I can't tell you how excited I am to share with you another success story that shows you that proves: Taking a break is necessary to get your period back.
I'm particularly excited because this story comes from a super strong woman and a competitive kettlebell athlete Brittany van Schravendijk.
Brittany has been lifting weights for about ten years, but got more serious about Kettlebell Sport six years ago. She is seriously strong and holds multiple National and World records in her weight class! She’s also the Head Coach of Kettlebell Sport at KOR Strength and Conditioning in San Diego.
I became a fan of Brittany about a year ago, when I found her youtube channel and got curious about kettlebell sport (however I never ended up doing it because I developed a wrist injury and later came #ha…). But we stayed in touch and have been friends ever since.
Well, it soon came out that we were struggling with same issue – no period!
Today, she's sharing with us how she overcame hypothalamic amenorrhea. Her story gives a lot of hope to many of you, because she got her period back in just weeks. (note: this may be different for you. You can never predict how long it takes, but Brittany's experience shows that you don't necessarily need too much time if you get to work!)
I hope you find these stories inspiring and that they help you to stay on track with your own recovery.
The goal of these stories is to keep you on your recovery track and working towards your prize – your period and your health! If you missed the earlier amenorrhea recovery stories, you can find them here:
Lindsay: “There’s Now More Freedom In My Life!”
Brandi: “It Wasn’t As Scary As I Thought.”
Christina: “If You’re Obsessed with Exercise, Give It Up. Now!”
Jill: “Running 50+ Miles in the Weekend in Addition to Weekly Mileage Wasn’t Smart For Me.”
Amy: “I Was Sick of Feeling Anxious, Tired, Irritable and Having No Libido.”
Anna: “I Would’ve Gained 50+ If That Meant Finding My True Health.”
Leila: “Journaling helped me to keep going!”
Before we get to the story, here are some facts about Brittany's history of HA:
- She had hypothalamic amenorrhea for 6 years
- After fully committing to recovery, it took her 3 weeks to restore her cycle
- Her body fat percentage went from 11.9% to around 18-20%.
Let's dive in to her story!
When did you realize that you had hypothalamic amenorrhea? Were you aware of the effects on your health?
I stopped getting my period when I was around 20 years old (6 years ago). I was training intensely for Track & Field, and putting in a lot of mileage every week. My period had already been irregular before, so at first I wasn’t very concerned. As the years went by, I kept training hard and at one point my body fat was as low as 11.9%.
Left: “I received praise for my leanness. Little did people know what was truly going on below the surface.”
Right: “I'm healthy and have more energy for working out!”
After it became clear that something was up, I went to a doctor who simply told me I was exercising too much and my period being nonexistent was nothing to worry about. She offered to give me something to induce my period, but even then I knew that wasn’t a real solution so I declined.
I simply stopped putting any thoughts towards why my period had gone away, and kept on training. After I stopped training for Track & Field, I started running long distance on my own and weightlifting, and eventually got a job at a gym where I discovered kettlebells. My activity never let up, as I was always working out in some way, shape, or form.
My mom would occasionally ask me about my period and express her concern. I finally started becoming more concerned about it myself as I became more interested in holistic health. I figured there was no way it could be healthy for me to not have my cycle for so long, so I started doing internet research.
I figured there was no way it could be healthy for me to not have my cycle for 6 years.Click to tweet
I came across so many blogs and stories from other women about hypothalamic amenorrhea from overexercising and/or undereating. I never really felt like I was doing either of them but obviously what I was doing was too much for my body. I was never diagnosed by a doctor as having hypothalamic amenorrhea, but I deduced it from my own research on the internet.
What was your relationship with food like? Did you ever restrict your food intake, knowingly or unknowingly?
I don’t feel like my relationship with food was extremely restricted, and I think that’s why I was in denial for so long that what I was doing wasn’t working for my body. I ate healthy and never starved myself, but I was hyper-conscious about what I ate and maintaining my leanness.
What was your main reason to start recovery?
Hitting an age where a lot of people around me started getting pregnant or having kids made me think about my own possibilities of having kids one day, as it’s something I really want.
