I’ve gone from not fueling my activities, no period for a few years, injuries galore and terrible bone health…
To 25-30 lbs heavier, having 2 babies, a regular period, healthy bones and my fastest race times.
The road to get there was hard but more worth it than anything I’ve ever experienced.
I have had my period back in my life for about 7 years now (minus a few breaks for pregnancy) and I first wrote about my loss of a period from overexercising and underfeeding here on the blog and it is still one of my highest viewed blog posts. I receive many emails from women that are worried that they don’t have a period and don’t know where to go or what to do so let’s talk about it.
We are friends here so let’s really talk about this. You are not crazy if this is your struggle in life, you just need some help and people to get you there. Also, I am NOT talking about naturally very thin people, the problem is when we do not fuel ourselves for the activities that we are doing.
Today makes the perfect day to start.
“The body is smart. And efficient. So essentially, when we do not get enough energy after our workout to replenish those losses, our body stops any function not essential to day to day survival (as in your cells and brain needs energy to keep your body functioning but your period isn’t essential to daily living).” (source) PS I am talking about losing our period due to under-fueling our activities… I know there are also other reasons that people may experience the loss of their period but I know nothing about that in the slightest.
Loss of our period is basically your body sending a warning flag that something is not right and it is shutting down your reproductive system.
When you are in the middle of this problem, it is so incredibly hard. It’s easy to say to yourself that you’ll start working on it when racing season is over or when you want to have kids but you need to work on it NOW! Changing your lifestyle is very difficult, finding a doctor that understands HOW PROBLEMATIC the female athlete triad is for our health can be exhausting and knowing how to fix the problem is daunting. But I just want to reassure you that it is possible and SO INCREDIBLY worth it.
I can honestly remember seeing that top picture and thinking to myself that I had another 2-3 lbs to lose. My body dysmorphia was so intense and the idea of gaining weight was my worst nightmare.
Every. Single. Day. was a struggle. I had the help of a nutritionist, therapist, my mom (I can’t tell you how many meals she helped me get through) and God (I pleaded for help each day) and it was still a struggle but I knew I had the support system I needed to get me there. If I’ve learned anything about myself, it is that I love a goal. I got to the place where I made gaining my period back my biggest goal (hello, my FEMURS were breaking and I knew I wanted a family). You are so much stronger than you give yourself credit for so I know you can do this too but you have to really want it so that when it sounds easier to slip back into disordered ways, you can stop and think about what you really want. For me, that was health and to have babies.
I am nowhere near an expert nor do I have any credentials to guide YOU in your journey to gaining your period back but I can share what worked for me:
*I stopped running. I had two femoral stress fractures at the time (due to having low bone mass ((osteopenia for me)) from not giving my body the energy it needed to sustain the activity I was doing each day) and had to stop running. I see this injury as one of the absolute biggest blessings of my life. I had to hit rock bottom to change the way I was treating my body. This injury helped me realize what I was doing to myself and that I needed to get out of it. I don’t think cutting out exercise is necessary for everyone with this problem but for me, I was able to get my period back within about 6 months and I think not running for a chunk of that time helped me to get to that point quickly.
*I increased my body fat %. I didn’t just gain weight… I gained fat. I don’t think if I put on lbs of muscle that my period would have returned… my body needed fat.
*I worked with a registered dietitian. I have worked with one a few times during my 20’s and it was SO helpful for me. (Below source)
*I ate a lot more fat. I think many of us grew up in the time that we were told fat was evil and fat-free should be part of every food label that we buy. I used to only eat egg whites and thought that swedish fish must have been healthy for me since the bag told me it was fat-free. We all now know how incredibly important eating fat is for our bodies but it took some serious retraining of my brain to get there. I ate a lot of avocados, eggs (YOLK FOR LIFE), almond butter, full fat dairy items, oils and buttah.
*I am SO much faster now that I give my body the fuel it needs to run and stay healthy. Luckily, we are understanding more and more that thinness does not equal speed (if your body’s set point is very naturally thin than that is a different subject… I think our body performs BEST at our set points and underfeeding to get to a lower weight is not going to end well). It might for a season but then there are so many injuries that can happen if runners are underfeeding themselves that can end running for us for weeks/months/years/lifetime. And even if speediness came by under eating for what we are burning… RUNNING ISN’T IMPORTANT compared to our overall health. I look back at those years when I was so obsessed with my weight and wonder how in the world I could value my size over my health but eating disorders are a mental disorder so we NEED to work with professionals (just like we would go to the doctor if we had appendicitis.. I believe the same thing needs to happen with mental disorders) to get better. We get one body, that’s it… we have to take care of it and getting the proper help needs to happen today, not tomorrow.
*Mile at a time, day at a time, meal at a time. Changing your lifestyle is hard. I went from running all of the miles and living off of Skittles, lean protein and vegetables to not running and completely changing my entire diet. It was difficult. Things weren’t fitting like they used to, my body was changing and it was so beyond scary at times. But I took it a day at a time. And the benefits of being able to have my babies and get my body healthy again (I was able to get my bones back to a normal range) was the best reward on the planet. You can do hard things, so I’m not worried about you not being strong enough to make the changes because I know you are. <— Let your people and medical professionals in to help you because for me, it was not something I could do on my own. I needed help.
*What do I do now to make sure that I don’t lose my period again? PERSONAL ANECDOTE—> I stay at a healthy weight for me and I also stay at a healthy body fat percentage. I am choosing to run and train A LOT which means I also choose to eat more than enough and rest enough to not drop below. That means even if I am not hungry after a hard workout/long run… I still eat. Our hunger cues can be a bit off from training hard but I know my body needs the fuel and so I eat. I have also started weighing myself periodically during my training so that I can make sure I’m not dropping too much weight from all of the training. If I do start to drop a bit, I eat more. I know that this weight is a good place for my body to have a healthy cycle and do not want to even risk going below. For a few years there I avoided the scale completely because it was a trigger for me so do that if you need to but if it isn’t a trigger than it can be your friend to help you to make sure you are eating enough for all of the miles. I have chosen to avoid all hormonal birth control methods because for me personally, my hormones were all over the place and I want to know FOR SURE while I am training this hard that my reproductive system is working accordingly because I do not want to miss my period until I am pregnant again.
What do I do now if I have days where I struggle with body image? Luckily, it doesn’t happen nearly as often as it used to but here are some things I do–> I get off of social media for a little while. For me personally (this is not the cause of body image problems for everyone… but for me–>) I try my best to focus on helping others rather than focusing on myself so much (remember my window vs mirror analogy? I try to focus on looking out through a window to see other’s needs rather than stare at myself and just think about my needs). I get back to a therapist. Usually it has something to do with hormones/time of the month now so I remind myself that hormones are making me feel a certain way. I don’t think we have a lot of control over the first thoughts that pop in our heads but we do after that and I work hard to stop certain thoughts and change them to something positive.
If you are in training right now and you are missing your period (not due to birth control methods etc)… that is your body telling you that you are not giving yourself enough energy for your training. Don’t wait until your next race or until you hit your next goal… take care of this now, please:) I am always here if you need to email someone about it… I’ll be your BIGGEST cheerleader.
Your worth has nothing to do with your weight. You are a human/sister/daughter/friend/mother/teacher/employee/neighbor/wife/girlfriend/_____.
Struggling with amenorrhea or have you in the past? What did you do to help?
Do you struggle with disordered eating? What is your relationship with the scale?
Share any major changes in your lifestyle that you have experienced.