How I Recovered from Hypothalamic Amenorrhea
If you have read my previous article, you may be familiar with the fact that I suffered from HA, and it was the main reason why it took me such a long time to get pregnant, and have a regular menstrual cycle.
If you aren’t familiar with it, and as explained thoroughly in Nicola Rinaldi’s book “No Period, Now What?” amenorrhea is defined as a lack of menstruation. Hypothalamic amenorrhea can be either primary or secondary, and changes in the hypothalamus normally cause it. The hypothalamus regulates the menstrual cycle; this vital part of the brain releases GnRH (gonadotropin-releasing hormone), which stimulates the release of LH (luteinizing hormone) and FSH (follicle-stimulating hormone). When a woman develops HA, the hypothalamus stops releasing enough GnRH, which in turn slows down LH and FSH production, ultimately preventing ovulation.
While I suffered from HA I was eating healthy, supplementing my body, training hard, working loads, and I was heavily complimented for my tiny muscular frame.
You may then ask…Why did you want to recover?
Isn’t exactly what society has been telling us that we should be doing?
Looking fit and skinny, indulging on green smoothies and kale salad, and being constantly on the move and hypervigilant as meerkats?
The main reason cause I wanted to recover was that I wanted a child. And now you may be thinking, “I really don’t care about children at this stage,” and I hear you. But the reality is that I was anxious all the time (without even recognising it), I suffered from extreme bouts of hunger (if you don’t give me food I pass out, or I eat you alive), I was cold, even in summertime; to top it off, I had zero interest in sex, my social life was suffering from my choices, I wasn’t menstruating and my bone density scan left me teary and upset. Also, I was always sick, and I had significant gut disturbances. So yes, I did look the part, but I was suffering more than I have ever suffered in my life.
Society blames sloths (koalas aren’t much different, but much cuter, which is the only reason why people accept them, which proves my point entirely). We are asked to spread ourselves thin, to look the part, and to show to the rest of the world our busyness, otherwise, we are not deemed good enough.
We end up feeling unworthy because we don’t reflect the images that are plastered in the billboards around town, or even worse, that are readily available in our social media feeds.
Guess what? We are good enough, even when we don’t fit in size 0, even when we have croissant and butter for breakfast, even when we skip the strength training class on a Saturday morning (or every Saturday morning). I didn’t think that way, but life showed me that restricting my caloric intake was making me smaller, spiritually, and mentally.
I started by taking care of my body first, as it was the toughest, but most necessary part of my recovery.
I then did some soul searching and worked on my life purpose and values. It was a fantastic journey made of ebbs and flows, and it did pay off.
These are the changes I had to put in place:
I got rid of external tools
Scales (to measure weight and foods), food trackers on the phone, fitness watches, tape measurements…the list goes on and on. Get rid of them all, don’t wear them, don’t use them. If you have a condition that requires you to check your weight, do so at the doctor’s office or to the pharmacy or at a friend’s house.
Also, don’t buy trashy magazines, avoid silly TV series; trust me, they don’t serve you, and they only make you feel unworthy. Make your home as neutral as possible, and give yourself the chance to live in a toxic-free environment.
How I stopped dieting- you are 6 Steps Away from the Life you Want
Because dieting is restriction, and restriction is never a good option
The 6 Reasons Why I Gave Dieting the Boot
If you don’t believe there is a better way, think again
Weed and feed
I loved scrolling through IG feeds made of perfectly trained, strong bodies. I also enjoyed looking at skinny models on trashy magazines, or check out the latest “Lose 5 kilos in a week” diet…just for fun.
There are so many beautiful accounts on social media that are body positive, pro HA recovery, and that show diverse bodies from all cultures and backgrounds. I stopped following fit models showcasing pictures taken at the gym or at the local juice shop. I didn’t want to live that life anymore; I wanted to have energy; I wanted to have fun. I wanted to bake a cake and eat it too!
I harshly unfollowed on social media, and I started connecting with women that were all about Body Positivity. It was such a breath of fresh air to see all that diversity in my life. It hit me that I could be anyone I wanted; I didn’t have to be of the same appearance for the rest of my life.
While I was unfollowing on social media, I started listening to podcasts on body positivity, health, and disordered eating. During the toughest days, those voices were there for me, reminding how I had to show up every single day, as I had no choice.
I also bought some invaluable books that expanded my brain and took me to the next levels of awareness, as they taught me how society and a screwed up health system were involved in making me believe that restriction was the way to go if I wanted to be deemed beautiful and healthy. F… that!
I ate tons
Maybe I didn’t eat more than a “normal” woman, but it was a lot for my small stomach.
I started by eating breakfast within 1 hour after waking up, and I ate more if I trained.
I aimed for 2500 calories per day, which was a mission in the beginning, and it became so easy after a while.
I never avoided any macronutrients, which means that I moved from a low carb to a high carb lifestyle (and I happened to have pizza 3 times in the same week).
I stopped going to bed hungry (which was very important to me in my HA days, as it made me feel worthy), and I added nutrient-dense and fun foods, without worrying too much about labels.
When I felt too full to have another meal, I enjoyed foods packed with calories and nutrients, such as protein balls, peanut butter, avocado, or even tablespoons of flax seeds oil.
I also had to limit my vegetable intake for a while as they were filling my belly without helping the situation. I was going against the deeply ingrained belief that if I didn’t eat salads for lunch and dinner, I wasn’t living a healthy lifestyle.
I also had to limit my coffee intake, which was sad, as I love coffees, until I stumbled across a caffeine-free chai brand that is still making my life much, much better.
Whenever I got trapped in the guilt cycle, I kept asking myself: how healthy is it not to have a menstrual cycle? And to be in pain, to be cold, to have trouble sleeping and feel low in energy?
I Exercised differently
The toughest bit was letting go of exercising as I knew it; goodbye intense HIIT and running session, and welcome slow walks and stretching classes. It was emotionally painful (and terrifying) to see my body changing, to let go of the need to log in to another session at the gym. It helped knowing I didn’t have a choice.
What I realised after a short while, was that my body got stronger the less I punished it with gruelling exercise classes. The constant niggles went away, and for the first time in ages, I could walk without being in pain.
I struggled a lot with the idea of taking a full rest day, so I welcomed slow stretching sessions on Sundays to calm my monkey mind and to relax and support my old, overused muscles.
And then came the self-analysis…
Moving at a slower pace allowed me to dig into who I really was. I started meditating regularly, and it felt like going back home.
I prioritised mindfulness, resting, sleeping, and journaling.
Whenever I felt alone, I listened to podcasts that reminded me that I was doing the right thing at the right time, and I listened to heaps of recovery stories until I believed I could be one of them.
It was a mind-boggling shift that I had to make.
I asked for help
I told my husband, and to a couple of good friends. I started seeing a dietitian specialised in HAES (health at every size); I read books and joined online support groups. You don’t have to do it yourself. I also recorded my own voice and talked about all the struggles I was facing. It was a great way to let it out when I felt overwhelmed, and I didn’t know where to bang my head.
…And a word on stress
Stress can cease menstruation. Stress wreaks havoc on our body and messes up with our hormones in an extraordinary way. I’m not spending too much time talking about stress and how to build up resilience to it, but you can find more info in the articles below.
It goes without saying that if you keep squeezing yourself to the point that there is nothing left, you will definitely struggle to recover.
5 Reasons You Need to Stop Stressing Now
Stress is real and it’s wreaking havoc, so stop hiding your head in the sand.
And P.S. You can message me if you don’t know where to start, I would love to be able to support you in your journey.