How Do You Feel Affected by the Changing Seasons?

As we emerge from what feels like a winter hibernation and the days begin to expand, I find myself feeling tired and lacking in energy (possibly the body adapting to an imbalance in melatonin and serotonin levels). Then, as we pass the Spring Equinox, I feel a sudden surge of energy, as though someone has pulled down the electricity booster lever! As a result, my creative juices flow with renewed vigor.

Our circadian rhythm is strongly influenced by natural light. As light diminishes in the Winter, our bodies produce more melatonin, the sleep hormone, synchronizing our sleep-wake cycle with night and day.  A reduction in serotonin can bring on seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, resulting in lowered mood or even full blown depression. Our bodies feel the need for extra energy to keep us warm. We can also crave comfort food to boost our mood and our serotonin levels (90% of serotonin is produced in the gut). In the winter, I crave warming soups and nourishing stews as opposed to salads, to stay warm, full of energy and comforted. Interestingly, Traditional Chinese medicine and also Ayurvedic medicine believe that eating raw foods in the winter can sap us of our energy.

As daylight increases, so too does our production of serotonin, the feel-good hormone. The production of vitamin D3 is more prolific, which helps our energy levels (although for sunlight to produce vitamin D3 in our body, it needs to be in direct contact with our skin).

We are inextricably connected to nature and the flow of the seasons. Our bodies follow the same rhythm, just as sap rises and seeps through the veins of new growth, causing new shoots to emerge. As winter draws in again, our bodies naturally feel the need to slow down and preserve energy.

We can support these natural rhythms by being connected to our outdoor environment; walking in all seasons and noticing the changes outdoors. Feeling the sunlight on our skin in the summertime. Embracing increased waking hours in the Summer and more sleep in the Winter.

However the change in seasons effects you; especially this year we have everything to look forward to: more time spent outdoors, enjoying gardening, wondering at the beauty of nature, looking forward to the lazy buzz of bumblebees and the return of butterflies. Alfresco breakfasts and dinners, sitting outside late into the evening.

I think this year, much more than any other has made us appreciate what comes for free and the simple, small pleasures.

Blue Spirulina Smoothie Bowl

Spirulina is possibly one of the most nutrient-dense foods, a blue-green algae which is grown in freshwater ponds and lakes. “Yuk!” you might think, but some claim that this (usually dark green) algae provides all the nutrients the human body requires in trace elements. It come in powdered form (or tablets) and contains high levels of complete protein, vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients (plant chemicals which give plants their lovely colours & are nutritionally beneficial).

Green spirulina tastes and smells like the sea, which can put people off, but when mixed into smoothies, the taste and smell disappear. Blue spirulina, on the other hand, is a chemical-free natural extract which is still highly nutritious, but with a milder, neutral taste – my kids love it!

This smoothy bowl is perfect at breakfast time, or as a wholesome snack.  It tastes delicious (not at all of the sea!) and could be the perfect antidote to Christmas excesses!

Here is the recipe (the great thing about smoothie bowls is that you can throw in whatever you fancy!):

  • ½ Banana
  • 1 Handful Kale / Spinach / Cavolo Nero
  • 1 Handful Chopped Mango
  • ¼ Avocado
  • 250ml Plant-Based Milk (I used almond)
  • 1 – 2 (depending on taste) Blue Spirulina Powder – we use Super U
  • 1 scoop Vanilla Protein Powder (I use CNP Plant Collagen Protein Powder)

Whizz it all up in a blender until smooth.

Top with berries, chopped banana, granola, shredded coconut, seeds or whatever you have to hand. Pomegranate seeds would be lovely (and would look festive). In the summertime, we top with edible borage flowers from the garden, which have a honey-like taste.

Getting BACK Into SHAPE AFTER Pregnancy

The weeks following pregnancy and childbirth can be exciting and challenging at the same time, and many women feel pressure to regain their pre-pregnancy shape. Images of celebrities who appear to snap back into shape straight after giving birth can be intimidating and overwhelming, but new mums should not feel pressured to look a certain way shortly after birth and in the months that follow.

Embracing what our wonderful bodies have done in creating a new life, and ignoring the pressure to bounce back into shape as soon as possible, is easier said than done. During pregnancy, the body goes through a huge amount of changes. It takes about six weeks for the uterus to shrink back to its pre-pregnancy size.