Additionally, my continued interest in holistic health started making me feel uncomfortable with not having my period – how could I be truly healthy if I didn’t have a natural cycle? I decided I really needed to figure out what was going on.
Sometimes stress can cause HA as well. Do you think mental/emotional stress played a role in your HA?
I think the biggest stress causing my hypothalamic amenorrhea was exercise stress, however, I was very focused on maintaining my level of leanness and always worrying about that. Once I let that go and let my body take whatever shape it wanted, that was definitely a mental stress relief for me.
It relieved a lot if mental stress to stop worrying about my leanness and let my body take whatever shape it wanted.Click to tweet
When you found out that you’ll need to stop or significantly reduce exercise and eat more, what was your reaction? Were you okay with it or did you try to resist it, find another solution?
I resisted taking this route for so long – that’s why I had no period for 6 years! I did not want to stop training or lose the body I was so proud of. Finally I decided enough was enough, and it was silly not to try something so simple to get my period back.
During recovery, did you cut out all exercise or kept doing some?
I cut out any intense form of exercise. I still did yoga, handstand training, walking, and hiking – but no weightlifting or intense cardio.
Did you change your diet at all?
I increased calories a lot and ate anything I wanted, as well as made myself eat more than I sometimes felt like eating – because I knew I was below the amount of calories people recommend for hypothalamic amenorrhea recovery.
Were you afraid to gain weight? As an athlete and coach, did you feel the pressure to look a certain way?
Yes, I was afraid to gain weight, lose my six pack, get jiggly, lose my muscles and fitness that I worked so hard to get. As an athlete and coach, I felt very self-conscious that people would notice I had gone up a weight class or two, or that I had more prominent cellulite, etc. Although honestly, I doubt anyone really noticed!
How long did it take to get your first period in six years?
Surprisingly, it only took about 3 weeks once I fully committed to no training and lots of eating! I had already half-heartedly committed a few weeks before by trying to eat more, but hadn’t stopped training yet.
It only took about 3 weeks once I fully committed to no training and lots of eating, to get my period.Click to tweet
Was there a difference in your performance once you started training again? Had you lost some strength?
Not really. All in all I only stopped training consistently for about 6 weeks, which is not enough to lose everything I gained over 6 years. I did feel more energy, as before I stopped working out I was often fatigued and didn’t feel like training.
After taking a break, I felt more energy, as before I stopped working out I was often fatigued and didn’t feel like training.Click to tweet
Are your training and eating different after coming back?
My training is back to intense kettlebell lifting for competitions 3-4 days per week, and I’m not eating quite as much as I was during my recovery. I have lost a bit of the body fat I gained, but am still up 3-5kg from where I was before. I don’t restrict myself with eating at all, I just focus on good quality foods and eating when I’m hungry.
I know that you were hesitant to talk about losing your period at first. Later, you opened up and shared your story. What made you change your mind?
At first I felt it was too personal and I didn’t see the benefit in sharing it with others, but one day I was writing a post about body image and I realized my experience with hypothalamic amenorrhea was too closely related not to share it. Sharing my experience just felt like the right thing to do.
I was also inspired by Kersten for sharing her story and other women in the fitness industry whose mission is to remove shame around all these types personal issues women hide from the world because they are afraid of being judged. I strongly believe in that message and wanted to be a part of the movement towards openness!
Is there anything you learned from this journey?
The biggest thing I learned was to love myself no matter what, even on days I feel fat or don’t like how I look – aesthetics are fleeting, and it’s so much more important to be a kind, caring, authentic person who helps others.
Aesthetics are fleeting. It’s so much more important to be a kind, caring, authentic person who helps others.Click to tweet
Life is too short not to be happy just because there is cellulite on your thighs or you missed one workout.
Also, just because someone looks super fit doesn’t mean they are actually healthy – no one would have ever guessed this was going on with me, and all I received was praise for my leanness. Little did they know what was truly going on below the surface; so try to suspend judgment on someone’s health based on what they look like.
THANK YOU BRITTANY!
If you need support on your journey to recover from hypothalamic amenorrhea, my ebook, programs and FREE 20-minute coaching calls are available for you! I get back to every email, so let me know if I can help.