Ok fellas, you are going to want to plug your ears and close your eyes for this one.
Today’s post is strictly for the ladies.
No boys allowed.
Alright girls, story time!
When was the first time you got your period? What’s your story?
totally had this book from American Girl: “The Care & Keeping of You”
Call me a late bloomer. I was 16-years-old.
My former struggles with disordered eating definitely through a damper in my process.
And, get this: it happened at McDonald’s of ALL places!
Getting My Period
It was my Junior year of highschool, and I was on the road traveling with my competitive basketball team to Tulsa, Oklahoma for a basketball tournament and it was lunch time.
The only restaurant within a 50-mile radius?
I wasn’t particularly hungry, BUT I knew I needed to eat—at least a little something—in order to continue up good eating habits during a time in my life when I was beginning to get some healthy control around my food.
While the thought of McDonald’s made me gag inside, it was honestly something I had been working on a lot during this particular time in my life (in light of that old eating disorder) to be able to “go with the flow” when it came to food.
And so, my friend’s parents whipped their mini-van into the parking lot under the golden arches, and as I walked in, like a death march, preparing to face one of my worst nightmares: crappy fast food, I took a deep breath, and decided: Heck, I can do this. It’s just one meal.
Scouring the menu, I managed to find something I could stomach—a Café McDonald’s salad—chicken, mandarin oranges, some almonds, spinach and balsamic vinegarette.
As I sat down to eat lunch with the rest of the crew, I tried my very best not to picture cages of cooped up chickens and poor quality Grade D meat, unwashed spinach leaves, and gloveless hands potentially preparing my food, and just ate it—no big deal.
I hadn’t eaten McDonald’s in close to 10 years, and after finishing the meal with the rest of the team, actually felt an odd sense of accomplishment.
I did it. No tears. I survived. And I felt one more chain break free from all the rules, upon rules, upon rules, I had constrained myself to since I was about 9-years-old.
And while McDonald’s was still perhaps not something I foresaw becoming a regular part of my daily routine…my surrendered heart was.
Come that night, an answer to a prayer I had been praying for 2-3 years finally came…I got my period!
It was as if my open, raw and honest heart’s desire to be healthy—and my decision to turn away from ED in that moment at McDonald’s earlier that day—did not go unnoticed.
Full womanhood upon me! (and yes, yes, yes, a bittersweet thing).
Ok…your turn! What’s your story?!
Losing My Period
Unfortunately, as I would grow more sick later on in my college days via a relapse into a dieting mentality, I lost my period.
However, over the years, I have too learned that the thing about periods are: they are a reflection of what’s going on underneath the hood (i.e. our hormones).
When our hormones are happy, the red river flows naturally.
When our hormones are unhappy, there is a little glitch in the hormonal balance.
A side effect occasionally due to this glitch?
Amenorrhea. Or really, secondary, or hypothalamic amenorrhea.
In other words: Loss of your period (NOT due to pregnancy, lactation or menopause ).
You don’t have a regular cycle, specifically you’ve missed at least 3 menstrual periods in a row.
What the heck really causes this to occur though?
Commonly cited reasons, you may have heard about include:
- Poor quality diet
- Not enough to eat
- Anorexia and eating disorders
- Weight loss
However, a common under-cited reason for amenorrhea is…stress.
Simply: too much of it.
In fact, Hypothalamic Amenhorrhea is really just a fancy way of saying “stress-induced loss of menstruation.”
Here’s how it works:
When your hypothalamus (the control center in your brain that regulates many physiological processes, including reproduction) is overtaxed or pooped out, stressed…it’s not functioning properly.
And when the hypothalamus is not functioning properly due to stress, the last thing it wants to do for you is take on additional stress of bearing a child in your womb!
So it goes into ‘shut down’ or underfunctioning mode, resulting in the lack of menstruation.
Unfortunately, go to your MD or consult Google for your answers, and “there’s a pill for that.”
Far too often, pharmaceuticals, such as birth control, or even natural supplements or hormones are prescribed without first addressing the root cause in the first place: Stress.
