Balancing Hormones and Shifting Your Mindset with Ciara Foy
It seems there’s quite an art to truly listening and understanding what your body needs to stay strong and healthy. With fad diets, exercise trends, and an impossibly picture-perfect image portrayed by social media influencers, it’s no wonder people find it so hard to be happy with themselves. My guest today, Ciara Foy, is here to discuss her work as a holistic nutritionist and provide useful tips to help you discover what could work for you. She emphasizes the importance of understanding and balancing your hormones, taking care of your mental health, and switching off from outside stresses on a regular basis.
Ciara talks openly about her past struggles with food and the honest self-discovery journey that has brought her to where she is today. Ciara’s work is centered around mindset. If you can change your relationship with food, your approach to health and wellness can shift in a positive direction.
Ciara Foy has appeared on E-Talk Canada, Global TV, and CTV. Her work has been featured in Elle, Best Health, Flare, and many other media outlets. Ciara’s first book: Empowered by Food will be launching in May 2019.
If you’d like to pre-order a kindle version of Ciara’s book, head here. Paperback will be available on June 6th, 2019!
Be sure to subscribe to the Soul Compass podcast on your favourite podcasting platform.
SOME TOPICS WE COVERED:
We’re not all built the same and similarly, not all diets will work the same way for each person
Look at yourself like the individual that you are - find your imbalances and work on these
Breathing is universal, exercise methods are not - find the exercise that works for you
How to change your relationship with food from negative to positive
The difference between food guilt and food shame
How to build resilience both mentally and physically
Deciding on your life “non-negotiables”
Looking after yourself before others. You can’t be the best version of you if you’re not your own biggest supporter
How hormones are impacted by the food that you eat, your sleep and your mental health
Ciara: ”How can I support myself more instead of - I don't have time for any of this. I'm going to focus on everybody else or focus on my work. But then we end up burning out and paying the price."
Vitina: Namaste and welcome, I'm Vitina Blumenthal and you're listening to the Soul Compass podcast. I'm here to help you find your inner calm and deepen your self-discovery journey. Take this moment and focus on yourself. For your mental health, your ability to find ease in your everyday life and your emotional well-being. It is so important that you nourish yourself not only physically but also emotionally and mentally. Here at Soul Compass, you'll learn practical tips from experts who will leave you with a sharper focus and a renewed commitment to yourself.
Today I'm here with a very inspiring woman. She's gone through many life struggles that so many people go through. From struggling with her relationship with food, to suffering from postpartum, to the unraveling of a failing marriage. The moment she felt was her biggest failure led her on a path of health and wellness - becoming a registered holistic nutritionist and so much more. She's appeared on E-Talk Canada, Global TV, and CTV. She was named as an expert for national magazines such as Elle, Best Health, Flare and featured in many other media outlets. Her first book Empowered By Food is launching May 2019.
I had the absolute pleasure of meeting her in 2018 at Dovetail Women's Summit where I got to soak up all her wisdom about hormone health. Today I'm so excited to learn more about her wild self-discovery journey. I'm delighted to welcome the lovely Ciara Foy. Thank you so much for joining us today.
Ciara: Thank you so much for having me. I feel so overwhelmed with that amazing description. Thank you.
Vitina: You're so welcome. Well, you're an inspiring soul. I am really excited to dive a little bit deeper today.
One of my favourite things is learning about transformational experiences and I'm curious to know a little bit more about yours. You went from struggling with your weight, suffering from postpartum and on top of that going through a divorce...Fast forward - you've now been a holistic nutritionist for 13 years and in that time you've opened up two weight loss clinics. It takes so many years to evolve and you're constantly evolving even today, but can you pinpoint the moment that awareness of transformation started for you?
Ciara: I feel like the universe works in so many different ways and sometimes you get these little nudges and I found myself being nudged quite a bit in this direction for a long time. Even prior to having my first daughter when a lot of this kind of hit the fan. It was a really interesting journey because before I was a nutritionist before I was a mom, I was always into healthy eating. I was working downtown on Bay Street. I was doing smoothies in 2000. Everybody was like, "What are you doing?"
