The festive season can be a magical time of year, filled with social outings, celebrations, and endless food and drinks. But for those trying to optimise their health, hormonal balance and fertility, it can be a challenging and even stressful period. However, once you understand the most effective strategies to manage the obstacles and stressors that may arise, you can make the most of this exciting time while still nurturing your body, hormones and fertility at the same time.
Why is the festive season challenging?
In addition to the copious amounts of alcohol, festive treats and foods, and endless social outings that crop up during the festive season, often the feelings of fatigue and burnout we’ve avoided throughout the year can catch up to us. Many people find themselves suddenly dealing with illness or exhaustion, as it all becomes a bit too much for your body to handle.
Add together the exhaustion, less time for rest and mindful movement, reduced consumption of nutritionally-dense foods and drinks, and the increasing intake of less nutritious options in their place, and you’re likely to find your general health, hormone health and fertility can suffer as a result.
But don’t panic! You can take action to prevent the toll these factors can take on your health by implementing the following strategies, allowing you to support your hormonal health and fertility at the same time.
1 – Minimise your exposure to endocrine disruptors
Before you zone out at this complex phrase, an endocrine disruptor simply means any kind of chemical or similar which interferes with your natural endocrine system function, which is responsible for hormone production and balance.
The festive season is a prime time for exposure to these chemicals, as they’re contained in so many products you likely use all the time – from your makeup, to skincare and haircare, to perfumes and even the tupperware you use to store your foods.
Around this time of year, many of us tend to up the glitz and the glam, turning to makeup and fragrances and fancy hair products to look your best for the many festive celebrations. While this is completely understandable, these products regularly contain endocrine-disrupting chemicals such as parabens, which have been linked to increased risk of breast cancer and hormone disruption, and can also compromise your reproductive health. Similarly, products containing PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) are often added to foundations, moisturisers and other cosmetics, and also can disrupt hormone production and have harmful effects on your health and fertility.
While we’re all for wanting to look your best, you can reduce your exposure to these damaging chemicals by shopping smartly. Opt for cosmetics without any PFAS or parabens where possible, and stay aware of the ingredients listed of any products you’re purchasing. If you see any mention of “PTFE”, “fluoro” or parabens in the list, you’re probably better off finding an alternative product to help you glow at your next social event. Most of the time, natural products contain fewer synthetic chemicals, so this is a great starting point for anyone looking to reduce their exposure to endocrine disruptors during the festive season and beyond.
SImilarly, consider the plastics you’re using regularly. Particularly at this busy time of year, it can be tempting to throw leftover party food into a plastic container and reheat it the following day for lunch, or to cook up a big batch of meal prep to save time and divide it up amongst your plastic tupperware containers for later. However, plastic often contains harmful chemicals such as BPA and PVC, which again pose a threat to your health, fertility and hormone production. To help mitigate this risk, swap plastic containers to glass or steel where possible, switch cling wrap for beeswax wraps, and wherever you go to purchase a plastic-containing product, try to find an alternative. Be sure to never put plastic in the microwave, as this allows the chemicals to leach into your food, giving them easy access to your body! Small changes can have a big impact in reducing your exposure to these harmful chemicals, so awareness is the key to creating change and minimising any risk to your fertility and hormone health.
2 – Don’t go overboard on the alcohol
Even if you’re not currently trying to conceive, the actions you take now can affect the health of both an egg and sperm for months to come. An egg takes three months to mature in a woman’s body, and sperm can take up to 90 days to fully develop in a male, meaning any alcoholic or sugary beverages you choose to drink over the festive season can have lasting impacts on your fertility.
Alcohol can have a significant impact on both female and male fertility, even in smaller amounts. Alcohol has been shown to increase both the time it can take to fall pregnant, as well as general reproductive function.
Women drinking an average of one or more alcoholic drinks per day are more likely to struggle with fertility complications, as well as menstrual cycle and ovulation irregularities. Alcohol interferes with a woman’s natural production of key reproductive hormones including oestradiol, lutenising hormone and testosterone, all of which play a pivotal role in fertility and healthy conception. So even as little as one drink per day over this time can impact your fertility and hormone health in the months ahead.
When it comes to male fertility, excessive alcohol intake can compromise sperm quality, and also reduce sex drive and performance.
While you don’t have to give up alcohol completely, minimising your intake where possible, and limiting drinking to only one or two evenings per week is a beneficial decision if you’re looking to support your fertility and hormones.
And while you’re at it, don’t just swap out your alcoholic drinks for sugary sodas and soft drinks! Drinking one or more soft drinks daily has also been shown to impair fertility in males and females, reducing your chances of conceiving by an average of 20%.
