For the love of.. chocolate?

Yesterday I went to my first cacao ceremony hosted by my friend, Rachel. I have used cacao previously in smoothies and baking and was vaguely aware of the health benefits and “superfood” status but I had no idea that cacao was used thousands of years ago by the ancient Mayan and Aztec civilizations for its healing and spiritual properties. I love chocolate so I was excited to find out more!

What are the benefits?

One of the key benefits of raw cacao is its heart opening properties. On a physical level, it is a vasodilator meaning that it increases blood flow around the body and improves circulation. On an emotional level, it aids deeper emotional connection and feelings of love and openness towards those around us. Even in modern society we associate chocolate with love and romance and this may be because we know this intuitively on a deeper level..

Raw cacao powder is a nutritional bombshell containing essential minerals such as iron and magnesium – 77% and 124% of the recommended daily allowance per 100g. This helps maintain healthy nerve function and energy levels in the body. Cacao also contains a ton of antioxidants (even more than dark chocolate) and is a great source of healthy fats and fibre. It also contains 20g protein per 100g which was a surprise to me! Any kind of chocolate will provide some of these benefits but the less processing the cacao goes through, the better.

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Raw chocolate making gift set

What is it used for?

Cacao can help on all sorts of emotional and spiritual journeys. The beans contain a compound called theobromine which is a compound similar to caffeine in structure with stimulatory effects but on a much weaker, more mellow level. It is known to stimulate pleasure receptors in the brain and can be used to help relieve symptoms of mild anxiety and depression. It can be a  great tool to use in therapy as it encourages awareness of emotions and understanding of thought patterns and habits.

Cacao is also said to boost creativity and help to overcome creative and emotional blocks making it excellent for those at a cross roads in life and looking for some inspiration. Traditionally, cacao is also used to access higher dimensions in shamanic journeying. It can also be used as a tool to aid with spiritual practices such as meditation and yoga which is something I definitely want to try!

Our cacao ceremony

The ceremony we had was more of a gathering and an introduction to cacao than a traditional ceremony but it was great fun and I learnt a lot. First we tried the raw beans, previously soaked in water to soften them a little. Rachel warned us about the horrible taste beforehand but I was pleasantly surprised! The beans where quite bitter but it wasn’t overpowering. After this we drank a drink prepared using blended beans with water and a bit of coconut sugar for sweetness. In the traditional way we had 2 cups, with a 30 minute break between.

Rachel advised us to drink a lot of water to “activate” the beneficial compounds in the cacao and we went out for a walk in the park as being in nature also helps to boost emotional and sensual awareness. When we came back to the house, we sat in a circle and shared some things people had brought with them. One lady, Shabnam, brought some instruments including a “HAPIdrum” from Thailand which was the most beautiful, relaxing sound. Another, Jess, brought aromatherapy oils which we passed around and she explained the benefits of each of them. Another lady, Karen, brought some raw chocolate for us to try that she had made at home. Other than that we spent time getting to know each other, sharing stories and listening to relaxing music.

At first I wasn’t sure if I really felt the effects of the cacao and thought it was because I had a smaller dose to try it out for the first time (typically a ceremonial drink contains approx. 50g of raw cacao). A few of the other women agreed but later on we realised just how much we had chatted and shared about our lives. The effects were so subtle that we hadn’t even noticed! We all felt a low level contentment and openness with each other, considering most of us had only met for the first time that evening. I left feeling happy and with a bunch of new friends that I hope to stay in touch with. I definitely plan to try cacao again in the future!

HAPIdrum

Me making music with the HAPIdrum

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Tam, Rachel and me in the cosy attic

 

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HA recovery diaries #6 the roller coaster of healing emotions

In the beginning of this journey I thought that getting my period back was the final goal. Little did I know back then that this was merely a sign that I was on the right track on a much longer healing journey. It has been 3 weeks since the return of AF and it has been a rollercoaster of emotions.. mainly joy, excitement and gratitude but also fear and uncertainty.

Deciding to tackle this mountain of an issue is not easy. Most of us have dedicated years of our lives to our “health” and “beauty” goals only to find out we have been fed a pack of lies. We have spent so long cultivating beliefs about how we should look in order to be happy and successful that finding out that this isn’t necessarily what is right for us is quite a blow.

At first we remain in denial – our lifestyle can’t possibly be the cause of our lack of periods, we are slim and fit therefore we MUST be healthy..right?

Once we start to realise that maybe fixation on our weight could be responsible we get defensive – we aren’t exercising THAT much, we aren’t VERY underweight, we know people skinnier than us who still have their cycles..