I had my blender. I was making smoothies in the morning after the gym. I really wanted to be "healthy" but really it was about being thin. It was about being perfect. It didn't come from a place of self-love. That's kind of where my journey really began. When I became pregnant I kind of gave that up. It was like, "Wow this is so freeing," and I know so many women have gone through this. It's like. "Now I don't have to try to be skinny anymore because people can't look at me funny if I gain weight because I'm pregnant right. This is awesome."
It's like there's the license to eat poorly. I'm so grateful for that experience. I stopped all of that non-fat, calorie free, this that and the other, and I started eating a lot of fast food and garbage and all that kind of stuff. I kind of went from bad to really ugly. But the great part of all of that - I really learned the power of food and really understanding that gut brain access. At the time I didn't know about this gut-brain access. That's an actual scientific thing that our brain and our gut are always talking to each other all the time.
So what we eat does impact how we think, our actions, our mood, our mental health and all of those things. There is no separation. Zero.
Because I was eating so poorly and I gained a lot of weight and everything in my body was out of whack, of course I was more at risk for postpartum depression. Then you take the relationship with yourself and you put it on top of all that science: why I was at greater risk, what was actually going on in my body, why things were out of whack - because of the way I was treating myself. The lack of exercise, lack of sleep obviously with a new baby, and the way I'd been eating meant that I was doomed to be very unhappy.
Vitina: That is a really hot topic right now is that gut-brain connection. For someone who's just kind of starting to learn about that or might have never even heard that there was a connection there, what would you tell them in terms of food but also how they are connected and how they play with each other?
Ciara: The important thing to know is that we have as many neurons in our gut as we do in our spinal cord. What we eat is intrinsically connected to our mind, our mood and everything else. Actually very few people stop to think about what they eat and how it impacts them as in how does it make you feel. I'd probably say that all day every day. How does it make you feel? What did you notice? It's not just digestive issues. It's not just "Was I bloated?" What was your mood afterward?
Were you tired? We should thrive on food. We should feel amazing after having food. We should feel the energy. Even those simple things, if that's not happening that means the food you are eating is not necessarily unhealthy because what is healthy for one person is not necessarily healthy for another. You could be eating perfectly healthy food that is not healthy for your body. Tuning into how you feel is so, so important.
Vitina: This is why I love nutrition. It goes so much with mindfulness in its own way because if you're not connected to your body. So many people are so disconnected from their body. I used to be one of those people. I can catch myself when I am - when I'm eating for survival and when I'm eating to nourish my body it's completely different and I can see the difference even in myself. For me, I'm really tall, I don't get enough circulation to my fingertips and my toes and I'm super creative...
You know, I've been to a nutritionist, a naturopath, and Ayurvedic doctor and it's interesting to see all three of them come back to the same conclusion for me because clearly, I didn't trust the first time. I have a body type that I can't ever do like a juice cleanse or a raw diet. I need warming foods in my body to warm up my body and it was that one simple shift that allowed me to get better sleep, I stress less. It's so crazy how that one insight changed so much. I was trying to work on it through meditation and mindfulness and yoga, but it was warming food.
Ciara: That's such a good example. It's so dangerous for people to get stuck on this particular diet that it is the way that we should eat. Whether it's raw food, vegan, paleo, keto or all these crazy things because at the end of the day all that matters is how do you feel. That's what you have to pay attention to because we're not all built the same. Like I'm going to recommend different things to different people based on where they're at. Obviously, if they're diabetic they're not going to have as many carbohydrates in their diet as somebody who's not and who's super active.
It's all about that particular person and addressing the imbalances. Sometimes the symptoms or the root cause, but also the symptoms that arise from that with food, meditation, sleep and exercise, and all those things. It's the same as when I took a nutrition and mental health course years ago. It was really interesting to learn that yoga, for example, is not relaxing for some people. There isn't anything that's universal. Okay -maybe breathing. I think breathing (breath work) is actually universal. That's important. But you know how we go about doing that is very individual.
