Dieting vs. Non-diet approach to health coaching

How many here have ever been on a diet to lose weight? Weight-watchers, Slimming World, low-calorie, low-carb or low-fat… how many have you tried??

In 2016, Huffington post shared an article claiming that 57% of British women had been on a diet to lose weight in the last 12 months and of those, two-thirds reporting being on a weight-loss diet most or all of the time. That’s pretty shocking! Dieting in the traditional sense is not easy. It takes effort to go against your bodies’ natural signals and purposely eat less food than it is asking for in order to lose weight. Yes you might lose weight but sustaining this tension between “want it” and “can’t have it” over a long period of time depletes your mental and emotional energy reserves, intensifying cravings and leaving you feeling drained and vulnerable to over-eating which undoes all of your hard work.

It’s no secret these days that diets don’t work but still many people continue to try for lack of a better option. I’m here to tell you that there is a better option! It’s called the Non-Dieting Approach to health coaching and it’s the method that I was taught to use with clients as a health coach. The Non-Dieting Approach is based on researched methods of health promotion including Intuitive Eating and Health at Every Size® which encourage working with your body rather than against it in your pursuit of health.

So what exactly is the non-diet approach to health coaching and how does it compare to traditional dieting methods?

Traditional dieting methodsNon-diet approach
Main goal is weight loss, body shape change or size reduction. Encourages you to adopt healthy lifestyle habits, regardless of weight, shape or size
Advises control of food quantities by weighing, measuring and counting portionsTeaches you to regulate eating based on internal signals of hunger and fullness (intuitive eating)
Often recommends using a food diary to count calories or macros with targets set based on goalsRecommends you use a food diary to understand eating behaviours or the effects of different foods or meals
Categorises foods as good or bad based on the rules of the specific dietRemoves all moral labels from food and teaches you to accept nourishment in all forms
Uses exercise (especially cardio) as a way to burn calories or fat and offset the food eatenSupports you to find ways to move your body that bring you joy and build self-appreciation
Self-monitoring of progress is typically weighing, measuring or taking photos of your physiqueSelf-monitoring is based on behaviours and may include a journal of thoughts and feelings.
Often any weight lost is regained within a 5 year period after the dietDoes not always result in weight loss but lifestyle changes and health benefits can be sustained long term
Risks of increased body dissatisfaction, reactive binge eating, chronic or yo-yo dieting, further weight gainEncourages positive self-image and body acceptance, boosts confidence, improves happiness and vitality

The Non-Diet Approach is exactly the method I used to recover from chronic dieting and find true health. Through this method I was able to get back my period after 8 years of Hypothalamic Amenorrhea caused by restrictive dieting and over-exercising, both of which I believed were healthy at the time. I was able to reintroduce foods I loved that I had been restricting for many years believing that they were bad and eating them even in moderation would make me unhealthy (and these were the same foods that I used to then go and binge eat in secret when I couldn’t hold myself any longer). I was also able to let go of my rigid exercise regime which was getting in the way of my social life and impacting my family relationships.

These days I have a very balanced approach to food. Unlike my expectation that lifting dietary restrictions would lead to a life long junk food and sweets binge, I found that actually I settled into a natural pretty healthy dietary pattern with plenty of treats sprinkled in without the guilt. After letting go of my gym obsession, I found more enjoyable ways to move my body which feel like a hobby rather than a chore or a punishment and I genuinely look forward to these activities! And what about my weight? I quickly settled into a natural set point weight for my body type and have remained there within a 5lb range for the last 5 years without any real effort other than maintaining the healthy lifestyle habits I built.

I want this type of health and wellness for you too! If you are sick and tired of restricting and punishing your body to lose weight and want to let go of dieting for good, I can help. We will work together to gain clarity on your vision of true health, develop goals and strategies to get there and I will offer you support and accountability in taking action. Breaking free of chronic dieting takes a 180 mindset shift and the unravelling of some deep held beliefs about what it means to be healthy but together we can get there!

If you are interested in learning more about health coaching with the Non-Diet Approach or want to apply for one of my coaching spots opening up this week, head over to the Contact page of my site or drop me an email at lovemoonlife.mail@gmail.com.

