling through our phones; browsing the internet or social media, catching up on emails or texting friends or loved ones – our minds are never still, and we are constantly stimulating our brains. Whilst we are thinking and doing our brains do not have the time and space to process everything that is going on around us, which manifests in many different forms, such as stress, a feeling of being overwhelmed, anxiety, depression, insomnia etc.

What are the benefits of practicing mindfulness?

  1. Better stress management – if we can focus on the present and not allow ourselves to get lost in thoughts about what could happen in the future, or has happened in the past, the opportunities for worrying and feeling overwhelmed suddenly become fewer.
  2. Our relationships improve – being mindful around people means that we listen to what they say, notice how they look and feel, respond to their body language and make true connections through quality conversations. We’re all guilty of pretending to listen whilst our mind wanders to a totally different place.
  3. Productivity increases – focusing on one task at a time and not allowing yourself to be distracted by roaming thoughts, the constant flow of messages on your phone or reliving a conversation you had earlier, means you will work better and faster creating so much time for yourself.
  4. It improves your relationship with your body – there is no doubt that there is a strong connection between our brain and our body. Ever eat too much and suddenly feel fatigued and unable to concentrate? Ever feel uncomfortable in your clothes and feel a bit low all day? That’s the connection right there. Being mindful about the foods we eat and the impact they have on our body can do wonders for our confidence and energy levels.
  5. It improves sleep – if we allow ourselves enough time in the day to process our thoughts and emotions and provide our mind with some space without being overstimulated, then when it comes to going to bed at night our brain is not still running at a million miles an hour, making it impossible to get some quality sleep.

It’s easy to see how mindfulness does not just impact your mind but your overall health and wellbeing. Make sure you are giving yourself the time and space to be more mindful. And remember; it’s a process – you won’t master it straight away, but practice makes perfect! Click here for ways to incorporate mindfulness in to your daily routine.

 

How to find time to exercise with a busy schedule

How to find time to exercise with a busy schedule

Back in the day our ancestors didn’t need to make time to exercise; whether they were walking from one place to the next, washing their clothing by hand or going in to a field to pick vegetables for dinner that night, their lifestyle meant they were constantly moving throughout the day.

Today, we hop into our cars and drive to work, sit behind a desk all day, drive home and spend the evening relaxing on the sofa watching tv. Our lifestyles are far more sedentary, they are also far busier. For many of us both partners work which means there is no one at home to have a meal prepared for you when you walk through the door after a long day at the office. We spend a lot of time commuting to our place of work and do a huge amount more socialising than ever before. This means that we are left with very little time to relax, and for most of us exercise does not fit under our definition of relaxation, so when our days get busy exercise is bumped to the bottom of the list.

It’s easy to forget that exercise plays a very important role in keeping us healthy, not only physically but mentally too. Exercise is a great way to relieve stress and the endorphins released during exercise can help us feel both happy and energised. Not to mention all the other benefits such as reducing the risk for cardiovascular (heart) disease, diabetes, strokes, certain cancers and maintaining a healthy weight.

So how do you make time to fit exercise in?

  1. Figure out what time of day is better. I’m a morning person, I don’t struggle to get out of bed in the morning, but in the evening after a long day I get lazy and will find every excuse under the sun to avoid exercising. Other people prefer spending a little longer in bed – it’s important you choose a time that suits you.
  2. Plan it – Take a look at your schedule for the week ahead; what days would it be possible for you to squeeze in some exercise? Writing it in your diary means you’re committing to doing it and are less likely to not do it.
  3. Start small – There’s no point saying you’re going to go to the gym for an hour seven days next week when you’re currently struggling to get there once. Start small and as you get in to a routine of going you can increase either the amount of time you spend exercising or the amount of days – or both (who knows you may even enjoy it)
  4. Do what you can – Exercise doesn’t mean you have to go to the gym, in fact, if you find something you love doing you’re far more likely to keep it up. Walking, running, yoga, Zumba, boxercise. You could even book on to one of my Pilates classes. There are so many ways to exercise these days so try a few new things until you find something you enjoy
  5. Be realistic – don’t commit to an hour when you really are short on time or a newbie to exercise. Doing a 20-minute workout in the comfort of your own lounge is just as good as going to the gym or heading out for a run, and it can be done before the kids get up or after they’ve gone to bed.

