Today, I'd like to address a question that came from a reader:
How did you manage to stop working out, what was the hardest part, and do you have any tips on how to make it easier?
Great questions, let's talk about them!
I know stopping working out may be hard. That's why not all women do that – there are some girls who have been able to restore their periods without stopping their workouts completely. Brandi was one of them, she kept working out, even just once a week – find her story here. But as she says, she probably would have gotten hers back sooner had she let go of exercise completely…
However, if you want to keep working out, chances are that if you keep doing long cardio workouts or very high intensity workouts, it's going to take a looooooong time to get your period back… You've likely been overtraining for a while anyway, so your body actually needs rest.
If you continue to exercise, you'll also have to be extra careful with your eating. Careful, of course, means eating way more than the recommended 2500 calories a day which should the minimum for those women with hypothalamic amenorrhea who don't work out. The recommendation to eat at least 2500 calories for recovery comes from No Period, Now What.
You can find more tips on eating for HA recovery here.
When I started my recovery from overtraining and hypothalamic amenorrhea at the beginning of December last year, I chose to keep moving a bit, not stop completely. I don't think planting your butt on the couch is healthy, especially if you have no idea how long this situation is going to last. But walking and yoga became my only forms of movement – plus a little bit that I did for my work as a personal and bootcamp trainer, showing exercises to my clients and walking around in the gym.
So, in December in 2016, I decided that I will stop working out.
I never thought I'd say that, but here we go:
It Wasn't As Difficult As I Had Imagined
I mean, it was hard, but in a different way than I had expected.
Stopping HIT, cardio and weight training, to overcome overtraining and hypothalamic amenorrhea, was much harder mentally than it was physically.
Because here's what: By the time I started my recovery, I was physically totally burned out and exhausted, although I never admitted it to myself!
For about 3-4 months prior, I had had hard time motivating myself (but I worked out anyway!), some of my workouts that used to be easy became really hard, I was tired of having to come up with my workouts (so I joined a bootcamp class to still work out) and every night I went to bed, the thought of having to work out first thing the first thing in the morning didn't excite me. I was tired.
So, when I learned that I actually should take a break from working out, I was even a bit relieved… I never thought I'd say that! But I'm not the only one… Christina had the exact same experience… and you may feel the same way too.
My body had been exhausted for a long time already, but my mind was terrified: What if I stop working out and get fat, no one will take me seriously as a trainer, everyone thinks I let myself go, and I just wouldn't look good anymore!
But because I no longer had an option – seemed that exercise break was in order anyway – I had to just calm my mind down and give my body what it needed.
Slowing Down, Finding Peace
Shortly after I had given up other exercise than yoga and walking, we went to Hawaii to visit my husband's family. All our previous trips to O'Ahu had looked like this for me: Early wake up, 30-45 minute workout, then the entire day hiking or stand up paddle boarding, and sometimes I squeezed in a light jog somewhere…
Now, I woke up and went on a sloooowwww walk or took a yoga class at a nearby studio… I felt how both calmed me down a lot. Instead of seeing how many burpees I can do in 30 seconds and complete it for ten rounds total, I was… breathing deeply and stretching my hips in a yoga class… 🙂
Quite honestly, I really enjoyed slowing down and feeling how I became more grounded. I think I would have never found this kind of peace had I not had hypothalamic amenorrhea and had I not been forced to take a break – I would have still ran around, trying to find the next way to burn more calories.
Slowly But Surely: Finding My Energy Again
The real desire to start working out again started to come back about 3-4 months into recovery. This was the time when I felt that my energy is coming back; I even remember doing one workout with my sandbag when I wasn't “supposed to”. The workout looked like what 5 months ago would have been my warm-up!
But the fact that my body started craving working out again was a good sign that things are moving in the right direction. Also my sleep had gotten so much better. About a month later, my period arrived.
If you're afraid that the workout break may make you “lazy” so that you'll never want to work out again, I wouldn't worry about it. If you've always loved to move your body, the desire to work out will likely come back, but you can't rush it. Your body can only tell you that it's ready when you actually listen to it, instead of forcing it when it's actually tired.
It may also happen that you don't want to work out as much and the exact same way as you used to. Accept it! For example, right now I have no interest in pushing myself to do 100 high knees for time. It doesn't make me lazy, it just means that my preferences have changed, and that I finally listen to myself.
What Can You Learn From My Story?
How can my experience help you, if you have lost your period because you over exercised too, and now have to stop working out?
- Check in with yourself and ask yourself, does your body really crave so much exercise (not too many people need to train 6-7 days a week!) or are you actually afraid of what might happen if you stop?
- If you're actually afraid of what may happen when you gain weight, you'll need to re-think your relationship with your body.
- You can do lighter forms of exercise, like yoga and walking. You will find that they don't only keep you physically moving but they also make your mind clearer and happier.
- Once you take more rest, you'll likely find that your body really needed it, if you're overtrained like many women with hypothalamic amenorrhea are. Admitting is the hardest part, but be honest with yourself.
- If you don't know how to spend your time while you can't work out, here are some ideas for you!
If you need support on your journey to recover from overtraining or hypothalamic amenorrhea, apply to work with me below.