Holistic Living

Of hormones, balance and stress

Written by Gus Grima;

Gus Grima is a certified Functional Diagnostic Nutrition Practitioner and Health Coach who helps women to double their energy, balance their hormones and sort out their gut issues using food and lifestyle coaching and functional lab testing. Gus was born and grew up in Malta but is now based in London with her family, has 2 boys aged 6 and 9 and works with clients in UK and Europe privately on Skype.


Picture this scene…you’re a busy Mum juggling your kids needs, keeping the house and family in order, possibly working too. You’ve been doing this for a while but recently you’ve noticed that you just don’t feel like yourself anymore. You’re waking up feeling exhausted and having to drag yourself out of bed, even though you got to sleep by 10pm last night. You’re having dreadful energy slumps in the afternoon and wondering how on earth you’re going to get the kids through their supper and bed time. Your skin and hair are changing, losing the glow and lusciousness, your moods and emotions are all over the place – you’re snapping at the kids a lot more and sometimes you feel really low. Your PMS has got ten times worse. You get bloating and can’t work out why – but you know it makes you feel horrible in your clothes. You exercise loads and try to eat the right things but the weight is still slowly creeping on. Is this all part of getting older?

Some people might have you think this is all part of getting older, but in my experience it’s is nothing of the sort.

All of the things I’ve described above are symptoms. Symptoms are common because lots of women have them – but they’re not normal. Just as the red light comes on in your car to tell you something is up with the car and needs fixing, so a symptom is your body’s way of communicating with you and telling you that something is out of balance and needs attention.

What we tend to do with symptoms is self-medicate: caffeine or sugar to cover up the tiredness, pain killers to help us with the PMS, aches and pains – and this is like putting a plaster over the red light (in the car) instead of trying to work out why you have the symptom in the first place.

So what could the underlying causes for your symptoms be?

A lot of it is rooted in hormonal imbalance. I’m not just talking about sex hormones like oestrogen and progesterone but also other important hormones like cortisol (your stress hormone) and insulin (your blood sugar hormone).

Our many hormones are delicately balanced and all linked in an intricate web. If you pull one part of the web, it affects the rest of it. The hormones that have the biggest impact on our health and day-to-day feeling of wellbeing are cortisol and insulin.

Every time we are faced with a stressor, our body automatically produces the hormone cortisol. Blood flows to the arms, legs and brain, breathing gets faster, pupils dilate, heart beats faster, neck and shoulder muscles tense up. These are all signs of your ‘fight or flight’ response – the stress response. What’s going on behind the scenes in a stress response is that cortisol also raises your blood pressure and your blood sugar levels, slows down or completely stops your digestion, suppresses your immune system and affects the production of your reproductive hormones.

Let’s back up and talk about stress for a minute because that word can mean different things to different people. I’m sure most of you reading this can relate to mental and emotional stress: worries about relationships, money, thoughts, feelings, caring for family members, your state of happiness, life goals. However, there are other types of stress too, a lot which are hidden, that your body reacts to in much the same way: lack of sufficient nutrients in your diet, sugar overload, food allergies or sensitivities, sleep deprivation, illness and infection, alcohol, medications, pesticides and herbicides, bad postural alignment – to name just a few.

Being under some sort of low level stress on a daily basis wreaks havoc with the way your body does business. You’re going to have issues with metabolism and your thyroid, your sleep, your digestion and your vitality reserves will become severely depleted, which then affects your immune system. You’re also going to start having troubles with your other hormones. This is because your body will preferentially make cortisol – as it is your survival hormone – at the expense of other important hormones connected with growth, repair and reproduction like DHEA, estrogen, progesterone and testosterone.

So, what can you do?

Firstly, you need to work at removing as many of the stressors as you can – especially the hidden stressors. This is exactly what I do when I work with my clients, one to one.

Then, you need to support your body in the face of all the different stressors because, let’s face it, living in a completely stress-free world isn’t going to happen.

Here are 11 ideas you can implement:

  1. Eat the rainbow. How much colour do you see on every plate of food you eat? Nature provides us with a full array of colourful vegetables and fruit. All the colours translate into lots of hormone balancing nutrients in our body. Make sure every plate of food you eat contains a variety of colour, not just beige, brown and white. Don’t put the same vegetables into your shopping basket every week, make sure you try new ones to keep varying the colour.
  2. Eat real food – ditch the takeaways, ready meals and highly processed foods. If you’re strapped for time, think about how you want to feel (full of energy and vitality, right?) and invest some time every week into preparing food, batch cooking (cooking once to eat twice, or three times, which means you can cook and freeze for other busy days so you don’t have to cook from scratch every day). You’ll end up always having healthy, home-made options to hand. This will reduce your toxin load dramatically, give you the nutrients your body craves which, in turn, will stop you craving the sugary, high carb, processed stuff.
  3. Ditch the caffeine. Caffeine is a stimulant and switches on your stress response. It’s also an appetite suppressant, so having one instead of breakfast means you’re missing out filling up on valuable nutrients.
  4. Balance your blood sugar. Eating too many sugary foods and refined carbs (anything with flour in it: bread, pasta, cake, biscuits, crackers) will have you on a blood sugar rollercoaster leaving you feeling exhausted, cranky and putting on weight. It also switches your stress response on.
  5. Get enough sleep. This means 7-9 hours of good sleep every night. If you’re waking up after a full night’s sleep feeling exhausted, it’s a sure sign that your stress response is on overdrive.
  6. Exercise – but not too much. High intensity endurance exercise switches on your stress response. Make sure you balance out your exercise with good rest and recovery practices like stretching, yoga and pilates, massage, myofascial release.
  7. Daily gratitudes: download the ‘5-minute Journal’ app and fill it in every morning or evening
  8. Daily deep breathing: this helps switch on your digestion, your immune system and your potential to heal and balance.
  9. Go and have a postural assessment with a chiropractor or osteopath and make sure you are in good physical alignment. If not, this is a huge hidden stressor.
  10. Don’t put yourself bottom of the list. Make sure you spend time every week, doing something you love, for yourself.
  11. I’m a great fan of functional lab tests, as they help give real insight into how your body is functioning and also to identify healing opportunities. If you’re doing all the above but still feeling sick and tired, then contact me for a free discovery session to work out a plan forward to obtain the health and vitality you want.

To find out more about Gus Grima and how she may be able to help you head to her website or follow her on Instagram

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