I recommend yoga. I think yoga is amazing, but I am one of those people that I feel anxious when I do yoga when I'm stressed. When I'm not stressed I can do yoga and it's awesome.
But when I'm stressed, high-intensity stuff works better for me.
Vitina: I think that's the biggest misconception for a lot of things. Just echoing what you're saying, people just assume that one diet or that one fad is going to work for them. That doesn't mean that you can't explore, but it's honestly people like yourself that can guide people in the right direction for that unique instance for each person.
So many of us struggle with our relationship with food and I know you had a similar journey. What advice would you give to someone who is currently struggling with their relationship with food?
Ciara: First and foremost, the relationship that you have with food is a mirror to the relationship you have with yourself. That is where you have to start. It's the same as if you are somebody who judges other people really harshly, it's because you are judging yourself the worst. You are far harder on yourself than you are on anybody.
When it comes to your relationship with food it's always going to come down to how you feel about yourself. That's why it's such a hard thing to overcome. It's like what do we deserve, and self-love. Keeping promises. Even very basic things. When people come to me and they have a poor relationship with food, it often means that they have a history of yo-yo dieting and trying all sorts of things. They end up feeling like a failure like nothing works for them. They might be perfectionists. They make one mistake on a "diet" and then they're like, "Okay, I guess I can't do this. I'm just going to eat the bucket of ice cream and I'm going to start something else on Monday."
What I notice with a lot of clients who might be struggling with that is that they will do anything for anybody. If they make a promise to their children, their boss, their best friend or their mother they are sure as hell going to follow through with it. But they don't keep promises to themselves. When we're not treating ourselves like our best friend or how we would treat others, what are we saying to ourselves? We're not loving ourselves. We're not trusting ourselves. We're certainly not respecting ourselves. So those kind of things are really important. The relationship that we have with food comes down to the relationship we have with ourselves, how we're treating ourselves and what we believe we deserve. Then another really important layer on there is the shame that a lot of people talk about food and guilt.
It's actually not guilt that they feel around food it’s shame.
Vitina: Actually I'm curious to know more about that because I've heard so much about guilt and food, but shame is so much more deep-rooted.
Ciara: It is so Brené Brown does a lot of this research on shame. She's a shame researcher basically. If you're familiar with her stuff, the truth is that when we do something that we feel guilty about, like if you lied to your friend and you really hurt their feelings, somebody asked you to keep a secret and you didn't - something like that we're going to feel guilty about. Typically when we feel guilty about something we're less likely to do it again. It's positively correlated with change. So that's a good thing.
If we were feeling really guilty about the food we eat or what we did, we wouldn't stay stuck in that cycle. But the truth is and Brené explains this too, is when people feel bad about what they eat...it's not just women but there's a good portion of it that is women. It's not about I feel bad that I eat that thing, it's what's wrong with me that I can't do this or that I ate that thing. You're bad, you're not worthy, you're not loveable. It's those kinds of feelings. When we make it personal and we attach it to ourselves instead of just like, "Oh I ate that burger and it kind of upset my stomach and I'm not going to do that again because it totally wasn't worth it."
That's like guilt or kind of regret. You're learning from that. But when you make it personal, that's when that one meal, that one piece of cake or something is no longer just 400 calories of sugar. It's the rabbit hole that can totally throw you off and make it impossible for you to reach your goals.
Vitina: That's actually really profound and I never thought of the relationship with food that way and correlated with shame. So when you have clients come to you, do you find that is...well most times, related to shame when they have eating struggles?
Ciara: Yeah. I mean when it comes to weight loss that is very, very common. It's very rare that I have somebody who wants to lose weight that doesn't fit into that shame piece and the relationship with food that needs to be healed. That's a real struggle there.
I used to do almost exclusively weight loss and I do a lot more of gut health, hormones, mindset and those types of things now. But often times that weight loss piece still fits in there. The mindset around that and dealing with that guilt and shame and really working on that relationship with self is still a big part of my practice for sure.
