InterviewOct 19

Sleep, Stress & Fertility: Q&A with The Fertility Kitchen Author Charlotte Grand

To celebrate the launch of The Fertility Kitchen: The Essential Guide to Supporting your Fertility, we’re joined by author Charlotte Grand to discuss the story behind The Fertility Kitchen and how sleep, stress and fertility are linked. As well as teaching others how to optimise fertility and IVF through nutrition, a huge section of the book is dedicated to lifestyle changes that help reduce stress and maintain optimum wellbeing. Read on as Charlotte discusses everything from her daily routine, the heathy habits she’s introduced to her life and her top tips for a great night’s sleep.

First of all, huge congratulations on the launch of your new book! What’s the story behind The Fertility Kitchen and how was it founded?

I founded The Fertility Kitchen following my personal fertility struggles, during which I discovered there was a lack of practical advice on diet and lifestyle. So, I did my own research, translating this into real food and everyday eating by creating recipes to optimise fertility. Over time, I transformed my diet and lifestyle and retrained in nutrition and when I began working with clients, I realised that other women were also dissatisfied by the lack of fertility nutrition and lifestyle advice available. I thought about how I could draw on my personal and professional experience to educate and inspire others and create a community for women on their path to motherhood. I had a lightbulb moment, and The Fertility Kitchen was born. Through my business, I provide the guidance and inspiration women need to advocate for themselves and am committed to bringing my message to as many women who want to support their fertility as possible via my website, social media, TFAB wellness online membership, Optimise IVF course and now my book The Fertility Kitchen: The essential guide to supporting your fertility.

What does a typical day in your life look like?

I typically get up at 6am and exercise at 6:30am for an hour. Then I’ll come home and drink a protein shake while I prepare breakfast, usually eggs. My current go-to is the turmeric-spiced frittata from my book. Then I’ll shower and get my boys ready for school and we walk there for 8:30am. When I get home, I’ll work until around 12pm. My work is varied and could include client calls, research, developing or testing a recipe, content creation, updating my website or responding to press requests. I do everything in my business myself, so it’s been a huge learning curve and it really is non-stop. I break for lunch and usually have a rainbow salad and some fish - my Thai salmon cakes or tandoori salmon skewers feature regularly as they’re quick and easy. Then I’ll walk my dog Coco, she’s a cockapoo and has bags of energy so we usually do about an hour and I’ll either listen to a podcast or audiobook. I’ll then work until school pick-up at 3:30pm. W e live very close to school, so I typically dash over at 3:28pm! The next few hours are focused on the boys, getting them fed and to their various sporting clubs. We’ll sit down for dinner at around 7:30pm, which is often Thai or Indian as I love big, bold flavours. Once the boys are in bed I start working again and will work until around 10ish, often with Netflix on in the background, my favourite brew (silvertips white tea) and sometimes a sweet treat (currently loving Deliciously Ella chocolate caramel cups or salted chocolate almonds!). I’ll then read a little in bed before lights out, sometimes it’s fiction but most often health/wellness, personal development or a business book! I’m an avid reader and despite my busy life manage a few books a month.

What is the one healthy habit you have introduced into your life that you can’t imagine not doing now?

I’ve always been an active person but for the last year I’ve committed to working out most days. I enlisted the help of a trainer and now do strength and conditioning around five times a week, and walking every day is non-negotiable. At first it was hard, and I would come up with a lot of excuses in my head about why I couldn’t go to training. I’d lie in bed thinking about what I could text my trainer, like I’d slept poorly or had a migraine – it’s funny how the mind works! But I never gave the excuses and went to training anyway. Now I think my mind has accepted that this is what I do, and I no longer make excuses, exercise has become part of my routine and I think that’s the key with anything you want to change, just keep going and eventually it's part of life. I can’t imagine not training now as it makes me feel so good, both mentally and physically.

What would you say is the most valuable thing you’ve learned from writing your book?

The most valuable thing I learned isn’t from directly writing the book, but from achieving the goal of writing it. I had the idea in 2015 and have pursued it relentlessly ever since, taking me 7 years to bring it into the world. I’ve learned that if you have a goal and stay laser focused, you can achieve anything.

Learn how to make Charlotte's Apple Pie Pancake recipe!

