It’s been a while since I’ve talked about hypothalamic amenorrhea. Why yes, I did recover from this more than three-and-a-half years ago, but it’s something I won’t soon forget. And I know so many of you found me because I wrote about this issue on the blog and you were searching for answers that were hard to find. Even though I’ve said a lot of what there is to say about recovering, especially in my ebook, I have more to say about life after recovery.
When I was a guest on a podcast a couple of weeks ago, I answered the question “how do you protect your fertility” and well, that got me thinking that it’s something I should address on the blog. Because even though I healed from hypothalamic amenorrhea (HA), got pregnant, had a baby and am now a mom, I still want my hormones to be functioning properly, because that’s how the body and mind runs smoothly. I don’t ever want to go back to a place where things aren’t right.
Side note: If you aren’t familiar with hypothalamic amenorrhea, it’s the absence of a menstrual cycle due to demands on the body, either from too much exercise, too little food or too much stress. Let’s do this …
How I protect my fertility and hormones (life after recovering from hypothalamic amenorrhea part 2)
Quick caveat: I am not a doctor, a reproductive specialist or even a nutritionist. I am a personal trainer, group fitness instructor and a gal who healed her hormones naturally. That’s it. 🙂
Avoid hormonal birth control (and be my own advocate).
Birth control is a very personal subject. As a woman, in this day and age, we are supposed to feel empowered to take birth control. But quite honestly, this empowerment comes at a price when you choose hormonal birth control with synthetic hormones (which includes most forms of the IUD, except for the copper one, and all pills), and nobody (except a select few in the wellness world) is talking about the harm that these cause. Most women don’t care that they are taking synthetic hormones, simply because they’ve never been told the consequences. And it doesn’t help that doctors prescribe the pill to women of all ages to “fix” a host of problems, like acne and painful periods, to name a couple.
But the pill doesn’t fix anything, it covers it up, masking symptoms. You’ve got to be your own advocate if your doctor tells you to take the pill to “fix” something, instead ask them to help you uncover the root cause or ask for a referral. And you will likely only learn the hard way once you come off of the pill, as your symptoms reappear and they are worse.
Synthetic hormones perform differently in your body than real hormones as well. If you want to have a healthy body with strong fertility and functioning hormones to feel your best, you’ve got to let your body do it’s thing. This is up to you — and I understand some women feel they need that pill. Then you do you, but know that you will NOT know if you have a regular menstrual cycle if you are on the pill, as the pill forces a fake period using synthetic hormones every month.
I think the pill is great for a big portion of the population who needs it — and it was there for me for many years when I needed it too — but I also think that once you are informed and are able to make other choices, you should consider them, certainly once you get within a year or two of wanting to get ready to have children. That’s all I will say on the matter. You do what works for YOU!
Avoid endocrine disruptors as much as I can.
What the heck is an endocrine disruptor? It’s a toxin, that gets into your body and messes with your endocrine system, known to cause fertility issues, as well as birth defects, cancer and much more. These toxins go under the names of BPA, fragrance, phthalates and others, and they are frequently found as ingredients in common household cleaning products, pesticides, makeup, skincare and other things we use all the time. Somehow, these toxins aren’t regulated, so they are legally included in the products we buy in stores and use unknowingly.
When I was healing my hormones, my acupuncturist mentioned this to me, and I started exploring it more and more on my own. I was already cleaning up my diet and reducing packaged goods and choosing organic foods to avoid pesticides and more, and finally, I started finding more natural body and skincare products too. I started using coconut oil as lotion, then I started using almond oil to remove my eye makeup, then I tried to begin looking at labels of everything else. I also swapped out many of my household cleaning supplies (this is a work in progress). I’ve written more about this in this post about reading labels and in this post about switching to Beautycounter too, which is all because I wanted to stay away from as many toxins as I can. You can’t be perfect in this department though, it would drive you crazy. But every little bit helps!
Eat a lot of healthy fats, warm foods, complex carbs, fermented foods and the occasional slab of grass-fed beef.
If I’m being totally honest, I would say I probably eat a little more now than I need to. Oftentimes, Dave looks at my plate and asks me if I’m going to eat it all. Yes, the answer is yes. I think that when you realize you went through a period where you weren’t fueling your body enough — you sort’ve go a bit overboard once you get to the other side and then maybe over-fuel yourself.
My meals are very calorie dense, full of healthy fat, they include lot of whole foods and are also almost always warm. I learned about eating warm foods to support my fertility when I was recovering, and I’ve kept up with that — when you eat too many raw or cold foods (sushi, salad, smoothies), it takes too much energy for your body to heat up and digest the food — thus taking that energy away from your reproductive functions. YES, I definitely have salad once a week or so, but the majority of my meals are warm and cooked. I like it that way, it just feels better for me.
I think it’s important to look at your overall diet when you are trying to heal your hormones, keep them healthy or maintain your fertility. Are you mostly eating whole foods? Eggs, vegetables, fruits, hearty grains, grass-fed beef, bone broth, etc.? If you’re existing on protein bars, crappy microwavable meals and processed hot dog meat, you are not doing your body or your fertility any favors.
