It happened, it came, it really worked! Aunt flow decided to make an appearance. Geez, took her long enough!
Tuesday, November 7th, almost 3 months on the dot from going “all in” I got my period back. Meaning my first NATURAL period in over 5 years!!!! Whoo hoo! However, my work isn’t done yet. Now comes the fun of finding the balance with exercise, fuel, and keeping my cycle. But this has been such a relief I can’t even tell you! Hard work, patience, persistence, faith, prayer, and trust in my body has all paid off. And of course the encouragement and example from others was a game changer. The past 3 months have honestly been the hardest and longest 3 months of my life. Three months may not seem like that long, but when you are talking about turning your world upside down, and combine it with the time already spent leading up to this trying to figure out WHAT THE HECK is going on with your body, then yes it is a very long time. There are women who have had to wait even longer through this process of Hypothalamic Amenorrhea (HA) recovery and my heart goes out for them. Thats the crazy thing about this diagnosis is that our bodies are all so different. The weight we need to put on and timing is different for everyone. What has been proven over and over however is that plenty of rest, relaxation, and lots of FOOD seems to work for everyone at some point. I tried to follow Nicola’s suggestions as close as possible of keeping your heart rate below 140 bpm, keeping exercise to walking and yoga, and eating at least 2500-3000 calories each day.
Last you heard from me I was just starting my journey to recover from HA. (you can read my blogpost on discovering HA - Fitness & Fertility here). Now after having been through it and starting on the other side of recovery, I have been blessed with a new outlook, new perspective, more empathy, more love for myself, and more love for all the beautiful souls I get to work with and talk to through this platform. Many who may be going through something similar of their own. Since finding out about HA about 3 months ago, I have been constantly researching and feeling my mind with all things HA and I’m excited to share with you what I’ve learned. Not only what I’ve learned scientifically and from the research, but what I’ve learned about myself through the process.
Never have I ever shed so many tears over my reflection in the mirror than the past 3 months. Never have I ever given away so many clothes in that short amount of time that didn’t fit anymore. And never have I ever felt more out of place in my own body and in my own world of health and fitness than I have the last 3 months. But with this process came so much positive change in my life that I will be forever grateful for.
I’m going to share with you the top 10 lessons I’ve learned going through HA recovery. My hope is to connect with some of you going through this now or some of you on the edge of going “all in” with recovery. Also to those of you going through your own thing and who may not feel like the “healthy” women we see on the cover of our health & fitness magazines. I want to empathize that HEALTHY looks different on all of us, and at different stages of our lives as well. You can read more of my thoughts on this in my Define Healthy blogpost.
Here are the lessons I’ve learned through HA recovery, about myself, my body, my mind, women in general, and some scientific lessons along the way.
** I do want to add a little disclaimer once again that everyone is different. Just because this is what I am doing right now at this stage of my life and for my health right now does not mean I think you’re wrong for doing what’s best for you and your health at whatever stage you’re at in you’re life. :) you do you boo
I would love to hear your feedback and your personal experiences as well. Feel free to comment on this post, send me an email, or message me on instagram. Here we go.
