Gut Health and Fermented Foods Course: 31st March 2019 #ad

**Disclaimer: I am co-hosting this gut health and fermented foods course, which is why I am declaring it an ad. For my full disclosure policy, click here.**

Do you have a plan to keep healthy, especially over the colder months? If the answer is no, and you know deep down your diet could do with a bit of a kick up the bum, then I think you need my top three tips.

gut health and fermented foods

Eat mostly real food

Real foods are ingredients in their natural state – fruit, veggies, meat, fish, eggs, unprocessed dairy and plenty of probiotic rich fermented food and drink (more on that in point three). A real food diet essentially means making your own meals from scratch. I understand how daunting this sounds to many, but if you want to eat your way to better health, it’s absolutely non-negotiable.

Mark Sisson, author of the Primal Blueprint and phenomenally successful website Mark’s Daily Apple, advocates eating like a saint for 80% of the time and allowing ourselves 20% leeway. I started coming away from processed food and refined sugar in 2007, went paleo in 2012, and followed the gut healing GAPS diet in 2014. Nowadays I run at around 90% awesome diet, 10% leeway. As I’m insulin resistant, because of my PCOS, this works really well for my body. Everyone is different of course, and for many people 80/20 is optimum.

Be honest about your relationship with sugar

gut health and fermented foods

I don’t have all the answers, just my own personal experience. It took me going through the GAPS Intro Diet to properly ditch my sugar cravings, and I can now go an entire week without having anything sweet. No fruit, no chocolate, no naturally sweetened puddings, nothing. If we’re entertaining, or going to friends for lunch, I’ll make dessert (such as these brownies, or this caramel slice), but I don’t feel the need to eat sweet things every day like I did prior to 2014.

None of us are able to, or are going to want to, eat perfectly, which is fine, because none of us are perfect. We do, however, have a massive problem with the way society views food in the main. We were duped, and sold the idea that fat was bad. We were told for many years that we should be eating low fat foods because they were healthy. In actual fact, they are full of sugar and sweeteners, because when you remove the fat from food you also take away most of the flavour.

Of course, now we know that sugar consumption contributes to a whole host of health problems, but largely society is addicted to the stuff. So what is the solution?

Bombard your gut with fermented foods to help the good bacteria flourish 

The only way to know exactly what we’re putting into our bodies, is by getting in the kitchen and making our own food. There is no quick fix, but the good news is we can wholeheartedly reverse the damage caused by a poor diet with a great one. The way to make it enjoyable is to get into the right frame of mind.

gut health and fermented foods

Even when we are as time poor as most of us are, there are plenty of ways to incorporate healthy food into our busy schedules. They don’t get better than home made probiotics in the form of fermented veggies, kefir and kombucha.

In her fascinating book Cultured Food for Health, Donna Schwenk talks about the incredible health benefits to be gained by adding these three fermented food and drinks to our daily diets. Working in harmony with each other, they create billions of beneficial bacteria, and help with a multitude of ailments. These include: constipation, diarrhoea, acne, acid reflux, sleep issues, liver cleansing, adrenal support, candida, inflammation and food intolerance.

Knowing where to start when it comes to gut health and fermented foods can be overwhelming. Which is why myself and my very good friend Trish have created our comprehensive one day course. By the end of the day with us you’ll have learnt how to make kefir, kombucha, sauerkraut, sour cream and a sourdough bread starter. We’ll feed you a nourishing, home cooked lunch, and there will even be the chance to sample home made cider from foraged apples.

Check out the flyer below for all the info, and email us to secure your place on the course. Spaces are limited and getting booked up fast! 

gut health and fermented foods

Turns Out (For Me, Aged 39) Early Menopause is a Lot Like Early Pregnancy

I’ve been convinced for the last year or so that I’m going through early menopause. This is also known as perimenopause, and can last for years. According to the medical world, the average age for women to go through the Big M is 51. Anything between 40-60 is considered within normal range, so at 39, it would appear I’m slightly ahead of the game. Now, of course, every woman is different, but for me, early menopause symptoms have been disconcertingly similar to early pregnancy. Here’s why…

early menopauseHormones

I have been ruled by my hormones since I started going through puberty. My periods were horrendous from the off. I’m not just talking a few cramps. I would bleed heavily, and pass huge blood clots. I would have to stay home from school several days each month, and lie on the sofa with my legs elevated.