Vitina: That's amazing. I know one of your areas of expertise is how to change your internal dialogue. The way we view the world in order to unlock ourselves from stress and it helps us to build resilience both mentally and physically. With someone who is going through that struggle of shame or that mindset piece that you were talking about, what advice would you give them and other practical things that you can do to start evolving and moving forward in that direction?
Ciara: One of my favourite tools to use with clients was when I first hired a business coach years ago she taught me how to journal. Not just journaling my to-do list for the day, but really digging in deep with my journaling and making sure that there are positive affirmations in there. The way that I was journaling was in a way that made me connect with the feeling of having accomplished the things that I want to call into my life.
Vitina: Is there specific questions that you would go to on a daily basis or on a weekly basis that you would keep addressing?
Ciara: It’s always what I'm grateful for, and there's typically a lot of that. Then I will definitely go into anything that is difficult. I tell people anything that's difficult for you, you want to start writing out that it's easy. When it comes to food, instead of writing, "I followed my meal plan perfectly today," give me a break. Who follows anything perfectly. I don't. Instead of putting that kind of pressure on yourself like, "I am going to do this and be regimented," journaling would look more like, "It feels amazing when I nourish my body and I'm so proud of myself for taking care of her in that way."
Vitina: That's beautiful.
You've been practicing this now for 13 years, and I bet at the beginning it was a lot different than it is now. I know that a lot of people think, "Oh they've been practicing it for so long," but do you still struggle at times? Like maybe you're launching a book, maybe you're going through certain things in your life that takes you off course. How do you bring yourself back into alignment with yourself again?
Ciara: I think the daily practice. I talk about having three things that are kind of your non-negotiable. For me my non-negotiables...and this isn't like to love my children and all these kind of things that make me happy...It's like what are the things that I need to do most days to have a great day? To set me up for success, to make me feel good so that whatever it is that comes at me on that day I'm better apt to be able to deal with it. To respond instead of just react. So for me, those are very basic and they are sleep, exercise, and nutrition.
What I always say to people is of those three things, if one falls off that's not so bad but you need two out of three. For me typically I'm very vigilant about my sleep. It doesn't matter if it's balancing hormones, reducing stress, anti-aging, being creative, being focused or preventing disease - sleep is so basic. People don't understand how deeply it impacts you.
Vitina: Probably other than nutrition...sleep...I think it was 2017 - that was my New Year's resolution. My sleep hygiene needed to be improved. I'm a creative. I could stay up until 3:00 or 4:00 in the morning. No one was bothering me and I could stay up for hours just working away and then I just remember being so stressed. I had so much anxiety, and it was when I switched my sleeping patterns that all of that just started to slowly fade away. It doesn't mean it doesn't still come up. Even now I practice meditation, I do my breathing, my yoga, but it still comes up at times. It's just nice to have the rituals like you said you have your sleep, you have your movement piece, you have your nutrition and those are your go tos. I think that everyone will have their own but that is such a beautiful place to start when things get tough.
Ciara: We have a tendency to throw ourselves under the bus. As a coach that's one of the number one things that I'm trying to get women to not do. The excuse is: my life is so busy, my kids this, I'm going through that, work is crazy, and then they just stop doing all of the things that they do that can actually help them to manage those things. It's crazy. We do the opposite of what we need.
What we need to do is when things are really stressful, that's when you say no to more things, no to more social things. Anything that is going to pull me away from taking good care of myself during really stressful times, I'm going to say no to. I'm going to be home earlier and getting to sleep. I'm going to make sure that I eat even better so that my body can manage the extra stress. How can I support myself more instead of, "I don't have time for any of this. I'm going to focus on everybody else or focus on my work." Then we end up burning out and paying the price.
It's that very basic - if you're on an airplane and it's going down you have to put the oxygen mask on you first. Even before your children. As a single mom, I'm like to my clients, "Yes even before your kids," and I get it. I'm a single mom. However, I stand by that. Taking care of myself comes first.
Vitina: That's such a beautiful visual. I love that visual of being on the airplane and putting the oxygen mask on yourself because it is true. You can't extend your love. You can't extend your empathy. You can't extend your compassion, any energy unless you've been able to fill up your vessel first. That is a beautiful image.