And I’m not just talking physical stress (like the stress of overtraining or under-eating), but also mental stress—the type of stress we girls let get to us when we are overworked, or trying hard to please everyone around us, or worrying about the future, or overthinking a particular issue or situation in our life.
Both of these types of stressors (physical and mental) are essential to attacking ‘head on’ if you want to get your period back.
Recently, I was working with a girl who had not had a ‘regular’ period, on her own, in quite a number of years.
And she couldn’t understand why. After all, she was a fairly healthy individual.
She was conscious of eating a “healthy diet”; she worked out regularly—not “running herself into the ground” though; she did her best to get as much sleep as possible; she was not underweight and in a healthy place for her height, although constantly thinking she could stand to lose a few inches…and nonetheless, natural period-less months were her norm.
In addition, for several years, she had taken birth control in order to support her ‘under-functioning’ hormones, and had had pseudo periods. However, shortly before our work together, she had decided to quit the pills after more education around all the side effects.
“I just want to get my period back and know my body is healthy.”
The more we talked, and the more we dug though into her lifestyle factors…the more stress began to resolve to the surface.
This gal admitted she was definitely one to feel stressed; Often letting the worries of the world wear on her sleeve.
She worked a 9-5 job with a tough, hard-to-please boss that left her on edge most days. She was a people pleaser and had a huge heart for her friendships—sometimes to her own detriment as she was constantly putting others before herself. She identified experiencing frequent anxiety about the ‘littlest’ things and at times, “letting stress get the best of her”—from moving apartments, to prepping for a meeting, to often overcommitting herself, and later feeling overwhelmed by it all.
Not to mention, a look further into her self-care, revealed that, although she was a ‘healthy’ individual, she was a bit overly health conscious: often adhering to a lower carb diet out of fear of what carbs may do to her fit body.
She was also a “counter”—commonly gauging her hunger/fullness levels on the macronutrient numbers in her food log, instead of her body’s true hunger/fullness cues, and while she tried her best to eat a ‘balanced diet’, admitted that eating fats—even healthy fats—was hard to wrap her head around.
She commonly battled sugar cravings—especially at night and felt guilty if and when she ‘gave in’—eating a piece of dark chocolate here, or diving in to her roommate’s homemade brownies there.
On the exercise front, weight lifting and cardio was a part of her daily routine—about 2-3 hours most days of the week, and while she loved exercise, she also felt married to it—stating that she often used it as a medium to justify eating and feeling good about herself.
As for down time and rest, she was sleeping about 6-7 hours per night, feeling fairly rested, but frequently tired come 3 or 4 pm in the afternoon most days. If she could occasionally sneak a nap in, she would, but if not, she’d push through it and crash come 11 or midnight most evenings.
On paper: fairly healthy. Healthier perhaps even than most.
However, behind the scenes, within her bod, her hypothalamus was pooped out.
Little changes that could yield big results when taken seriously and practiced consistently.
Here’s what we did to address the roots of stress, a bottom up approach:
- Fear Not. We talked through the worries and concerns over what “too many” carbs or fats could “do to her.” I encouraged her to put away the food log in place of mindfully “building her plate” at each main meal with good ol’ proteins, fats and veggies, and adding in a little bit of fruit at breakfast and some starch with lunch or dinner (sweet potato, squash, potato, rice, quinoa). I also educated her on the serving size of fats, as she was using these scarcely (about the size of your thumb for oils and nutbutters, a fistful of nuts/seeds, and 1/3-1/2 avocado—at least). Her biggest step? Trusting her body.
- Listening. We did quite a bit of work around helping her get back in touch with her body. What did her hunger even feel and sound like? (i.e. a headache, thoughts about food, growling in her stomach, distilled appetite, etc.). And fullness—what did that feel like? (i.e. stuffed, satisfied, a little bit of room left in her stomach, clarity of thinking, etc.). The more she became in touch with her body—the easier it was to forget about all that counting and logging she had done in her past.