Back then (1991) the standard response for girls with troublesome monthlies was to put them on the contraceptive pill. Yes, at twelve years old. No investigation into why it was happening, or any kind of natural remedy suggestions. Just pop these pills and forget about it. There are not enough facepalm emojis for how I feel about this now.

Goodness only knows what almost fifteen years on the pill did to my body, and is it any wonder my moods were all over the place? In all three of my pregnancies I was a lot more irritable than usual in the early days. Not surprisingly, PMT has always featured, but for the last year or so, I’ve averaged three days per cycle of feeling like a stark raving lunatic.

Lack of periods and sore boobs

For some very lucky ladies, their periods stopping will be the first indication of the menopause. A friend of mine, who is 52, said the only symptom she had was not having a period. I knew I’d never be so fortunate. Having suffered with heavy bleeding for almost thirty years, I always thought their absence would be 100% welcome. However, my first missed period came with sore boobs and sent me into a proper tailspin. The irrational voice inside my head was yelling “you are way too young for the menopause, you must be pregnant,” while the sane one shook their head knowingly. My husband and I are far too careful to be accidentally making babies. Well, mostly, anyway.

Apparently periods can come and go during the peri days, and you’re not officially classed as menopausal until you’ve gone an entire year without one. During the change they can be erratic and cycles can get longer. For me, my super heavy periods haven’t been nearly as heavy. I said to a friend recently that it feels like they are drying up. When they do appear, I only properly bleed for one day. Which compared with the past – four or five days of heavy bleeding and two days of light bleeding – adds weight to my theory.

early menopause

I’m not going to lie, a completely absent period is nerve wracking at my age. Why is it akin to early pregnancy? Well, there is a urine test you can do to measure your hormone levels. After you’ve peed on a stick, you can confirm the results with a blood test via the GP. Sound familiar, mamas?

Other noticeable symptoms

There is a huge list of symptoms and body changes that could be accounted for because you’re going through early menopause. Among which are: hot flushes, night sweats, insomnia, lack of libido, mood swings, anxiety, abdominal weight gain and needing the loo more often. These are all things I have been going through intermittently this past year, but also ticked all the boxes between my three pregnancies.

Pretty much the same health advice applies to the menopause as other conditions which affect our mental health. Don’t drink too much. Exercise regularly. Eat sensibly – avoiding refined sugar and processed food as much as possible. Thankfully I have been avoiding these things for many years, so I’m hoping this is helping my cause. You can check out my paleo recipes here if you like.

There are also various supplements which are recommended. I wrote a piece recently about naturally lowering cortisol, which you might find useful. For a more comprehensive piece about alleviating symptoms the natural way, check out this brilliant post from Dr. Axe.

early menopauseFuture gazing

I believe living with chronic stress has triggered early menopause for me, so it probably doesn’t come as a shock to hear that all these changes have put me in a reflective mood. Prior to having children, I said I’d have two or four. Kids in odd numbers just felt like a bad idea. After having three kids in four years though, I knew I was done having babies. Every now and then I’ve pondered the what ifs, but ultimately I am confident that more children in this particular family would be a terrible idea.

So I’ve come to three conclusions of late

  1. Davis number four will wholeheartedly be a fur baby.
  2. I refuse point blank to be scared of the menopause. In fact my current frame of mind is very similar to being told I was infertile at 27. I don’t take this shit lying down, trust me.
  3. I’m ready for the big M. It’s rather apt that it’s come early for me, as so much else in my life has. I certainly will not be missing my periods, and who knows, I might even fare up better hormonally after it’s all over? Stranger things have happened I guess.