Don’t expect to find your rhythm immediately, starting is the hardest part so go easy on yourself. Remember, even if you only manage to do one session a week in the beginning, it’s better than nothing at all.

Beef and lentil meatballs

Adding lentils to a traditionally meat based dish is a great way to extend the dish, this enables you to make the meat go further so you’re making more portions (less time in the kitchen) with less meat (saving the planet).  Lentils also add fibre which slows down the digestion process keeping you fuller for longer.

Serves 4-6

Ingredients:

500g lean beef mince

400g tin brown lentils, drained and rinsed

1 onion, grated

2 tsp oregano

¼ cup oats

1 handful fresh basil leaves, chopped

2 garlic cloves

1 egg

Salt & pepper

Olive oil

500ml tomato passata

2 tsps. balsamic vinegar

100g reduced fat feta cheese

 

Method:

  1. Place the mince, lentils, onion, oregano, basil, oats, garlic, egg, salt and pepper in a big mixing bowl and mix well. Using your hands create small balls with the mixture and place them on a plate in the refrigerator for 30 minutes to firm up.
  2. Prepare vegetables or salad of your choice and heat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius
  3. Heat olive oil in a pan and fry the meatballs until evenly browned, then place in an oven proof dish
  4. Add the balsamic vinegar to the passata, mix well and pour over the meatballs
  5. Crumble the feta on top and place in the oven for 25 minutes
  6. Serve with whole-wheat pasta and a vegetable of your choice or a side salad for a balanced meal

Seven ways to be more mindful every day

7 ways to be more mindful

Mindfulness can sound overwhelming and technical, but it doesn’t have to be. It’s important to remember that getting good at practicing mindfulness takes time; start with small changes and build on them as you get better. Here are seven simple ways that you can start incorporating mindfulness into your everyday life:

1. Mindful mornings

So many of us reach for our phones as soon as we open our eyes. We don’t even give our brains the opportunity to acknowledge how we feel when we wake up, what our concerns are about the day ahead or what we’re excited about – whatever we see on our phones dictates this to us. Spend the first five minutes of your morning checking in with yourself; how does your body feel, what thoughts enter your mind, acknowledge them and let them pass. Sometimes it can help to write things down, not as a to do list but just as a way of acknowledging the way we feel.

2. Put your phone away

Do you reach for your phone as soon as you sit down, stand in a queue or have time to kill? Put it away and let your mind be still for that time instead, check in with your mind and your body and how you’re feeling.

3. Practice mindful eating

How often do you eat in front of a screen, whether it’s a computer, a TV or a phone? We’re all guilty. This draws your attention away from your food, the flavours you’re tasting, the smells and textures as well as your body’s natural signals which let you know when you’ve had enough. Practice eating away from a screen

4. Mindful listening

The next time you have a conversation with someone, listen. Don’t allow your mind to wander, pass judgement on what is being said or think about what you are going to say back. Don’t just hear what they are saying, listen to their words.

5. Check in

So often we rush from one task or event to another and do so with a list of things rattling through our head. We’re never fully present when we arrive as our mind continues to rattle through and add to that list. The next time you arrive somewhere, take a deep breath, acknowledge where you are and what you’ve come to do and leave every other thought at the door.

6. Schedule time for nothing

It may feel like a weird thing to do, many of us feel uncomfortable and guilty even just sitting down and doing nothing. You’ll be amazed at how much difference even just five minutes of stillness can make. Whether you flop on your bed, sit in your favourite chair or find a sunny spot in the garden, take time to just be alone with your thoughts.

7. Exercise

Many of us don’t realise just how mindful we become when we exercise. You’re often left concentrating so hard on doing a certain exercise or just making it through the class that your mind has no space to think about anything else – that is mindfulness at it’s best. It’s one of the reasons exercise is so good for stress management and linked to making us happier people.

Try adding one or two of these to your daily routine and gradually add more as you get better.

Six Ways to motivate yourself to exercise

6 ways to motivate yourself to exercise

If sticking to a regular exercise regime was easy then everyone would be doing it. Whether your barriers are a lack of time, not enjoying exercise, a lack of confidence in the gym, family commitments or a busy social life we all have days or weeks where the last thing we want to do is make time for exercise. But we know it’s important that we make time to do it and that once we’ve worked up a sweat we feel great (most of the time any ways). So what can you do to make sure you’re motivated and less likely to talk your way out of getting sweaty?

