YOU GUYS! IT HAPPENED!
After 16 years without a natural cycle, I finally got a period yesterday, all on my own! *tear*
Sorry / not sorry if this post is TMI. I don’t care. Women’s health is important and if it helps even just ONE other woman realize why her period is missing and/or she’s not ovulating or cycling naturally, it’s 100% worth potentially offending some of my readers.
For some background, read this post here, here and here. In a nutshell, I basically shut down my endocrine system and caused my menstrual cycles to stop due to over exercising and under eating (hypothalamic amenorrhea [HA]). I didn’t notice because I was a healthy weight at 5’6 and 126 pounds (lower end of a “healthy” BMI) and would eat around 1800-2200 calories a day — the amount you’re “supposed” to eat as a moderately active woman. I didn’t think the amount of exercise I was doing was that intense — but 45-minutes of weight lifting or running 5-6 days a week coupled with eating in a calorie deficit for a portion of the week was too much for my body to handle. (It’s important to note that what works for someone else and is someone else’s “normal” does not necessarily mean it’s normal for your body.) To conserve energy and ensure critical systems could still function, my body shut down all non-essential functions, including my menstrual cycle and hair growth. Yes, hair growth. Here are some other symptoms of HA that could be confused with sub-clinical hypothyriodism or even polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS):
- Missing periods
- Low T3 and T4 thyroid hormones but normal TSH
- Always cold (cold hands and feet mainly)
- Acne around chin and along jawline
- Dry and brittle hair
- Hair loss
- Low libido
- High cholesterol despite a healthy diet and being a normal weight
- Low levels of estrodiol, progesterone and luteinizing hormone (LH)
- Continuous low resting heart rate (RHR) and basal body temperature (BBT) (your RHR and BBT should rise about half way through your monthly cycle and drop again when you get your period)
My poor body has been thinking we’ve been experiencing a weekly famine and running from danger for the past 9 years. No wonder it decided to shut down all baby-making capabilities. It was just trying to protect me and my future children from harm.
So what did I do to get it back?
After reading No Period. Now What? (which I highly recommend if most of the above symptoms applies to you) earlier this month, I completely cut back on exercise except for gentle yoga 2-3 times a week and a 30-45 minutes dog walk or hike once or twice a week. I also prioritized rest and sleep, and tried to do as little as possible except for chores around the house. At the same time, I gave myself permission to eat #allthefoodz. I started eating dairy again in the form of full fat yogurt, and ate everything and anything (except for pork and beef for ethical reasons and I have never liked the taste). I made sure to stock up on cookies, sugary cereals, ice cream and all the things I never allowed myself to eat, as an important part of the recovery process is to break disordered eating behaviours. I wasn’t tracking, but I’m sure I was eating close to 2,500 – 3,000 calories each day.
It only took about 4 weeks and 10 extra lbs before I noticed some HA recovery symptoms (which are essentially PMS symptoms). Yesterday I had lower abdominal cramping in waves all throughout the day (I wasn’t sure at first if that was from the Chinese food we had at lunch, which is something I haven’t allowed myself to eat for over 10 years), and finally got a period later that night. I was so happy I texted my mom and my best friend Janine right away – I’m a woman again! Haha.
When I started eating more and exercising less, I also stopped taking the thyroid meds I was on and decided to hold off on taking a progesterone supplement I was given to try to induce a period. I had a feeling deep down that the real issue was with food and exercise, but after seeing three different doctors and specialists, no one once mentioned exercise and under eating as being a cause for my missing periods. And I get why — I look totally healthy and normal. My naturopath did mention I should bring up my BMI to a more fertility friendly number, but suspected a thyroid issue was the root cause. Also at the time I was dead set on getting in shape for my wedding, so I wasn’t going to cut back on exercise before then.
Even though my period has returned, I’m not out of the woods yet. I still need to eat and rest until I have at least three natural cycles, which could resume monthly or could take longer. Once I have three normal cycles, I can start to add more exercise back in and will eat like a normal person, not a like a kid with free reign in a candy store. I’ve settled at about 136 lbs, and I think it’s where my body wants to stay, at least for now.
The important thing to remember is that this is what worked for me — what works for you might be different. You might need to eat even more and gain even more weight until you have a natural cycle. Similar to body weight/shape, the amount of food you can eat and the amount of exercise you can perform, everyone is different and every body has it’s own preferred set point. While someone can easily cycle naturally and get pregnant while looking ripped and doing crossfit everyday, that might not mean you can, too. The important thing is to listen to your body, trust your intuition above all else and don’t give up advocating for your own health <3