Are you going through or have been through early menopause? Do you have any pearls of wisdom to pass on? I’m opening up comments on this page for anyone wishing to leave one. Big hugs ladies, let’s keep the conversation going! 

Gut Health and Fermented Foods Course (March 31st 2019)

gut health

 

How to Lower Your High Cortisol Levels #ad

high cortisol levels**Disclaimer: this article about high cortisol levels is a collaborative piece between myself, and PrecisionBiotics (manufacturer of Zenflore). For my full disclosure policy, please click here.**

Cortisol is a glucocorticoid steroid hormone, produced in humans by the adrenal gland. It is released in response to stress and low blood-glucose concentration. In other words, too much stress can lead to too much cortisol being produced. This can trigger a whole host of problems, including depression, weight gain and reduced libido.

Regular readers will know that I had a very unstable, dysfunctional childhood. There was so much change, and so much threat, that I spent it in a perpetual state of fight or flight. Unsurprisingly this caused an imbalance in my cortisol levels. Now that chronic stress provides the backdrop to my family life, I do everything in my power to lower them. I hope you find this piece useful.

Consider natural supplementation to help lower your high cortisol levels

I could write all day long about the importance of gut health, and the link between the gut and brain. If your gut has a disproportionate amount of bad bacteria to good, your mental health will absolutely suffer. Ever since doing the gut healing GAPS Diet in 2014, I have been a massive advocate for probiotics, which naturally boost the good bacteria. I make my own kefir, kombucha, goat milk yogurt and fermented veggies, which I eat and drink every single day. In addition I take good quality natural supplements in the form of 5-HTP (for boosting serotonin) and evening primrose oil (to help take the edge off PMT). Last month I started taking Zenflore, which is known as a physcobiotic. Which not only aims to increase good gut bacteria, but also helps to reduce high cortisol levels.

Zenflore contains 1714-Serenitas, a bacterial culture which increases the activity in the areas of the brain associated with emotions, learning and memory. The 1714-Serenitas culture in Zenflore is also involved in regulating the immune system which is vital for our health and wellbeing. Zenflore’s unique live culture and specially selected B vitamins work in harmony to support the mind and body during busy and demanding times. Check out the video below, for a more detailed explanation of the link between the gut and brain.

My experience of Zenflore

I eat a very natural diet of real food, and run a non-toxic household. Day to day we eat Paleo, which means no refined sugar, no starchy carbs and nothing processed (check out my YouTube channel for lots of tasty recipes). We simply do not do chemicals here – I even make my own deodorant. I truly believe, because of this, I’m very in tune with my body.

During the first few days of taking Zenflore I had mild diarrhoea and the start of a cold. This is quite a common reaction as the body adjusts to the influx of a new bacterial strain. By day five my stools were solid and I had no sign of the cold. I felt good within myself and healthy.

I have trialed many supplements over the years, and if they are going to have the desired effect (lots of them don’t!) then I feel it pretty quickly. After about ten days, I filmed a set of Instagram stories, which have been saved as a highlight on my profile marked Zenflore. I was in the midst of yet another super stressful time, as I’d had two weekends away a fortnight apart, and the kids were not happy with me. It was a pleasant surprise for me to not feel like they were pushing all my buttons and tipping me over the edge. Obviously it could have just been a coincidence, but I’m convinced it was the Zenflore working it’s magic.

high cortisol levelsSleep in my house has massively nose dived in the last few months, and my youngest is once again in the marital bed every night. He’s become a terrible bed sharer, and often wakes me up by kicking me in the head, laying diagonally across the pillows or pulling my hair. I also average one super early wake up a week – where I get up for the day anything between 3:30-4:30am, so I can write.

Although I’ve felt shattered, through tiredness, I can honestly say I haven’t been as stressed out as I have been previously. Which is absolutely huge for me. When you’re home educating three children – one of whom is autistic – you cannot underestimate the effect of trying to hold it all together while chronically stressed.