1.  Sign up for a challenge and go public

Whether it’s an obstacle course, a 5km walk, run or maybe even something more challenging like a triathlon, once you’ve committed to doing an event and have a date and challenge to work towards you’re much more likely to stick to a regular training routine. And by telling your friends and family or even raising money for charity you’ll be even more likely to follow through.

2.  Set rewards for yourself

This old trick was taught to us by our parents at a young age; do as you’re told or get good results and you’ll get an ice-cream as a reward. We carry this with us into adulthood so why not set yourself a clear goal and reward yourself once you achieve it. Perhaps your goal is to go to the gym a minimum of three days a week for six weeks and your reward is that new pair of shoes you’ve been eyeing up. Once you’ve achieved this goal, set another with a new reward – maybe a massage next time.

3.  Phone a friend/partner

Accountability is key, when you’re not just relying on yourself to get to the gym but are going with a friend or partner you’ll be less likely to flake. They’ll be there to motivate you on days you just can’t be bothered, and visa versa.

4.  Find something you love

Committing to running three days a week when you can’t stand the thought of it is a recipe for failure. Write down a list of things you think you might enjoy and sign up for taster classes until you find the thing you enjoy most. If you enjoy doing something you’re far more likely to want to keep going.

5.  Get some new gear

There’s nothing quite as exciting as a new pair of trainers or brand-new gym kit; if you look great you feel great. The term ‘dress for success’ applies to exercise too – so dress up like a pro and get your sweat on!

6.  Know your why

Why are you exercising? To improve your health; boost your confidence; lose a few pounds? Whatever your reason you need to understand why you’re doing something. If you’re doing it because you think you should or because your doctor said so you don’t have an internal motivation to keep you going. If you’ve been lacking confidence lately and know that it’s due to poor lifestyle choices then your motivation is because you want to feel great again. If you know this happens when you exercise regularly then you have a strong internal motivation/reason to keep going on days you’re feeling a little de-motivated.

Peanut Butter & Jam Porridge

Peanut butter & jam porridge Recipe

If like me, you think peanut butter and jam are the world’s best combination then this porridge recipe is for you! For those of who that have never tried peanut butter and jam (how is this even possible – I’m judging you), then you need to try it NOW!


Here’s my version of Peanut butter & Jam porridge

Peanut butter & jam porridge Recipe

Ingredients:

1/2 Cup oats⁠
1 cup milk (or dairy free alternative)⁠
1/2 Cup raspberries⁠
1 teaspoon honey⁠
1 heaped teaspoon peanut butter (crunchy for the win)⁠

Method:

1. Pop the oats and milk in a pot and leave to simmer (or pop in microwave)⁠
2. In the meantime, pop the raspberries, a splash of water and honey in another pot and leave to simmer⁠
3. When the oats are done to the creaminess you like, take it off the heat and place in a bowl, top it with the raspberries and peanut butter and enjoy!⁠

*Tip: If raspberries are not in season head to the frozen section and grab a bag, they are just as nutritious and tasty!

Pea, pine nut & goats cheese tagliatelle

Pea, pine nut & goats cheese tagliatelle Recipe

I don’t have pasta very often but when I do I absolutely love it. I’m not a huge fan of dry pasta so always try and get the fresh stuff. Waitrose now do fresh wholegrain pasta which is great for a high fibre option.

This delicious recipe has 13 grams of fibre – that’s nearly half your daily intake, and it only takes 10 minutes to throw together.

