How Fit is too Fit? Ashley’s Story.

Hi! I’m Ashley Pitt, and I’m a personal trainer, group fitness instructor, and the writer of the healthy lifestyle blog A Lady Goes West, which I started when I moved from Florida to California about five years ago, and this is my hypothalamic amenorrhea story …

For many years, I’ve always been a healthy and fit gal, who loved working out, eating clean and staying active. And after I moved to San Francisco from Orlando a few years ago, I got even more involved in the fitness world and became a personal trainer and started teaching and doing multiple group fitness classes a week (in addition to walking the steep hills of the City on a daily basis). Fitness soon became more than just my hobby, but my job and my identity.

Fast forward to two years ago, when my husband and I were ready to start a family, and I soon figured out that my love for and involvement in fitness had actually made me “too fit” to get pregnant naturally, because my sensitive body was completely overwhelmed by the amount of physical activity I did on a daily basis (it was a lot!).

After multiple doctor visits and blood tests, I was finally diagnosed with hypothalamic amenorrhea, brought about by too much exercise.

When I first got the diagnosis, the first thing I did was run to the Internet. I was incredibly disappointed to find article after article saying that the only way to heal the body was to stop exercising entirely and gain a bunch of weight through eating everything in sight. I knew that wasn’t the route I wanted to take, so I sought help from an acupuncturist and began forging my own path.

First, I made some changes to my diet by increasing my healthy fat intake. Then, I reduced my workout load by about half, adding an additional rest day each week as well. And perhaps most significantly, I started going to acupuncture once a week and took several herbal supplements regularly, all of which supported the healing and balancing of my hormones.

While it didn’t happen overnight, maintaining this routine and keeping the faith eventually led me to get my first natural period in who knows how long. But my adventure wasn’t over there … I still had a lot of work to do on my hormones before I was able to get pregnant, and it was nearly a year after my first natural cycle that I saw my first ever positive pregnancy test. (An amazing sight that I still can’t believe!)

And today, I can proudly say that I did get pregnant naturally, and I am healthier than I’ve ever been before.

Going through hypothalamic amenorrhea while working in the fitness industry was not an easy thing. As I began to gain weight and work out less, I definitely experienced some ill effects on my mentality and my outlook — but I surely know now that it was all worth it. And I also know now that it’s a lot more common than people would like to admit in the industry.

Based on everything that I learned over the last two years, I’ve written an ebook, called “Fit and Fertile,” and it details nearly every event from when I first decided I wanted to get pregnant, to how I was diagnosed with hypothalamic amenorrhea, to everything that I ate and what workouts I did, to how I went against the grain to heal my body while taking my own advice and not the advice you always find online.

I’ve written it all down, spilling more secrets than many of my dear friends even know, and I’ve also put together three pages of tips for anyone who wants to heal their hormones, at any stage of life (whether they are ready for a baby or not) and learn how to be as healthy as they possibly can — while being proactive about and protective of their fertility. You can find out more here.

Thank you for letting me share my story! Follow more of my adventures on my blog or Instagram.

Be fit! Be fertile! Be well! 🙂

How to know if you’re suffering from Hypothalamic Amenorrhea

When you lose your period, your mind starts to spin wondering, what’s going on? You seek help from medical professionals only to be told you have “unexplained infertility” or to go on birth control pills to “jump-start” your period, but your left with the unknown of what’s really going on? Below, I’ll go through the signs & symptoms that will help you figure out if you’re suffering from Hypothalamic Amenorrhea.

When I think back to those first years during my struggle with infertility, I remember feeling a lot of stress and anxiety not knowing why I had suddenly lost my period. Every doctor I had seen up until that point would diagnose me with “unexplained infertility” which only fueled my worry.

If my doctors couldn’t figure out what was wrong with me, how was I ever going to get better?

Now looking back, I see the signs so clearly. If only I had known about HA back then, I could have saved myself years of heartache and pain. That’s what my hope for this post is, to save you from years of the unknown. To go confidently & boldly into recovery without a doubt in your mind. To live the life you were meant to live!

There are three major area’s I feel are key to knowing if you have HA, beside the obvious of not having a period. They are your relationship to Food, Exercise & Your Body.

Your relationship to food:

The way you view food can be a big red flag to knowing if you have HA. If you find yourself doing the following, it’s time for a change!

  • Checking restaurant menus before you leave your house to see which item has the least amount of calories as well as figuring out how you can alter it to reduce the calories even more.
  • Restricting your calories to 1000-1200 (or less) a day and keeping a running tally in your head at all times.
  • Not allowing yourself to eat certain “forbidden” foods or restricting a certain type of food (ie: carbs. fat etc…) & feeling extreme guilt when you do happen to eat one of these forbidden foods.
  • Eating before you head to a social event so that you don’t have to eat what is being served for fear of too many calories or fat.

Your relationship to Exercise:

Exercise is meant to be a healthy addition to our daily lives, but can take a quick turn for the worst causing more damage than good before we know it! Here are some signs that your workout regimen might be affecting your fertility:

  • If you work out at intense levels for long periods of time ( 1-2+ hours, 5+ days a week) without refueling your body properly.
  • If you feel extreme guilt for missing a workout or taking a rest day.
  • If your rest days consist of walking or doing yoga.
  • If you workout on vacation even if you’d rather be sleeping in and enjoying your trip.
  • If you work out extra hard on days after you’ve “splurged” the night before.
  • If you work out on days when you’re feeling sick or exhausted because you fear gaining weight.

Your relationship to your body:

Most women have areas of their body that they’d like to change or times when they don’t feel so confident in the outfit they are wearing, but there’s a line that can be easily crossed when it comes to your relationship with your body. Here’s are some red flags to look for:

  • Not allowing your body weight to go above a certain number for fear of being overweight.
  • Never being happy with what you see in the mirror no matter how small you are.
  • Always finding a flaw that needs to be changed.
  • Not feeling confident in your body no matter what you wear.

If you’re struggling in any or all of these areas, then it’s time to seek help.

A good place to start is to get a blood panel done by your doctor to see where your hormone levels are. You’ll also want to look into make some lifestyle changes to help you towards the road to recovery (read this & this to get started!). As well as find a community like The HA Sisterhood, filled with women that “get it” and can provide encouragement and support!

Coming to the realization that you have HA, can be a scary place to be in. The unknown and going against everything you’ve built your life around can make you feel as though you can’t breath. But friend, I’m here to tell you that you CAN get through this. An the life you get to live not bound by HA is so incredibly freeing and beautiful…

I have so much faith in you!

XOXO,

~P

***P.S. These opinions are all my own, for an official diagnosis you’ll want to contact a medical professional.***

Katherine’s Story.

I did not choose Anorexia.

At 12 years old, it crept into my life and rapidly consumed me. I was very sick and I am grateful that my young heart did not give up on me. With the support of my family, I got better, for a little while. Anorexia faded, but never left. It was lurking in the darkness, waiting…

“You are nothing without me. You will need me again.”

I have always struggled with insecurity. I felt very lost, until I went college. I went to art school and for the first time in my life I felt like I belonged. I discovered things I was passionate for and I found people that I truly bonded with. Photography and poetry were ways I could express myself and connect with the world. I was finally feeling free.

During that time, I became a vegetarian, and gradually eliminated more and more foods. Before I knew it, Anorexia was back in all its ugly glory. This is when I lost my period. I was cold all the time.  My body was slowly shutting down. This progressed for years. I never felt hungry. My body became accustomed to starvation. My mind was consumed. I was in denial.  

When people would comment on my body with concern, I would dismiss it.  I am fine!  I am healthy! I can run on empty! The twisted highs would be drowned out by the crushing lows. The deep loneliness, the depression, the pain of your loved ones, the opportunities you have missed, the future you are destroying. It is a disorder that creates and thrives in isolation. I was ashamed of my behaviors. I was terrified to let anyone in.  

“They don’t understand.  I am all you have now.”

While I was suffering, I knew I was engaging in destructive behaviors, but I could not stop. I was aware that I was hurting myself and my loved ones, but Anorexia had a power over me I cannot explain. The restriction, the exercise compulsions, the obsessive thoughts of calories, miles, pounds…it was all that mattered.

If anything disrupted my routine, panic would ensue. I felt disassociated from my body, floating through the days, barely surviving. I hated my disorder, but I also loved it.  I wanted to get well, but I did not want to let it go. I longed for a better life, but I was incapable of change. This internal battle was relentless, there were times I wanted to give in.  

Deep down, I knew not having a period for years was not healthy. It was a clear sign from my body that I was unwell. Anorexia convinced me it did not matter. Anorexia convinced me gaining weight would make me a failure. Anorexia convinced me I did not want children. But every time I saw a little baby I felt a deep ache in my soul.

I did not choose Anorexia, but I did choose recovery.

I acknowledged my sickness and the fact that if I did not change, it would ultimately kill me. I could not bear to cause my family any more pain. I wanted a brighter future and I wanted to value my health over my disorder.  I knew it was now or never. So, I harnessed all my determination and put my whole heart into recovery.

This journey has been so mentally and physically challenging.  Going all in for me meant no more restriction and no more intense exercise. It was time to eat and rest, -which for me was terrifying. Although not everyone with Hypothalamic Amenorrhea has an eating disorder, most women do have an unhealthy relationship with food and/or exercise.

To recover we must dramatically change our lifestyles and our ways of thinking and that is scary. Our fears and our triumphs are valid. Truly surrendering to the process and going all in takes bravery. Bravery that is deep within. Bravery that you have had all along.

I broke the rules Anorexia set for me.

I let the anxiety build and build and eventually pass.

Anorexia screamed commands, but I did not obey.

Anorexia berated me, but I did not give up.

“You are lazy! You are a failure!  No one will love you.”

It took everything I had to keep going and drown out Anorexia’s mean, selfish manipulative voice. The uncomfortable physical aspects of recovery seemed cruel at first. Putting in the hard work to get better resulted in feeling so much worse. When I was restricting and over exercising I felt full of energy. Now I understand this is because my body was in a constant state of stress.

When I finally stopped, it was as if all the years of destruction hit me at once with full force. The deep, deep exhaustion left me bedridden some days. My body swelled and ached everywhere. My belly distended and none of my clothes fit. The extreme discomfort was very triggering but I stayed strong. My family was always there with unconditional love, but most days I wanted to be alone while my physical and emotional state transformed.

I listened to my body and gave it the rest and nourishment it so desperately needed. I found incredible support on online HA communities and found solace in other women’s journeys. The pain, the swelling, the weight gain, the extreme hunger, and the exhaustion were all signs of healing and there is great power in positive thinking. Each ache and each pound was an accomplishment, a true testament of courage. I was reclaiming my body, my mind and my life.

Two months later, I got my period!

My first period in over 7 years.  I cried in relief because I feared I was too far gone. There is still a lot of healing to be done, but this is proof of the resilience and wisdom of the body. I am grateful mine is beginning to trust me again. I promise to cherish that.

Now, I am discovering who I am beyond my eating disorder. I am a daughter. I am a sister. I am a friend. I am a poet. I am a fighter. If I am lucky, someday I will be a wife and a mother.  And finally, I am realizing I am loved. I am worthy. I am enough. And dear one, so are you.

Fitness Professionals: Hypothalamic Amenorrhea Treatment & Recovery

For most women going through recovery from Hypothalamic Amenorrhea, cutting out exercise isn’t easy, but it’s doable. But what about those who are Fitness Professionals? When you’re working in the fitness industry training clients or teaching classes, cutting out exercise just isn’t realistic. Below I’ll go through the keys to staying on track with your recovery, while working as a Fitness Professional.

Diet:

It’s important to make sure you’re making up for the additional calories you’re burning if you’re working in the fitness industry. For most going through HA Recovery, the recommended amount to consume is 2500-3000 calories a day, but for fitness professionals my recommendation would be 3000-3500 calories a day. I know this might sound scary, but it is CRUCIAL to your recovery and your health.

You can do this by eating quality foods which will be excellent for your hormone production as well as keep you from feeling like you’re completely letting yourself go. Make sure you’re adding in carbohydrates & healthy fats with each meal and snack as well to keep your hormone levels from dipping too much. If you’re having trouble figuring out which foods to eat, check out this post.

Exercise:

This area is definitely going to be the toughest for you to balance, so the best place to start is to cut out cardio. If that’s not realistic, then cutting down your intensity level and time significantly will help. That goes for resistance training too, cutting back on the time and intensity will make a BIG difference!

**You’ll also want to make sure you’re building in as many rest days as possible. And walking doesn’t count as a rest day 😉

Stress:

Reducing your stress level is another key component to getting your hormones back on track. When your body is under stress (caused by under-eating, over-exercising etc…) this will force your body to go into a “fight or flight” mode, which signals to your body that it is not safe to reproduce. Staying in this mode for too long will shut down the production of hormones necessary for you to have a menstrual cycle.

Some ways to reduce stress are:

  • Breathing exercises
  • Meditation
  • Circle & Bloom audio
  • Building time into your schedule for self-care (massage, pedicures, coffee with friends etc…)

I hope you’ve found these tips helpful! I know what it’s like to work as a fitness professional (I used to be a personal trainer) and feel the pressures of having to look a certain way in order for your clients to take you seriously. But your health & fertility is far more important than what others think and I’d bet that your clients will feel more comfortable with you, if they see you’re human and not the image of perfection like they see on TV and in magazines.

You got this girl!

XOXO,

~P

P.S. The information in this post are from my past experience and are my own personal opinion, for a specifically designed plan make sure to contact your doctor or nutritionist.

 

Mattie’s Story

For me, HA started with an eating disorder right after my 13th birthday. I had regular periods for about 6 months before I started learning about calories and saw how easy it was to skip lunch and go for a long walk after school. I also saw how quickly my pants started to fit looser and how it became somewhat of a game. Not to mention, with this change in lifestyle, my periods dropped off immediately. I became quickly enthralled with eating the smallest amount possible.

I ate the least amount of breakfast as I could to get me out the door and approval of my parents, skipped lunch and any snack entirely and ate the least amount of dinner I could. I can’t imagine I was sustaining on much more than 1000 calories per day. As a growing, athletic 13 year old!! Can you imagine?? I should also mention my mother has a full blown eating disorder and though I love her dearly, she was my example.

It was normal for women to exercise and not eat all in the name of being thin, right??

All of this behavior continued into high school. I even joined the cross country team my freshman year which helped peel off more weight. I became obsessed with checking nutrition labels, learning about calorie counts at popular restaurants and burning off as much as I could through exercise. It’s sickening to think back to all I did to myself. After my freshman year of high school, my parents did not let me run cross country again because I had become so thin and unhealthy.

I went from about a 120 pound frame in 7th grade to less than 100 in 9th. My mom took me to her OB gyn who explained to me the thought process of an anorexic person and why it is so addictive. He gave me a magic number of 110 pounds and said I should aim for that. He also said that is the reason my periods had stopped. At this point, I was prescribed birth control. Doctors typically know nothing about fixing this disorder!!

So I left that appointment with a “magic” number in my brain and a slight willingness to help myself.

However, birth control would give me a period even if I weighed 80 pounds! Woohoo, I can continue in my ways and not gain weight and have a period! How naive I was!

Over the next 2 years, I fluctuated a bit but the scale did go back up. I ate more, but my mindset was the same. Calorie counts, excessive exercise. Not surprisingly that even with the increased weight, I never had a period. My senior year of high school, I started dating my husband. I lost a lot of weight that year. It took him about 6 months to confront me on the issue. He vowed to help me and hold me accountable.

I left for college the following year, thinner, weaker and unhealthy as I had ever been. I was close to 90 pounds. So scary! My boyfriend did hold me accountable though. I checked in with a doctor at my university once a week to be weighed and to discuss my habits. My weight slowly crept up. I STILL exercised to excess through college. Cardio, cardio, cardio. I looked for any excuse to exercise.

While I was eating more, I was still restricting certain things and not doing enough for my activity level.

My body couldn’t recover. I kept my weight higher until my senior year of college. My husband who was still my boyfriend at the time moved across country for military training. With the stress of senior year and not having him with me all the time, I went back to my ways. I was back down to close to 100 by end of senior year.

We were engaged the spring of my senior year and he told me he wanted me at 120 by the time he graduated fm his training in June. He seems to be the only person I could do this for. When he graduated, I was where he wanted me. However, we were to be married later that fall and I unconsciously slipped back into my ways.

See, here is the thing, if you don’t keep constant tabs on yourself and stay honest with yourself, you WILL slip. It is so easy to go over that cliff again.

After we were married, I was thin but not that thin. I had gotten to about 115. Still not where I should be. My husband told me when we moved in together, he wanted me to listen to him, eat what he told me and stop the cardio. I had come off birth control for the first time in almost 10 years. (I had gone off sporadically at times to see if I could cycle, but of course, never did). Within two weeks of relaxing, having lots of sex, eating a ton, and eating lots of peanut butter, I had my first period in 10 years. It only took 2 weeks!

I continued to have periods 35-40 days apart up until August when I had the genius idea to train for a half marathon. Well what do you think happened again?? I lost my period, my weight dropped and I became obsessed with food again. After going on like this for several months, I made the decision to do something. This is the first time I realized I had HA. I researched and consumed all the information I could on the issue, sometimes sitting for hours on the fertile thoughts forums, thinking, yes, that’s me!!

I cut out my cardio, I started to eat more (and lots of fats) and within a month of my new ways, my period came back! I kept up with my new healthy habits for about 6 months until my husband deployed for the first time. I decided to take classes and become a personal trainer. It was all very easy–stuff I already knew. That summer he was deployed, I started training a few people (I am a teacher and have the summers off) but I was also increasing my cardio and not eating enough/ had started to restrict again.

I lost my periods over that summer. And this time, I didn’t lose any weight. It was like my body just refused my lifestyle. It knew. And it refused.

I did not let this continue. Once I realized it only took a slight decrease in calories and increase in exercise to make my periods disappear, I realized how sensitive I was and how much I will ALWAYS have to work to stay healthy. By the time my husband came home from deployment, I had jumped back on the research wagon, was eating right, exercising correctly and had started to cycle again.

When he returned home, we started a workout program together. Solely heavy, Olympic lifting. No cardio. About 4 days a week, maybe 30 minutes each time. Let me say that again. No cardio!! I was stronger than I had ever been before and was proud of myself for having multiple, perfect 28 day cycles. I was eating lots, feeling great, (again having lots of sex–I swear to this day, that has something to do with the hormone turn on that allows me to cycle. Just a small piece of the puzzle, but it is part).

I was also eating a LOT of peanut butter and coconut oil again. Plenty of carbs and protein. Plenty of everything. I had to eat at least 2500 for a while to gain my cycle back and then maintenance for me is well over 2200. And I am small. So if you are taller/weigh more, then you need more!! But don’t get caught up on numbers. I also took vitex while I was in times of not having a period, that seemed to help bring things on as well. But ultimately, it is reduced exercise and increased food intake. It just is.

Anyways, after 4 months of his return, we decided to try for a baby for the FIRST time. I got pregnant on the first try! The first try.

But I was listening to my body, taking care of myself and doing the right thing. I had a wonderful pregnancy,  loved being pregnant and have loved every second of motherhood so far. I did struggle slightly after having my baby boy with my old ways, but I nipped it right back in the bud. After not having a period for 6 months after stopping breastfeeding, I knew I had to do what I knew would work. I stopped any cardio I might be doing, which wasn’t much at the time and started eating 2500+ calories again. Within a month, boom. Cycling regularly.

As of now, I am almost 19 weeks pregnant with my second baby. A little girl. This time I got pregnant by accident!! I know now how careful and loving I have to be to myself for things to work properly. I also know that I don’t want my kids to grow up with a parent who is obsessed with food and exercise. Who is too stressed about control and getting things done to enjoy the small things. Who pushes away and loses relationships because my eating disorder and obsessive thoughts are more important.

>I don’t want to look back on my life and think, I wasted it. Those 10 years of struggle were enough. I am beyond blessed to be where I am today. My beautiful boy, a baby girl on the way, a husband who loves me. I don’t want to take these things for granted. I also know that I will need help the rest of my life. A constant checking myself. A community like The HA Sisterhood that P has created for us women. We have to stick together and lift each other up!

Good luck to you all on your journey. I am happy to help and answer any questions you all may have about recovery. You CAN do this!! ~Mattie

Daily Affirmations for HA Recovery

When I think about my life during HA recovery and how I got through the mental struggles, I remember the things I told myself over and over, until I believed them. Below I’d like to share with you how I got through and my Daily Affirmations for HA Recovery.

Mirror, mirror, mirror on the wall
Tellin’ those lies, pointing out your flaws
That isn’t who you are
That isn’t who you are

It might be hard to hear,
But let me tell you, dear
If you could see what I can see, I know you would believe
That isn’t who you are
There’s more to who you are

{Priceless by For King & Country}

I remember the thoughts so clearly…”When I lose __ lbs, then I will be truly happy”, “When I tighten up ___, then I will love my body”, “When I can fit into a size __, then I will be beautiful”.

Lies. They’re all lies. A decade later and I have finally learned the truth behind the girl I see in the mirror. I am beautiful, I am worthy and I love my body. Not because I’m a certain weight. Not because I fit into a certain size. Not because I’m tightened or toned. It’s because I am me, the girl God created in His own image. The daughter He loved so dearly, He would allow me to walk this journey to the truth so that I could be full of love and gratefulness.

It’s heartbreaking that so many women see those lies when they look in the mirror. Is it society? Is it how they were raised? Is it their own lack of self worth? It’s so many things. But sweet sisters, I’m here to tell you that so much lies ahead of you when you release those lies and cling to the truth. YOU are beautiful. YOU are worthy. And you can learn to LOVE your body.

The next time you look in the mirror, tell yourself this…

I am beautiful.

The scale does not dictate my worth.

The size of my clothes doesn’t make others love me more or less.

I will respect my body by nourishing it with good food and rest.

The dimples and squishiness are a sign of a fertile and healthy body.

My body is only temporary, but the joy that comes with loving myself lasts a lifetime.

I love what my body can do when I treat it right.

I love myself.

I love my body.

Learning to love your body doesn’t happen overnight, but with each step you take, you will get to that place of acceptance and love. It takes a conscious effort to rewrite the way you view yourself. To stop the negative thoughts and redirect them towards love. To see your body for all that it is capable of when you honor and respect it. To let go of the desire to look a certain way and learn to love the way God created you.

I have so much faith in you. I know that you will learn to love the girl you see when you look in the mirror…

Because that girl has so much life to live. And to truly live it. To be present with her thoughts and those around her. To be confident and comfortable in her own skin. To look at herself in the mirror with wonder and awe at such an amazing creation.

You’ve got this my sweet friend. Never give up, life is too sweet on the other side…

XOXO,

~P

P.S. If you’re struggling with truly believing this for yourself, I’d love to be there for you! Click HERE to learn more about my 1:1 coaching program and schedule your FREE session.

Taleen’s Story

I have always struggled with maintaining a healthy relationship with food. I have straddled both ends of the spectrum: being too lax with my health and fitness and being too obsessed. Having health and fitness on the back burner, ignoring the rising scale as well as never being able to enjoy the meal before me without thinking about how many calories I was about to consume. I have had problems with my period for being overweight and problems with it for being too extreme on the other end. I think it’s safe to say that I have never been good at listening to my body.

In March of 2015 I was introduced to the exercise program called 21 Day Fix. Thirty minutes of exercise a day and a meal plan lead to a changed life. After my first round I dropped ten pounds and the results became a springboard that launched me into obsession and anxiety. I obsessed over the compliments I was getting and always had anxiety about getting in my workouts and not eating more calories than the program allowed. Thirty minutes of exercise and 1500-1800 calories per day sounds pretty healthy, right? I thought so! Nonetheless, my last period was in April of that year. It was very short and very light and disappeared for 20 months thereafter. At first I thought that my body was adjusting and ignored the change. Actually, I enjoyed not having cramps, stained bed sheets and pants, and the ability to swim whenever I felt like it.

The party didn’t last long, though, and after three consecutive missed periods…

I went to the doctor and two different OBGYNs who all told me that my hormone levels were fine, that I was still ovulating, and to simply keep on keeping on. While my mom was happy that all was fine, I wasn’t satisfied. I knew that not having a period couldn’t be normal, no matter what professionals said. There is a reason God created the woman’s body the way He did, and if my period stopped my body was definitely trying to tell me something. And yet, I wasn’t ready to loosen the reigns on my obsessive and militaristically strict health and fitness regime, so I did just what the doctor ordered: I kept on keeping on and told myself that everything was ok and that my body would eventually adjust to my new “normal.” I have quotations around that word because my situation became anything but. Sure, 30 minutes of exercise a day seems healthy, but the anxiety and pressure I put on myself to get those workouts in coupled with a low caloric intake for my baseline needs was definitely a recipe for disaster.

Also, in order to give myself a break from restrictive eating throughout the week, I would give myself the weekends to eat without calorie counting, which led to binge eating. On the weekends I would eat myself sick to the point that I had sleepless nights running back and forth from my bed to the restroom – a result of eating way too much and my stomach wanting revenge. My mental state was also anything but healthy. I would cancel plans if they conflicted with my eating schedule and could never enjoy a social gathering because I was too obsessive about the food, the calories, and the overeating (oh my!). Sound familiar? It certainly does to countless women who are killing themselves to fit society’s ideal. So, sure, I may have looked healthy on the outside. But I was slowly dismantling my mental and emotional health. I was exhausted from the pressure I constantly put on myself to look a certain way and frustrated that it was never enough.

I couldn’t ignore the inevitable for long.

I constantly researched about amenorrhea – the fancy doctor word for loss of a woman’s menstrual cycle – and realized that I was not alone, that there was an entire community of women who were struggling with the loss of their period and with body image. Those who were victorious and got their periods back told me to relax, to eat, and to stop exercising; to be honest, this scared me immensely. “I can’t gain weight,” I would think, “I can’t undo all of this work” because in my mind, weight gain was equivalent to failure. Despite these thoughts, I knew I had to make a change and so I tentatively upped my calories but continued to strictly follow my intense workout schedule. A few months later I crossed paths with “Intuitive Eating” by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch, a book that challenged my ideas about health and body image and for which I am forever grateful. And so, I dropped the calorie counters and began to mend my relationship with food. However, I still could not let go of my workouts. I feared that the moment I stopped the control, I would snowball back into being overweight.

About four months later I noticed my issues with control regarding my body. I knew that my period would not start again until my mind and my body could make up, so to speak, and learn to trust each other again. So I stopped. I stopped putting pressure on myself to workout and only did so when I actually felt like it. When I did feel like it, I would either walk or practice light yoga. Full disclosure – this was really, really hard. The fear can be overwhelming and as a result I was constantly in tears for a few days.  “How many pounds away?” I would ask myself.  “How many weeks, months, or years?” “How many sizes will my jeans go up until I finally have a period again?” These fears took me to a dark place that only prayer could bring me out of. I prayed and asked God to help me understand what His idea of beauty is and to help me get rid of the lies this society has washed my brain with about what makes a woman beautiful. I began to learn that a number does not define my beauty; whether that number be a caloric range, a jeans size, or the one flashing on the scale (which, by the way, you should throw away). I learned that a number it is just that – a number.

It cannot tell you that you are funny, smart, loving, or kind. It cannot make you a friend, a daughter, a sister, or any other aspect of your identity. It cannot measure the quality of your relationships or give you beautiful memories or hilarious stories. A number is just a number and nothing more. The moment I chose to accept that numbers never had and never will define me is the moment I truly let go and embraced my body exactly the way Jesus chose it to be.

Only ten days later I started my period.

I jumped up and down and danced all around the bathroom at work and must have thanked God a hundred times. It still shocks me how quickly my body began to trust me again and I truly count it as a miracle. I still struggle, friends. Thoughts of food and body image still linger in my mind more that I care to admit, but I know it won’t be this way forever. I refuse to let myself miss out on life because of lies telling me that you can only enjoy it if you are a size 2. My prayer for all who read this is that you may love your body and treat it with the respect it deserves. That you may nourish it and cherish it because it is fearfully made by the same God who created galaxies, waterfalls, and every beautiful thing you see when you walk out your front door. I wish I could take each of you out to coffee and talk about society’s toxic ideas about beauty, why they are absolute hogwash and what health, fitness and beauty really means.

To those of you who are still battling amenorrhea, please don’t give up.

Please keep going because victory is really sweet. The best advice I could give you is this: eventually, you need to stop researching. You need to stop reading about what others did and what worked for them. I’m sure you know by now how overwhelming all that can be. Your body is unique and knows what you need and all you have to do is listen. That’s it. Eat what and when and how much it tells you. Exercise it in a way that brings absolutely no mental distress or pressure. Listen to your body and let it make amends with your mind.

I wish you all the very best in your recovery and hope that you find true contentment with who God has made you to be.

With love and prayer,

Taleen

Returning to normal…Post HA Recovery

When you make the decision to go “all in”, you take some extremes that you normally wouldn’t do in your daily life like going cold turkey with exercise or eating 2-3 times more than you ever have. This can bring some feelings of fear…fear that this is what your new way of living will always look like, fear that you may never get to exercise again or fear that you’ll always have to have a high calorie diet. So I thought it would be helpful to give you an idea of what life looks like…post HA Recovery.

I’ll admit, post recovery can be tricky. But that doesn’t mean your life will always have to be all or nothing.

If you truly enjoy exercise, you will be able to reintroduce it back into your life, but it’ll have to be in baby steps. Your body needs to know that it can trust that you won’t bring it back to starvation and exhaustion. Below are a few steps I took when I started to introduce exercise back in post recovery:

  • Start Slow: Start with 2-3 days for at least 1-2 cycles before increasing the number of days.
  • Add 1 Day at a Time: Once you get to the point where you know your body is ok with 2-3 days of exercise, you can add 1 additional day and keep it at that for 1-2 cycles to see how your body responds before adding any more.
  • Low Intensity: I highly recommend starting with things like Yoga, Walking or Light Resistance weights before moving onto more intense exercise like Running or HIIT classes. Going too intense too soon can cause some major setbacks in your recovery.
  • Reduced Time: Starting with 20-30 min is going to be VERY important when you start to add exercise back in. I learned this the hard way and it resulted in a 45 day cycle. Remember, your body needs rest and nourishment…30 min may not seem like very much, but I promise you’ll still get all the health benefits without putting your cycle in jeopardy.

Once you’ve found the right amount of days, time & intensity for your body, I would keep it at that for a few months or until your cycles are stable before changing things up! It may take longer than you want, but eventually you will get to a place that feels good for you AND your body.

Now, let’s talk about food…

From the many women I’ve spoke to about Hypothalamic Amenorrhea and going through it myself, “getting” to eat 2-3 times more than you’re used to can get old real quick! You may feel like your day is filled with eating, eating & more eating.

Yes, consuming large amounts of high quality fats, proteins & carbs is VERY important for recovery, but it won’t always have to hold such a high priority in your life. Eventually your body weight will get to the maintenance “safe” weight and you will no longer need to fill yourself to the max.

When you get to that safe weight, you’ll be able to rely more on your body’s hunger cues and fullness scale. I still recommend sticking to balanced meals & snack that include fat, protein & carbs, but you can scale back a bit on the amount. Just make sure you’re continuing to stay aware of your cycle and if cutting back is having an effect…(and don’t forget to continue to enjoy those treats too!)

I hope these tips helped if you’re in the post recovery stage or close to it. Please let me know if you have any additional questions or feel free to email me for more specific recommendations!

XOXO,

~P

Karly’s Story

My journey has been a bit of a roller coaster.

I started birth control in March 2013 and went off in January 2015 (the last couple periods on BC were super light). I didn’t get a period in February or March but figured I was adjusting post-pill. Then I had periods in April and May, but that’s when it ended.

At the end of August, 4 months since my last period, I went to the gyno and discussed my lack of period. She suspected PCOS (though acknowledged that I didn’t fit the “type”) and ran some blood tests to check my testosterone levels, as well as a sonogram to check my ovaries. My ovaries looked fine and my testosterone levels were low, so she ruled out PCOS. She prescribed the progesterone challenge, to which I had no reaction so she checked my estrogen and FSH levels. Across the board my hormone levels were low; everything was on “sleep” mode. Her only recommendation was to go back on BC “to get regular” (which didn’t make sense since I just came off  BC so by that logic I should be regular…) or visit a fertility specialist which personally I wasn’t ready for. That was the beginning of October 2015.

From the beginning of our appointments, she asked about my diet and exercise and concluded that since I was not a marathoner or doing anything extreme that diet/exercise wasn’t the cause. I was also in the normal/healthy range of BMI (5’8 135lbs) so didn’t think that was an issue, but she said if I felt like it I could try putting on 5lbs and tone down the workouts (approx 4-5 times a week for max 1 hr each mixing it up with body pump, spin, running, body step…nothing EXTREME).

In November, I happened to have a deal for a month of unlimited barre so during that month I only did barre (no cardio) and my weight crept up to about 140. On December 22nd, I got a period!

After that I went back to my original workout schedule and again lost my period.

In March, I went back to the gyno, and she said we should try the progesterone challenge again, and if I get a period then I could try a round of clomid to force ovulation; no period came. After 5 months since my last cycle, I decided to try acupuncture at the end of May. My acupuncturist believed I was dealing with post pill amenorrhea. With weekly visits and daily herbs I was able to ovulate and have a period in June (though the luteal phase was extremely short).

Even with an absurd amount of googling over the past 1.5 years, I didn’t stumble upon the term “hypothalamic amenorrhea” until last month.

And finally I was reading some stories that “sounded like me”.

I was never too thin but I did spend a lot of time planning out my workouts and putting in extra effort when I over indulged on the food side of things. If I had to guess what threw me into this funk it was probably the period of time in April/May 2015 where I was working out probably 6 times a week with crossfit being 3xs a week and restricting my calories to about 1400. If only I knew that that would not only hinder my body goals, but also lose my fertility.

In mid-August, I decided to prioritize my desire to get back my cycle/pregnant over my desire to stay a certain level of fit. The hardest part has been getting over the fact that I used to get my cycle just fine when I was 15+ lbs lighter, but unfortunately that’s just not me anymore. Starting in mid-August, I cut out all cardio and increased my calories considerably.

Around September 8th, I saw fertile mucus as well as a shift in temperature so I was pretty confident that I ovulated. My temp stayed elevated for a couple days before it dropped on the 13th and I woke up to some very light spotting. I just so happened to have a gyno appointment with a new doctor scheduled for that morning, where I shared with him everything from the last couple years, including my recent lifestyle changes/weight gain and the spotting that morning.

He agreed that he too thought I had hypothalamic amenorrhea, and said I won’t be able to get pregnant without assistance. He then ordered some blood work and prescribed me a hormone replacement regimen. I left that appointment feeling SO discouraged since I really felt like my body was starting to signal it was on its way to recovery (he even told me I should not gain any more weight and start exercising again). The spotting/light bleeding actually continued for 3 days, so I decided to hold off on the hormones to see how things went for another month and would reassess then.

On day 23, I saw a significant amount of EWCM followed by a dip/spike in temp! Then the acne and the sore breasts arrived, so I just knew I was in for a real period finally. My period ended up coming 8 days later.

It really is so satisfying to see some real signs of recovery.

I still struggle with the extra weight/negative body image, but knowing that I’m giving my body a chance to do this thing naturally is where I find hope. Now I am praying for a longer luteal phase next month, and for continued patience and grace during recovery.
Thanks to all the ladies in the HA recovery group. I wish you weren’t also in this situation, but I am so so grateful for the constant encouragement and support during this challenging time 🙂
 

Sample Menu: Hypothalamic Amenorrhea Treatment & Recovery

I’ve been getting asked by the girls in the HA Sisterhood what they should be eating during recovery to get in the recommended 2500-3000 calories a day. I felt giving a Sample Menu would be most helpful for those still struggling to figure out what to eat.

Although I do recommend tracking for the first few days to get a visual, after that I would encourage you to not track beyond that.Continuing to track your calories will only cause extra unnecessary stress that will keep you from moving forward in your journey.

I know the need to control is very strong during recovery, especially once you’ve gone all in, because you may be feeling uncomfortable in your body and a bit out of control. But I promise if you learn to let go, it will give you a sense of freedom that is so important to your success!

Below is a sample of what I ate during recovery {roughly 2500 calories a day}. To keep yourself from feeling the need to track what you’re eating, use this as a rule of thumb for each meal & snack: 1-2 Tbsp of Healthy Fats, 1 serving of Quality Protein, 1 serving of Fiber/Carb…Fruit & Veggies as desired.

My Sample Day of Eats

Day of Eats

6am Breakfast:

  • 1/2 cup rolled oats
  • 1/2 cup organic whole milk
  • 1/2 cup berries
  • 2 tbsp Almond Butter

10am Snack:

  • 1 scoop Protein Powder {I use Shakeology}
  • 1 banana
  • 1 cup Almond Milk
  • 2 tbsp Almond Butter
  • 1 cup Spinach
  • Water & Ice

12pm Lunch:

  • 1-2 cups of Greens
  • Handful of Cherry Tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup Roasted Butternut Squash
  • 1/2 an Avocado
  • 6oz chopped Grilled Chicken Breast
  • Drizzle of Olive Oil & Balsamic Vinegar

3pm Snack:

  • Homemade Protein Bar {HERE is one if you need a recipe!}
  • 1 cup of Pineapple
  • Chai Tea Latte with Almond Milk & Honey

6pm Dinner:

  • Baked Sweet Potato topped with 1 Tbsp of Coconut Butter & Cinnamon
  • Ground Turkey & Bell Peppers sauteed in olive oil & seasoning

8pm Dessert:

  • Whole Milk Ice Cream or
  • Homemade Brownies {Cup4Cup makes a great Gluten Free mix!}

I hope this helps those of you still struggling to fit it all in!

XOXO,

~P

P.S. If you still find yourself struggling with your nutrition, make to get your copy of The 28 Day Meal Plan designed specifically for HA Recovery!