I first started my period just before I turned 11 years old. That’s young!!! I look at 11 year old girls now and think it seems too early!
I remember being embarrassed and incredibly self-conscious about it for at least the first year. I felt like everyone could tell when it was that time of the month and I was always concerned about having an incident in front of others. As time went by, I started to get really uncomfortable cramps, would want to wear whatever clothing I wanted without concern, and wanted to go swimming whenever I wanted…and that was the start of my period feeling like a really annoying inconvenience. It certainly wasn’t something I honored as the sign of optimal health, femininity, and fertility that it is.
When I started getting my period every two weeks in college, you can imagine what an “annoyance” that was. I was told it was stress-related and was prescribed birth control to “regulate” my cycle.
I didn’t know any better and accepted it as dogma since it was coming from a medical professional after all. In my mind, I would use it as a temporary solution until I was under less stressful circumstances. As I type all of this, I keep rolling my eyes so hard they hurt. If only I could go back and talk to myself and that nurse practitioner in medical services at my university, there’s so much I would share about the female body, stress management, lifestyle, mindset, and so much more.
When I finally did feel ready to stop the birth control (about 3 ½ years later), I didn’t have my period again for a full 3 years! Prior to stopping, I had finished college, went through clinical depression, and had an eating disorder. I had abused my body and knew that not having my period was related to all of this. Having been under-nourished and under-weight, especially, my hormones took a huge toll and my body reserved energy (for survival…not fertility).
You know what one of the solutions offered to me was?
Go back on the pill. What?! I’m sure if I had stopped the pill sooner, I would have been without a period for much longer than I was. The pill had kept me bleeding even when I doubt I would have otherwise. I’m almost certain I wasn’t ovulating, which is the true indicator of health (not just having a bleed) and how we make progesterone. And now the solution was to cover up everything going on and try the pill again, rather than heal my body?! Even then (knowing far less than I do now), I knew this wasn’t the proper solution.
Fast forward almost 2 years after stopping the pill, and I was planning my wedding.
It started to hit me that without my period, I likely wouldn’t be able to have children. This was something my soon-to-be husband and I had dreamed of together. For the first time, I really began to connect my period to my fertility. Of course I had known the connection before, but not in this way. I hadn’t been ready to have children yet. But now I felt the pressure of being able to be fertile for the dreams I had for my near-future with my husband. Fertility became something I wanted, rather than something I didn’t want. Prior to that, I just knew I was “supposed to” have a period and not having one wasn’t “right.” Now, however, it wasn’t just about my period, it was about the dreams for my life.
I had very little knowledge of female hormones and knew next to nothing about what I should do to get my period back. The only advice my doctors offered me was to go back on the pill or do a progesterone withdrawal challenge. This is when you are given progesterone to see if it will induce a bleed upon withdrawal. I tried this challenge a few times and even underwent further testing with an endocrinologist, but nothing happened and I was not given any additional advice. Eventually, I got my period back (3 years later)!! At the time, I didn’t really realize what I had done, but later when reflecting back, I recognized 3 things that made a big impact.
Fast forward 5 years after getting my period back the first time and I lost my period again.
I had my second child in 2009 and nursed him for about a year and half. It’s quite normal to be without a period while nursing exclusively. But even when we reduced nursing and then stopped, my period didn’t return. Once again, when I brought my concerns to the OB/GYN, the pill was recommended. I was flabbergasted. I KNEW this wasn’t the solution. Feeling like there weren’t any other options, I waited it out. And my period returned for 1 cycle. At the time it returned, however, I was losing weight as I went through a self-prescribed elimination diet to try to figure out why I was still having crippling stomach aches (a symptom that had started at the same time I lost my period for the very first time in college – 11 years prior). Once again, I became underweight doing this and immediately my period disappeared after having returned for only one cycle.
It took me another 10 months to seek help and make this a priority in my life. This time I went to see a naturopathic doctor. Although the various protocols I tried with her didn’t automatically make my period resume either, she said one thing that helped me learn what I needed to do. She told me I had Functional Hypothalamic Amenorrhea. This is essentially the absence of menses due to excessive stress on the body, under-nourishment, being underweight, or over-exercising (ALL of which are stress for the body).
Initially, I was highly offended and upset. I was feeling the best I had in my adult life. I felt as though I was making some of the healthiest choices for myself that I ever had. I didn’t want to admit that my weight was likely too low again and that, perhaps, I was overdoing everything I though was good for myself.
However, within 5 months, my health suddenly unraveled. This is what stress can do to our bodies. It will tolerate high stress only for so long. Eventually, it says NO! The burden of stress I had been carrying (read more about here) led to soooo much more than just the loss of my period. It took me a full 6 years to fully recover my health after that. But I regained my period sooner than that.