At some point we experience anger – anger towards the media and diet industries for making us feel unworthy and for providing us with our body ideals and even anger towards our own bodies for not conforming to these images of “perfection”

Of course there is the sadness too –  we are sad that we have neglected our bodies in this way and grieve for the time and energy we have lost and can’t get back

Yet along the way we discover the other women who are also walking this well-trodden path and we find hope – time and time again we see healing stories which give us hope that we can also overcome this

But we haven’t yet cultivated patience and expect miracles to happen over night  – when we don’t see the changes we want we start to feel lost and broken like we are different from the others and will never be able to heal

We start to feel uncertainty – we don’t know whether this will work, we are out of our comfort zones and crave the safety of our old routines. We can’t quite let go of something, maybe our weight, our control over food or our exercise routine

Eventually we surrender and feel a huge sense of relief. – giving up the struggle and allowing our bodies to lead the way instead of our minds constantly planning, analysing, criticising

This is where the magic happens

Getting my period back brought me huge joy but it is not the end of the road. Now I have to relearn how to look after my body.. I want to eat well and move my body but I don’t know how to go about it any more. Everything I learned from the past is a no go and I feel totally lost. I need to discover where my boundaries are – what can I do? how much is too much? Right now I am remaining cautious and I am very aware that I could easily slip back into old patterns.

It seems like I am in this for the long haul but I wouldn’t have it any other way 🙂

Amy

HA recovery diaries #5 I DID IT

I never expected that this day would come so quickly on only diary entry number 5 but here it is.. I got my period back!! After 8 years of amenorrhea, BAM it is back. I am so so happy I can’t stop smiling and telling everyone I see!

I posted my recovery story in Nicola Rinaldi’s No Period Now What facebook group so I am just going to share this post as I don’t have time to write a separate entry today. I am so full of gratitude to Nicola and also to Meret Boxler and her Life Unrestricted podcast for helping open my mind and get my life back. Also big thanks to Hannah Lipman from The Healing Woman for supporting me throughout this journey!

So here it is…

For those who wanted to hear my story.. I lost my period 8 years ago through very restrictive dieting, over exercise, stress and the birth control pill ( perfect storm hey!). My lowest bmi was probably 18 but after a couple of years I fell into a binge/restrict cycle and gained up to bmi 21. I have been at that weight for the last 6 years.. maintaining the diet mentality, weight suppression and over exercise. I was constantly thinking about food, planning what to eat, worrying about what I ate, eating on a schedule rather than listening to my body. I lost my spark for life, my emotions and libido were severely suppressed and I lost interest in hobbies and socialising. I would still do these things but I almost felt like I was just going through the motions and lost my excitement for life. Last year I was (wrongly) diagnosed with PCOS and at that point discovered a high carb vegan diet and started eating loads of fruit, veg and starches probably around 2500 cals. I started to feel much better but despite no longer physically restricting I still was mentally restricting and always terrified of weight gain and used exercise to maintain my figure. In November 2016 after researching endlessly online I found out about HA and how it can be easily mistaken for PCOS – this was my story exactly and was the kick up the butt I needed to accept things needed to change. I decided to stop exercise other than walking and yoga (which was such a hard and scary decision to make after nearly 10 years of addiction!). In Jan 2017 I discovered Nicola’s blog and bought NPNW book and realised I was still not “all in” even with all of the positive changes I had made. Even though I eating plenty, I was still not completely free and still using brain power to control my body’s cravings and urges. At that point I decided I needed to let go of allll rules. I ate anything I wanted, including lots of processed foods that I had only ever eaten during binges before, sometimes scared that I was getting out of control as I was so hungry all of the time and terrified I would fall back into my old bingeing habits. I aimed for 3000 cals a day but never tracked anything so I couldn’t say for sure.  I still wanted to stay vegan for ethical reasons and eat lots of fruits, veg and starches as I felt good doing this but I ate biscuits, chocolate, ice cream ON TOP. I stopped the all or nothing, black and white thinking and realised that I don’t have to be perfect (not that there is any such thing!). I knew that my controlling nature had got me to HA and that I needed to give it up to get past this.. I focused on letting go, stopping the struggle and surrendering to the process. Paying my body back for all the restrictions and letting my cravings/instincts lead the way. 5 weeks later I saw ewcm for the first time and now 7 weeks later AF!! So all in all this has been a 12 months since I upped my calories, almost 4 months since stopping exercise and 6 weeks since going all in with food no restrictions. I have gained some weight but not much I don’t think although I haven’t weighed myself I am somewhere between 21 and 22 I would guess. I hope this is helpful if you have any specific questions please ask xxx

I am still going to keep up this blog as I have so much more I want to write about. The above is just a summary to show that recovery is possible! Now I need to go and celebrate and I am going on holiday tomorrow. In the past I would have been gutted about getting my period just before a beach holiday but now I am so thankful. I will never take it for granted again. Sending love to anyone reading this and pleeeeaaase remember to trust your body, regain that connection and miracles can happen!