Serves 1

Pea, pine nut & goats cheese tagliatelle Recipe

Ingredients:

125g Wholegrain tagliatelle
80g Frozen peas⁠
30g Goats cheese⁠
Handful fresh Basil, chopped⁠
I tablespoon pine nuts⁠
Olive Oil ⁠
Salt & Pepper⁠

Method:

1. Pop the pine nuts in a frying pan to lightly toast them (this brings out the flavour)⁠
2. Boil the kettle, pop the peas in a bowl, cover with hot water and put a lid on the bowl⁠
3. Boil water in a saucepan, add the tagliatelle and cook until al dente (5 minutes)⁠
4. Drain the pasta and the peas, place them back in the saucepan, add the basil, salt and pepper, crumble in the goat’s cheese, drizzle with olive oil and stir. ⁠
5. Pop in a bowl, top with the pine nuts and enjoy!⁠

Salmon and Puy Lentil bowl

Salmon and Puy Lentil Recipe

This recipe gets made often on a weekly basis in our house, it’s super simple and great for those nights when you don’t have loads of time to spend in the kitchen. The lentils provide lots of fibre and are surprisingly filling, there’s plenty of veg and the salmon is filled with those all-important Omega 3’s. This is also a great recipe to double up and use for a salad the next day.

Serves 2

Salmon and Puy Lentil Recipe

Ingredients:

2 fillets salmon

1 x packet puy lentils

Mixed peppers

Tender stem broccoli

Plum/cherry tomatoes

Garlic

Onion

Balsamic Vinegar

Olive oil

Chilli flakes

Salt & Pepper

 

Method:

Heat the oven to 200 degrees Celsius

Place water in a pan on the stove to boil, once boiled pop the broccoli in for 3 minutes, remove and rinse in cold water

Slice peppers and place them in a baking tray with a drizzle of olive oil and salt and pepper for 10 minutes. On a separate tray place the salmon in foil, season with chilli flakes, salt and pepper – wrap the salmon in a foil parcel and place in the oven for 15-20 minutes.

In the meantime, heat a splash of olive oil in a frying pan and cook sliced onions and garlic. Add the lentils and 2 tablespoons of water.

After 10 minutes, give the peppers a stir and add the tomatoes, pop back in the oven for 10 minutes.

Add the broccoli to the onion and lentils, add 1.5 tbsp balsamic vinegar and stir.

Once the salmon is cooked, remove from the stove. Mix peppers with lentil mixture and season with salt and pepper if needed. Place on a plate, top with a salmon fillet and enjoy.

*If you’ve made extra for lunch the next day, leave the salmon and lentil and veg mix to cool down. Pop some spinach leaves in a container, flake the salmon and mix it into the lentil mixture and pop this on top of the spinach.

Spanakopita Eggs

Spanakopita Eggs Recipe

If you’re looking for a little breakfast inspiration – here it is, with a slight Greek twist!⁠I love scrambled eggs, and probably have them at least once a week. The great thing about eggs is how versatile they are – you can try so many different flavour combinations and sneak in some extra veg at breakfast.

Spanakopita Eggs Recipe

Ingredients: ⁠

Sourdough bread⁠
2-3 eggs⁠
20g Feta cheese⁠ (use reduced fat if you’re trying to cut back on calories
1 big handful of spinach⁠
Olive oil

Salt & Pepper⁠

Method:

1. Mix your eggs, spinach, salt and pepper in a bowl⁠
2. Pour in to a heated non-stick frying pan and pop your bread in the toaster⁠
3. Once the eggs are nearly done add your feta and keeping mixing the eggs⁠, this softens the feta and makes the eggs a little creamier
4. Once the toast is done I drizzle mine with a little extra virgin olive oil and then pop the eggs on top and enjoy!⁠

 

*Tip: Crack eggs on a flat surface to avoid the shell ending up in the food

Okonomiyaki

Okonomiyaki Recipe

Despite having a tricky name, this recipe is incredibly easy and delicious. Cabbage is one of those ingredients that never sounds particularly appealing, this is a great way to use it when it’s in season and overcome the stigma that it doesn’t taste great.

Serves 2-4

Okonomiyaki Recipe

Ingredients:

150g cabbage, finely shredded

6 Spring onions, sliced

1 Parsnip, grated

110g plain flour

½ teaspoon salt

2 Large eggs

1 tablespoon olive oil

Topping –

Light salad cream/mayo

Siracha

Radishes, thinly sliced

Poached egg (1 per person)

Pickled ginger

Method:

  1. Place the cabbage, spring onions and parsnip in a large mixing bowl.
  2. Mix the eggs with ½ cup water, add the flour and salt and mix well.
  3. Add the egg mixture to the bowl of dry ingredients and mix well
  4. Heat the oil in a non-stick frying pan (with a metal handle) and place the ingredients in the pan, patting it down with a spatula to make a thick round pancake. Reduce the heat and cook for 5 minutes. Turn the grill on to medium to start heating
  5. Turn the pancake over, I use a big plate to cover the top of the pan and tip it onto before flipping, place the pan under the grill for 5-10 minutes, keeping an eye on it.
  6. Whilst it’s under the grill, boil water in a pan to poach your eggs
  7. Once the okonomiyaki is nicely browned, remove it from the grill and place it on a chopping board. Pop the poached eggs, radish slices and ginger on top and drizzle with mayo and siracha. Serve cut in to wedges with 1 poached egg per person.

