It's time for another hypothalamic amenorrhea recovery story. I hope you find these stories inspiring and that they help you to stay on track with your own recovery.
Christina emailed me shortly after I had posted about my own hypothalamic amenorrhea struggles. She was super kind and supportive, and told me that being a fitness trainer, she understands the fears and insecurities I had expressed in this post, because she was going through the exact same thing.
Fast forward few months and she got her period. It took her just 6 weeks from going “all in” to get there. Here's her story.
If you missed our earlier amenorrhea recovery stories, you can find them here:
Before we dive into Christina's story, here are some facts about her recovery:
- She had hypothalamic amenorrhea for about 10 years, but maybe even longer as she was on the pill before that
- Her BMI before and after the recovery: Not sure, as she didn't weigh herself. But her guess is that she was about 67kg (148 lbs) for the last few years and she's now probably around 70kg (154 lbs)
- Time it took to recover: She had a period after 6 weeks of going “all in”
- She's currently on her first cycle post recovery.
When did you realize that you had hypothalamic amenorrhea?
I suppose that I knew something was wrong, and that it wasn't normal not to have a period, but it was only really in the last 2 years that I've done my own research and learnt just how dangerous it is not to have a period that I found about HA.
Other than that, there's not that much information about HA out there until you know about it. And I can only imagine that there are many girls and women out there who also don't have their periods but just don't know about the implications of not menstruating, or where to get help.
So for 10 years I haven't had a period, and although I knew I should have looked into it sooner, I suppose it was easier not to. Sounds stupid now as I am completely aware of how bad this is, but it's only now that I want to have a baby that the consequences & problems of leaving it so long to sort out have really hit home with me.
How did you use to workout before you realized you have hypothalamic amenorrhea?
I've always been active – either playing a sport, going for a run, or going to the gym and doing weights or a class, and to be honest I can't remember a time when I haven't done some form of exercise. I think that I knew for well that my training got out of hand but just palmed it off as being ‘healthy'.
Because exercising is healthy right?! Wrong!
Doing intense exercise 6 days a week is NOT HEALTHY, and definitely not what our bodies (especially us women) need to do.
Before my hypothalamic amenorrhea recovery journey, I was doing a CrossFit class in the morning, then another training session in the afternoon which included lifting heavy weights and some sort of high intensity metcon pretty much 6 days a week. And some yoga thrown in as well! When I look back on this I am mortified about just how much I put my poor body through. No wonder it started to shut down.
I knew I needed to stop the cycle of excessive exercise, and in some ways I am kind of grateful for hypothalamic amenorrhea as I probably would still be training the way I was and doing more and more damage to my body and my adrenals. So hypothalamic amenorrhea was a massive wake up call for me to look at what I was doing to my body both physically and mentally.
Thanks to hypothalamic amenorrhea, I realised how much I had put my poor body through.Click to tweet
Did you ever restrict calories and / or lost a lot of weight?
I have never restricted food, I love it too much! And as a nutritionist I have always made sure that I fuelled my intense workout sessions, so limiting food was never a factor for me.
As someone who adopts the traditional whole foods way of eating, my meals always include good sources of proteins, veggies, fats, carbs and other foods such as bone broths and sauerkraut. However, I think the problem for me was just the sheer volume of training sessions and the constant stress on my body.
5 or so years ago I moved away to Australia and its really easy to eat ‘clean' over there because they have such good food options and lots of healthy cafes etc. So unintentionally my weight dropped to around 55kg (I now weigh about 70kg!!). I cant even imagine now how I would lose 15kg! So although this wasn't the cause of my hypothalamic amenorrhea, it would have contributed massively to it.
What was your main reason to start recovery?
I know I should have started recovery A LONG time ago – but the kick up my arse that I needed was being a loving relationship and wanting to have a baby. Having to go through all this now makes me so mad with myself that I didn't do this sooner. Ah hindsight! And also knowing all the problems associated with hypothalamic amenorrhea such as osteoporosis, increased risk of heart attack etc.
Once you realized that you’ll need to stop exercise and eat more, what was your first reaction?
To be honest, once I found out that I had to quit my training I was more relieved than anything else. Like I was happy for the excuse of not having to train. I suppose this goes to show just how knackered my body and mind were and that once I knew I HAD to give up exercise it was a relief.
Once I realized I HAD to give up exercise to recover from hypothalamic amenorrhea, I was relieved.Click to tweet
Don't get me wrong, I still have days where I miss training or hear about my friends in the gym working out together and hitting PBs, and get all jealous and envious, but then I just think about MY LIFE, MY PRIORITIES, and how sad it was that I spent so much time in a gym, wasting my life away.
In the grand scheme of life, no one cares how much you can lift or how quick you can run 1000m. But they do care about spending valuable time with you, making memories and living your life. And I know that all this will seem minute once I have a baby.
While you were working towards recovery, did you cut out all exercise or kept doing some?