How does this work? Well, soft drinks often contain excessive amounts of refined sugars or chemicals, which can all contribute to weight gain, insulin resistance and metabolic disease. Each of these factors can impair your fertility and compromise hormone health, so ditch the soft drinks and stick to soda water, regular water, or even a kombucha this festive season.
3- Eat regularly and adequately
Nutrition is so crucial when it comes to optimising fertility and hormone health, and unfortunately our dietary choices often fall to the wayside during the holiday period. However, a few small and simple changes can make a world of difference.
Firstly, make sure you’re eating enough during the festive season. So many people tend to “save up” their energy intake for later in the day if they know they have a big party or event in the evening, and as a result they compromise the nutrient density of their diet, leaving themselves lacking in energy and nourishment throughout the day. This can be very detrimental to general health, as well as fertility and hormone health, as it adds a significant stress to your body. Your body begins to believe it can’t rely on a consistent supply of nourishing food, leading to a stress response which interferes with natural hormone production. Often, you’ll experience a spike in the production of your stress hormone, cortisol, and a corresponding decrease in the production of reproductive hormones, causing great interference with your fertility too.
This is easily avoided by ensuring you begin each morning with a nourishing, adequate breakfast. Be sure to include a source of fat and carbohydrates, which play a crucial role in supporting hormone health and balance, plus most importantly add in protein too to keep you feeling satiated and nourished throughout the morning.
Secondly, be sure to continue prioritising your veggies during this time. So often, when presented with a platter of appetising desserts, sugary snacks and canapes, we tend to neglect vegetables altogether. But it’s so important to continue ensuring you’re getting adequate veg into your diet each day, to meet your nutrient requirements and support general health and hormone production. If you know you’re likely to neglect your veggies at a social event, whip up a plate of greens before you head out, so you know you’ve taken care of your nutrient needs before you turn to the “fun” foods later on!
Thirdly, when you do get to the social events and celebrations, consider your food choices. Research shows excessive intakes of refined sugars and carbohydrates and processed foods can impair fertility, while a diet rich in whole grains, protein, healthy fats, fruit and veg and fibre can improve fertility and hormone health. So keep this in mind when you’re making your food selection. Is there an option you can choose which provides you with protein, fibre and healthy fats, rather than copious amounts of sugar? If so, maybe that’s your best bet! By all means, enjoy a sweet treat, but remember your food choices impact your health on many levels, so make wise decisions where possible.
4 – Move your body
When life gets busy, movement and exercise can often be the first thing to fall off our chaotic schedules. However, regular exercise positively affects fertility and hormone health, so resist the urge to let it go completely. Moderate exercise also promotes menstrual cycle regularity, meaning it has a significant impact on supporting your fertility.
While you may be tempted to take some time away to rest and recover from a big year (more on this soon!), remember not all exercise needs to be high-intensity, sweaty, demanding or exhausting. Research shows moderate movement is actually more effective at supporting fertility and hormone production than high-intensity exercise, so don’t be afraid to turn to things like yoga, Pilates and barre as your preferred types of movement. The key is to move your body in ways you enjoy regularly, in order to support natural hormone production, ovulation and fertility. Plus, it’s a great stress outlet during such a busy period!
5 – Say no and set boundaries
Lastly, don’t be afraid to say no to social events and opportunities, and establish boundaries to protect your own energy and health. Sometimes, it can be all too easy to overcommit, say yes to too many occasions, and find your health and wellbeing suffering as a result. Remember, as mentioned, the end of the year is often when the demands of the past 12 months tend to catch up to you, leaving you exhausted and drained. If you need to take some time to prioritise yourself and your mental and physical health, don’t be afraid to do so!
Reducing stress by setting boundaries, saying no to events you don’t really want to attend (or those you feel you don’t have the capacity to go to), and providing yourself the time and space to rest and recuperate is so critical for both your fertility, and your hormone health. When you enter a state of stress and overwhelm, you risk compromising these aspects of your health, so learning to say “no” when you need to is actually a gift to your general wellbeing, as well as your fertility and hormones.
While it’s an exciting and social time of year, make sure you’re taking time to rest and restore amongst all the chaos and fun.
There you have it, small tweaks and shifts you can make during the holiday period to optimise your fertility and hormone health, while still making the most of this exciting and busy time of year. Remember, you can absolutely enjoy yourself, and indulge in foods and drinks you may not normally, but always return to your priorities and make choices to benefit your health where possible.