You talk a lot in the book about sleep and how important it is to regulate sleep/wake cycle. What top tips would you give to anyone struggling with their sleep?

- Ban blue light in the evenings from devices such as phones and tablets as it can trick your body into thinking it’s daytime. Exposure to blue light suppresses the release of melatonin, delaying normal sleep onset and disrupting your circadian rhythm. Avoid or at least reduce blue light at night, including dimming artificial lights, especially in the hour before bedtime.

- Consistency is key. Maintain consistent sleep-wake cycles, even at the weekends. I know this is a hard one, but the body likes regularity. It’s a fallacy to think that you can forgo sleep during the week and make up for it at the weekend. It won’t serve you. Get to bed by 10pm and get up by 7am everyday to support melatonin production.

Create an optimal sleep environment of complete darkness to support melatonin. Cover up LED lights on electronics (or remove them from your bedroom) and use black-out blinds or a sleep mask if your room isn’t completely dark.

Strive for early-morning light exposure, either by going outdoors or sitting near the window while eating your breakfast, helps trigger cortisol production and reset your cortisol awakening response.

 Invest in a light therapy box like the Lumie Vitamin L SAD lamp for the winter months when the longer nights can disrupt bodily rhythms. Exposure to certain wavelengths of blue light that mimic the morning sky can have a strong effect on the night-time release of sleep-inducing hormones like melatonin. Use for 30 minutes each morning while eating breakfast.

A third of your book is dedicated to lifestyle changes and how they’re so important when trying to conceive. How have you found stress impacts fertility and what life changes have you made to help you feel calmer?

Stress directly affects the synchronicity of hormones and some of the problems that can arise that affect fertility include insulin resistance, low thyroid function, low progesterone, elevated prolactin and increased risk for autoimmunity. Some of the strategies that I employ to help invoke a sense of calm are:

-  Gratitude practice. Gratitude is the practice of turning your attention to the goodness that is already in your life. I started doing this during IVF, when each night I wrote down three things I was grateful for. Even when I felt like I’d had a tough day, I began to recognise there were still many moments to appreciate. It doesn’t have to be a big thing; it could be the sun shining, time spent chatting to a friend or a smile from a stranger. This simple practice helps shift the brain away from stressed and negative thinking to a more positive frame of mind. It’s a powerful way to reframe your perspective on life. Research demonstrates that gratitude contributes to more positive emotions, greater enjoyment of happy experiences, increased ability to navigate difficult circumstances, better health and stronger relationships.

Disconnect to reconnect. Our phones have become our constant companions. The average adult checks her phone every 13 minutes, often at the expense of down-time and real-life connections with family and friends and our natural biorhythms. Constant access to social media and relentless streams of information (Dr Google anyone?!) displace the boundaries that keep us healthy and balanced. Exposure to the electromagnetic fields and blue light emitted from our devices adds further invisible disruption. Managing the time spent on your phone can help improve your state of mind and quality of life. Make the commitment to put your phone away during meals. I typically choose one day a week for a digital detox and switch off my phone for an entire day – it’s not that scary, in fact it’s quite freeing!

Meditate to help manage strong emotions. A regular meditation practice can help promote adaptability and resilience and reduce reactivity. Regular sitting for just 10 minutes daily can have a positive influence on mental health, helping to reduce stress and anxiety. I use meditation apps like Headspace or Calm, which have helped me to master a daily practice.

If you had to pick, what is your favourite recipe from The Fertility Kitchen?

It’s difficult as there are a handful of recipes that have become staples, like the green shakshuka and easy weeknight curry. But if I had to pick one it would be the Thai salmon cakes, as they’re so versatile. I tend to make a double batch at the weekend which sees me through the week for a quick and easy lunch or snack if I need one.

What’s next for The Fertility Kitchen?

Up next is The Fertility Kitchen podcast which I’m planning to launch towards the end of this year. The mission of the podcast is to educate and inspire and encourage open, honest conversation around fertility. After that I’ll be focusing on The Fertility Kitchen lifestyle app so that I can provide more value to my community, build a stronger brand and scale my business. I want to share The Fertility Kitchen philosophy with a wider audience and offer a holistic approach to fertility, all in one place. I’m also working on my next cookbook!