Inspiring success stories: https://urbanjane.co/testimonials/
Work with me: https://urbanjane.co/work-with-me/
FREE 5 day course on BURNOUT recovery spectrum (you need this!!) https://kerstenkimura.lpages.co/burnout-recovery-spectrum-later/
Simple Strength For Women: A Bodyweight Strength Training Program for Women After Hypothalamic Amenorrhea Recovery: https://kersten-kimura.teachable.com/p/simple-strength-for-women
Is Your Metabolism Slow? FREE guide to faster metabolism: https://kerstenkimura.lpages.co/slow-metabolism/
How to Eat to Get Your Period Back: https://kerstenkimura.lpages.co/how-to-eat-for-ha/
5 Tips to Reverse Overtraining Quickly: https://kerstenkimura.lpages.co/overtraining-recovery-new/
Your Fit Personality Quiz: https://kerstenkimura.lpages.co/fit-personality/
Recovering from Low Calorie Diet & Overtraining – Success Story with Vicki
Today’s interview is with Vicki Agnew.
Vicky has an impressive story to share about overcoming under eating and overtraining. I hope this will inspire you!
Vicky says that she reached out to Kersten out of desperation because she had no idea what to do. Her health had fallen apart.
Today, she has had her period back for 18 months. It will be 2 years in November. She has made a total 180 in her thinking and in the way she trains and eats. Vicky says that today, she doesn’t even recognize the person she was for years.
Here's Kersten's conversation with Vicki.
Vicky, what got you to the point where you realized that something is going on with your health?
My overtraining didn’t start until I was well into my 30s. I had never been a dieter, done Weight Watchers or anything like that. I was 35 when I had my baby boy and put on a lot of weight. One time, my husband took a picture of me holding my baby, and I was horrified to see it! I thought: I have to lose this weight.
I had been a runner for 15-20 years, on and off. I decided to get back to it. I bought a treadmill and when my boy was sleeping, I’d run a bit. As I started running, the initial weight came off quickly. At first, I only ran for 5 minutes and then walked. The weight seemed to come off easily. People started telling me: “You look great!” These compliments were food for my addictive mind.
I discovered My FitnessPal. At first, I just became aware of what I ate. Then I started realizing: Oh, chocolate cake has this many calories, why don’t I have something else!?
I was losing weight quite quickly. Kersten, you’ve seen my My FitnessPal graph and that my graphs on there took a nose dive, I lost weight so quickly. I became obsessed. Running started to ramp up. My runs went from 5K to 10K to half and full marathons. I’m actually naturally a good runner.
I would run my training miles, but I never ate back the calories I burned. For example, I would burn 1200 calories on my run but eat only 600 back. I was always in a massive deficit.
Was it intentional?
Yes, probably. I’d say I had fear of replacing calories. My running wasn’t for self care or time out, although I told that to everyone. Lots of runners say it’s my “me” time but in actuality a lot of times it’s about burning calories.
I had my boy in January 2013 and ran my first marathon in May 14. I had a C-section. I ran a marathon after super quick weight loss.
I can resonate with that. Running so much was a way to control something. And of course, if you want to run well, hard training is necessary, but you can’t get faster or better if you don’t eat enough. So at one point, you got into bodybuilding, right?
Yes, I wasn’t just running. I did my Edinburgh marathon and then Loch Ness marathon. It was the most horrific marathon. I started having serious knee pain. I had already ran my personal best in Edinburgh, 3:45, and wanted to beat that but on this race, I started having terrible knee pain. It ended up taking an hour longer to finish this run.
My physio told me that I’m having this knee pain because I only run and don’t do any strength training. I wasn’t a trainer at point either so I didn’t know. So I went to the gym and the personal trainer that I hired, was, as I later realized, interested in making himself a name by getting his clients very lean. And for someone who already has this very competitive nature, you don’t have to even push them very hard…
He started to see that I was getting very very lean on his program. We started when I had 24% body fat, and he said, let’s try to get that to 20%… I thought, okay, I want to go to 18%… and then I ended up at 16%.
He also told me to eat low carb, lots of leafy greens, lots of protein. Take these shakes and supplements. The compliments were coming in. I had never had visible 6-pack abs before. The scales was everything for me, I was getting much much lighter. I was too light for my 5’7’’ height.
