If you haven’t read my “Why am I so interested in hormones?” series (linked at the bottom of this post), see here for my story on how I lost my period and my journey to getting healthy again. Here I will share what learned about why our periods can stop and how to get it back for those of you who want to know exactly what to do.
For those who don’t have PCOS or any physical or structural issue with their reproductive system, it is often a condition called Hypothalamic Amenorrhea (HA) that leads to absent menstrual cycles and missing periods. What I have found from working with and speaking to other women is that everybody’s situation is different but it is 99% of the time a combination of the points below. If you have already recovered your period and it has gone awry again, come back to these basics and I’m sure you will find somewhere you can realign.
Can diet cause missing periods?
Food and nutrition play a major role in our hormonal (and general) health. If we are not eating enough to fuel our bodies over a period of time, our brain registers that there isn’t enough energy coming in and decides to shut down some unnecessary functions in order to preserve energy. This includes our menstrual cycle but can also lead to other symptoms which come along with HA such as feeling tired and cold all of the time, hair thinning, digestive issues and poor muscle recovery.
If you have been trying to lose weight for many months or years and notice any of the above symptoms it is a good idea for you to reconsider your diet. You are likely in “starvation mode” which is a state of reduced metabolism and limited bodily functions. If this is you, what should you do? EAT THE FOOD! Eat as much as your body is asking for with no restrictions. Eat carbs, fats and proteins. Eat both “healthy foods” and “fun foods”. I know this is easier said than done and I will go into the mental and emotional aspects of this in another post but for now I will just say that you need to nourish your body with good food and lots of it.
Can exercise cause missing periods?
Simply put, yes too much exercise can stop periods. It is fairly common for female athletes or very active women to lose their period. This can be due to an energy deficit if she is not eating enough to fuel the exercise she is doing. Or it can be due to stress on the body from too high frequency or intensity of exercise. The fitness industry is huge these days and it is not unusual for women to be running or doing HIIT workouts on a daily basis. Social media these days is full of images of lean women with abs and defined muscles but this is far from the ideal fertile body for many women. Exercise supports our cardiovascular and muscular systems but like anything, too much can be unhelpful. As women, we need a certain amount of body fat to maintain our reproductive systems and therefore a healthy period.
If this sounds like you, what can you do? If you are serious about recovering your hormonal health I would strongly recommend taking a break from intense exercise for a few months. Keep movement to a minimum only light walking and stretching, yoga or any other gentle activity you enjoy. Not only will this help to balance your hormones but it will give your body a chance to repair any muscle and tissue damage caused by over-exercising and help you to come back stronger than ever.
Can being under weight cause missing periods? Can weight loss cause skipped periods?
This one really goes with the above two points but I will say it as a separate point just to be clear. Our bodies have a “set point weight” at which they are happy and healthy. However many women today are pursuing an unhealthy ideal due to images in the media of skinny, sexy women. The truth is, we don’t know the full story and many of these women are harming their body to look this way, despite looking healthy on the outside. The majority of women need to be at the “fertile BMI” of 22-23 to have a healthy period but of course some women will menstruate at a lower weight than this and others will need to reach a BMI of 25+. This all depends on your genetic tendencies and history of dieting and over-exercising.
So if you don’t get a regular period and you are not already in the healthy BMI range of 20-25, considering gaining weight is an absolute must. Follow the above diet and exercise recommendations and allow your body to reach what it considers to be a healthy weight. It may be that your body needs to sit slightly above this range to feel safe and you will need to learn to be ok with that. Really start to reflect on your beliefs around body image and reprogram your brain to disassociate health and weight loss. Of course, this is easier said than done and may take some time but it will be totally worth it when you have a natural, regular cycle again.
Can stress cause missing periods?
Finally, but no less important, is stress! Some women are not dieting or over-exercising but lose their period anyway due to an extremely stressful event in their life or to a lifestyle which leads to chronic low level stress on a daily basis. This doesn’t have to be anything extreme but can be a typical busy lifestyle of having a full time job, active social life and looking after a family. Again, the hypothalamus, detects stress as a threat which can cause it to shut down our fertility system until it feels safe again. Unfortunately, many of us live our lives in this chronically stressed fight-or-flight state which means that our bodies never truly feel safe.
Of course it’s not always possible to drop everything and walk off into the sunset to recover our cycles! So what can you do to reduce stress? Start by reflecting on your lifestyle and eliminate any unnecessary sources of stress. This could include saying yes to things when you mean no, worrying excessively over things that are not important in the grand scheme of life or being perfectionistic or over-critical of yourself. It can also include over-use of stimulants such as caffeine which fire up your nervous system and can lead to to spending all day in a state of urgency. The second thing is to allow yourself to get into a calm state every day. Mindful breathing, meditation, baths, calming music can all help to drop out of “fight or flight” and into “rest and digest” mode allowing your body to enter a state of deep relaxation.
This is a huge topic so that’s all I will say for now. Spend some time reflecting on these four areas of your life and see if you can identify what may be preventing your hormones functioning as they should. I understand you completely if you feel like your body is broken and this can’t work for you but if I managed to recover my cycles after 8 years of Hypothalamic Amenorrhea and have maintained healthy cycles for over 3 years then anyone can do it!
Over to you…
I hope you found this article interesting and you now understand some of the factors which can cause your periods to go missing. Like this post and follow my blog for more on HA recovery, healthy hormones and holistic health. Please share your experience below I’d love to hear from you!
- Let me know in the comments, which of the above factors do you think is the most important for you?
- If you are looking for support, guidance and accountability on your period recovery journey, please contact me for further information on the nutrition and health coaching packages I offer. Together we will set you up with a plan to get your hormones balanced and you feeing your best mentally and physically.