- Exercise smarter, not necessarily harder. Instead of spinning her wheels in the gym. Jumping from cardio to leg machines to cardio to upper body to more squats—basically just “exercising”; she started working with me as her coach to program her workouts. Workouts became more driven and progressive. Not just mindlessly wandering around the weight room or following random routines from Instagram or Bodybuilding.com. intensity varied from day to day, and strength and aerobic work were balanced. Most days, workouts took between 60-90 minutes to complete, and focused on helping her improve upon ‘weaknesses’ while bringing fun back to the process of training with purpose.
- Really resting—not necessarily sleeping. But finding those things in her life that restored her—and incorporating at least 10-60 minutes of ‘restoration’ in her day: be it quiet time in the Word, meditation, a walk, watching a TV show that made her laugh, unplugging from her phone and writing or reading for pleasure—something completely and solely for her. In addition, we started incorporating 1-2 days of active rest into her workout plan—rather than feeling like she had to ‘hit it hard’ every day. Active rest could be a hike, a long walk, a low key workout I programmed for her, a bike ride, paddleboarding, a yoga class—something fun!
- Talking about it. She had to face stress head on. The only way to really do that? Acknowledge it, talk it out, vent about it…and problem solve how to best cope. Our therapy sessions became devoted to digging a bit deeper into all the anxieties, worries and stressors she carried with her—releasing them, and coming up with some tangible strategies for improving her stress management.
- Stress management. These two words often bring to mind an image of punching a punching bag—or something of that nature. However, stress management is really just finding solutions to navigating the daily fires that pop up with any curveball. A HUGE part for her own stress management was learning how to say “NO!” We actually did some role-playing with this; along with addressing the inner people pleaser in her. Other stress management tools for those more anxious moments included things like: deep breathing, essential oils, writing and journaling, calling up a friend or her mom, getting fresh air, turning on a powerful song playlist, identifying a mantra or verse that kept her grounded, and reminding herself frequently, “It’s going to be ok!”
- Cutting it out. One final small change we experimented with in her THRIVE Life plan of attack was cutting the coffee. While she was not an ‘addict’ per say, she frequently consumed 1-2 cups most days with little thought to it otherwise—it was a habit. To keep up the ‘habit’, we replaced the coffees with herbal tea or a Teecino drink (an herbal tea flavored like coffee) if she needed some hazelnut or vanilla latte in her life. Otherwise, we eliminated this additional stressor to see what and how her body would respond.
All of these sound super small, simple and perhaps even insignificant. However…a few months into this protocol, she texted me:
“Guess what…I got my period back for the first time on my own in over five years!”
Stressing less is one of the best medicines for good health we can give ourselves.
It is wayyyyyy easier said than done.
Get YOUR Period Back
But, if you want to get your period back—before reaching for the pharmaceuticals, spending money on random supplements the guy at Whole Foods told you was good for you, or just resolving, ‘I guess this is how it’s going to be’—see what a few small changes can do for your hypothalamus.
- Address the stress. First things first—do some soul searching and reflecting upon what stressors are present in your life right now. What are you letting get the best of you? Or what situations or routines or habits or environments are parts of your daily life? What can you do to lessen this stress? Just do it.
- Don’t fear carbs. Low carb diets are not necessarily the ‘answer’ for the hot body you want or the optimal health you want. Veggies of course are vital, but if you have been avoiding starchy carbs altogether, see what a little sweet potato, fruit, squash, or even some rice, quinoa or oats can do for your life. You are not ‘weak’ for eating carbs-repeat.
- …Nor fat. Don’t fear fat either. Be generous here. Fat does not equal fat. In fact, fat can burn fat and promote a healthy, revving metabolism.
