Kim Ross is a member of The Institute of Functional Medicine (IFM), American College For Advancement in Medicine (ACAM) and the Association for the Advancement of Restorative Medicine (AARM). She provides resources to support people in their journey to better health.
We discuss how women’s cycles and hormonal changes each month impact wellness, the difference between nutrition and dieting, how to make incremental shifts in your eating and lifestyle to decrease toxins and increase health, and the real truth about what malnutrition looks like.
Georgie Kovacs: I got to know you by reading The Whole Life Fertility Plan by Kyra Phillips and Jamie Grifo. You have a lot of references in this book. Given the helpful and valid points that you shared in that book, I sought you out. I think it would be helpful for the women in our audience to hear from you.
Tell us about yourself.
Kim Ross: as a child, I always had a passion for health and wellness. I was interested in how the body was influenced by what we eat and how food influences how we feel. There was illness in my home as a child and I think that motivated me as well. In college, I actually started in fashion at Calvin Klein. I realized it was time for me to either go to medical school or business school. I got a master’s from NYU focusing on nutrition and dietetics. This was so that I could become an educator and motivator. I did my internship for nutrition at Mt. Sinai hospital. I did programs at Equinox: training the trainers and working with members at multiple levels. This led to an interest in holistic medicine, in addition to the clinical background that I had.
I started going to alternative medicine and complementary medicine training around the country, lecturing and worked at Rockefeller University. I started a consulting business for companies from a nutrition standpoint. I’m currently pursuing a fellowship in herbal medicine in addition to my private practice lecturing and consulting business.
Georgie: let’s start with helping people understand the baseline around the body’s rhythm and how that plays a role and ties into nutrition and how we treat our body and mind to stay healthy.
A lot of times when people hear “nutrition,” they think “let me go on this diet.” If we start instead with understanding how everything works, that would help level set and then we can get into details around food and toxins and other aspects.
Kim: it’s pretty simple but it’s also complicated. To simplify it, women have a natural rhythm. We function on a moon cycle (a menstrual cycle) in addition to our circadian rhythm, which repeats approximately every 24 hours. When we sleep, eat and move our bodies actually does matter. We have a lot of ups and downs with our hormones throughout the month. What you eat changes that effect. What time you eat and how you eat changes that. If you eat in a good mood or bad mood, that affects things. Our organs detoxify at different times. Our cortisol hormones, in addition to other hormones, increase and decrease at certain times. Our body temperature increases and decreases at certain times.
We need to listen to the female intuition as to how our bodies are functioning. I think that people could listen better to what their body needs. If you’re craving something like sugar, maybe you need vitamin C or water. Listening to what you’re craving tells you what nutrients your body might need.
Also, respecting and paying attention to the hormonal cycle, which affects the decisions we make every day.
Georgie: explain a little bit about the moon cycle and what that means.
Kim: every woman adn cycle is a little bit different: ovulation, follicular phase, luteal phase, when your menstrual cycle begins or ends. Some people are regular, some people are irregular. If you are a very healthy person and things are working correctly, there would be a natural flow. You’re peaking at certain times of the month: you can notice optimal times for fertility. When something is wrong and your cycle is off, you should look at what is awry in your system: stress? Inflammation? An underlying illness? Medications? Supplements?
Georgie: I can definitely attest to the food. On Sunday, I cheated and went to Madison Square Park and had a tiny ice cream. I will tell you, as someone who’s not supposed to eat dairy and gluten, I normally just have an overnight of bloating. It has taken me up until today to recover. I was going to bed at 9pm and felt sick. The amount that it affected me blew me away.
Kim: it’s really interesting: your body adjusts to what you do. For example, if you are a vegan and don’t eat any meat for a long time, your body will have trouble digesting meat. When you eat clean and then eat something junky, your body can go almost into shock and have an inflammatory reaction. I see that with people who go on detoxes for two weeks to four months. Once they break it, they get sick. They’ll think, “I used to eat brownies all of the time and never had any problem.” When they do after eating clean, they can have huge reactions.
Georgie: part of why I asked the question about the moon cycle was that someone had posted saying it was ridiculous that we interpret cycles that way. What is the natural rhythm?
Kim: there was a book called The Red Tent. When many women lived together under the same roof, they would “sync” their cycles up at the same time. In ancient times, many women were synced in that way. Now, with artificial light, artificial temperature and even medications and find a huge time difference in terms of ovulation and periods. You might see a bigger group getting it around a certain time. It’s a bit tricky.
Georgie: I wondered if there was a misunderstanding. Thanks for that clarification.