Because I know I have a sensitive hormonal system, I avoid intermittent fasting, I eat before workouts, I snack, I eat nutrient- and calorie-dense food, and I don’t track what I eat at all. I literally have no idea how many calories I eat, but I do know that I’m always quite full after my meals, and I feel really energized and good all day. I know that I could probably cut back a bit on my portions and lean out, but I also know that I lived a life as a very lean gal with lots of visible muscles, and even though that may look good on Instagram, it doesn’t mean anything at all. You know what means a lot? Being so healthy that you feel good in your body all the time with a lot of natural energy and no nagging issues. That’s where I’m at. It’s priceless.
Monitor the length of my cycle.
We’re past the TMI disclaimer, clearly, but my cycle is very regular. It came back on it’s own about a year after Brady was born, while I was still nursing. I don’t think it’s that common for a cycle to return while nursing, but mine did. From the moment it came back, it has been a perfect 28-29 days every single month. I use an app to keep track of the length, just to make sure. I know that if I start exercising too much, drop my calories or add too much stress, that cycle will lengthen, and I don’t want that. Your cycle tells you a lot.
Manage my stress.
Even though I don’t work 55 hours a week at a busy corporate job any longer with a commute, I do work quite a bit, in addition to being the full-time caretaker of a toddler. It’s a lot. But, I have my boundaries, which I’ve written about in this post about being a work-from-home mom. I don’t work on Friday or Saturday nights, I don’t get up super early to fit in work, and I also get out usually at least once a week for something like a blowout, manicure, solo walk or even a stroll through Nordstrom just because. This alone time is great for me. But so is hanging out with Dave and shutting off from technology. It’s very important to keep your stress levels down when you want to maintain strong fertility and balanced hormones. Whatever you need to do to relax, do it. I’m five days into a meditation practice (more on that soon), and it’s another way to get centered and zen each day. Yoga? Massages? Epsom salt baths? Reading for pleasure? It all works.
Limit my HIIT workouts, and limit the duration of my workouts.
Exercise is stress on the body. Let’s not forget that. Exercise also does wonders for the body in mind, but only in the right doses. I have certainly learned that different people can handle different amounts and intensities of exercise. Some people do NOT feel good when they are doing HIIT (high intensity interval training) at all, they get headaches, they feel weak, it just doesn’t feel right. Whereas, some people who grew up playing sports can handle hours of incredibly intense workouts each day and keep their hormones totally fine.
As I wrote in my ebook, I was able to continue exercising while recovering from hypothalamic amenorrhea, which is against the advice you’d normally hear. However, I cut down on the load significantly. I went from 15 hours of tough workouts a week to 10, down to 5 and ended up healing with about 1 hard workout a week and 3 easier ones, approximately, give or take a few.
But here’s the thing, once you truly heal your body, you can slowly start to handle a bit more. I know that for sure, because I’m living proof. Right now, I don’t do any HIIT, per-say, but I do do intense exercise 2-3 times a week, including teaching a 45-minute BODYATTACK cardio class and taking a 1-hour BODYPUMP weights class. I try to keep my workouts at one hour or less, and I have usually 2 days that are lighter and AT LEAST 1 full day off of exercise a week.
I know that extreme fatigue feeling that my body gets during tough workouts, and I don’t push to that as often as I used to. Not saying that I don’t work hard, I just know my limits. I think my body can handle just a bit more than I’m doing right now, and it’s taken years to work back up to my current level. I will NEVER do a ton of HIIT, because I know I can’t. I also don’t think my body loves sprinting, nor fasted cardio, so I avoid those mostly — although it would feel good to hop on the treadmill and hit some high speeds, and I’ll do that here and there if I want to — once again, always monitoring my energy levels and cycle to make sure I’m not doing too much. Weights, barre, walking are the safest options for me, but I’ve been fine with adding two BODYATTACK sessions back in a week over the last couple months, whereas I had to entirely cut out BODYATTACK in order to recover my hormones and get pregnant.
Over the least three years, I’ve learned more about what it means to be truly healthy than ever before, and it took being unhealthy on the inside to help me see the light and make some changes. However, I want to be very clear and say that I do not have it all figured out, but I do know that I make the decisions that feel right for me and my health and body right now. So there you go!
Things I’d like to be doing but am not currently …
- Acupuncture — With Brady duties, I just can’t make it to the one-hour sessions any longer, but I do miss it. It helps to balance you, reduce stress and more and can be helpful for keeping your body running smoothly every day. Read more about what acupuncture did for me and what you should know before you go here. Acupuncture was a huge part of my recovery and path to pregnancy.
- Yoga — I miss yoga! Once again, with the way my schedule is now with teaching and with Brady, I just haven’t been able to make it a priority. I do love the way yoga makes my body feel, and I’d love to get back into it one day soon. Yoga was a go-to workout for me during recovery and pregnancy too.
That about does it! Let me know if you have any questions, my friends. I’m here for you!
Other posts you may like …
- Life after recovering from hypothalamic amenorrhea
- My journey to get pregnant and how I overcame hypothalamic amenorrhea
- Three health and wellness books that changed my life
- How to handle a changing body image
- All about food: What I’m eating and what foods I currently can’t live without
And of course, you can get the full story on my path to discovery, recovery and pregnancy in my ebook, “Fit and Fertile.” Use the code BLOGFRIEND for a little discount at checkout.How to protect your fertility and hormones on A Lady Goes West ... Click To Tweet
Questions of the day
What’s something you do to protect your hormones?
How was your weekend?
What’s one healthy thing you plan to do this week?