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How I finally let go of dietary rules and let myself eat more food

One of the hardest things for me in my recovery from disordered eating and Hypothalamic Amenorrhea was finally being able to let go of control around food. I went from restricting the amount of calories I ate and recording every bite in a calorie tracking app to various phases of restrictive diets including dairy-free, gluten-free, paleo and finally all varieties of veganism. Whole foods, high-carb, low-fat, raw foods you name it, I tried it. I was addicted to manipulating my diet in some way or another but now, 3 years later I can honestly say that I eat whatever I like and however much I like. And the ability to not overthink food and trust in my bodies’ signals is one of the most beautiful things about being recovered.

Now as a nutritionist and health coach, I support women through this process of escaping dietary prison to find food freedom, true health and a regular menstrual cycle. With so much information available online and in books, I find that most women know exactly what they need to do but the problem is actually doing it. What seems so simple (eating more food and resting) becomes extremely difficult when we factor in all of the emotional ties and conditioned beliefs around food and body image. We have been brainwashed to believe that we aren’t good enough if we don’t look a certain way and that certain foods are bad for us or even toxic. I found this to be especially prevalent in the raw vegan community where everything is considered toxic, even cooked food.

When I first realised how important it was for me to recover my menstrual cycle and the damage I could have caused to my body through 8 years of Hypothalamic Amenorrhea, the first hurdle I had to jump was allowing myself to eat more food. I was so used to dieting and living life with this restrictive mindset that to suddenly jump to eating 2500 calories a day (the minimum recommended for recovery) seemed nearly impossible. One thing that terrified me was this idea of losing control. During this time of restrictive eating, I experienced a lot of binge eating episodes where I would accidently eat more than I intended to or something “unhealthy” and this would trigger a huge overeating spree where I would eat everything in sight. I felt like I had to control every bite or my appetite would over take me.

However, at some point I realised that the more I tried to restrict my food, the stronger the urge to binge became. When I purposely ate less food after a big binge episode, it would only make it more likely to happen again a few days later. Over a period of a few months, I started to entertain the idea that maybe if I just ate more food on a regular basis, the binge eating would stop. I think I even did a calculation of the average number of calories I ate in a week , taking into account days of restriction and binges (see the graph below for a visual!) and I realised that actually I would probably be much happier and my body would be more stable if I just ate that amount consistently each day. I also finally accepted this idea that food is fuel and that our bodies need a certain amount of energy each day just to function and keep all our systems going, even if we are completely sedentary.

And it worked, this was the first step towards letting go of control. That said, I still had a long way to go! Even though I was eating more food and feeling healthier, I was still consciously controlling the amount I ate and the idea of stopping tracking my food or increasing my calorie intake made me extremely anxious. I still avoided certain foods that I believed were unhealthy like bread, dairy and processed foods. Then a funny thing happened. I discovered the idea of a vegan diet, first through watching documentaries about the environmental impact of animal agriculture and then through the world of Vegan YouTube which was booming at that time. Back in 2015, everyone in this community was promoting the idea that you can “eat as much as you want, as long as it is plant-based” and stay slim and healthy. I was so desperate to be free of this restrictive mindset, but I still was so attached to maintaining a low body weight that I fell straight for it.

This led to a weird couple of years where on one hand I felt extremely free and I allowed myself to eat more food than I ever had, without tracking. However this control that I had around food hadn’t disappeared, it had only shifted to another form. I no longer checked the calories for every food I ate, but I would rarely eat anything that wasn’t vegan or a whole-food e.g. fruit, vegetables, starches, nuts and seeds. I did get my period back during this time because I was finally providing my body with enough fuel, but I still suffered with signs of hormonal imbalance and other chronic health issues like insomnia and fatigue. Because I had allowed myself to be brainwashed by the idea that a vegan diet cures everything I thought that I needed to be more strict with my diet if I wanted to heal. Actually it was an illusion of freedom and abundance that took me a while to identify and break free from.

Don’t get me wrong, the foods I ate when I was vegan were very healthy but as PART of a balanced diet, not the whole diet!

So fast forward 3 years, I started to realise that some health problems I was trying to heal from via my vegan diet could actually be a result of this very diet which was really quite restrictive. I also started to experience new health issues out of nowhere which I couldn’t explain like dry skin, hair loss and constipation. I never considered that it could be the vegan diet but once I started to research online, I discovered a whole community of people talking about how their vegan diet had impacted their health in a negative way. I read stories of people who had done a complete U-turn and adopted a high-fat, animal-based keto or even carnivore diet and were claiming to have healed their chronic health issues. I could have fallen down this rabbit too but luckily, this really opened my eyes to the real situation, that humans can survive on many different diets and that we thrive on a variety of foods.