I would be lying if I said my sleep has improved ten fold and I’m as zen as I would be after a pilates retreat, every day. BUT I do feel like Zenflore has given me a much needed happiness boost, and that’s all I can ask for from a supplement.

Other lifestyle changes which help to lower high cortisol levels

Exercise. This gets bandied around a lot, because it really does make a difference. I don’t have spare time for long workouts or to go to the gym, but I manage to fit in what my husband calls “yoga snacks” throughout the day. They are my teeny tiny chunks of calm. For example, standing in tree pose while brushing my teeth, or sitting in the lotus position when I’m on the floor playing with the kids.

I go through cycles when it comes to more vigorous exercise. Sometimes I love it and sometimes it actually makes me feel worse. Truth is, when your cortisol levels are sky high, hardcore exercise puts additional stress onto the body. Earlier in the year I was doing twenty minute HIIT routines and feeling hideous afterwards, so took a break. Over the last few months I’ve been doing five or six minute standing abs workouts, a few times a week. This gives me a nice little adrenaline dump, without feeling like I’ve over exerted myself.

high cortisol levelsSleep. Even in the midst of severe child induced sleep deprivation, there is plenty we can do to help ourselves. A few years ago I stopped taking my phone up to bed, and noticed a dramatic improvement in my sleep quality. I rarely stay up later than 11pm, and have at least an hour, usually two, free of small screens before going upstairs. It doesn’t stop Freddy kicking me in the head half the night, but it makes all the difference to the broken sleep I do get.

Eating well. I cannot emphasise enough the importance of eating good quality nutrient dense food. Since eating my own way to better health, I don’t think there is a better head start we can give our children than a clean diet. Among a multitude of other things, nourishing ourselves appropriately will boost our brains, clear the mental fog and ensure our blood sugars aren’t riding on a rollercoaster all day long.

Get in tune with your cycle, ladies. It won’t actively lower your cortisol levels, but there is much to be said for knowing our bodies inside and out. It’s a tough pill to swallow at first, but I have long just accepted that I’m going to be ruled by my hormones for anything between 24 and 72 hours per menstrual cycle. Yes it sucks, but it’s part and parcel of being a woman. I never make plans around that time, and am super gentle with myself. I have zero expectations, and if anything asides from the bare minimum gets done, I consider it a bonus.

My overall verdict of Zenflore

I’m going to be brutally honest, as I always am. Zenflore hasn’t changed my life – because I am already massively ahead of the gut health game, compared to most. However, I can absolutely see that it would be a game changer for a person who has never taken probiotics before.

I’ve definitely noticed a nice boost, and given the high stress levels inside this house, it goes a long way. In fact I’m so confident that it’s helping me that I’ve started the kids on half a capsule each. Zenflore is perfectly safe for children over the age of three, but do head over to the Zenflore website for all the official info.

To keep up to date with all the news on this wonderful supplement, follow Zenflore across social media:

Instagram | Facebook | Twitter

Review: Domaine du Pignoulet Pilates Retreat | The Ultimate Bonding Experience and Self-Care #ad

Pignoulet**In the interest of transparency, I’d like to state that I was asked to review the Domaine du Pignoulet Pilates Retreat in exchange for this blog post. (I paid for flights and transfers.) If you would like to read my full disclosure policy, you can do so by clicking here.**

Pignoulet was a pinch me experience! 

When I was invited to review the pilates retreat offered by the owners of Domaine du Pignoulet – a stunning restored farmhouse in the French Pyrenees – I thought I might be dreaming. Thankfully I wasn’t, and it was the most amazing weekend I’ve had in a very long time.

You can read about my incredible bonding experience with the other nine bloggers I went away with here. Our three days together were full of delicious food, interesting discussions and debates, pilates classes (obvs) and as corny as it might sound, soul searching. It’s hard not to end up reflective after an experience like this.