Amy x

Recovery diaries #4 feminine energy and amenorrhea

Since I started my recovery journey I have learned so much about masculine and feminine energy and the importance of keeping them in balance. Looking back at my life in the last 10 years it makes me laugh because it seems so obvious why I didn’t have my period for so long. I was living entirely from my masculine side, and through that I manifested a career in a very male dominated industry (engineering) and surrounded myself with male friends. I thought this was just because I got on better with guys and found I could talk to them easier, but what I didn’t realise was that this was because I was so out of touch with my feminine side that I just didn’t know how to communicate with girls any more and found that I just never really “clicked” with women that I met.

So when I say masculine energy what do I mean? I don’t mean the standard stereotype of watching football and drinking beer (although I do like a good craft ale) but more the masculine energy traits that we all have. These are left brain kind of traits such as logic, planning, control, striving, analysing and being goal orientated. And let me just stress that these are not bad things!! But when we take them too far and don’t balance them out with more feminine traits, that it when problems emerge. For me I have always been a very determined person, setting goals and planning what I can DO to get there. Finding out that in order to achieved the goal of getting my period back I actually need to just BE was a huge shock to me.

Feminine energy is much softer and calmer. It includes traits such as creativity, intuition, nurturing, patience, empathy and most importantly for me, surrender. These were all so alien to me! I have always been what people might call “a strong independent woman” but I didn’t know that by playing that role I was entirely sacrificing my feminine energy. For those of us that are classic type-A perfectionist kind of personalities it can be so easy to drift towards a strict routine with a long to-do list and packed schedule every day. We want to be productive and not waste a single minute. We see resting as a waste of time or even as being lazy. Often just sitting still makes us feel anxious as we feel we should be doing something! 

It is so easy to see how this kind of attitude can lead to losing our periods. When it comes to our bodies we tend to view them as machines. We really take the energy in=energy out principle to heart and see health and fitness as a numbers game. We set ourselves (often very ambitious) goals for how we want our bodies to look or what we want them to do and come up with a plan of how to get there. We apply our will power to eating “clean” or following intense exercise plans and quite often are praised by others for doing so. When I was in the depths of my disordered eating and exercise I got praise all the time.. people telling me I was so fit and healthy or that they wished they had my discipline around food and working out. What they didn’t know was the effect that my behaviours were really having on my body and the mental stress that this lifestyle was causing.

So what can we do to nurture our feminine side if we are lacking? 

I am still learning about all of this but here are a few things that I am working on at the moment.

  1. Getting in touch with my senses – listening to calming music, lighting candles and incense, finding out what foods I actually LIKE and allowing myself to enjoy them daily and wearing soft, comfortable or flowing materials
  2. Calming down my workout routine – I used to lift weights and do boxercise and other HIT workouts. I have also done yoga for years but often more intense power or ashtanga styles. I have recently discovered shakti yoga which much more graceful and feminine, almost dance-like, and is great for discovering your “inner goddess”
  3. Accepting help – Like I said i have always been a very independent person, wanting to do things for myself and not look weak or incapable. Now I am learning to relax more and allow people to do things for me if they offer. I am finding that letting people in in this way is even helping improve my relationships
  4. Getting in touch with my creativity – I have never been a very imaginative person but I love sewing and crafts so I am trying to channel my inner creativity in this way and who knows maybe I will uncover some long lost talents
  5. Connecting with others – I have found that reaching out and sharing my fears with others in my life or online has helped so much. Being vulnerable is actually so empowering! And in being honest about my struggles I have learnt so much about other people too
  6. Being kind to my body – this is quite a tough one but I am trying to get back in touch with what my body needs and learn how to look after myself again. I am so used to neglecting any signs of “weakness” and pushing my body through tiredness, injuries etc that I am finding it quite difficult but I definitely becoming more in-tune with time. I am learning to be kind to myself which takes on different forms every day.. some days it is accepting that my body needs to rest, other days it is going out for a walk in the fresh air, others it is eating lots of chocolate mmmmm

I hope that this can give some inspiration to anyone looking to channel some feminine energy. If you have any suggestions too I would love to hear them 🙂

Amy x