1. I have been truly humbled. For as long as I can remember I’ve always been fit. I’ve always loved exercise, eating healthy, being able to do most workouts without hesitation. I would jump at any chance to join a Ragnar Relay team last minute, or take a marathon race entry for someone who had to opt out, etc. For the past 10 years or so my fitness has been on a steady incline, getting fitter, stronger, and leaner with each passing year. I've been working extra hard wanting to be at tip top shape before I got pregnant. These past 3 months, my body has changed, and my fitness level has declined a bit, and for the first time in my life I couldn’t do anything about it. In the past, if I noticed a couple of pounds creep on, I knew just what to do with my diet or my exercise to fix it and what to adjust. In this process of period recovery, I’ve had to completely surrender to the process and learn to be ok with gaining weight for the time being. I’ve gained 25 pounds in 3 months, more weight than I ever thought possible to fit on my body. I’ve cried a lot, and I’ve been brought to my knees even more. For the first time in my career I’ve been nervous to get up in front of my spin class and TRX class because I’ve been embarrassed with how I look, and worried what people would be thinking about my rapid weight gain. I’ve been nervous to post videos of myself on my fitness account in fear of how I would be perceived by followers. Who would want to listen to a trainer about weight loss who is actually gaining weight herself? This was a big concern I had. I haven’t been able to participate in somethings I’ve wanted to in fear of throwing any progress towards my period out of wack. I’ve noticed with the little activity I have done, any bit of exercise feels a lot more draining than it ever has! I mean I went to a yoga class and I was totally sore the next day. When was the last time I was that sore from yoga?? Sooo this should be a fun (and painful) road to gaining back some fitness :)
2. I learned empathy and compassion for myself and others. Along with this healthy dose of humility I received, I was given the opportunity to have a small glimpse at what so many of the amazing people I get to work with as a trainer are feeling inside. For the first time in my life I knew what it felt like to walk into a gym and feel out of place. I learned what it felt like to go home and see friends and family that I hadn’t seen in months and feeling so nervous about how they would react to a bigger, heavier me. It takes courage, self love, vulnerability, and compassion to rely on your inner beauty and strength when you don’t feel your best on the outside. As I start to add back in exercise and I figure out the balance with keeping my cycle, I know I’ll gain even more empathy and compassion for my clients who may feel out of shape and are brave enough to start a new exercise program. I’ve pushed a lot of people out of their comfort zone with exercise, so now it’s my turn :)
3. Our bodies are pretty dang resilient. My body and mind have survived without my daily workouts for 3 whole months! I used to think my life would fall into a big mess if I didn’t get my workout in. Or that I would blow up into a giant blubbery balloon, or become a weak little old lady. But I’ve gone 3 months, with the occasional yoga class, hiking, and my minimal effort spin class once a week and TRX classes that I teach. I’ve been pleasantly surprised with the strength I have kept with the lack of training I’ve been doing. I’ve felt a lot stiffer with not working out which I’ve tried to work through with Yoga which has helped a lot. But all around I've been pretty impressed with how well my body has actually maintained.
4. Our body NEEDS rest and recovery. I’ve known this, and I tell my clients this, but before HA I had a hard time applying this to myself, which is kind of the reason I ended up with HA in the first place! I used to hate rest. I felt guilty taking a break. Even on my Sunday rest days I would find some way to still get in lots of steps with a "leisurely" hike or walk. When I was sick I usually worked out through it. When I did have my period in the past, I would never let that stop me from going to the gym. If I had an extra hour in my schedule I would squeeze in a workout, even if I had already taught 2 classes that day. It was go go go for me.
Scientific lesson: Our body does not differentiate stress from exercise and stress from being chased by a bear or losing your job. Stress is stress, which triggers our body to produce cortisol. Turns out too much cortisol can slow down or prevent the production of sex hormones in our body, such as progesterone, and gonadotropin releasing hormone (GnRH) from the hypothalamus. These hormones are kind of a big deal in our menstrual cycle. In simple terms, Stress = Hypothalamus out of whack = no cycle.
Summary: rest and recovery is so important. Don’t skip out on rest day, listen to your body. If you’re feeling like your body needs a little extra sleep one morning, it’s OK to hit your snooze button and skip your morning run every once in a while. Maybe try some yoga instead if you’re feeling up to it. Honor those cues from your body. Obviously there’s a different between being lazy and giving your body needed rest. If you’re in the HA category, and have some type A tendencies (like the majority of girls going through this), those cues are probably what your body needs, just like mine.
5. Fat plays an important role in our body's health, especially as women, and especially in our child bearing years. This was a hard lesson for me to learn. My goal has always been to be the leanest I could be and to have muscle definition everywhere, while still holding on to a few curves ;) I always wanted to be one of those shredded pregnant ladies who was all belly, and bounced right back after pregnancy, with only a few pounds to lose. But whether we want to accept it or not, as women our bodies were designed to have children. That is why we have a cycle, this is why we crave carbs, this is why we tend to hold on to a little fat naturally. We are designed to be able to provide enough energy for that growing baby inside of us. And what an amazing miracle this whole process is! I think it's amazing, and we GET to be a part of it!
6. Our Menstrual cycle is our 5th vital sign as women. I never knew what an important role our menstrual cycle has in our health until studying hypothalamic amenorrhea. Many of the people and podcasts I listened to referred to our cycle as our 5th vital sign. Without a natural cycle, some of the negative symptoms we may experience are hair loss, head aches, constantly cold, vision change, dark hair in places we don’t want it, lack of libido, and possibly some brain fog. Some more serious symptoms long term may be Osteoporosis, increase risk of heart disease, increase risk of mental disorders with age, and of course infertility. By tracking our cycles, we can tell so much about our health. If it goes missing, there's obviously something off that needs adjusting! So pay attention Ladies.