Our next goal was to get my body fat to 15%. People started telling me: You look too thin… And I just walked away from them thinking: They don’t know how hard I work for it!
Eventually, I was down to 12% body fat, from 24%. From February to May, I lost half of my body fat.
We went to Marbella with my girlfriends. We went to the beach, I had this really lean body and I was wearing this super nice swimsuit. On this same trip, I had a very very odd period. It was very dark, and it came 2 weeks early. This was the last period I saw in the next 2.5 years. Before that, I don’t even remember my periods being irregular despite all that training.
My personal trainer actually wanted me to go to him 3x/week and if I could have afforded it, I would have done it. I did lots and lots of high intensity training too, and lots of fast sprints at home. 7 days a week. I was probably eating 1300 calories a day.
How did you have the energy to exercise so much? Do you think it was the adrenalin that helped you get through this?
Probably. I had a little boy and my husband was gone for weeks for his offshore work. So I just had to keep going, I didn’t have another choice. I didn’t really realize how much I was doing. In hindsight, I realize that there were a lot of signs. My hair was falling out, I wasn’t sleeping well. I was super cranky, telling my husband terrible things. One time he took me out for an afternoon tea on my birthday. There were cakes… I told him: Why are you doing this? You should know my training goals.
I still feel terrible about it. He know what was going on. It makes me feel emotional now, but back then I didn’t have any control over it.
I’ve seen many times how overtraining and food obsession come between you and your loved ones. But also how relationships improve when the food and training issues get resolved.
He knew that I had body dysmorphia. He just wanted his wife back… He noticed many things before I noticed them, but even when he told me, I didn’t see them.
Eventually I just contacted you because things got so bad. It was so difficult to hand it over to someone else (Kersten)!
What made you trust the process of recovery?
Just the fact that I couldn’t go on. I was so snappy and so controlled by food. There were also lots of binges and purges. I never allowed myself to have rest days. I know it sounds ridiculous but on rest days I felt physically bigger.
It’s interesting what our mind can do, because physically that’s impossible. Even if you ate tons of cake or pasta, you wouldn’t blow up overnight.
I had burnt myself out and wanted to turn things around. I don’t remember how I came across you on Instagram. It’s been 1.5 years. I remember messaging you and telling you: “I need your help!”
Yes. And we got on our first call. You were pretty miserable, didn’t know what to do. Your last period had been black in color, and you were scared. How were you able to change your mindset going into recovery? You knew that you’re probably going to lose your 6-pack and gain weight. How did you deal with this?
I had to put my faith in you and do what you told me. I also wanted to have another child. That hasn’t worked out though, I’ve had a few pregnancies but I still have only one child. But pregnancy was my main driver. I had to put my faith in you…
I remember one day going to a country park with my son. We had spoken the day before and you had told me that I need this high number of calories (Kersten’s comment: 2500 as suggested in No Period, Now What book – KK). I remember going to this cafe and getting myself a sandwich made with white bread, butter and ham, biting into it and thinking, I’m eating like barb wire! I couldn’t put any of this information into My FitnessPal because I didn’t now how many calories this was.
Eating this sandwich was a biggest milestone for me. I remember calling my husband and telling him that I just ate a white bread sandwich!
Eating so many calories was difficult. For about 2 years before that, I basically only ate salads. In the next 2 years I’ve had salad like twice.
Did you track your calories in this healing phase?
I did because I wanted to hit the 2500. I think we had a conversation about how to hit that number. I was eating just cucumbers and salads… Then I started to change to high fat foods, like avocados and peanut butter. Of course, I ate avocado before too but it was always very little.
So I switched to higher fat foods, and started to eat more oats too and put a blob of peanut butter on it. My breakfasts used to be around 200. When I started my recovery, they went up to around 650.
Yes. By the way, this number, 2500 calories, is from No Period, Now What? book. I didn’t come up with this. But it’s a great guideline, and it’s important to know that this is not the upper limit. If someone has been eating less than 1000 calories, a more gradual approach is recommended because increasing too quickly may actually be harmful.
Vicky, how long did you eat this way, before your period came back?
I think my period came back 6 weeks after starting.
6 weeks is really quick. I have another client who did it in 10 weeks. You can make the process longer by waiting, or you can get to work and do it quickly. If you keep lying yourself that I do like salads every single meal, it’s not going to happen. It’s okay to have a side salad, but not 3x/ day. We have to also go for nutrient density and eat real carbs and real fat. It’s going to be really hard to get the period back if you’re eating broccoli and lettuce.
