First off, if you're not sure if you should worry about having hypothalamic amenorrhea (missing periods), and if you should try to get your period back, please read this.
Making changes is always difficult.
For us, who we are somewhat addicted to exercise and “healthy living” (I'm using quotes because hey, as it came out, we're not that healthy after all), the actions we have to take in order to recover from hypothalamic amenorrhea, are particularly hard.
We've always had this idea in our minds about how we should look, and of course we don't want to let that specific look go.
That's why we're constantly trying to find other solutions than eating more, training less (or not at all), and gaining weight.
We think that we are different and that something else is the answer for us, so our minds are really fighting against this “recovery plan”.
And maybe there is another answer. I can't say that there isn't, because obviously, I haven't fixed my own problem yet. But from what I've read–stories from hundreds of girls, tens of personal conversations, multiple studies–most cases, the most important keys to recovery are reducing exercise, increasing calories, and getting the BMI higher.
If those things have been helpful for so many other women, chances are that they are helpful for us too. So might as well try it…
I personally use also other methods. I see a chiropractor who uses muscle testing and other methods to figure out my vitamin and mineral deficiencies and I take supplements she's recommending to restore my hormonal balance. But at the same time, I have stopped exercising and I'm eating more. I think doing these things will be helpful in recovering from hypothalamic amenorrhea.
Why We Might Be Slowing Down Our Recovery from Hypothalamic Amenorrhea
Perfectionists and control-freaks as many of us are, it's difficult to let our body lead us and show us the right way. Even if we have accepted the fact that we need to gain a bit weight, we're likely still struggling with some specific thought patterns, that unfortunately, are holding us back from recovering faster.
Here they are…
Comparing Our Current Weight to the Weight We Used to Be When We Were Still Cycling
We may think that there's no way we need to gain any weight, because when we were 16 or 18 or even 20 years old, we weighed less than now, but still had our period.
From what I've found, it's not uncommon that as we get older, we need more weight to cycle regularly and normally. Our bodies are constantly changing. Our stress levels are probably way different from what they were when we were teenagers. The life we used to live at the age of 16 was likely pretty easy, compared to real, adult life we're living now. Maybe we weren't exercising to burn calories and burn fat, but for fun. We probably also ate more freely.
Mentally, physically and physiologically, there's more demand on our bodies now than back then.
Because of that, it makes sense that we may need higher weight now than we used to years ago. I had a cycle (not super regular, but still) when I weighed 62-64 kgs (136-141 lbs) at the age of 18. In my early 20's, I gained about 10kgs (22 lbs), and then lost the same and a bit more. I ended up being between 60-62 kg, but no period.
I'm far heavier now, but I'm also 10 years older. No period yet… So apparently I do need to be heavier now than I was 10 years ago.
Allowing Yourself to Gain Only a Certain Number of Weight (and no more!)
We may think: Ok, I'll start the recovery, but I only let myself to go up to BMI 21, and then I stop, because anything more than that is way toooo much!
“Allowing” ourselves to gain only a certain amount of weight will put a mental block to our minds. What if we don't get our period back by the time we hit that number?
Until we have a better plan, we should probably let go any limitations and let our body show the way. And keep doing what we're doing, e.g, resting.
Allowing ourselves to only go up to a certain BMI, we're thinking about that number all the time. We're stepping on the scale every day and see that the number X is getting closer and closer, which is only making us more and more depressed.
Depressed=sucks. Depressed=no period.
Getting on the Scale Too Often
The closer to that number X that we don't allow us to go over, the more anxious we get. The stress accumulates.. and stress is one of the major factors why we develop hypothalamic amenorrhea at first place.
Get rid of the stress by getting rid of the scale.
I did that years ago. It's funny because in my early 20s I couldn't live my day without it, but in my late 20s's I found so much freedom once I got rid of it.
If you want to weigh yourself, don't do it too often. It's not helpful, it's stressful.
I have a scale at my work and I use it very very rarely. I've stepped on it I think twice since I started my recovery in December, and both times were because my acupuncturist asked me my BMI. Before that, I think I weighed myself three years ago.
Comparing Our Looks to Others
I know, it is hard, especially when majority of our friends are as active as we used to be. They still keep training hard, they're as fit as always, or maybe even crushing some new PR-s…
Fitness trainers may think that oh my god, all the other trainers at my gym are in such a great shape and I'm the one getting fat!
You may even feel like you actually hate those other people who seem to be so healthy.
But we are all different.
We can think about it that way: Say we have light pale skin that gets sunburned easily, but there's someone else who can lie in the sun all day long and has a nice tan all year around. Is it worth using our mental energy for hating our skin, or being jealous?
The same way, hating someone for having beautiful long legs doesn't make our legs longer or leaner. Why to stress about something we cannot change?
The same is true for our hormonal system, and the fat percentage and bodyweight we need to have to live a healthy life. If we can't change it, there's no reason to continuously keep thinking about it.
Thinking What Others Think About Us
Oh yes, that's what I've been struggling too. As a personal trainer, I used to be–and still am a bit–nervous of how my clients see me.
Am I still a good trainer? Do they think I got lazy and got fat? These thoughts have crossed my mind.
Gaining weight is not taking away our skills and credibility as a trainer. This is actually a pretty ridiculous thought, isn't it? If an engineer or a teacher gains fat, does anyone ever doubt about their ability to do their work properly? Nope.
But, our skills and knowledge are still there, even if we don't walk around at BMI 20 or washboard abs.
Secondly, people's experience shows that the weight gain needed to recover from hypothalamic amenorrhea is almost never so drastic that we'd end up being overweight.
Maybe it's time to change the twisted perception of what fitness trainers have to look like. We're normal people with normal bodies, and functioning menstrual cycle is one of the strongest indicators of a strong, functioning body.
Thinking Whether The Whole Process Is Worth It
I have had hypothalamic amenorrhea for years. But until the end of last year, I didn't realize how big of a problem it actually is. I didn't know that there are many reasons why having a normal cycle is crucial, but when I started doing my research, my eyes opened.
When we get stressed, anxious and so sick of the weight gain and all the obsessive thoughts, we may want to run away and hide somewhere. Maybe even literally, we want to go out and run and diet and lose all the weight we've put on because it all sucks sooo bad.
When that happens, we have to remind ourselves about our why.
What's your why?
If you want babies, then you probably don't need any convincing. No ovulation–sorry, no babies, baby.
But, if baby making is not your why (mine isn't), there are still many reasons why we should work on restoring our cycles. We may feel a bit stressed over the exercise ban and weight gain, but it's all for the better future. I like the quote from Jim Rohn, which goes like this:
“Take care of your body. It's the only place you have to live.”
Rohn is right. And we want to live a happy, long life in this body.
One of the biggest services we can do for our future health by restoring our cycles is restoring your bone density to avoid brittle bones as we get older.
Women with hypothalamic amenorrhea have shown to have atherosclerosis more often than those who were cycling normally. (Atherosclerosis means that the arteries that feed your heart are narrowing.)
Lack of estrogen is also linked to higher risk of dementia, Parkinson's and Alzheimer's disease.
I don't want any of those things. Nobody does.
The point of this post wasn't to create any more stress around the already stressful topic. The goal is the opposite: To help us let go of the mental stress and let our body do its thing. I believe it'll let us know when it's happy and healthy again 🙂
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.