We laughed, cried and stayed up way past bedtime drinking local wine putting the world to rights. I mean seriously, what more could a group of tired mums, with twenty five children between them, possibly want out of a retreat?

A little bit about Pignoulet and it’s owners

Susie and James Wetton are a husband and wife team with big hearts and wonderful ideas. I like to approach things like this without too many expectations, but to say I was blown away by every element would be an understatement. From the second we started approaching the entrance to the house I was mesmerised. Driving through the wrought iron gates, past the barn and onto the sweeping driveway, the brightly painted shutters and masonry meant the house felt warm and grand at the same time.

James’ parents bought the house in 2000 and fully restored it, and he and Susie bought it from them in 2016. They are now living out their dream semi-retirement, which has been many years in the making. I found listening to their story of ditching the rat race and living life on their own terms incredibly inspiring.

PignouletThe rooms were spacious and clean with comfy beds and powerful showers. We didn’t spend very much time in our rooms, but had lovely views when we did. The night sky was absolutely stunning with all the stars on display twinkling brightly. Really does make you think about the awful air pollution in London.

We had brilliant weather for September, and were able to spend a few hours by the pool each day, which was amazing considering it had started getting chilly back home in the UK.

What the food was like at Pignoulet

Susie and James were up against it to cater for our lot. Between us we covered paleo, vegan, celiacs, and almost every other allergy/food intolerance you can imagine. Not only did our fabulous hosts feed us well, but the incredible food was served in an inclusive way. No-one was made to feel like they were an inconvenience and nothing was too much trouble. We ate every meal together, and there was plenty of choice.

Far from dishing up underwhelming free from processed nonsense, serious effort went into ensuring our party was suitably looked after. This is really important for people like us, who often feel excluded when we eat out. The local wines were delectable, and completely natural which meant no hangover the next day!

PignouletBreakfast and lunch were served on huge help yourself plates, and dinner was a three course affair. Breakfast included grilled tomatoes and mushrooms, home made granola, fresh fruit and lots of (herbal and caffeinated) tea and coffee. Lunch was salads, fresh bread, cured meats and local cheeses.

Dinners were carefully crafted morsels of deliciousness – stuffed chicken, huge stuffed roasted peppers, baked sweet potatoes, to name but a few components. One of the desserts was low sugar vegan chocolate mousse, which was out of this world. I really have to hand it to them for pulling this off so impressively.

What the pilates was like at Pignoulet

You’re in safe hands with Susie, who has been self-employed for the last 15 years as a personal trainer, sports massage therapist, pilates teacher and Nordic walking instructor.

We did two classes on the Sunday, and one on Saturday and Monday. By lunchtime on the Monday I was feeling it. Pilates is all about working the core muscles, strengthening and stretching. For some the classes will be the main reason for going to Pignoulet, but for me they were like the cherry on top of a delicious cake. Although I’ve not done pilates for many years (getting on for twenty), I really enjoyed it.

Susie’s teaching skills are phenomenal, and it’s made me want to continue practising at home, as well as finding a local teacher. I came back from the retreat with sore abs, which felt like a rite of passage. Sitting by a pool without children is lovely, but most people find it boring after a couple of hours, so it was brilliant to have a fitness element to the trip, and something other than eating to plan the day around.

 

