Under eating can severely mess our hormones up as you already probably very well know. But to recover from this mess (and hypothalamic amenorrhea), how should you really eat?
As a general rule, eat a lot of food, and eat a lot of variety! But let's get little more detailed, because say you're eating a lot but almost not touching carbs or fat… you can definitely do it better.
Here are the five things you should know about eating to recover from hypothalamic amenorrhea as quickly as you can:
1. You Need to Eat At Least 2500 Calories a Day
This is what is suggested in No Period, Now What and I can completely agree. You need this amount of calories to let your body do the repair work, because your cells and tissues are damaged as the result of your body being undernourished for a long time.
I get it that 2500 calories may sound like enormous amount to you, especially if you've put your body through a 1200-1600 calories a day diet… Then the contrast is huge. You may need to eat TWICE as much as you've eaten so far!
But that's the way to do it. If you're playing around with 1800-2000-ish calories a day, it may be a step in the right direction but you may still find yourself spinning wheels months later. You can read more about it in my book.
If in doubt, eat more not less. Know that food is good for you now.
Maybe it helps to know that for someone who is physically very active and who has properly working metabolism, this number even isn't that high. They can eat it and not gain weight. I know personally someone who eats 2400 calories a day (yes, she counts them…), is physically very active and has one of the fittest, leanest bodies I've seen.
2. It's Okay to Feel Hunger – But It's Not Okay to Put Off Eating When You're Hungry
Some people suggest that you should be eating non stop and never let yourself get hungry to recover from hypothalamic amenorrhea. I don't think that's true. I think hearing and listening your hunger signals is great, as long as you quickly react to them and eat!
Paying attention to your hunger signals is crucial if you want to learn how to eat intuitively (and that might come later). If you're never hungry, then it's very hard to know when it's time to feed your body and it's going to be very hard to become intuitive eater one day.
Note though, if your hunger signals are completely gone – some people really may not feel them anymore – then try to stick with a fairly regular schedule and eat every three hours or so.
So, I don't think that you should be constantly full even while you're recovering from hypothalamic amenorrhea. Your digestion needs a break as well.
However, make sure you understand it right: No intermittent fasting! No starving yourself! React as soon as you can once you start feeling hungry. Carry some snacks with you if you know that you'll be out and about. And by snacks I don't mean just apple slices and celery sticks… I mean nuts, nut butters, cheese, jerky, chocolate, cookies… Calories!
3. No, You Don't Have to Binge
I hear women asking all the time, Do I have to binge to get my calories in?
No, you don't.
Maybe we understand the word binge wrong? Some people say they binged when they ate three cookies and three pieces of chocolate. This is not a binge. Binge is uncontrollable eating in which you eat copious amounts of food and you don't stop before you're so full that it's physically hard to move yourself. I've been there. (And here are some life changes that helped me to beat it.)
So, eating three cookies and three pieces of chocolate isn't a binge; instead, it's a totally welcome way to get together those at least 2500 calories. But you don't have to binge (the real, hard core, eat-until-my-buttons-pop-and-hate-myself-for-the-entire-week) to recover.
You can eat your 2500 calories in much better way – by eating a lot of calorie dense foods in reasonable amounts, without making yourself physically sick! Dietary fat is a great way to increase your calories without much effort. Keep reading…
4. Eat Fat
There are 9 calories per a gram of fat and 4 calories per a gram of carbs and protein. That way, fat is your best friend in helping you to restore your menstrual cycle.
If you're anything like I was years ago, you eat only low-fat or no-fat products and just the thought of butter or cream will make you freak out. But for me, I believe this this is where my problems really started.
Fat is really good for your hormones. Dietary fat helps you to increase body fat, and those hormones that you really want to produce now, are made in fat cells in your body. That's why many women who have enough bodyweight but don't have enough body fat, may not get their periods.
Fat is absolutely amazing for the brain function as well. I remember when I was on my extremely low-fat diet, I was constantly brain-foggy and I couldn't literally remember anything I read (and I was writing my PhD at the time… good luck!). One time I happened to read a book about the importance of dietary fat for your brain function, and I was wondering if that would do anything for me.
I wanted to try out what happens so I decided to eat higher fat for about a week. And my thinking literally cleared up in just a few days, I could read my articles better and I was also less anxious! However, I was SO terrified of gaining weight that I stopped my “experiment” soon after I started. Thinking back, my priorities were as out of whack as my hormones.
Now I don't imagine my days without nut butter, full fat dairy and avocados, and I highly recommend you add them into your diet too.
5. Eat Carbs
What's up with carbs? We seem to be SO afraid of them.
If you've been on that low-carb or no-carb bandwagon too, learning that you actually have to start eating carbs again might be the toughest thing to deal with. Maybe you've been on the high-fat bandwagon, so eating spoonfuls of coconut oil has been okay, but having an apple is super scary for you?
Carbs aren't bad for you. Yes, people with diabetes have to be careful with them. Most people would benefit from cutting back on refined sugary carbs. Very sedentary and overweight people could possibly cut back on them too.
But potatoes, rice and fruit aren't bad for you if you're healthy (other than having HA, of course), and especially if you use(d) to work out a lot!
Half a banana isn't going to cut it. Eat at least 100-150 grams of carbs daily to help to restore your cycle.
Take a critical look at your nutrition and eating habits and see how you're doing. Think about your body like this: It's trying to repair and heal itself, it's not trying to make you fat! Your body is not your enemy, it's on your side. It wants the best for you.
There are probably other things that you could fine-tune when it comes to your diet. We're all different and have different eating habits, and you may not even realize that there are things you could tweak… If you'd like individual support, just contact me to schedule your free 20-minute chat.
Also, while you're recovering and can't work out – believe me, I know how you feel! If you feel like not being able to train is driving you nuts, here are some ways you can spend your time instead. Check them out!
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.