For many long years, I used to workout first thing in the morning. And while exercising is a great way to kickstart your day and get it out of the way, there were days when it would have been smarter to sleep in.
Now as I'm not hiding from myself the truth that I have hypothalamic amenorrhea, I've spent quite a bit of time thinking back to my exercise and eating habits in the past. The more I think about them, the more I realize why my body is in this situation today.
I used to be basically an exercise addict and workout at crazy hours, even before dawn. It wasn't always the smartest thing to do. If you're doing it too, keep reading…
Why Exercising In the Early Morning Can Be a Good Idea
As I wrote in this post, for the past two or so years, my workouts have been way shorter than they ever were before. Also my mindset around exercise is way more relaxed than it used to be years ago, when I was obsessively running. Back then, I took a rest day very rarely and always pushed myself, no matter what.
However, perfectionist as I am (was), even until recently I still wanted to make sure that I do the workout first thing in the morning, so I can cross it off from my to-do list.
In general, I just feel much better when I workout earlier in the day. It makes me feel good. I have more energy in the morning. I'm often too tired by the evening to go anywhere anymore.
But Should You Get a Badge of Honor for It?
If you get your workout done in the morning too, you probably get a lot of admiring looks from people around you and hear them saying how they could never be that dedicated. They praise you and they want to be like you, because you have this willpower, determination and super fit body that they want too!
What they often don't know that this body may be a bit broken inside. And that sometimes it would be good for this perfect perfectionist's body to stay in bed and get one more hour of rest, instead of hitting the pavement before dawn.
When Running Before the Dawn Becomes a Problem
Once again, in this post, I'm writing about how I used to train years ago when I was running a lot.
I started running a lot 10 years ago and kept going for the following 6-7 years. That's the time were I probably wrecked my health the most, so even though I've exercised way less in the past 2-3 years, those very intense training years probably caused majority of my current problem, hypothalamic amenorrhea.
Here's how and why running super early may have ruined my hormonal balance:
I worked out on an empty stomach–even if I was actually hungry. Working out on an empty stomach should be a matter of preference, and based on how you feel. If that works for you, fine, but don't do it to lose fat faster.
I still don't want to have a whole lot of food in my stomach when I workout, but back in the day, I didn't eat because I wanted to maximize the fat loss. And I did maximise it! You bet I lost fat. But that's probably also why I lost my cycle.
Maintaining my low bodyweight was the main reason why I didn't eat in the morning, even before my very long runs.
If you're already skinny and you workout for hours on an empty stomach to lose even more body fat, then you risk messing up also your lady hormones. Enter hypothalamic amenorrhea.
I did eat after I had returned from my run, but thinking back to it, it was definitely not enough to refuel my body after that long exercise.
I worked out even when I hadn't slept well. I've actually had sleep issues for many, many years but I used to ignore them completely. It never crossed my mind to stay in bed longer instead of going for a run, even when I got just 3-4 hours of sleep. I just went, no questions asked.
The biggest reason why I couldn't go back to sleep even when I was tired was that my mind was already awake and wired. I just couldn't turn it off, skip the run and be okay with it. Once I was up, I had to go, because my guilt would just not let me go back to sleep again.
Sleep is so, so important! That's the time to rest and get energized for the day ahead. And running is awesome in the early morning but only if you have slept well. Not when you have to drag your butt out because you know you'd otherwise think about it all day long or die from guilt.
Not sleeping enough means that our body has no energy to fuel this run. If we ignore it and still workout, where the heck is our body supposed to take these resources from? Of course we wear ourselves out. Of course we ruin our hormonal balance.
Sometimes I didn't sleep well because I was thinking about exercising all the time. This one sounds a bit crazy, but let me explain–and if you've felt the same way, I'd love to hear form you. I have a feeling I'm not the only one.
I would think about my next day's run already the night before, when I was getting ready to sleep. I would worry that what if I don't get up and miss my run? I would also think where to run, how long to run, what to eat after, be sure I have everything ready so I make it to work on time.. It was all spinning in my head!
Sometimes I'd consider taking a rest day, but then going back and forth between thinking if I should do it or not (my inner dialogue before sleep: I'm tired… But I'll just do 45 minutes tomorrow! Well, if I do 45, I might as well do an hour… we'll see in the morning… No, I still gotta go.. But what if I…)
Of course, OF COURSE you can't sleep like that. I've been over thinker and over analyzer for most of my adult life, and my own thoughts can be like a broken record. So, it wasn't just working out that kept me awake, it was also just thinking about it.
A few years ago, when I started giving myself non-scheduled rest days–when I was tired, didn't sleep well, felt unmotivated–it changed. I started trusting my body. Trusting my energy levels. I started listening to them when they were trying to tell me something.
If you're having hypothalamic amenorrhea that it's caused by extreme exercise (extreme for your body, don't compare with others!), I bet you're a bit of a perfectionist.
You want everything, most importantly your exercise and eating, to be so perfect that you go out of your way to make sure you do everything “right”. You get up in the early morning to hit the gym or head for a run even if you haven't slept well, maybe because you were thinking about your next day's run or calories in your breakfast.
It's inevitable that when we're running out of fuel, something has to give. Our bodies just can't handle this much stress, especially when we don't give it any energy.
Let me know if these thoughts resonated with you. I really love getting emails and messages from you–thanks so much to those who have sent them or gotten in touch via Instagram!
Edited: I am now recovered from hypothalamic amenorrhea and I love helping women do the same. Here are some ways how we can work together. Don't put it off! Even if you don't want babies now (or ever), you DO need your period to be completely healthy.
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