Diastasis recti is a common condition which effects most women to a lesser or greater degree during pregnancy. The connective tissue (the linea alba) which joins the two halves of the rectus abdominis (the top layer of abdominal muscles), from above the belly button downwards, stretches to accommodate the growing foetus. It takes patience and time for the rectus abdominis muscles to re-connect following pregnancy.

Symphysis Pubis Dysfunction (SPD) is caused when the ligaments which join both parts of the pelvis become less stable during pregnancy. It can cause pain in the pubic area, lower back and groin, so it is advisable to seek help from a physiotherapist if you are affected.

A gradual, progressive exercise programme over a period of weeks will help you regain your strength and get back to pre-pregnancy shape. It is important to get the go-ahead from a GP following the 6-week check-up. It may take more time after a caesarean section, so it’s even more pertinent to get clearance from your doctor.

Start with gentle exercises given by a qualified exercise professional, avoiding any moves which forcefully cause the abdominal wall to bulge forward, such as sit-ups and crunches. Repetitive bulging will cause the rectus abdominis to stretch further & may cause the abdominal muscles to dome. Also, resist moving on to more challenging exercises too quickly.

Work on strengthening the transversus abdominis (TVA), the deepest layer of abdominal muscles. Their fibres run horizontally, forming a natural corset around the torso. The TVA work in conjunction with the pelvic floor muscles (and the multifidus muscle located either side of the spine) to stabilise the spine and pelvis. Toned TVA muscles help flatten the tummy and narrow the waist slightly. When they are engaged correctly, the pelvic floor and multifidus will also be contracting, and visa-versa.

A qualified exercise professional will teach you how to isolate these muscles and restore their recruitment pattern before starting to strengthen them (you cannot strengthen a muscle your brain cannot activate).

Following a sensible, nutritious diet (taking into consideration calories for breastfeeding) is also key for getting back into shape. Remember that taking your time to get back into shape following pregnancy will reduce unnecessary stress during this amazing time in your life. Please don’t allow yourself to be pressured into hurrying this process.

The Ultimate Comfort Breakfast for a Cold Winter Morning

I am a bit partial to a lovely breakfast (it’s my favourite meal of the day!) In this cold winter weather, what could be more comforting than a warming bowl of porridge with a decadent topping of caramelised figs, toasted hazelnuts, pomegranate seeds & physalis?

Oats have a multitude of health benefits – improving insulin response and improving blood sugar levels; they are also, great for heart health. Figs are loaded with vitamins and minerals and also fibre to promote healthy digestion. Pomegranates are full of antioxidants, protecting your cells and reducing inflammation. Physalis are abundant in vitamin C, helping to boost the immune system (again great in the winter!); they also contain beta-carotene (a potent antioxidant) and vitamin K. Hazelnuts are packed with antioxidants, healthy fats, vitamins and minerals.

So as well as being comforting, this breakfast is loaded with nutritional goodness to leave you feeling great and brimming with energy!

You will need (for 1 person):

  • ½ Cup Porridge Oats,
  • ½ Cup Almond Milk (or milk of your choice),
  • 1-2 Cups Water

For the Figs:

  • 1 ½ Fresh Figs (I used Black Mission figs)
  • A sprinkling of Brown Sugar (I used coconut sugar, but any will do)
  • 1 tsp Balsamic Vinegar

To Decorate:

  • Pomegranate Seeds (some blackberries would also be lovely)
  • Physalis
  • Hazelnuts
  • Maple Syrup

Method:

  • Toast the whole hazelnuts in the oven at 180 degrees C for 10 minutes, then rub off the outer skin between kitchen paper, put them in a bag and gently split them with a rolling pin. Put to one side.
  • Prepare the figs: Half them, then place in a non-stick frying pan (seed side up). Sprinkle with the brown sugar and cook over a medium / high heat until the sugar melts. Turn the figs over and cook for a couple of minutes until the sugar caramelizes. Take them off the heat, drizzle them with the balsamic vinegar and keep them warm.
  • Cook the porridge: Place the oats, almond milk and water into a small pan. Cook over a medium heat, stirring regularly, and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for a couple of minutes until the porridge is thick and creamy. Add more water if the porridge is too thick.
  • Pour the porridge into a bowl and top with the figs, a drizzle of maple syrup, pomegranate seeds, hazelnuts and physalis.

Make sure you enjoy this porridge leisurely with a delicious cup of coffee (optional!!) and weekend vibes!