Each time I lost my period, there were 3 things I did that helped it to return. I had resistance to doing every single one of these things, but when I finally included all 3 of them, that’s when the healing occurred.
At the time, I was not aware of how important my mindset was, so that made my journey SOOO much more difficult. You’ll see why as I share more.
So let’s get to those…
3 THINGS I DID TO HEAL FUNCTIONAL HYPOTHALAMIC AMENORRHEA (twice):
1. EAT MORE FOOD
Both times I was without my period were around times that I had been under-eating. The first time I had “in-practice” overcome an eating disorder, yet I still had a very disordered relationship with food. The second time, I was not intentionally under-eating. I was trying to make the healthiest decisions for myself. That being said, I was also “addicted” to the weight loss I had “accidentally” experienced during the elimination diet I had been on and didn’t want to gain it back. I definitely had an intense fear of and resistance to gaining weight both times. This is where I’ll be 1000% honest with you! For me, I had to gain weight to get my period back.
The second time I was without my period, I searched so many blogs for stories about women regaining their periods. I only wanted to hear the ones where they didn’t have to gain weight. For me, however, this wasn’t realistic. I did have to gain weight.
Both times I gained 20-30 pounds before my period came back. Yes, that’s right. And I can almost assure you, if you haven’t already developed a mindset of self-love and empowerment, this is making you SCREAM IN FEAR right now. If that’s the case, I want you to take my POWER Statements course NOW!
In order to get your period back, you will very likely need to eat more food AND gain some weight. Yep – I said it!
Part of what I did was ease myself into eating more. It took me some time and I did it in complete fear. I almost had to trick myself into doing it. I don’t want you to experience this same, unnecessary fear and added stress (see #3), which is why I’m telling you working on your mindset now will save you soooo much fear, pain, and self-loathing. My approach at the time, was not easy nor healthy, but it was all I knew to do before later learning the POWER of my mindset!
2. EXERCISE LESS.
Yep – if you’re like I was, this is making you scream, “NO!” too. You’re likely thinking, “If I work out less and eat more, I’ll gain EVEN MORE weight! I absolutely can’t do that!” Again, MINDSET will be crucial here!
I gradually began cutting back on my exercise. It took me more time than I would like to admit to reduce it to where it was needed. I kept thinking, “This is like nothing,” yet I was still working out with intensity that was wayyy too high for my healing.
I’ll be perfectly honest again and tell you that I, personally, had to completely eliminate exercise before my period returned both times. I had tried reducing the duration, frequency, and intensity of exercise, but it wasn’t until I eliminated all exercise, other than the movement during my required daily activities, did my period return. Yes, NO additional movement! I do believe that for some, activity such as the gentlest yoga and lightest of walks could be incorporated, as long as you’re completely honest with yourself about how much you’re doing. But, for me, even those were honestly too much. For me, regaining my health actually meant being sedentary for a period of time. No, this doesn’t have to be forever. Now I’m able to enjoy all sorts of activity and exercise at various intensities, but at the time, NONE was what was best for me.
3. PRACTICE STRESS MANAGEMENT.
The first time I lost and regained my period, I did not practice stress management purposefully. But it’s no coincidence that my period returned after a period of releasing some of my dieting reigns, stopping all exercise, AND completing a graduate level course I had been taking. I honestly did the first two because I had reached a point of frustration because I wasn’t achieving the physique I desired anyway. My goals were polar opposite – I was trying to “beat” my body into a “better physique” through dieting and exercise while also hoping to regain my period. They don’t go together, which is yet another reason that the mindset work will help you SOOO MUCH RIGHT NOW! Yet, some of the “*&%$ it” attitude I developed helped reduce my cortisol levels enough that it allowed necessary healing in my body!
The second time I lost and regained my period, I was more intentional with my stress management. It also took me far less time to regain my period the second time, once I made it a priority. It still took me over a year, though. But during the majority of that year, I was still exercising too much and not eating enough (as my mindset kept me from making these changes more quickly). I was meditating, journaling, breathing, praying, and – eventually – resting more.
Some of the biggest sources of stress in my life at both of these times were, however, my fears of eating more, exercising less, and gaining weight, which is why I keep talking about mindset!
So, although I’ve provided you with 3 of the biggest steps I took to regain my period (twice), I think it’s pretty obvious how important I think it is that you address your mindset as well. The fears you have and the actions you take as a result are likely to leave you feeling tortured, frustrated, and struggling. You may even find yourself returning to unhealthy habits out of self-loathing. So, NOW is the time to work on your mindset. It’s time to release those fears, negative thoughts, and limiting beliefs. You may be sooo surprised at how easily these 3 steps come to you by doing the mindset work FIRST! So, please join me in POWER Statements where I’ll help you achieve a much more peaceful, loving, and joyful experience in and with your body as you love it toward optimal health!