I cut out all high intensity exercise. So no CrossFit, no HIT sessions, no running, or anything that elevates my heart rate. I'm really conscious of that and I keep my stress levels & cortisol as low as possible to assist in recovery.
So for a couple of weeks at the start of my recovery I stopped EVERYTHING and just enjoyed (well adjusted!) doing nothing. And resting. Then I started yoga classes a few times a week – 4 times a week, and recently I have included two weight sessions a week.
Currently my training is 2 x short weight sessions (usually squats or deadlifts, and pull ups, and a press – alternating these movements each week), and yoga twice a week. As I love to walk and be outside in nature, at the weekend my boyfriend and I will get out of the city and go for a long walk in the hills or in the countryside.
How have your eating habits changed?
As I said above, I already ate a lot due to my activity levels, however the hardest thing for me was still eating this way in terms of volume but not training. I suppose I thought I didn't deserve or hadn't ‘earned' the food I was eating.
But I kept at it and just ate like I was eating before – good quality proteins (meat, fish, eggs), loads of veggies, whole food carbs like sweet potato, pumpkin etc.
But its weird – because I am not training I don't have any guilt associated with food. I am now much more relaxed with my diet and include more ‘treat' foods than ever before (which is weird because I am not exercising as much).
If we go out for a burger I would always ask for no bun and no chips, but now I eat the burger with the bun with chips and also dessert! And I don't stress about it. I think that's the main thing – if you eat without guilt and enjoy it then you are less stressed. So I eat really well, but I also eat junk food whenever I want without thinking twice!
I read that fats and carbs are imperative for hypothalamic amenorrhea recovery, so I make sure I eat these with every meal. And I have included full fat dairy in my diet daily since recovering – so full fat organic milk, yogurt, cheeses, halloumi…
What was your biggest fear about gaining weight?
Due to always being active and training, I have quite a muscly and toned physique, so I was sad that I lost that and the association with being ‘fit'. But then I remembered that your body is only a product of what you do, and if in a couple of years or whenever I want to look like that again I can, but for now my priority is having a baby. I'd much rather be healthy than have defined arms!
I was worried that my boyfriend wouldn't find me attractive any more, but actually he finds me so much sexier and loves my bigger boobs and bum! I've realised is that its only me that sees the extra bit of fat here and there, no one else does. And if they do – so what. They can go f*&k themselves! It's my body, not their's.
Did you ever get curious questions from others?
To be honest, if anyone noticed I'd put on weight then they never said anything. My belief is that those true friends will never judge you on your weight, and if they do then they are not worth your time.
I read an article about hypothalamic amenorrhea recovery that described the HA as an ‘injury' just like breaking your leg or an arm. When you're injured you can't train and you need to rest and recover, so treat hypothalamic amenorrhea just the same! Just because its not a visible injury doesn't mean its any less significant.
So I tell people that I'm sorting my health out as I have some issues at the moment that need looking after.
Was there anything else you did to speed up your recovery: supplements, acupuncture, anything else?
When looking into hypothalamic amenorrhea and also joining the FB group, I found out about Kate Callaghan who is a holistic nutritionist specialising in womens' health and hormones. So as part of my recovery I had a consultation with Kate who gave me some recommendations to help in recovery and getting my hormones back on track.
I now take supplements including a prenatal tablet, as well making sure I reduce my stress levels as much as possible and make sure I am resting loads. I also seed cycle which means consuming different seeds depending on whether it is new or full moon.
I would highly recommend speaking to Kate if you need to recover from hypothalamic amenorrhea. Not only is she knowledgeable and experienced with HA, she is also so easy to chat through and makes you feel at ease.
Do you feel like your personality has changed now as you are recovered?
I wouldn't say that I am recovered, as having one period doesn't mean that I am recovered. However it makes me happy that I am going in the right direction and that my body is slowly learning that its safe and that its ok to reproduce.
It does make me want to continue doing all the things I have been doing. I'm gentle to my body, rest, eat more than ever and enjoy treats. I don't care about what my body looks like, but what it can do… headstands all day, thanks yoga!
I also have lots of sex! My libido since stopping exercising has gone threw the roof! Before I was always so tired and exhausted and couldn't really be bothered with sex!
I am definitely more relaxed and chilled, and not as impatient or snappy. I wake up feeling ready for the day, not exhausted and stressed. And I can really tell the difference about not training – I don't stress out about missing a session, or clock watching about getting to the gym, or having to plan my life around a training session.
I feel free – free from the cycle of having to exercise, and its great!
What is the biggest lesson you learned from this journey?
Biggest lesson I've learnt is that our bodies are amazing and should be treated as such. I can't believe how much I abused my body with exercise. And my word of advice for anyone with hypothalamic amenorrhea or anyone who is obsessing with exercise – give it up. Now.
Don't put your body through that – go out and enjoy your life, spend time with your loved ones eating delicious food and drinking wine. Never put a gym session before anything. You only get one life – don't waste it in the gym!
Thank you Christina!
PS: If you need support on your journey to recover from overtraining or 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.