One thing that I really wanted to dive into, when I first started hearing about hormone health, I can't believe how important our hormone health is and how it's really not taught to us. It's like breathing in a sense where we're not taught how to breathe and we're not taught about our hormones until things start coming up.
Now we're learning a little bit more about it. A lot of our listeners are female. What are some key things that someone who might be so unconscious about hormone health. What are three key things that you could explain to them, maybe in their lifestyle - whether it's stress or what things come up. I'm just curious to know a little bit more about your wisdom on that topic.
Ciara: When people think of hormones they don't think of food. One of the most important hormones I believe that you need to keep balance in your body is insulin. That's where so many things go awry. That means you have to balance your blood sugar. The first steps to that are your basic nutrition. Not just having simple carbohydrates on their own, making sure that we're balancing proteins, fats, and carbohydrates together. That actually changes the glycemic index of a meal. It's so so interesting we still even use things like the glycemic index because studies have shown that how a particular food impacts somebody's blood sugar which is what the glycemic index is for is actually dependent on that person.
Again like when you get that sweet potato as a medium glycemic carbohydrate it's not that way for everybody. It's interesting, but that's kind of the basis that we talk about. That really got such a bad rap for so long and everybody was low-fat everything but fat is what really helps to slow down digestion and what will actually change the reaction in your bloodstream with respect to carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are what is going to increase your blood sugar. Protein does a little bit as well.
And then fat is completely neutral. That's why fat is such an important component because it can balance your meal. For example, when I used to work in an office it's very common to see people with like a muffin or a bagel and a coffee. That's a processed carbohydrate and often has lots of sugar in it. Not much else. Then coffee also impacts your blood sugar. You have a huge amount of sugar going into your bloodstream. So if you can think of a roller coaster that means your blood sugar goes up and when it gets up to the top then your pancreas secretes insulin and insulin's job is to lower blood sugar.
That's what it does. Insulin comes in when you're at the top of that roller coaster. It lowers your blood sugar but I like to say that insulin is an overachiever. So it doesn't just bring it back down to normal to baseline it brings it a little bit too low. You're up and then you're going down you're really low and when you're low, low blood sugar is dangerous. That is when your body starts sending a massive craving. If you have low blood sugar you're going to be craving sugar like crazy.
Then you're more likely to grab something that's quick and easy. Crackers, muffins, coffee, any kind of processed food product, processed grain and that's going to get your blood sugar up. A lot of people end up on this roller coaster with up and down blood sugar all day long. That's impacting your energy level. That's what's making you have cravings. It's impacting your mood. It's impacting your focus. It's impacting everything just for that one thing. That's the most important hormone to control is insulin because all of our hormones are connected. When one goes out of whack, they all end up going out of whack.
For example, if you have low blood sugar - you're super busy all day you have low blood sugar but you're kind of ignoring it, that puts stress on your body. Well, cortisol - one of its main jobs, which is our stress hormone is also to manage that. It's going to help you with that blood sugar part. We don't always want to be relying on that as well because that again is a stress for our body. That one major thing - how you eat and eating in hormonal balance and making sure that you're eating right amounts of proteins, fats and carbs is the very basic bare minimum to balance your hormones on a whole.
Vitina: I deal with cravings. I know a lot of people deal with cravings. You want that one thing that's in your mind. That's what you want. That's going to satisfy everything. How do you guide clients through that process, because it's so easy to just want to grab what you're craving. What would you suggest that person eat rather than grabbing for whatever maybe unhealthy craving that they had.
Ciara: Blood sugar can be causing that craving. Another thing that can be causing that craving is lack of sleep. Stress can cause that too. Another really basic thing to manage your hormones is to get enough sleep. When you don't get enough sleep there's actually a hormone called ghrelin. Ghrelin is kind of like your hunger hormone. When ghrelin is going to be higher you're not going to be as satisfied from the food you eat. So you're gonna tend to want to eat more food when you're tired.
When you balance your blood sugar and you get enough sleep, you're already taking away a lot of the reason why most people have cravings. The answer to your question is, that's where I go first because we want to look at the biology, physiology and be looking at how we can prevent the craving first and foremost. Prevention is always way easier. Once you have low blood sugar, even myself (clearly I know better) can still succumb to that. You want to prevent those things from happening first.
What I do is I look for patterns with clients. If you were always coming to me and you're like, "Oh I'm always having this craving at three or four o'clock." The first thing you're going to want to do is: are you getting enough sleep, are you balancing your blood sugar? Then you need an afternoon snack. You're obviously having low blood sugar at that time so you need to plan out a snack that you're going to have before that time when you're usually “hangry”. If you already had that snack and then your blood sugar is balanced you probably wouldn't have the craving.
That's kind of what you want to do first and foremost. Then if you are just having a craving and it's not about those things or more so in the evening, you got to ask yourself, "What is it that you really need?" Is it really the food, or are you sad are you tired, are you lonely? What need are you actually trying to have met with the instant gratification of food?
Vitina: You're just so full of wisdom.
Before we start closing I wanted to ask you: What three pieces of wisdom would you share with someone who is embarking on a self-discovery journey? It doesn't necessarily have to be about nutrition but you've had a lot of profound transformations in your life, and I'm just curious to know what three pieces of wisdom you'd give to someone who's embarking on this inner journey?
Ciara: I think that although hindsight is always 20/20 we can learn a lot from our past and we can use our powers to help us trust ourselves a little bit more.
Transformation is scary. It really is true that all of our hopes, dreams, and aspirations in our best life really is out of our comfort zone. We have to stop being afraid of hurt, or pain, or failure, or rejection, because we don't learn at all from our successes. We learn from the things, and we change and we transform from the things that cause pain: failure, heartbreak all of those things. For me, I've learned to always tell myself, "If not this, something better." I'm going to put my all into this. I'm going to put my whole heart into this. Whether it's a relationship, or my business, or a business deal I want to do.
If it doesn't work out, it's because it's not supposed to and there is something better. So when I was talking about hindsight, I think that now that I'm 40, I can look back on my life and realize that every single thing that I ever thought was tragic, detrimental, I didn't know how I was going to survive or get through, were actually some of the most important and biggest catalysts for change and I'm so grateful for every one of them.
If you are going to transform, you really have to kick fear in the butt. We can't be afraid of the hurt, the pain, the failure, all of that stuff is where all the goodness is. That is my biggest advice.
Vitina: Thank you, Ciara, for spreading your light and wisdom with us today. Honestly, I got chills. I had a little "aha" moment in a piece of your wisdom because there's an area of my life that I know that I'm not giving my whole heart to. So thank you.
Ciara: It's like the best part. Honestly, I'm so not afraid of pain or failure. It's amazing and so freeing. Actually, my mom used to always say to me, "What is for you will not pass you by," so always trusting that and just knowing that we are exactly where we're supposed to be. All of our experiences - there's a reason for them it's happening for us.
Vitina: Happening for us. I need to repeat that because it's so true.
Thank you so much for just being authentically you. You've inspired us all. If people want to connect with you. Where can they find you?
Ciara: You can connect with me at ciarafoy.com. I'm also on Facebook and Instagram under Ciara Foy Nutrition. I have a book coming out this spring in May, which is called Empowered By Food: heal your hormones, balance stress and become unstoppable.
Vitina: Thank you so much again, Ciara.
Okay, that's it for this week's episode. Remember, to stay inspired in between our episodes you can head on over to Instagram and follow us @yoursoulcompass and @wanderfulsoul. For free meditations and mindfulness guides, you can head over to wanderfulsoul.com.
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Thank you. You beautiful soul for dedicating time to your self-discovery journey. Not only are you contributing to your own mental and emotional well-being but you are contributing to a healthier, more harmonious world and raising the consciousness of our planet. You are amazing and beautiful just as you are.
Thank you for being part of our journey. And thank you for letting us become part of yours.