Diet trends and exercise crazes come and go, and many of us know all too well that most are not easy to stick with in the long run anyway. We recently sat down with one medical professional who says making a solid lifestyle change to help balance your hormones is the best way to increase energy, benefit your overall health and age more gracefully. Yes, you read that right. All of the wrinkle cream in the world can’t do for you what healthier habits can for your looks and longevity. These seven simple changes will make a huge impact on how you feel on a daily basis and your overall lifespan, according to Tami Meraglia, M.D., author of the new book “The Hormone Secret.” Some of them may even shock you! Hint: You need to eat more. Read on for Dr. Tami's morning-to-night suggestions for feeling your best now -- at any age.
1. Upgrade Your Morning Coffee Ritual
Starting the day with coffee is an essential ritual for many of us, but it’s not the optimal way to wake our bodies up, Meraglia says. “Your adrenal glands have been quiet [as you sleep] and they just start revving around 3 or 4 o’clock to wake you up,” she explains. “When you hit them with caffeine on an empty stomach, that’s like slapping them across the face.” She’s not saying you have to give up coffee. (“I’m married to an Italian and live in Seattle, so I get the appeal,” she says.) But combining it with protein and good fat, like double-fisting a protein-rich smoothie and/or trying Bulletproof coffee with butter or adding a dollop of coconut oil to your morning cup of java, can “buffer the affects of the caffeine and fulfill your body’s nutritional needs.”
2. Eat Well (and Often!)
“Most of us need to eat more in order to weigh less,” Meraglia says, explaining that calorie restriction, not getting enough nutrients and no-fat diets can actually malnourish us, stressing out our bodies. According to her recommendations, you want every meal to include good fat (like olive oil, nuts or avocados), protein and greens, and you should eat throughout the day: breakfast, a midmorning snack, lunch (no later than 1:30 p.m., she advises), an afternoon snack, a pre-dinner snack (around 5 p.m.) and dinner by 6:30 p.m. By eating throughout the day, you avoid being ravenous at your next meal, which limits stress on your adrenal glands (this happens when you get too hungry) and helps you avoid overeating.
3. Make Wheat an Occasional Treat
Any food with wheat -- yes, including whole wheat bread -- will “turn to sugar and spike your insulin,” Meraglia says. Meaning that even seemingly benign, supposedly healthy foods can cause you to crash only hours later. (Fun fact: A doughnut has a glycemic index -- the measure how quickly foods are turned into sugar -- of 76. A bagel has a glycemic index of 72.) To keep satiated and awake, make wheat an occasional treat instead of the bulk of any of your meals or snacks.
4. Stave off the 3 p.m. Slump With a 2:30 p.m. Snack
Rather than give in to your desire to grab a candy bar or muffin in the midafternoon, get in the habit of eating a preemptive snack to stop the slump before it starts. “We have a natural dip in our cortisol levels around 3 p.m., but many of us experience more of a dive,” Meraglia explains. “If you have a snack at 2 or 2:30 with natural sugar and good fat, your dive won’t be present and you’ll find that your energy in the afternoon is preserved.” She suggests noshing on hummus and vegetables or half an apple with Greek yogurt.
5. Meditate to Unwind Before You Turn on the TV
Chances are, when you come home from a long day at work, you relax by turning on the television or opening your laptop. And while zoning out to your favorite show might feel relaxing, it does little to actually rejuvenate us, Meraglia warns. “Relaxing requires more than just sitting passively in front of a screen,” she says. “You have to activate the relaxation response [which] slows down heart rate, lowers blood pressure and reduces oxygen consumption and cortisol levels.” What to do instead? Engage in belly breathing or meditation for 10 to 20 minutes before flopping down on the couch.
Related: 8 Easy Mindful Meditation Techniques
6. Create a Sleep Routine
According to the CDC, sleep problems affect 70 million Americans, and it’s not unlikely that you’ve experienced insomnia or restlessness at least once in your life. To help you get consistent shut-eye, Meraglia suggests starting a ritual around going to bed that will coax your body into relaxation. “Start getting ready for bed 20 to 30 minutes before you need to be asleep,” she advises. Put down your electronic devices (their lights can keep the brain awake), then put on your face moisturizer and maybe even spray your bed with lavender, which has been known to aid sleep. Doing the same thing every night will help your body get into a pattern of becoming groggy once the routine starts.
What Do YOU Think?
Have you tried any of these hormone-balancing, longevity-producing tips? Tell us what you think about Dr. Tami's advice in the comments below.
Journalist Natasha Burton has written for Cosmopolitan for Latinas, Maxim, Cosmopolitan.com, and WomansDay.com, among others. The author of "101 Quizzes for Couples" and "The Little Black Book of Big Red Flags," she is regularly called on as a relationship expert by various media outlets around the world.