Scientific note: The lack of estrogen being produced by your body with amenorrhea is what causes these risks. Estrogen helps create elasticity in your blood vessels and also helping blood get to your brain.
No one ever told me how important it was to have a cycle which is why I never thought it was a big deal that mine was missing until I wanted to get pregnant. I hope I can help spread this importance to more women so they are better off than I was!
7. I’ve learned Patience. Having to wait for something that requires a huge life change, without the assurance of a date or time frame to look forward to, is a huge test of patience. This is something I have never been tested on to the same extent. I just had to hope and pray along the way that what I was doing was even working. I know there are so many people being tried and tested in much more challenging ways than this, so my heart goes out to you. This was just the first really big patience test in my own life. At times in this process I’ve felt like I have had a straight jacket on. Not being able to exercise, and just rest (something I have never been good at). Exercise has always been my favorite thing in the world. My outlet, my happy place, where I get my endorphins, what I plan my day around. So trusting this process of removing exercise for a few months has been a very good lesson for me on patience. Good things take time!
8. Good, genuine friends will love you no matter your size, or how much you can squat ;) . I have been overwhelmed with the love and support I’ve received from the people in my life through this process. I am for sure my toughest critic, and the fears I had going into this and along the way just seem ridiculous now with the help of good friends and family helping me see the big picture and remembering the more important things in life. My husband has been my rock through it all and has helped me feel beautiful through all of my highs and lows. My clients all stuck around, and we even became closer as I shared my journey with them. I felt a deeper connection as I was asking them to get out of their comfort zone, helping them reach their goals, while I myself was out of my comfort zone in reaching my own goals. It was actually pretty funny, we would compare their weight loss success with my weight gain success.
9. Our bodies are amazing and can often be healed with behavior changes & the right fuel. In the “No Period Now What” facebook group I’ve been a part of, someone asked the question to the group, “how many of you were told by your Dr. that this process would not work”. The majority of us said yes, and went on to share stories of our Dr’s telling us we shouldn’t have to gain weight, and we should just take a pill to fix the problem. This is so frustrating! With the right TLC to our bodies, we can heal from conditions such as HA. Of course there are more extreme conditions that need Doctors help and medicine. But in a lot of cases, we can heal naturally! Every week I would hear success stories in this facebook group of women going through the exact same thing I was, healing their bodies naturally, and getting their periods back! This is so exciting and more women need to know they do NOT need to be on birth control to keep their cycle. If anything it’s just doing more harm than good. Also a big part of my recovery has been the food. Our bodies, especially as women, NEED carbs and we NEED fat. I believe a big factor in my recovery has been the added potatoes, sweet potatoes, rice, sandwiches - all foods I ate very little of previous to recovery. I’ve always been a big eater, love food, and haven’t been too restrictive. But going through this processed I learned that for the large amount of exercise I was doing, I probably was not getting enough carbs. I’ve always been big on healthy fats so I didn’t have to change much there. (And just a side note, I've become even more passionate about nourishing our bodies right, so if you want to join my menu designing groups its an awesome way to learn how to cook with whole foods, and cutting out the processed crap. Back to the basics and learn to love cooking and eating healthy!)
10. The power of the positive. The last lesson I want to leave with you that I’ve learned through HA recovery I think applies to everyone, no matter what you're going through. That is the power of focusing on the positive. No matter our situation there is ALWAYS something to be grateful for. We always have something going for us. The days that were the hardest were the days I stared in the mirror and poked at my love handles in disgust. The days I found joy were when I noticed how much I loved being able to do yoga, or enjoying all the fabulous food I was taking in to fuel my body. The first Saturday that I realized I could just sleep in and enjoy a relaxing morning making pancakes with my husband rather than worrying about rushing to the gym to get my workout in. We enjoyed a leisurely bike cruise, and I was so much more relaxed than I had been in the passed. Amazing.
The moment we decide to focus on the positive and quit dwelling on the negative, our lives will change for the better.
I want to leave you with some of the resources that helped me through this process and I would love to hear any questions or comments you have for me! Thank you for reading and have a beautiful and healthy day :)
A case of the Jills - (listened to her almost every day! so inspiring)
And the book: