Let’s go back to the high school days.
It was during these years that my weight started to become a recurring thought in my mind. I had reached 211 pounds and now had to face other girls in the locker room during PE classes. Other girls who didn’t have a weight problem. Girls who were thin, tall, popular and judgmental. It was impossible not to feel their eyes on me while I was changing, with my back turned to them. The rest of the day was spent trying not to think about this incident, only that I never wanted it to happen again. The last straw was getting our body fat tested. The teacher was going to use the caliper test–where they grab the fat from your tricep and stomach. The teacher was discreet about everything which helped too but I was still very embarrassed.
I began researching weight loss online and came across the Atkins diet. After a few weeks of losing some weight and then stalling, I decided to join my mom at Weight Watchers. I couldn’t help but think “this isn’t a place for a 16 year old girl.” No one else in high school has to go to a Weight Watchers meeting, yet here we are. Over the course of a few months, I lost 20 pounds – getting down to 160 pounds. I hit my initial goal and was rewarded with a keychain charm. Afterward, my determination and drive started lagging. I stopped going to the meetings and tracking points and just maintained my weight for a couple of years without too much of an issue.
Fast forward to 2008…
when I met my then-boyfriend, now husband. We started dating and fell in love. I began taking birth control during this time as well – mostly to help with cycle regularity and pain relief. My cycle was never regular and the cramps were terrible. The pill helped immensely with both issues, and I thought I had found the holy grail. I started researching and asked my doctor if it was necessary to take the white pills, and he told me no so I skipped them each month and never had a period. It was amazing. I became engaged and, a year later, we were married.
The first few years of marriage were wonderful. I had everything I wanted – except my ideal weight.
I tried a few diets after the wedding – Atkins again which wasn’t successful, 1200 calories which made me feel constantly hungry and deprived and some other random plans that never amounted to anything. Fast forward a couple of years to when my husband and I started discussing a family and that, sooner rather than later, we’d like to start one of our own. I stopped taking the birth control pill. And then, in September 2014, I found intermittent fasting. It seemed impossible at the time to even think about going without food for 16 hours but after reading a few websites and books on it, I decided to give it a shot. Most of the “fasting window” was while I was asleep so it didn’t seem so bad at all. My body and mind eventually got used to it and it became effortless to skip breakfast. My body started rapidly losing the weight and the scale would drop daily – boosting my self confidence and mood.
I got down to my lowest weight ever in February 2015 – 139 pounds. I went from a size 10 to a size 4-6. I went shopping for clothes constantly – something I would do my best to avoid previously because of fear of seeing myself in the mirror and not fitting in a size I thought I was.
We had a vacation to Greece planned for just a month later, but I was ready. I’d never had as much self confidence as I did then and was on top of the world.
I had planned to loosely keep up with my fasting protocol but not stress too much about it since it was a vacation, after all. We thoroughly enjoyed every minute. I even wore a two-piece for the first time ever.
We came back to our new home three weeks later. I attempted to re-start my fasting protocol and struggled. I struggled so hard that I began binge-eating at night because I was so hungry. I went to bed sick and woke up feeling even worse. This, in turn, caused me to become depressed. I started gaining weight, my clothes were getting tighter, my self esteem was dropping rapidly.
I felt like a failure because I couldn’t keep up with the weight loss plan that I was so successful on just a few months earlier.
Why couldn’t I do it again? I’d done it before, with relative ease! I still went to the gym fairly regularly, 4-6 days per week. I would be there on average of 45-90 minutes doing weights for about 30 minutes and finishing up with cardio afterwards – usually HIIT. I felt really good about myself afterward and thought that if I could just keep up with this, that my binges would be “erased” and I wouldn’t gain so much fat but rather build muscle. My clothes were still becoming tighter. I attempted to do my workouts fasted. It was for the most part fairly easy in the beginning. But gradually, I felt weaker and I wasn’t making progress with the weight I was using.
I knew, deep down, that something wasn’t right.
And I knew that it was most likely the fact I was still trying to do intermittent fasting. So I gave it up. I still struggled with binge eating but, this time, I knew it was more about the habit I had gotten into rather than being hungry.
At this point, it had been about a year and a half since I stopped taking the birth control pill. I had not had a period since. I didn’t think this was a big deal for the first year – we weren’t seriously trying to have a baby and I had read somewhere that it was normal to not have a regular cycle for the first few months. But after a year, I figured I better to talk to my doctor. I remember sitting in her office and telling her about my problem. I went by myself and it was very difficult to hear myself telling her what I was going through. I had to choke back the tears.
I assumed the worst up until this point – because I wasn’t having a period, I would never be able to have kids.
I had mentally prepared myself to hear my doctor confirm this to me. She had me complete a series of blood tests – which all came back normal. Then she advised me to wait a couple of months to see what happened since I had just given up the intermittent fasting. A few months passed, nothing changed. I contacted my doctor and she referred me to an OB/GYN. I went through even more tests – the same ones I did a few months back, plus ultrasounds. All came back normal. The last test my OB/GYN suggested was a brain MRI – to see if there was a tumor on my pituitary gland.