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(#AD) When I was asked to review the pilates retreat offered by the owners of @pignoulet – a stunning restored farmhouse in the French Pyrenees – I thought I might be dreaming. Thankfully I wasn’t, and it was the most amazing weekend I’ve had in a very long time. Susie and James Wetton are a husband and wife team with big hearts and wonderful ideas, who have quit the rat race to live their dream semi-retirement. I like to approach things like this without too many expectations, but to say I was blown away by every element would be an understatement. Pignoulet was a pinch me experience! 🧘‍♂️ It was incredible having the time and space to bond with the other nine bloggers I went away with (see previous post). Our three days together were full of delicious food, interesting discussions, lovely pilates classes, and as corny as it might sound, soul searching. It’s hard not to end up reflective after an experience like this. 🧘‍♂️ We laughed, cried and stayed up way past bedtime drinking local wine putting the world to rights. I mean seriously, what more could a group of tired mums, with twenty five children between them, possibly want out of a retreat? I highly recommend checking out Pignoulet if you’re in the market for some R&R! Head over to the blog for my full review. . . . #freefromgang #freefromgangontour #pilatespignoulet #pilatesparadise #pilateslovers #Pilates #retreat #pilatesretreat #france #gascony #mindfulness #relaxation #meditation #frenchcuisine #specialdiet #bloggers #bloggerretreat #getaway #yoga #weekend #retreatyourself #dailycalm #france4dreams #allergytravels #mummytries @lecoindemel @glutarama @freefromfairy @freefromfarm @glutenfreealchemist @sneakyvegblog @peachicksbakery @dairyfreekids @_just_eilidh 💖

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A few tips for getting the most from your Pignoulet pilates retreat

A three day and night retreat will set you back £450, excluding flights and transfers (check out this page for more details). Although excellent value for money, given once you’re there everything is included, it’s vital to ensure you get the absolute most from your trip.

– avoid the temptation to capture each moment by tuning out to your phone as much as possible.
– don’t stay up too late, don’t drink too much. I could have definitely gone to bed earlier both nights, but I love to chat, so…
– just enjoy the classes, even if you’re a novice. Switch off the “is everyone looking at me?” monster. No-one is watching you because they’re too busy with their own practise.
Pignoulet– expect tears, time out from everything is bound to stir up repressed emotions and bring them to the surface.
– do a little extra each day, but don’t over exert yourself so you’re exhausted coming home. We went to a quaint French market on the Sunday, and had a nice hilly walk on the Monday. Combined with the pilates, these two activities were perfect.
– nothing is too much trouble for Susie and James, they can cater for anything as long as they have plenty of advance warning.

I think a retreat like this is the ultimate self-care, and worth every single penny. I’m going to pay for next years’ stay in monthly instalments, which will make it manageable.

Especially if you have small kids like I do, I’d advise putting together a little plan for the thud back to earth. Inevitably it will hurt more than you’re expecting it to. Allowing myself to take it easy for a few days after meant my zen experience didn’t go to waste. I arrived home around 2am on the Tuesday morning, and got very little sleep that night. I was prepared for Tuesday to be difficult, but Wednesday was worse.

Here are a few things I did to ease myself gently back into normality:  
– asked my in-laws for Polly to go and stay with them for a few days, which she did Tues-Fri. I still had two kids to look after during those days, so it wasn’t exactly another holiday, but it definitely helped.
– prior to leaving I organised a food shop to be delivered the day after getting home.
– didn’t put too much pressure on myself work wise and took the day off social media and emails on the Thursday.

PignouletWill I do anything differently next time

We opted for Easy Jet flights from Luton to Toulouse, which were at awful times both ways, but such a bargain they were difficult to resist. Coming from South London, and being a non-driver meant it was a massive journey for me.

I’m very grateful to the lovely Mandy (her blogs are Sneaky Veg and Cook Veggielicious, you really should check them out!) for driving me to and from both airports, but it involved two late nights and one very early start out of the four days.

There are other flight options (both airport and time wise) which would lighten the load in this aspect, so I’ll be aiming for something a bit friendlier next year.

Pignoulet

Photo Credit: Le Coin de Mel

Full address and social media links

Domaine du Pignoulet,
Chemin de la Maoube,
Ladevèze-Rivière, 32230, France
Email: info@pignoulet.com

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Reviews from my fellow retreaters

Eilidh | Emma | Kate | Laura | Vicki | Mandy | Midge | Mel | Rebecca

I honestly cannot thank Susie and James enough for their hospitality. I’m feeling chilled out, inspired and shall be recommending Pignoulet to every single person I know. If you’re in the market for a retreat, or just a bit of R&R, you know where to head.

Until next time, Pignoulet! 

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