Nina Boyce on Hormone Health: Why it Matters and How to Balance Your Hormones
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Nina Boyce is a certified fertility coach who helps women get to the root of health symptoms and unlock wellness. Her work is a powerful illustration of how the right testing methods and investigation can uncover underlying health conditions and release women into better states of being, mentally and physically.
Georgie: before we dive in, give us your background and what you focus on.
Nina: I got into this work through my own struggles. It actually started with chronic anxiety. I noticed that my periods became an issue. I was spotting, having inconsistent periods and cystic acne. I went to see my doctor, like everybody does, and all of the bloodwork came out fine. He wanted to put me on anxiety meds. I went to my gynecologist and she wanted me to go back on birth control. At that point in my life, I just didn’t want to do that. If everything was okay before, what happened? I wanted to get to the root of these symptoms and what was going on. That’s when I wanted to dive into more of the holistic way of doing things. Slowly but surely I started to feel better. I dove headfirst into all of it, eventually getting my health coach certificate. Now, I focus my work on helping women transition off of birth control, optimize fertility and balance hormones. I’m also a reiki practitioner so I do the energy work as well.
Georgie: a lot of women throw around the phrase, “I’m hormonal,” but then when they start trying to conceive they dive into a better understanding of what the different hormones are. Because that’s our focus today, could you educate us on how hormones work in the female body and what the impact of a hormonal imbalance could be?
Nina: when we start to feel “off” we do think of our hormone. It all starts in the brain. Your brain has to send a signal to your ovaries (inciting the follicle stimulating hormone) to produce estrogen in the first place. When you’re in fight or flight mode, it interrupts that communication between the brain and ovaries. When we’re stressed, the reproductive system is one of the first things to shut down.
As your follicles begin growing, it produces estrogen. In the first phase of your cycle, your estrogen is rising as a dominant hormone in that phase. When it peaks, your brain signals the luteinizing hormone, which triggers ovulation. Under stress or even struggling with PCOS, the triggering could be disrupted. As estrogen rises, we produce various forms of cervical mucus. If estrogen doesn’t get to its peak levels, we won’t ovulate. After ovulation, we may not produce enough progesterone. A lot of women struggle with estrogen dominance: where there is too much estrogen and not enough progesterone in their system. After ovulation, your corpus luteum produces progesterone. If it doesn’t work correctly, you could have deficiencies or imbalances.
Georgie: it’s true that there are diagnoses like Hashimoto’s, thyroiditis, PCOS and infertility are “go-to” conditions related to hormone imbalances. What strikes me is that there are so many more women who have symptoms and don’t know what they have but it’s associated with generic things like, “I’m PMSing.” What I’d love to do is help people understand that if you haven’t been diagnosed with something or aren’t trying to get pregnant, these signals related to imbalances mean something. What are some of the impacts of these hormonal imbalances?
Nina: I’ll talk to this relationship between estrogen and progesterone. Without those in balance, we feel headaches, cramping, bloating right before our period, we get cystic acne or anxiety/depression. When we don’t have progesterone to balance estrogen, we don’t feel right. Estrogen can give us energy but also make you feel anxious. Progesterone is calming. You may feel better at the beginning of your cycle. But before your period, you may feel mood swings if you have hormone imbalances. We all know when it’s to the point where you don’t feel normal anymore.
Georgie: what is normal versus not? Is it bloating at all or the degree of bloating? How do we know if it’s normal or not. On a recent podcast , we had a pelvic floor therapist say that if you go in for a pap smear and are in pain, that’s not normal. There’s a lot of grin and bear it.
Nina: if it’s affecting your day to day, that’s not normal anymore. Before your period, you may feel tinges of emotion. But if you feel drastic mood switches or very uncomfortably bloated every month, that’s not normal. We are different during the weeks of your cycle. But if you aren’t able to show up as your best self anymore, you need to look at what’s happening under the surface. A little bit of cramping and can still walk and talk and live your day, that’s okay. If you’re in severe pain or you have to take medication or are nauseous, that’s not normal anymore.
That would be the question: “is this affecting my day to day life in a negative way?”
Georgie: when you think about how someone works through “the system,” so to speak, women typically go in for an annual pap smear and see an OBGYN. Then there is support like what you provide. Maybe talk to us about the path women tend to take and who tends to work with someone like you and how you’re able to offer support.