I’d like to second that too. There are many people recovering whilst maintaining their training, or still not eating enough. They want to get their periods back without having to change their body. But it will have to change.
I actually went to a private gynaecologist about my missing periods. He put me on HRT (Homone Replacement Therapy) for months to see if I get a bleed, although we knew that it was not going to be a real period but a withdrawal bleed from HTR. This HTR made me a little bit crazy too. He even told me that I need to eat a bit more and exercise a bit less, and I said: Yeah, whatever. So I actually prolonged my recovery even more by doing all that.
People have asked me if they should go that route and use HRT. Of course, I’m not a medical doctor but from what I’ve read and seen, if you’re a woman in a fertile age, you should be getting your period on your own. Maybe older, menopausal women would need that, but if you’re a young woman and you have been overtraining and under eating, there’s your answer and solution.
Yes, you have to go all in. There are not very many people who can keep training the same amount and eat maybe just a bit more and get their periods. It may happen, but it takes much longer to get it back. The quick solution is to nourish your body and eat more calorie dense foods. The body is under massive stress and it’s telling you that it’s not happy.
Did you do any exercise while recovering?
I only walked. The first time I walked, I walked for 7 miles. We had a conversation about it and I told you that I’ve replaced my excessive exercise with walking. It was maybe 3 hours a day. I realized that I can’t go on 7-10mile walks, that would be replacing one thing with another.
I didn’t run at all. I didn’t run for about 3 years. I just walked.
When you got your period back, you send me the exact number of days what you had been without a period, and now it was back. That’s how excited you were. After you had recovered did you get back to exercise or not?
I carried on the same. I think I realized that I didn’t need that much food. I decreased my calories from 2500 (I was struggling with this) to maybe 2100. But running — I just went to my first run in lockdown 2020. I was quite frightened to lose my period again.
The first periods were 45 days apart. The cycle was quite irregular at first, which you had told me about, that it’s quite common. Then it was 33 days, then a good number of months it was 30 days, and now it’s 28 days which is pretty much perfect. I had never been a perfect cycle before.
I also went counselling. When I say I went all in, I went all in. It wasn’t just about food. My goal wasn’t to just get my period back, my goal was to change my whole self. I didn’t want to go back to the old stuff.
Yes, that’s so important because if we don’t change our mindset, we go back to our old habits. A lot of people think you fix it once, it’s all fixed. But no, if you go back to your old habits, the same things will happen again. That’s why mindset work is so important.
But you did start some training later, right?
Yes, I did your program Simple Strength for Women. I don’t know how to send flowers to America, so I bought your bodyweight strength training program as a thank you for everything you had done. That helped me to get back into it.
After this program, I tried to reintroduce weights. I tried and realized that the weights that I used to use were too heavy… I know you hurt your back starting lifting too heavy. I didn’t injure myself but I remember feeling extremely sore. My DOMS lasted for a week. That made me realize: You’re not where you were before. It’s almost like I had a devil on my shoulder that wanted to see if I can still do it.
I did a lot of bodyweight training and really, just lots and lots of walking. I’ve only been back to regular training since lockdown. Lockdown has actually been really nice for me. I’ve spent time with my son and I’ve managed to get started with a nice workout routine. Most of it is done with bodyweight.
It’s important to know that you can get bak to exercise, if you do it right, manage your own expectations and don’t imagine that you should be able to lift super heavy and run super fast. And of course if you put your health first.
I actually didn’t even want to get back to exercise very soon. I kept walking for a very long time. And that was actually my me-time. Running wasn’t. I was always trying to run further or burn more calories. But now I walk every day for my mental health. Actually my husband told me today that you haven’t been on your walk, you have to go and walk! But it’s not an obsessive thing. If it’s pouring outside, I don’t go.
When I was training my clients (I had become a personal trainer in the meantime), I found myself thinking: “I should start to train more.” But I didn’t — I guess that I didn’t really want to. During the lockdown though, I realized that I want to do it. And this is the key I think — train if it’s not stressful.
Sounds like you’ve found a good balance.
What if you were able to go back to this point where you saw this picture of yourself, what would you do differently? Do you think it would have been possible to reduce a bit of body fat, just so that you feel better in your own body, but would it have been possible in a smart way?