Five tips for workplace wellness

Workplace wellness blog image

One-third of your adult life is spent at work. That’s a pretty big chunk of your life which is why it’s important to make sure that your work place is having a positive impact on your health and wellness and not a negative one.

Whilst more businesses are offering a spectrum of ‘wellness’ benefits to employees there is still a long way to go for some, and we can still take ownership of ensuring we are looking after our own health. I’ve created a list of the five things I think are most important when it comes to looking after yourself in the office:

Stay hydrated

We often get to the end of the day and realise that we’ve been sipping on tea and coffee all day and only had the occasional glass of water. Up to 60% of the human body is made up of water which helps the body function on a daily basis by aiding digestion, flushing waste, delivering oxygen to different parts of the body, and the list goes on. Keeping a bottle of water on your desk helps as a constant reminder to keep drinking. Drinking herbal teas also counts towards your daily fluid intake. It’s recommended that we aim for 2 litres of water per day, if you’ve participated in exercise where your daily losses (sweat) would be higher then you may need a little more to replace this.

Keep moving

Many of us have a job which involves siting at a desk for 6-8 hours a day, followed by relaxing in front of the tv or with a book (in a seated position). Inbetween all this we are commuting – mostly seated. When we are siting we are using very little energy and not a lot of muscle movement is happening, which is not great for our health and wellbeing. Where possible, try to get up and walk around, use your lunch time as an opportunity to go for a walk (even 10 minutes is better than nothing) and on your way to and from work find ways to walk a little more – whether that’s getting off the bus one stop earlier or parking a street or two away. All of these little batches of steps add up and can make a big difference. Going for a walk and some fresh air at lunch time can also do wonders for your energy levels and productivity.

Be aware of non-hunger snacking

Snacking can often be caused by emotion; we snack when we’re stressed, upset, frustrated or even bored. All common workplaces are full of emotions, so it’s no wonder we find ourselves reaching for a little pick-me-up, not to mention all the treats that get brought in by the office star bakers which make it near impossible to choose an apple over a gooey chocolate brownie. Whilst the occasional treat is most certainly allowed, avoid getting into the habit of reaching for a sugary snack. Go to work armed with healthy options, as having these to hand makes it easier to make a better snack choice. Nuts, fresh fruit and vegetables, wholegrain crackers with peanut butter, air popped pop-corn, yoghurt are all great options.

Be conscious of your caffeine intake

Although there are benefits to drinking caffeine, such as increased concentration and alertness, having too much can have a negative impact. Consuming more than the recommended amount of 400mg per day can cause headaches, irritability, nervousness, upset stomach and sleeplessness. Coffee, tea, soft drinks and energy drinks are all sources of caffeine so try and be aware of how much your consuming. For more information on the caffeine content in certain drinks click here. If you’re struggling to sleep at night, try and avoid caffeine in the afternoon as it can stay in your system for 5-10 hours.

Practice being mindful

It’s so easy to get stuck in a rut of going to work, charging through the day and heading home again. When last did you stop and take the time to think – think about how that healthy lunch gave you energy to be productive in the afternoon or how that walk you went for at lunch time gave you perspective after a challenging meeting? How did it feel to take five minutes out of your day to catch up with a colleague and share a few lol’s? What about spending a few minutes after each meeting thinking about what you learnt, what could have been done differently, what didn’t work well? Giving yourself time to reflect on your day and different elements of your day helps you to identify things you do and do not enjoy as well as, areas of strength or gaps in skill/knowledge that you can develop further. It can also help you to become aware of tasks that energise or drain you and by learning more about yourself you can improve your overall wellness.