Nina: I went through that path myself. We need our gynecologists. They check for those things that we can’t do on our own. Also, when you’re struggling, they’ve gone to school and know what’s going on in the female body. But what I tell women is that YOU are the expert on your body. When you go in, they don’t have the time to talk through hormone imbalances and get to the root of lifestyle issues. That’s not their role. The easiest thing for them to do is what they were trained to do, which is prescribe birth control. If you’re trying to get pregnant, you have to go through a whole different side of things.
Working with a hormone coach helps you get to the root of what’s going on and keeps you accountable. There is so much information out there that it’s overwhelming. Any book you pick up gives you lists of supplements: how do you decide which to take? A hormone coach digs in and identifies what’s going on day to day. When it comes to nutrition, everyone’s different. There’s no one-size-fits-all when it comes to healing your hormones. Working with a coach is a way to tailor things specifically to what your body needs, not only physically but mentally and energetically as well.
Georgie: as a coach, what would you do that’s unique from, say, a naturopath? It’s important for women to know all of the sources and how the puzzle pieces fit together. You have acupuncturists, naturopaths, allopaths.
Nina: I love working with my naturopathic doctor but it is transactional by nature. You go in, talk about what you’re doing and leave with a plan. With a coach, there is a layer of mental emotional support. I talk with my clients throughout sessions and then afterward we continue to converse. All of my energy work also includes caring for that side.
At the end of the day, women need to know that they’re not going through things alone. It depends on what you want. Some people want to go in and get a plan and check back in two months. Other women want a plan. I do a six month program. Women aren’t the same week by week or month by month. When you work with someone over a longer period of time, you get to see each other through all of the phases.
It’s really about learning how to live in accordance to your cycle and live into those changes and learn more about yourself.
Georgie: it would be helpful to understand, what are some tools that you use to better understand a client? What should be monitored?
Nina: across the board, women have been taught to look outside of ourselves for answers. We’re looking for books and podcasts (which I love: I have a podcast, too) but we’re always looking outside of ourselves instead of tuning in to what we need.
I start with food: do you enjoy what you’re eating? Does it fill you up? Are you still hungry? How are your moods and digestions after you eat? I never give someone a meal plan. I have my clients try out different things and see how it feels. That’s the first way to tune in to what you need.
Next, I use the fertility awareness method and we take basal body temperature and start tracking cervical mucus and looking at moods and symptoms and how it all changes throughout the four weeks of the cycle. How do moods fluctuate week to week? Based on how you feel, that could mean different things about your hormones.
Many women won’t realize the things that are happening every month. I teach people to slow down and listen to the body because it’s the greatest teacher.
Georgie: I wish the fertility awareness method should be renamed into the body awareness method. It’s not all about getting pregnant. It’s really about feeling good. Our bodies are designed to have babies and when those are out of whack, we feel it.
Nina: I do see a lot of women use the fertility awareness method to avoid getting pregnant. I feel like once women want to get pregnant, they use fertility kits. Learning more about your ovulation window is important. Even if you’re not trying to get pregnant, you still need sufficient rising estrogen and to be producing fertile cervical mucus. These aspects don’t just affect fertility but your body and moods. It’s not just all about having babies.
Georgie: do you also monitor hormones? With clinicians, you have to go in for bloodwork. There are at-home kits now that you can purchase. Even some of the experts I’ve spoken to say that they’re helpful directionally. Do you work at all with those? Or do you focus more on symptoms and the fertility awareness method?
Nina: I work with a registered dietitian. I can interpret tests but am not a doctor. We use the and order a GI map and the Hair Mineral Tissue Analysis test.
It’s good to test. Some supplements (vitamins and minerals) are fine to test out. Other than that, if you’re going to start playing around with other things, it’s better to test and understand if you have a condition like high estrogen that needs supplementation. The Hair Tissue Mineral Analysis will help you understand if you’re depleted or in an exhaustion state. That way you can tailor those results to create protocol.
Georgie: we talk so much about how this is all personalized. Are there themes that you see?
Nina: the biggest theme, overall, is that women aren’t eating enough. They are over-exercising and under-eating. Women are typically not eating enough protein and healthy fats. When it comes to nutrition, that’s what I focus: are you giving your body enough food that are building blocks for your hormones? When I take a look, overall, there aren’t enough healthy fats.
We’ve been so programmed that keto and paleo are the way to go but that means that women are restricting carbohydrates and over-exercising, which is undercutting our health.
Women need to stop being so afraid. We’re so fearful of food. Most hormone experts tell you that you have to cut out gluten, dairy, carbs, etc. We get scared when we sit down to eat food. We need a healthier relationship with our body.
We’ve normalized stress and burnout. We all know that we need to reduce stress. Some things are a way of life that you can’t do anything about. We have to prioritize stress reduction in our daily routines or our bodies are in a fight or flight state, which isn’t conducive to producing hormones.
Georgie: I can attest to that. We become so on auto-pilot and then have social media feeding our brains with information, you can really get lost and stressed. I think you’re right: we look outside but the answers are within. It’s individualized.
I remember doing restrictions, it became exhausting. When I started out ten years ago, towards the end of the low fat phase, one of the things that I started to learn about was to look at the back of labels. The front is all marketing.
I don’t ever weigh myself. But the “feeling good” once you figure it out is the payoff. You can make choices from an empowered state of mind.
Nina: when it comes to weight, it’s usually a symptom. The weight isn’t the problem. There’s usually something else going on. Our bodies are made to settle at their own setpoint weight. It doesn’t matter what the scale is. It’s about focusing on your mental health: do you feel energized? Do you feel good? Are you creating anxiety and fear around food?
I had an awakening after restricting. When I took a step back I said, “is this working?” it wasn’t. So, why was I restricting so much? I stopped worrying so much. Then I could choose whether or not I wanted to eat something, not because of a rule that was given to me.
Georgie: in addition to diet, what else do you do? Tell us more about the broad picture and other tools that you use in women’s journeys.
Nina: women are so disconnected from ourselves. We have this wild woman inside of us that’s waiting to come out. But we create so many rules around who we should be and what people expect from us. We’re always doing for others and not ourselves.
In reiki, we have eight chakras from the crown to root. I focus on the sacral chakra, which is your area for hormone balance, wildness and creativity. When we are on autopilot, how often do we do things that bring us joy? We shut that part of us off and it’s our true essence. Helping women rediscover who they are and what they want to do and what brings them joy is a powerful exercise. It opens them up and helps them relax. All of that will balance your hormones.
Food is a foundation. But mental and emotional health has to be addressed, too. Reiki’s a little bit wild if you haven’t experienced it before. The chakras are our energy centers. If something sad happens, you feel a hunching in your heart. If you feel nervous, you feel it in your stomach. If you don’t release what’s stuck in those centers, you develop subconscious habits. I also use tarot as a fun way to connect to intuition.
Georgie: tell us how reiki works. I pride myself on trying everything at least once and I haven’t formed an opinion because I haven’t done it.
Nina: we’ll have to do a distance session some time!
Georgie: how does it work?
Nina: you do have to experience it to fully understand. At its core, reiki is a tool for stress reduction. It’s not a massage. It’s light touch healing. I put my hands lightly on your various podcasts. The crown chakra is at the top of your head; third eye between the eyebrows; heart chakra; solar plexus or stomach; sacral below the belly button and the root which is your legs. I put my hands lightly on each of those areas and can help direct the flow of energy. I can feel where it’s blocked up.
The client just sits or lays down, listens to music and some feel released. Some people twitch, some see colors, some have visions, some hear their intuition because their body is finally in a state of relaxation. Other people just feel good. They come in with fight or flight and leave in parasympathetic mode. I can do distance and they sense the same thing I sense, which is pretty cool.
I do use crystals from time to time. They’re helpful and also a symbol. For example, rose quartz is a beautiful pink crystal that represents self-love. It can help connect back to the heart chakra. I’ve had people talk before about the energetic properties of crystals and that there is a science to it.
Georgie: when it comes to reiki sessions, does someone come once? Do they come weekly or monthly like acupuncture? How does that work?
Nina: I leave it up to the client. I have clients who come once a month and they get a “reiki tuneup.” Other clients just come once and schedule when they feel they need it.
Georgie: how would this tie back into managing hormones? You have the diet piece and reiki: how does it connect?
Nina: it gets to the emotional stress reduction piece of balancing hormones. Allowing yourself to relax. We have these blocks. We know that we need to do something but we don’t believe in ourselves enough, trust ourselves enough or aren’t listening to ourselves. Reiki digs into that. When you have a reiki session, you start to realize what you truly want. You have time to take down outside stimulation and tune into you. When you do that, you start living in accordance to what your body wants, which will benefit your hormone balance.