When it comes to the whole body, as you were talking about, we know that diet and toxins and many other things play an important role. Let’s start with diet. How does that impact the body and what important things should we take into account to optimize our health?
Kim: what we eat is paramount to good health. Can we assimilate and utilize the nutrients that we ingest? For instance, you can eat a cookie or an orange. Let’s say they’re the same amount of calories and sugar. When your body has the orange, it has all of the nutrients in the right ratios that nature intended. Our bodies can metabolize it very efficiently and organically. When we eat the cookie—even if it has the same nutritional profile—they’re inorganic. It was made in a factory with added, processed ingredients. Your body says, “I have to metabolize this and break down the nutrients” and it puts more stress on the digestive system. The enzymes aren’t in there and the nutrients are inorganic. Your body may be looking for nutrients that aren’t in the cookie, and it will have to pull it from storage.
We want to start introducing many more vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals into our diets. One great way to do that is by juicing. There is some controversy about that. I don’t mean juice fasts. Maybe wake up some mornings, instead of starting with a coffee, start your day with a green juice. This will flood the body with nutrients and enzymes. Enzymes are catalysts that make things happen in the body. We can create some and get some from our diet.
Juice is great because we get so many nutrients and vitamins but we have taken all of the fiber out. Smoothies or eating fruits and veggies are a great source of fiber. You should eat at least 40 grams of fiber. This is a great way to eat more plant foods and get more vitamins and minerals in.
What you put in your body is super relevant. What you put on your body matters equally. When we talk about toxins, our skin is our largest organ and first line of defense. The skin can excrete toxins but they can also absorb toxins. Creams, lotions and the containers they’re in all matter. You want BPA-free containers, paraben and mineral free products. If you’re not sure what’s good or bad, EWG.org is a great resource. Especially when you get out of the shower or bath, when your pores are open, think about what you’re getting.
Georgie: what struck me is how you were saying that people could eat cookies and be fine but once they get clean, they may have an issue. This brings me to a conversation that I had with a dear friend of mine when I was trying to get pregnant.I was told that I likely had endometriosis and shouldn’t eat gluten or dairy. The comment from my friend was, “of course, anytime you don’t eat something and then eat it, it will bother you.” For those who say, of course when you’re eating poorly it doesn’t bother you but eating clean it bothers you, is that a reasonable logic?
Kim: we can acclimate and assimilate pretty quickly because we’re in survival mode as humans. Our goal is to persevere and procreate. When we ingest toxins, our body can figure out a way to deal with that. There are so many people who eat sugar every day, alcohol, toxins, etc. Your body figures out a way to create a new homeostasis or equilibrium. It does cause problems and is hurting you overall. There will be inflammation and underlying illness (which may or may not manifest to disease).
For example, if you have a sensitivity or allergy to gluten and you stop eating it for a long time, you may notice that you feel better. Then, you’ll feel a real reaction when you go back to eating that way. That’s because you’ve created a new homeostasis and your body looks at the unfamiliar ingredient as a foreigner and you have a reaction.
Instead, if you eat salad or a broccoli, your body is thrilled to get that nutrient and won’t go into shock. Even if you go a long time without eating it, you probably won’t have a reaction if you pick it up again. For good things, you can reintroduce slowly to get used to healthy foods again.
Gluten gets a bad rap but there are a ton of people, myself included, that don’t do well with gluten. Some people tolerate it just fine.
The important thing is to see yourself as an individual. Don’t compare yourself to other people. While there are general rules for what is best for humans to eat, there’s some leeway based on things like a microbiome, family, stress, genetics and more. You have to individualize the plan to know what works best for the person.
Georgie: how does someone know what works best for them?
Kim: one way is an elimination diet. You take away a food that you think may be causing you a problem. Even a blood test or an allergy test isn’t 100% accurate. You may rank high on something you’ve eaten a lot recently. With an elimination diet, let's’ say gluten, you take it away for 125 days. That’s how long it takes to get out of your system and lower the antibody count. Some people notice as soon as days if they have decreased symptoms. If you had no symptoms before, you probably wouldn’t notice a difference. However, if you had cycle issues, blood sugar instability, brain fog, etc., you may notice those symptoms are mitigated.
Another option would be to completely change your diet for a while. Eat less of something, eat it every three days, do some experiments with your healthcare practitioner, naturopathic doctor or nutritionist. You could develop a system that fits your lifestyle. It’s a bit more complicated: not exactly black and white.