Definitely. My weight loss was so rapid. I became obsessed quite quickly. Now as a PT I know that you can lose weight gradually by reducing maybe a 100 calories a day. You don’t even have to count calories necessarily. I think it’s important to have an understanding of what goes into your body and what nutrition is in your food. But I don’t think it’s a bad idea to use My Fitness Pal, but not for 2 years. I would go for a run, and burn let’s say 1200-1600 calories, and come back and have a fruit smoothie…
So yes, it definitely could have been done more gradually.
If someone comes to you as a personal trainer, with a weight loss goal, what do you do? I know a lot of people say that weight loss is always a bad idea. What do you think?
I have people come to me and say I want abs. They are mostly women — actually I don’t think I’ve ever had a man tell me that. But if a woman comes to me and say they want abs, I tell them the risks of it, and that most of the time, it’s either unachievable or unsustainable — certainly unsustainable without massive sacrifices.
Generally, people who come to me and want abs, don’t really last. This is not really a goal, is it? My clients have mostly performance goals. One women was a marathon runner, and she wanted to run the London marathon (which unfortunately got canceled this year). The other client wanted to get into ambulance job and he had to be able to do the training for it. Another client had to reduce body fat so she would qualify for IVF. IVF is massively regulated in the UK. You have to have a BMI below 30. She lot her bodyweight, did the IVF, and had her baby. To me, that’s the nicest thing when people have a nice, solid goal rather than just wanting abs. Abs won’t change your life.
I used to take pictures of my abs and put them on Instagram. As soon as I dropped my T-shirt down, I looked like everyone else. I actually don’t post on Instagram anymore, because I don’t have much to post. I used to post pictures of my food to hold myself accountable. Of course, I would not post pictures of Chinese takeout!
I’m so proud of you for how brave you were, for taking the leap and trusting that this will work out. You realized that to get out of this trouble, you have to do the exact opposite than what got you into this. Unfortunately, many women don’t ever take that leap. They hope they can take a supplement and recover. But that’s not going to happen if we don’t change the whole lifestyle.
You have to be really honest with yourself too and just see what you’re doing. You’re only cheating yourself if you’re trying to justify your behavior. Try to see the bigger picture. Sure, I’m talking 2 years down the line and I don’t even remember everything anymore… Just a few weeks ago when I found out that I’m coming to this podcast, I told my husband a few things that I remembered but had never told him before.
It’s not as easy as my doctor told me once: “Just eat more and exercise less.” I want the listeners to know that I recognize that it’s harder than that. But you want to change for the rest of your life, not just so that you can get your period back.
Yes, everyone knows that eating more and exercising less is the key. But knowing alone is not enough, we have to do the things. If it was so easy, no one would have this problem.
And to anyone who knows they have to go all in but is scared, yes, you probably will gain some weight. But what I’ve noticed in the last 4-6 months, my weight has gone down naturally, without restriction. I used to have a long list of “safe” foods but not anymore. My body has balanced out, my sleep is so much better, my hair just doesn’t fall out as much as it did before, and I’ve naturally lost some weight. My metabolism has repaired itself.
So if anyone thinks that they will stay in this weight as long as they start exercising again, it doesn’t have to be like this. I think my body just has found its equilibrium where I’m just naturally balanced. It’s a nice feeling because I feel like I’ve lost the excess body fat. I’m not lean, but I’ve balanced out.
That’s why it’s so important to not rush back to exercise so quickly. Your body fat will naturally decrease, or, if you want to make it a bit faster, don’t go and cut your calories by 500. If you want to decrease your calories, take a very gradual approach. Maybe decrease your calories by 100 per day. You have to check in with your symptoms again and see if any of them is coming back and if they are, maybe it’s not the right time yet for intentional weight loss.
There are still some foods that trigger me. But I manage it. I tell myself: “It’s just food, it’s nothing bad.” I’m much more relaxed. It’s very hard to be this over exerciser who under eats. It’s much better on the other side, although this is hard work getting there too.
Before we wrap up, is there anything that you want to add?
Don’t be afraid of repairing your body. The other side is so much happier place to be. Hand on the heart.
If you're ready to get started with your recovery, if you have already started and need support, or have recovered and want to return to regular exercise and find true balance, apply to work with me HERE.