While you’re working on food and supplements, that’s great. But the real work happens when women connect to their bodies. When they show themselves grace and compassion, they speak to themselves in a different way, and automatically start changing other things in their lives. This all contributes to hormone balance.
Georgie: do you see meditation and reiki as similar?
Nina: when you’re meditating, you’re tuning into you. With reiki, you don’t have to do anything. You let something outside of yourself facilitate release.
Georgie: sometimes when I try to meditate it’s difficult. When I go to acupuncture, it feels like outside support. I agree with that.
Nina: with acupuncture, you have needles that are physically moving your chi. With reiki, when the practitioner has their hands on your chakras, there’s an extra element of something moving in and through you.
Georgie: maybe you can give an example of someone you worked with and how they came in and then what the positive impacts are. It’s helpful for women to see the hope and light at the end of the tunnel.
Nina: I have a few that come to mind. One hadn’t had a period in years. We worked together. She was over exercising, not eating enough, holding onto a lot of subconscious emotions. We worked through those things. When we finally got the body to a place of balance with foods, she gave herself grace, reduced stress and her period came back. So many of us hate our period but when it’s not there, we’re missing a piece.
I have a lot of clients that I’ve helped get off of birth control and help to re-balance and sync with their cycle. They’ve gotten off of medications because of it. I’ll never tell someone to get off medication. But it’s amazing how getting off birth control, it changes your body and gives you the ability to make empowered choices. We take things out so we can connect more deeply to ourselves.
Georgie: I’ve found the same thing. For anyone who’s listening and feels that it’s complicated or hard or takes too much time: it’s a journey. If you think about it, if you’re not doing the right things, you’re masking the issues that are there. If you’re not looking at the root cause, it’s going to show up at some point. If you’re not doing it by yourself and you have a team (your coach, an acupuncturist, naturopath, etc.) it can be a helpful support system. It can be costly. You have to build the right team. You don’t have to panic and try to do it yourself. There are so many incredible resources out there for women to think through the root causes. It’s not stressful. It can be such a joy.
Nina: it’s a time of self-discovery.
Georgie: I equate it to women who, every week, get their nails done and that’s a form of self care. These are additional tools for self care. Going to a dietitian or coach isn’t about deprivation. It’s so exciting when you get to the other side and know yourself.
Nina: you’ll start to feel better along the way. I have hard weeks. I have to keep reminding myself to show myself compassion. Our hormones can’t be 100% balanced all of the time. That’s not reality. It’s never that we totally mess up and go backward. It’s a lifestyle. This is the way you choose to live and show up for yourself. You may not feel well at times. But you’re not going to “not feel well” for long periods of time. You get better with little steps along the way and then never go back because you have the tools to self-regulate.
Georgie: the journey is fun when you finally realize what the intention is.
What else would you like women to know?
Nina: the first thing that came to my mind was that you don’t need to work with a thousand different people. I’ve done that. I’ve worked with too many people and it’s overwhelming. You get information overload and high stress. Pick somebody that you trust. Pick somebody that you feel really comfortable with who will be a support person for you and then go from there. You don’t need to find millions of people who are doing all of the things.
In addition to that: listen to yourself. Get your support and listen to yourself.
Georgie: I feel like I should add, if you feel like you’re doing the opposite of that the best thing you can do is: stop. I think back to how I didn’t understand all of this when I was going through tough times. I was in panic mode. I was more worried about the promises I made and stepping away from them even though I knew it wasn’t the right thing to do. I felt obliged. I wasn’t listening to myself. I had too many people and the wrong people.
If you do find yourself in that place, on a fertility journey, you can pause. A couple of months won’t make or break whether you have a baby. I love your advice of: start with one.
You’ve worked with so many women and we’ve talked about the gaps in women’s health and the wonderful people helping women. What is your greatest hope for women’s health?
Nina: my greatest hope is that we’re taken seriously. When we go to the doctor and we’re sharing our struggles that we are heard. A lot of times, by the time somebody comes to me, they feel so unheard. I want women to be heard. Our bodies are different. We have different hormonal structures. We need to learn to honor our cyclic rhythm instead of forcing ourselves into everybody else’s agenda. Women need to feel heard and get in tune with their bodies again.
If you are looking for answers to female health issues that could be rooted in hormonal imbalances or require lifestyle changes, we would recommend that you listen next to:
Originally published at https://www.fempower-health.com on August 18, 2020.