Georgie: I like what you said there about examples of symptoms. In some cases, we may not notice it. We live with a “normal” that we think is okay. Sometimes it takes someone saying it for us to see it as a symptom.
I like what you said, too, about there not being a straight answer. In my fertility journey, I saw so many women looking for an answer. What’s important is that it’s not black and white. Things are so individualized. Getting at the root of what works for you is vital.
Kim: to add to that, there are a lot of issues like small intestinal growth bacteria, where certain types of healthy foods can actually cause problems. A lot of women don’t realize the correlation between symptoms that are NOT digestive that affect their health and are sources of inflammation. Look at your skin: if you have dandruff, that’s a symptom. If you have mood issues, even depression, that could be linked to what you’re eating. Any ADD-type symptoms. In addition, you could track symptoms for a couple of weeks and then assess and analyze with your healthcare practitioner.
Georgie: regulating hormones - let’s talk about that.
Kim: sure, when I think of hormone levels and food I think of essential fatty acids, especially Omega 6 essential fatty acids and Omega 3 essential fatty acids. In paleolithic times, it was about a 1:1 ratio in the diet. Unfortunately, now it’s closer to a 1:6 ratio. We eat way too many Omega 6 oils in the form of refined vegetable oils. These Omega 6 oils tend to be more inflammatory (Omega 3 tends to be more anti inflammatory). What are your symptoms? Breast soreness before your period, an irregular cycle, a shorter luteal phase - these can all be ways to determine if your hormone levels are off kilter.
Another great idea would be to stabilize blood sugar levels. It’s crucial to do this. Ideally, we want to keep these levels balanced. Think about the Caribbean sea versus the Atlantic or Pacific. What goes up must come down. As high as you fly in the morning (with a chocolate chip muffin and a latte), you’ll have to go low in the afternoon. This can cause brain fog, nervousness, fatigue. This can raise blood sugar and insulin levels, making you less sensitive or even insensitive. It also creates more androgens. This can affect fertility as well. For those of you who might have PCOS, it’s super important to stabilize the blood sugar by watching your intake: what types of carbohydrates you’re eating, how often you’re eating them, what quantity, etc.
Georgie: we had a member of our private Fempower Health group ask about PCOS. Maybe you can expand a little on that.
Kim: again, androgen synthesis is a big issue. Stabilizing blood sugar is across the board important for people with PCOS. It gets tricky with ketogenic diets, which have negative side effects like nausea and side effects. They’re also very hard to maintain. It wouldn’t be the first line of defense I would go to for PCOS. You also have to be careful with the type of animal foods with PCOS, because of the hormones in those foods and other elements that may be in that food as well. Some women, I find, do much better eating a paleo diet, which is higher in protein and vegetables and lower in the carbs. Some people do better on more of a vegan diet. I would look into their history, diet, weight, exercise, family history, blood type, etc. Lifestyle is very important, too. What’s going to work is something that someone can continue to maintain.
The two paths would be: watching the blood sugar levels and then watching the types of protein and carbs. Then, using herbs. The more I learn about herbs the more amazed I am at the benefits of plant foods. We don’t even know all of the amazing things that are in these plants. There can be very effective herbs for certain people.
Georgie: the theme continues to be that we need to do research. At the end of the day, it really is going to be a personalized solution.
The microbiome is a fairly new field, with many people being more educated about probiotics and more. Talk about the microbiome.
Kim: we have a lot of bacteria in our body. There are more of these organisms than there are of human cells in our body. They live synergistically in a happy environment where they work together. There are ways to increase healthy bacteria. One way is to eat more fermented and cultured foods (yogurt, miso, kombucha, kimchi, miso tempeh, sauerkraut, pickles). A lot of people don’t like these foods, I’ve found. You can take a probiotic supplement. You’d look for a broad strain with 50M plus. Ideally, they should be refrigerated. Talk to your healthcare provider before you start any supplements.
There’s another product called Fructooligosaccharides (FOS), which is known as a prebiotic. Prebiotics are the food for the probiotics. These are found in the form of resistant starches, in figs, in bananas, artichokes, garlic, onions, chicory root, on and on. These foods help our bodies to multiply the good bacteria, which ultimately enhances our immune system and positively impacts our mood. We’re learning, also, that it can impact depression and mental health. Some people do better on some strains of bacteria than others.
We all know about antibiotics. This kills bad bacteria from an infection but it also kills probiotics. It’s important to replenish these.
