Today we learn from integrative health coach, Courtney Levin. Feeling trapped by conventional medicine, Courtney used repeated auto-immune diagnoses to inspire research into diet and lifestyle as a pathway towards healing. Whether you have PCOS or just want to get your blood sugar in balance, this is a read for you.
Courtney, what led you to become a holistic health coach?
In 2017 I was diagnosed with PCOS after going off of birth control. My doctor at the time told me that in order to manage my symptoms I should go back on the pill, but it was my third autoimmune diagnosis in just a few short years and starting on meds again felt like I would just be sweeping a larger problem under the rug. I started doing my own research on how to use diet and lifestyle as a pathway towards healing and became obsessed. I decided I wanted to help other people going through similar situations and eventually went back to school to become an accredited integrative nutrition health coach.
What does it mean to have a holistic and individual approach to health and wellness?
A holistic approach toward health means looking at the whole pie instead of one piece when it comes to feeling good - so, we’re not only talking about what’s on your plate, but what your day to day is like, too. Are you sleeping? How are your stress levels? Are you able to spend time with the people you love and do the things that fuel you? All of this impacts your health. The individuality piece comes in because, of course, everyone’s answers to these questions will be different.
That being said, I hate when wellness starts to feel like another thing you need to do because we’re all busy and truthfully it’s a privilege to consider these aspects a lot of the time! Whenever I’m working with a client, it’s important to me that our strategies be grounded in reality. I, for one, have a four and a half month old baby and my sleep is definitely not what it used to be! Do your best to meet yourself where you are.
What does it mean to naturally balance one’s hormones and why is it important for women?
Naturally balancing your hormones means getting to the root cause of your symptoms and using diet and lifestyle to treat them rather than taking medication. It’s especially important for women because, for one, women are 80% more likely to develop an autoimmune disease than men are, therefore nervous system regulation is a must. Women also have a menstrual cycle which impacts everything from our energy levels to our metabolism. When it comes to our hormones, we want homeostasis so that all of our body’s systems can function properly. While medication can help with symptom management due to a hormonal imbalance, most of the time it doesn’t actually address what’s causing the issue which can lead to greater problems down the line.
That being said, it’s not always so black and white and I think sometimes you have to pick your battles here. For instance, I didn’t want to go back on the pill to treat my PCOS, but I do take daily thyroid medication for Hashimotos.
What markers should someone look for that their hormones are off balance?
Period pain, a missing or irregular period, fatigue, unwanted hair growth, unexplained weight gain (or weight loss), cystic ovaries or breasts, digestive issues, anxiety - all of these can be indicators that your hormones need some help.
How does your blood sugar correlate with your hormone health?
The blood sugar spikes and dips we experience throughout the day in response to our food and stressors can be incredibly disruptive to hormone health. Your body releases the hormone insulin in order to move sugar out of the blood stream and into your cells to be used for energy. However, if you start experiencing too many spikes and dips you run the risk of becoming insulin resistant and that’s when you can run into trouble. Insulin resistance can inhibit ovulation and contribute to conditions like PCOS and estrogen dominance so you can see why blood sugar and hormone regulation go hand in hand.
What is your favorite blood sugar, hormone balancing recipe?
A good rule of thumb to making a hormone balancing meal is to make sure you have a protein, healthy fat and fiber on your plate. I’ve really been loving my Turmeric Chicken Burger Salad Bowl with Carrot Tahini Dressing recently. It’s anti-inflammatory, satisfying and easy to whip up for lunch or dinner. Feel free to use whatever veggies and lettuce you like for the salad - the below is what I had on hand.
Turmeric Chicken Burger Salad Bowl (Serves 2)
Turmeric Chicken Burger Ingredients:
1 lb ground chicken (or ground turkey)
1 garlic clove smashed and chopped (or grated with a microplane)
1 ½ TBSP fish sauce
1-2 tsp grated ginger
1 ½ tsp ground turmeric
Carrot Tahini Dressing Ingredients:
1 medium carrot, sliced
3 TBSP filtered water
2 TBSP tahini
1 TBSP olive oil
½ TBSP lemon juice
2 tsp coconut aminos
½ medium garlic clove
Pink salt to taste
½ persian cucumber, thinly sliced (use a mandolin if you have)
½ avocado, sliced
½ cup sugar snap peas, trimmed and halved
2 handfuls butter lettuce
2 handfuls little gems
Black sesame seeds for garnish (optional)
To make the burgers, mix all ingredients together with your hands in a large bowl until well incorporated. Shape into 4 equal patties (the mixture will be sticky and wet, that’s ok) and set on a plate. Heat a grill pan or nonstick pan over medium high heat. Cook the burgers for 5 minutes on each side or until cooked through.
While the burgers are cooking, assemble your salad ingredients. Grab two large bowls and put one handful of little gems and one handful of butter lettuce in each. Top equally with the cucumber, avocado and sugar snap peas. Once the burgers have finished cooking, remove from the pan and set aside to cool for a few minutes.
While the burgers cool, make the salad dressing by adding all the ingredients to a high speed blender and blitzing until smooth. Add one chicken patty to each salad bowl (you’ll have two extra for lunch or dinner the next day) and top with the dressing and sesame seeds if using.
What foods should all women incorporate into their diet?
High-quality protein like grass-fed beef or wild-caught salmon, healthy fats like nuts, seeds and avocado and dark, leafy greens are where I would start. Protein and healthy fats are vital to hormone synthesis and dark, leafy greens like spinach, chard, kale etc. are especially nutrient-dense. Blueberries are great because they’re full of antioxidants and studies show they may help regulate blood sugar. Cruciferous veggies like cauliflower and broccoli can help the body detox excess estrogen, too.
What is one of the biggest hormone misconceptions?
That if you have PCOS you’re automatically going to struggle with fertility. Every body is different, of course, and everyone’s journey is unique, but a PCOS diagnosis does not always mean you won’t be able to get pregnant when you want to.
How has your approach to skincare changed since having a baby?
To be honest it hasn’t changed all that much! I made the switch to more natural skincare after I was diagnosed with PCOS years ago so I felt like I was in a pretty good place product-wise when I got pregnant. The only thing I became more mindful about was my sunscreen (I switched to mineral-based) and products containing essential oils just because babies have such sensitive skin. The simpler the product is, the better it is in my mind.
What is your go-to LINNÉ product(s)?
I’m absolutely obsessed with the Replenish Everywhere Oil. It feels like such a treat to slather it on after a shower or bath and my skin stays hydrated all day long.