Hearing her say these words to me, sitting alone on a doctor’s office bed covered with a sheet of paper, hit me like a ton of bricks.
A tumor? In my brain? No. “We’ve done all of these tests and none are indicative of a problem, which could mean that you either have a tumor or premature ovarian failure,” my doctor said. But, all of the other tests were normal. This must be the problem, I thought. I told her to schedule the test. I came back home after my doctor’s visit and began working. My husband woke up and came downstairs and said good morning to me and I’ll never forget telling him what I learned just a couple of hours earlier. Through swollen eyelids, tears streaming down my face, I told him that my doctor wanted me to get checked out for a possible brain tumor and that I could potentially have premature ovarian failure. … All he could do is just get on his knees and hug me. Somewhere in the background, my work phone was ringing but I didn’t care. After what seemed like forever, I was able to stop the tears and get back to work. My husband was so comforting and told me that no matter what, he loved me and that we would get through anything together. That made me feel a lot better.
I had the MRI done a few weeks later.
What an experience to be placed in a tube for an hour, unable to move. I waited a couple of days, severely stressed out about the results. They finally came in – completely normal. I messaged my OB/GYN and she then referred me to a reproductive specialist. I was hesitant to see him – did I want to go down this route? Does this mean my only option is in-vitro? How bad do I want a family, really?
After discussing this with my husband, we decided it would be good to hear what the doctor had to say. We spent a couple of hours with him. He gave a detailed presentation of how a normal female reproductive system works and also what happens to someone with the same symptoms as me. It was eye-opening. He did an elimination diagnosis. He reviewed all of my blood work from the previous tests, my MRI results and the symptoms I told him I had.
He eliminated premature ovarian failure immediately – and I couldn’t have been more relieved to hear it. He also eliminated PCOS. He landed on post-pill amenorrhea based on the fact that I had been on birthcontrol for about five years and had somewhat normal cycles prior to being on the pill. He wanted to do an ultrasound himself, which happened during the same visit. He said everything looked normal – no cysts, plenty of eggs available, follicles were normal.
He even mentioned that based on what he saw, it looked like my body was “ready to have a period anytime.” He suggested I meet with a nutritionist because it was obvious, based on my history of dieting and restriction, that I just needed to get things back to normal.
I met with the nutritionist and I basically poured my heart and soul out on the table.
I even cried once because hearing myself tell my story just broke my own heart. I couldn’t believe how I got here, or even that I did in the first place. I read about other people going through eating disorders or just disordered eating habits and struggling with fertility but never thought it would happen to me. Yet, here I was.
My 90-minute-long initial consultation visit with the nutritionist was what I needed. I was able to fully describe my eating problems to someone for the first time. My husband didn’t know, and the only other person I mentioned something about it to was my mom. I was given a plan – to eat a minimum of 2,000 calories a day and track the food in an app that my nutritionist would follow and check in on.
Hearing the 2,000 calories goal was hard…
but then when I thought about it, I was most definitely eating a lot more than that on days that I binged so really, this would probably be an overall decrease in calories per week. She told me to drastically cut my exercise, suggesting I do only walking and some yoga a few days per week.
She saw the (likely) shocked look on my face and asked me if I was okay with that. I told her that cutting down like that stressed me out so she said it would be okay for me to do weight training a maximum of three days per week and to be in the gym for those workouts a total of 45 minutes at the most. That sounded more reasonable to me and I agreed to it.
I began the plan, tracking my food and writing messages to her when I was struggling. I cut my exercise down and mainly went for walks around my neighborhood which felt refreshing. I found a lot of podcasts regarding disordered eating and also amenorrhea and fertility and learned so much from them. I enjoyed listening to them on my morning walks. I went to the gym maybe a total of five times in those three weeks and the workouts were actually really good.
Five days after I met with the nutritionist, I had a period.
For the first time in nearly two years. I couldn’t believe it. I was so happy and the wave of relief that washed over me was indescribable. I had cramps, my back hurt, my stomach was bloated. And I welcomed those feelings 1000%. I immediately emailed my nutritionist about my excitement. Then I told my husband as soon as he woke up and he was so happy to hear it and hugged me for a long time.
I met with my nutritionist again three weeks later. I had lost about 4 1/2 pounds since the last visit which made me feel good as well. We updated my goals – she mentioned how thrilled she was that my cycle had returned and told me that if I feel like I don’t need 2,000 calories each day, then it would be okay to eat less but to really listen to my body and eat when I feel like I need to.
And that is where we are today.
I still struggle with binge eating, with my clothes being tighter, with seeing friends and family whom I haven’t seen for a while and wondering if they notice my weight gain. But I try to remember that this is for my health and if someone says something to me about my weight, that it’s them that has a problem, not me. It’s a day-to-day work in progress, some days being harder than others. I am starting to feel better the more I progress and on those harder days, I just think about the day my cycle returned and that it’s the most important part of all of this.
Thank you for reading this, if you’ve made it this far. The most important thing I want you to get from this is that recovery is possible. Be kind to your body – don’t let your mind and outside influences take over. It is a delicate and sensitive being and deserves the utmost respect.