Avoiding processed foods can enhance the microbiome, too. Processed, refined foods feed bad bacteria, such as candida. Too much candida can cause a whole host of digestive and other problems in the body. When we load up on junk food, we create an imbalance of bad bacteria and good bacteria. Also, think about the fiber. The bacteria feeds off of the fiber.
Georgie: I love that you gave so many different suggestions and acknowledged that people don’t like them. It can be hard to get in the habit of certain new foods.
What about alkalizing the system? I know that’s also important. What does it mean, how do you do it and why is it important?
Kim: one thing that’s important when you want to alkalize the system is fresh, leafy greens. When I think of alkalizing, I think of green. Green, yellow and red.
Fresh, leafy greens and sprouts, these are blood cleansers. You can eat these or use powders in smoothies, which are wonderful for people who don’t like to eat a lot of raw veggies.
Think of the color yellow correlating with the liver, which is a detoxifying organ. We’re meant to eat yellow foods like lemons, dandelions (tea) and drink enough fresh, pure water.
Limiting acidic foods can be very helpful as well. Meat, fish and sugar are all acidic.
Lemon and limes, for example, are acidic but they leave an alkaline ash once they’re metabolized.
Limiting processed foods is important. You should also boost nutrient levels. For someone who has digestive issues, they could get a lot of nutrients from soups and smoothies. We should be eating seasonal and locally grown foods (for optimal freshness).
Depleted soil, overfarming, picking unfresh food can all contribute to a decreased mineral quantity in food. Mineral deficiencies have many health impacts.
Most of us are running around malnourished, regardless of your weight. You can be 400 pounds or 80 pounds and it has nothing to do with how nourished you are.
I do believe that there is a place for supplements in the diet. I prefer to use herbs when possible. If you don’t want to take supplements and you eat a very healthy diet, you should also eat a varied diet. Some people tend to eat the same thing every day, which can cause an allergy or sensitivity as well. Try to eat every color of the rainbow every day. Beans, avocados, walnuts or nuts, pumpkin seeds, coconut, different types of whole grains, fresh vegetables, fresh fruits, organic animal products if you choose to eat them. This creates a great balance so that you don’t have to focus too much on the alkalizing or the acidic. It boosts your body to function optimally.
Georgie: I love that you’re proposing variety. That is what’s needed. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all. Giving that explanation of why things are important and providing solutions is incredibly valuable.
Let’s say someone takes your suggestions and is eating well: we’ve also talked about toxins. Why do toxins play an impact, even if you’re eating perfectly?
Kim: in our modern diets, we call this a SAD diet (Standard American Diet). It’s actually very sad. It’s a diet that tends to be high in processed grains, animal foods, sugar, soda, alcohol, packaged things. It’s very acidic. This can leech nutrients from the blood. Like calcium, for example. We have one of the highest rates of osteoporosis, partially due to our high salt and sugar intake. We are leaching calcium from the bones in order to alkalize the blood.
You may be getting GMOs from corn, soy and through meat that has fed on them. Even when a product is posted as organic, it can have GMOs. You get pesticides with non-organic fruits and vegetables. People also discuss natural flavors, in health products and teas, which can alter your brain chemistry. Even healthier, organic kid’s food has natural flavors that cause you to overeat.
We are so deficient in so many nutrients. These are the things that protect us from illness, toxins, disease and malnutrition. One of the best things we can do to limit the toxic burden is to be careful what you put on your skin, what you put in your body and eating your defense. There is information in plant food yet to be discovered. Eat the plants that protect you. They have a synergistic quality when ingested whole. For example, fresh, chopped garlic is better than taking garlic pills. Turmeric root is better than a supplement. These are just examples.
So, watch those toxins in the body: don’t stand close to cars that emit fumes, don’t eat too much tuna (heavy metal toxicity).
How do you eliminate toxins? The first way is sweating. Hot yoga, running, fast walking, biking, all of these forms of exercise are wonderful. I know there are people who don’t like exercise. The trick, then, is steam, sauna or infrared sauna. Especially for people going through IVF, detoxing between cycles is vital. Sweating rids the body of toxins: excess hormones, excess water, excess heavy metals and cleans out the cells. It’s like emptying your garbage can: you have to do it or it will overflow.
Eating 80/20: 80% of your diet from whole plant foods and 20% from other sources. This plant-based diet should be free of added hormones, pesticides, GMOs, artificial chemicals, that sort of thing. Grass-fed, organic, free-range is important if you are eating animal foods. Eating conventional animal products increases your toxic load.
If you’re eating something unhealthy, eat something healthy with it. If you go out to dinner and want a chocolate dessert, maybe have a green tea or a side of berries, too.