- Eat enough and more regularly. Food is fuel. Your hypothalamus thrives off of fuel (to the brain) to function properly. Often times when we are underfed, we actually become desensitized to our hunger cues and may think we are eating enough when in actuality we are not. Calorically, you may be in a deficit. While I am not a calorie counter, if you do not have a baseline of where you are at, it can be insightful, in order to get a new baseline of where your body actually wants to be. Less than 1800-2000 calories for most any adult woman who is moderately active (walking at the very least most days) is far too low. That’s just the way the cookie crumbles. Also ensuring you are eating at regular intervals (i.e. not skipping breakfast, or going for 5-7 hours without eating)—at least three meals per day, and snacking accordingly to dipping energy and blood sugar levels (i.e. dipping blood sugar may feel like: sleepiness, headaches, lack of energy, poor mental focus, sluggishness, shakiness to name a few symptoms).
- Exercise smart. You train to get better, right? Not ‘worse’, or ‘to not progress.’ That being said, 6-15 mile runs every day, or doing the same routine in the gym most days, or making yourself do XYZ “or else…” is only shooting yourself in the foot. Not sure WHAT to do then? Consider getting a coach for a time to program your workouts for you! It makes life a heck of a whole lot easier! THRIVE’s Remote Coaching could be a perfect resource for helping you put more purpose and fun into the gym!
- Mix it up. Potentially even mixing up your exercise routine altogether can be refreshing—especially if it’s felt more like a chore lately than something you look forward to. The cool thing about exercise? There are hundreds of options and ways to move your body! Explore what’s out there.
- Cut the added sugar and caffeine. Added stressors—enough said.
- Rest up. If it’s sleep you are lacking, even 30-60 minutes more can make a world of difference—start with baby steps. Set your alarm 30-minutes later, or tuck in 30-minutes earlier to start. If it’s down time, do the same thing my client did: mandate 10-60 minutes of YOU time to your busy schedule. Check out and just be.
- Stop letting your body-image thoughts get the best of you. These very well could be standing in your way from implementing the self-care you know you need in your head, but have a hard time following through with because…eating more makes you ‘feel fat’…or ‘working out smarter’ is counterintuitive…or ‘what ifs’ begin to dominate your mind (What if I work out 30 minutes less? Or eat carbs? Or…etc.). More than the size of your skinny jeans or how you think you look in pictures…how is your health, really? Amenorrhea, and resolging it, can be a clear indicator for you if you are of reproductive age. In the long-term, your period will get you way further than a size-X or certain number on the scale if those are truly not sustainable and healthy for your body type.
- Supplement savvy. Don’t just guess on these people. Consult with a nutrition therapist like THRIVE or other healthcare professional who truly understands a holistic approach to health and healing to determine what supplements you could benefit from. Supplements are not a one-size-fits all approach and are bio-individualized to your body and its needs. Vitamin B, adrenal supports, zinc, magnesium, Vitamin D, Omega-3’s are just some of the supports that are used among those addressing hormonal imbalances. It’s best to determine what your body needs through a functional evaluation and/or clinical testing to address this issue.
The bottom line?
The thing about Hypothalamic Amenhorrhea is that its presentation, severity and “cure” are different for each woman. The key is to address all of the kinds of stress (physical and mental) that may play a role in your Hypothalamic Amenhorrhea, and to focus on the primary stressors that caused the problem in the first place.
There is hope. Your period can be won back, and…De-stress does a body good.
Here are your weekly workouts for the week! Incorporate 3-5 or 6 of these into your week, and take at least 1-2 days to do something outside the box–walk with a friend, dance, hike, yoga, bike, swim, rock climb, just be and hang-do nothing in particular at all!
Complete each for time:
7 Kettlebell swings
7 Box jumps (At home modification: 7/7 step ups)
7 Wall-ball (At home modification: 7 thrusters)
7 Dumbbell snatches
7 Pull-ups or ring rows (At home modification: 7 dumbbell rows)
400-meter run (.25 miles)
30 Kettlebell swings
Tabata (20 seconds on, 10 seconds off for 8 rounds of each exercise; 4 minutes total each exercise; complete each exercise than move on)
AMRAP 15 Minutes:
8 Strict Pull-ups
8 Strict Handstand Pushups (modification: knees on chair/bench,
8 Power Clean (at home: use dumbbells)
3 Rounds for Time:
30 Box Jumps
30 Overhead Plate Walking Lunge