Your menstrual cycle is a huge indicator of your health
At 21 years old I hadn’t had a period in 6 months. This began my 8 year journey of no period and seeing multiple Doctor’s and specialists. Their responses lacked a depth of understanding as to what was happening and why and thus responses varied.
- It could be PCOS, but you’re not a typical case because you’re active and healthy.
- Just go on the pill. When you’re ready to have kids, you won’t have any problems.
- Your body is under stress, try some meditation and yoga.
- Try these supplements x/y/z
- You need more fats. Try Keto.
I had what was considered a ‘healthy BMI‘. However, I exercised a lot and I always restricted my food losing 10% of my body weight in just 6 months. No Doctor saw this to be the issue and that it was all ‘healthy’ despite not having a period.
Two years into this journey, still without answers, I changed careers to working as a Personal Trainer and Nutritionist. Health and well-being were my life. I constantly received compliments that I was the ‘picture of health’. But inside, I knew something wasn’t right.
I wanted to start a family so booked to see a fertility specialist to be told that “You have HA (Hypothalamic Amenorrhea) but don’t worry you have great chances of IVF working for you.” I plunged into IVF thinking this must be the answer and didn’t look any further into my new diagnosis, but all we found was a lot of heartache and disappointment.
What is Hypothalamic Amenorrhea (no period)?
Hypothalamic amenorrhoea (HA) is where your period is lost (>6 months) due to a problem involving the hypothalamus.
The hypothalamus is the centre in the brain controlling reproduction via production of a hormone (GnRH) which signals other hormones to mature the egg for ovulation. In HA, the hypothalamus stops producing adequate GnRH, which reduces other hormones (FSH, LH, oestrogen), which halts ovulation and menstruation stops.
There must be an answer somewhere!
When the hypothalamus senses a lack of energy from under fuelling, it shuts things down like your reproductive system
Five key factors influencing my missing period
Not knowing where to turn next, I stumbled upon a podcast with guest Dr Nicola Rinaldi. Author of the book ‘No period Now what’ and I discovered that a combination of these five factors is usually the culprit of HA:
- Eating habits – Caloric and food group restriction are common in women with HA.
- Exercise – Many women with HA exercise what the average person would call “a lot”
- Weight/weight loss – People think that only someone who is severely underweight will lose her period. But in fact, a weight loss of 5kg or more is reported to be a factor in 82% of women acquiring HA.
- Stress – Major life events can be a cause. Although many with HA deal with constant stress from trying to live up to the goals set for themselves, often including eating “perfectly” and daily exercise.
- Genetics – Mutations in proteins of women with HA suggests a potential added susceptibility to loss of periods. This can explain why in two people with seemingly similar body composition and lifestyle, one might be missing a period and not the other.
Once recognized, mindset and habits can be changed to overcome these signals shutting down the hypothalamus, and periods can be RESTORED!
The recovery process
Finally, I felt like someone understood me. I ticked all these boxes and had one of those life changing ‘Aha’ moments. I wasn’t alone. Other women were going through this all over the world. And most importantly there was a solution!
The treatment (in summary) – stop exercising and fuel your body with double the calories I had been consuming. My body had been in a chronic state of energy loss, and I had to reverse this.
After all the things I had put my body through surely it couldn’t be that simple right?
Well, it was… and it wasn’t.
However it did work. Three months after being what the women in Dr Nicola’s community call “All In” my period returned. I have never felt so much joy!
To get here it took therapy, a lot of tears, and facing many fears around allowing my body to change. To work with my body and let it choose the size and weight it needed to be, for health and fertility.
Recovery changed my life
For as long as I can remember I was aware of the size of my body. My value and worth were aligned with my body being an acceptable size. To learn a different way of living and perceiving health changed everything. I went through a transformation which looked like this:
- Freeing up so much brain space that was consumed by obsessing over and planning food and exercise.
- Connection with loved ones over food instead of letting it be barrier.
- Balance of my emotions and no longer fearing hunger and the person I would become when I got ‘Hangry.’
- Eating for enjoyment, feeling truly satisfied, eating what I want when I want, and trusting my body to tell me what food it needs and when.
- Moving my body in a way that feels good and isn’t punishment or depleting.
- Accepting my body at its true healthy point, respecting the size or shape it needs to be and understanding; Health looks different for everyone. Smaller doesn’t mean healthier.
- Recovering my period and fertility and naturally conceiving our now 2 year old son!
It’s a continual journey. I still feel triggered at times to exercise or eat to change my body, but it’s a moment and not a lifestyle.