What if I told you that the recovery process from hypothalamic amenorrhea hasn't been that terrifying at all? Would you call me nuts if I told you that I'm actually even enjoying it a bit?
Let me guess: If you've just realized that you have hypothalamic amenorrhea, or if you're just a few days or weeks into recovery, you probably think I'm crazy. There's no way that you can like anything about it, because who on earth likes to stop exercising and put on weight? Especially someone who's a fitness professional and used to workout 6 days a week?
But, if you've been on the recovery path for some time, maybe a few months, or if you've gotten your period back and you've learned to make peace with your changing body, you may get me.
There's something to be said for getting more rest. My experience so far is that my body is actually digging it. Not all about stopping exercising is rainbow and butterflies, but there are definitely great things about it.
Going “All In”
When it comes to recovering from hypothalamic amenorrhea, you may have come across the term “going all in”.
“Going all in” means reducing your workouts to a bare minimum or cutting them out completely, and eating a lot, as explained in NPNW.
It means eating way more than you used to when you still restricted or counted calories, counted macros, or when you limited eating certain food groups without actually having a real reason for it (like food intolerances or allergies).
In my case, going all in meant cutting my exercise to 1-3 yoga classes a week, plus a daily walk. I already ate well; as I've mentioned in the past, I used to have pretty disordered eating habits years ago, but I've been living a way more fun and normal life that is free of any sort of counting for a good 3-4 years now. All I can say is it's been so much better.
So for me, going all in basically meant stop exercising. Food-wise, I let even more loose: Whereas I didn't use to restrict anything anymore and was eating intuitively, I now added a few more snacks, a few more squares of chocolate, more fat, and ate nuts three times a day instead of two (not joking).
I stopped exercising in early December, pretty much as soon as my acupuncturist told me to do it. I remember it well, it was December 4th. We soon left for a vacation in Hawaii for 2.5 weeks. When my vacations used to always mean tons of exercising, hiking, running and more exercising, then this time, all I did was yoga and walking.
At first, everything was good. I loved walking and I found a really nice yoga studio where I practiced a few times a week during our stay. I think I really needed this break from working out and, as hard as it may be believe, even enjoyed slowing down.
However, after some more weeks, I started to get antsy…
And so it happened that I ended up going to the gym 3-4 days a week for 3 weeks. Until one day, I got real with myself: This is not “all in”.
I got back to my yoga and walking schedule, where I've been for the past 5 weeks now.
What Has Changed Since Going “All In”?
Ok, to the point: What has changed since significantly reducing exercise, and how is it possible that the exercise-free time hasn't been that terrible after all?
Believe it or not, but there are quite a few positive changes I've noticed while I've been “all in”.
Here we go:
I sleep better. I really do. Sleep is something that I've constantly been struggling with, and I've never been able to put my finger on that one thing that makes it better or worse.
But… I may have found at least part of the answer now. I'm likely sleeping better because my estrogen is slowly making its comeback, and normal estrogen is one of the keys to better sleep.
In a way, working out every day used to keep me up. Sometimes I was putting together my next day's workout in my head, going back and forth, thinking what I should do the next day. Earlier, when I used to be extremely addicted to running, I would worry if I get my workout done first thing in the morning, because missing it basically meant the end of the world.
Lately, I haven't worked out, and I've rested a ton. Now as I don't have to think about my next day's workout, or worry whether I have enough time to squeeze my workout in before I can move on with the rest of the day, I also sleep better.
I still wake up once a night most nights, so there's still room to improve. But I'm always able to fall back asleep.
I just feel happier. Can't really explain it… but I feel more positive and happy. Somehow, I'm less stressed.
I do have my fare share of anxieties and in the past, I've seen a therapist for my depression. But something has changed now. I feel happier. I want to talk to people. I am more positive. I realize better that I do have so many things to have grateful for.
It's easier to not to take things that personally.
I believe that these things have largely happened because I sleep better and feel more rested.
I feel pretty comfortable in my body. I'm saying pretty comfortable, because this one definitely goes up and down. I was actually quite surprised to find that my weight hasn't changed almost at all, even though I do know that my body composition has. I do carry more fat on my belly, but also… on my boobs.
Last weekend, when I was doing downward looking dog in my favorite yoga class, I noticed that I definitely have made some gains in that area. It's not the worst thing to realize, to be honest.
I feel more womanly. It's clearly related to the last point, but it's not just because of some growth in certain body parts. Yes, I might be more womanly and bigger in these areas, but I also feel stronger and bigger inside–in who I am. Even though I thought I knew it before, I feel even more strongly that nothing about me changes when my body changes.
I can't promise that I will love this journey and enjoy it thoroughly from the start to the end. Because who knows how long it's going to take. I hope my break from strength training won't end up being too long and that my weight won't creep up forever (it won't).
Not too long ago I had a moment in a fitting room where I relized that my belly is bigger and more shaky than it used to. I didn't love to hear when my husband told me that yes, he notices that I've gained fat (I was the one who asked and then I was upset. But what was I expecting to hear?).
Of course my body composition will change, and of course people are going to notice. But focusing on negative won't make the progress happen faster.
If you've been putting off starting the recovery, I want to encourage you and tell you that I know how you feel, but know that it's not that awful. There are things to celebrate along the way.
Update: I am now recovered from HA and would love to help you do the same!
You can also apply for 1:1 coaching with me!