Always remember that you’re not only at work to do a job and earn a pay cheque – you’re there to grow and develop, improve your skills and knowledge and stimulate yourself. In order to do these things well we have to be well so looking after yourself should be your top priority.

How does caffeine keep you awake, and can you have too much?

Caffeine Coffee image

Caffeine is a natural ingredient found in coffee beans, tea leaves, cocoa beans and over 50 other plants. Coffee, tea and fizzy drinks are the most common sources of caffeine in our diet, however it can also be found in some medications like cough syrups. Caffeine is a stimulant, when consumed it causes a feeling of alertness which is why so many of us reach for a coffee first thing in the morning and late afternoon to help wake us up and get over that 3pm slump.

But how does caffeine exert its ‘awakening’ effect on us? In order to understand this, we need to understand why we feel tired in the first place. This process is begun by a compound called adenosine, which is naturally released by our bodies throughout the day.

During the course of the day our muscles and brain are actively working. As they do so they trigger the release of adenosine. Once adenosine is released it binds to receptors in our brain, and this binding action promotes muscle relaxation and sleepiness. As the day goes on more adenosine is released, binding to more of these receptors and making us feel progressively more tired.

By the time bedtime rolls around we feel very tired and sleepy due to a whole day’s worth of adenosine binding to those receptors in our brain, telling us we need to sleep. Whilst we’re sleeping our bodies recover from this fatigue by metabolising (getting rid of) adenosine and we wake up feeling refreshed, unless of course you didn’t get enough sleep (less than 6-8 hours), in which case not all the adenosine was metabolised leaving you feeling a little sleepy and feeling the need for a big steaming cup of coffee.

So what effect does caffeine have in this process?

Once caffeine enters our blood stream it heads towards the receptors that adenosine normally binds to and blocks the way, this stops the receptors connecting to those receptors preventing the feeling of sleepiness and influences the release of dopamine, serotonin and adrenalin which all play a role in causing you to feel more alert and awake.

As your body metabolises the caffeine – this could take anything from 3-10 hours – those receptors become vacant again and the adenosine heads straight for them which is why you start to feel sleepy again. However, if you’ve consumed caffeine too close to bed time it takes a while for this sleepy feeling to return which may negatively impact your sleep.

Can you have too much caffeine?

Yes, you can, but too much will be varying amounts of caffeine for different people. Some are more sensitive to caffeine whilst others may have built a tolerance to caffeine after drinking it for long periods of time.

Current guidelines state that adults should consume no more than 400mg per day. During pregnancy, caffeine clearance from the mother’s blood slows down. Therefore pregnant and breastfeeding women should aim for no more than 200mg/day. Excessive intake in pregnant women may result in growth restriction, low birth weight babies or premature labour.

Here are a couple of common drinks and the amount of caffeine they contain per cup:

Tea – 10-50mg

Green tea – 30-50mg

Energy drink – 40-250mg

Single shot espresso – 75-85mg

Instant coffee – 60-100mg

Filter coffee (Short/small) – 157mg

Can of coke – 32-42mg

How do you know if you’d had too much caffeine?

A normal effect of caffeine is to feel slightly more awake and alert, however, if you are particularly sensitive to caffeine or have had too much you might experience side effects such as an upset stomach, headaches, anxiousness, fast heart rate, insomnia or nausea.

If you are currently consuming a large amount of caffeine and wish to cut down, it’s advisable to do so slowly as drastically reducing your caffeine intake can cause withdrawal symptoms such as headaches and drowsiness.  Here are a few tips to help you gradually cut back:

  1. Replace every second cup of coffee with a decaffeinated version;
  2. Swap your coffee for tea, this way you’re still getting some caffeine but not as much;
  3. Reduce the size of your coffee, if you usually order a tall/large simply scaling back to a short/small will half your caffeine intake;
  4. If fizzy drinks like coke are a source of caffeine for you then try cutting back on the amount you have.

If you feel as though you have become tolerant to the effects of caffeine it can help to eliminate caffeine intake for a month to reduce your tolerance.

Caffeine can be part of a healthy balanced lifestyle and has been linked to health benefits such as reduced risk of diabetes, Alzheimer’s and liver cancer as well as improved physical strength and endurance. However, it should not be used in place of sleep, exercise or a healthy diet – using it as an occasional pick-me-up or simply enjoying a few cups of tea is definitely allowed!