Megan is currently living in New Haven, CT with her husband and their crazy cat. She loves traveling, especially to places where the hiking is amazing. Yoga pants are her little black dress of choice.
It's hard to put into words how shocked I was to find out the reason I hadn’t had a period in six months was not because of something I couldn’t control, but was actually something I control completely. I had overtrained and under-eaten to such a extreme, that my body had shut down my reproductive system in an effort to stay alive. Ouch. In January of 2017 I self diagnosed myself with Hypothalamic Amennorhea. Two doctors and five months later, I was officially diagnosed. During the past six months, I have been doing a lot of soul searching and looking back over my life to try and pinpoint when things started to shift away from normal food and exercise behaviors to this extreme.
Growing up, I would say I had a pretty good relationship with food. I do not have any memories of restrictive behavior as a child or teenager. When I hit 21, however, I fell into a pretty extreme case of orthorexia. I masked my issue to others by writing it off to training for races and eating vegetarian. I truly loved running, but the weight I lost was not weight I needed to lose. By the time I was twenty-two I had lost 22% of my body weight. I was on birth control, so I had no idea the disruption I was causing to my hormones since I was still having a withdrawal bleed every month (if only I had known this wasn’t a real period!).
Fast forward 3 ½ years to this past January, my husband and I decided we wanted to start trying for a baby sometime in the next year. I went ahead and stopped hormonal contraception since I had heard it could take a while for the body to “reset”. Four months went by with nothing. I was still running, teaching 8-10 barre classes per week, and lived in Washington D.C. where walking and biking were my main forms of transportation. And yes, I was still restricting my food intake. In May, I went to the doctor, and my hormonal blood work came back “normal” but everything was on the very low end. Looking back, I had many symptoms pointing to HA. I had digestive issues that I now realize was my metabolism slowing down and going into starvation mode. I was cold ALL THE TIME. My knees started to feel like I was an old lady, aching after the smallest amount of activity. It was at this time that I found the book “No Period, Now What?” which saved me in more ways than one - most importantly I realized I wasn’t alone. I read stories of women who came from similar backgrounds who also didn’t realize they were hurting their bodies by striving to be “healthy”.
This past May, I quit all high intensity exercise (looking at you, running and spin), and increased my calories significantly. I try not to track anymore, but I probably went up 30-40% more than what I had been eating previously. I made a promise to myself to eat anytime I was hungry instead of abiding by the silly rules I had created for myself (i.e. no lunch before noon, portion everything out of the package before eating, etc). Of course this process wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows. I was terrified I was going to gain a bunch of weight and feel horrible all the time. While it is true that I gained weight, which was the goal, I have gained so much more than just BMI. My digestion has improved to the point that I have had zero stomach issues, my libido went through the roof, and I feel much more energetic than I did when I was restricting. One of the keys to recovery for me was when my pants started getting tight I immediately cleaned out my closet of all “skinny clothes” to make room for the size that my body wants to be. This was crucial because I wanted to make sure that going back wasn’t an option.
Today, I am about five months into true recovery. Recovery looks different for everyone, but one of the things for me meant going back to being vegetarian instead of vegan. My body processes dairy well, and eggs have so many beneficial properties for everyone, but especially those of us who are trying to conceive. And also, ice cream is life, duh. Another step I took was eliminating almost all exercise and caffeine. I want to do everything possible to decrease my cortisol levels to make room for other hormones to ramp up.
I have not yet recovered my cycle, but I have realized there are so many other things that have been recovered that I didn’t realize I had lost. Instead of obsessing over how many calories I ate or miles I ran, I started putting that mental energy towards things that are truly important. I found ways to volunteer, listened to podcasts on the swing set in the park, laid in bed with my husband in the morning instead of rushing off to get a workout in, and was generally more present than I remember being in the past few years. I am more in tune with my body than ever before. Not only do I eat when I am hungry, I listen to my cravings and give my body what it wants, even if that means I am eating right before I go to sleep. I would rather my body focus on recovering while I sleep instead of being hungry. Instead of exercising to the point of physical exhaustion, I move in a way that feels nourishing by taking long walks or gentle yoga classes.
To the women reading this who may be working down a list of reasons you have that prevent you from taking steps towards recovery: I would encourage you to take a big picture approach. For me, the biggest motivation has been the fact that I do not want to pass down any disordered behaviors to any future children that I might be lucky enough to have. I want them to see me eating for energy but also just for the joy of eating, because there are so many incredible experiences to be had around food! I want to be someone who is thankful for my body not because it is lean, but because it is a vessel that allows me to do the things I love to do, like travel to beautiful places and hug the people I adore. Yes, I am squishier than I was a few months ago, but each time I catch myself feeling defeated when I look in the mirror I slap the thought away by reminding myself that I am so much more than a number on the scale or a dress size. I feel amazing and am enjoying life in a way I haven’t lately, and for that I am eternally grateful.