I had believed for years that animal products caused all sorts of health issues and here were people healing using these exact foods. Same with calorie restriction, for years I had thought this was the healthy thing to do until I found out about the impact of dieting on our hormones and our overall health. Finally, I started to open my mind and see that when it comes to nutrition and I discovered that there is so much conflicting information out there and you can find research to back up any claim that you want. The online health and wellness sphere is a minefield and it is almost random which hole you fall down. The problem with social media is that once you fall down a hole and adopt a certain mindset, you only see information which supports these views. If you want to question your beliefs you really have to make the effort to seek out new information because everything that is fed to you is more of the same.

(Side note – I recommend the documentary The Social Dilemma if you are interested in learning more about how social media sells our attention as it’s main product!)

Luckily, this was also the time that I decided to go back to university and study for a Masters’ degree in nutrition because I knew I wanted to help women heal their hormones using food. This gave me a much better understanding of human nutrition and metabolism and an understanding of the damage that extreme or restrictive diets in any form can do to the body. During my years of study, I adopted a much more balanced diet. I reintroduced animal-based foods and processed foods in moderation. I completely let go of all my conditioned beliefs around food and stared to understand both the health and environmental benefits of eating more seasonal and traditional foods. It’s funny because my diet is definitely much less like the typical “healthy diet” now and yet I am healthier than ever. I feel like we are given the false idea that we are either following the typical SAD junk-food diet or that we are on some super restrictive clean diet when in reality there is a huge grey areas between those extremes where, I believe, true health can be found.

Now I eat ice-cream and crisps but also salads, fruits and organic meat. I realised that foods are not inherently good or bad, they just has more or less energy and nutrients. Even processed foods with additives are fine in moderation our body can handle them and, despite what healers in the detox world say, they do not build up in our tissues and need to be purged by colonics and fruit fasting. Sure, if you only eat processed foods and don’t provide your body with enough nutrients, it will be overloaded. Plus, such cleansing practices have been used by ancient cultures on an annual basis for example but you only need to look at long-term detox practitioners to see that this restriction and stress actually ages the body causing premature skin damage and thin, poor quality hair, never mind the likely damage to internal organs. Perhaps it is vain, but seeing this reality really helped me to let go of some of my lingering fears around certain foods.

Some examples of foods that I had written off as unhealthy which are actually very nourishing for the body and soul!

I think to finally let go of dietary rules and surrender to the unexplored territory that is your natural appetite, a key thing is to really explore this idea of control. Why do you need it and what does it really mean to be in control? My idea of control has shifted dramatically over the last few years. I used to feel in control when I ate clean and resisted my hunger. I now see control as taking my health into my own hands and making decisions based on what works for my unique body, rather than listening to the advice of others who claim to have found the holy grail in terms of food and lifestyle. It also helps to consider your idea of health and what it means to be healthy. For me health is a feeling, having energy, a strong and fertile body and feeling free to live my life and have fun. No restrictive diet ever gave me health in these terms but I never considered that at the time.

This post is perhaps a bit long and jumbled but I think it is really important to talk about this subject and I wanted to write without editing. I speak to clients and female friends and so many have been indoctrinated into some dietary cult or another. Whether it is an attachment to the low-fat, low-calorie diet and the idea of being skinny or whether it is an obsession with clean eating and having a cupboard full of supplements at home, it’s so unnatural and is so far away from true health. Breaking free of whatever dietary rules and restrictions you have become attached to is a personal journey and a decision that only you can take but I hope that my story at least helps you to see that there is another way to find health and it is one that can include chocolate!

Over to you…

Please leave a comment below if you have any thoughts on this topic, I’d love to hear your opinions and have a discussion. If you found this article interesting, please like this post and follow my blog to be notified when I post something new.

If you are looking for guidance, support and accountability on you health journey, please contact me or check out the nutrition and holistic health coaching packages I offer. I am a qualified Public Health Nutritionist and hatha yoga teacher and my specialty is helping women to balance their hormones and heal their body and metabolism after restrictive dieting. I would love to work together with you to move past any health blocks and get you feeling your best again!

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Can you get your period back following a vegan diet?

One of the questions I am often asked by women who are trying to heal from Hypothalamic Amenorrhea and recover their period is whether it’s possible to heal your hormones and regain a healthy menstrual cycle whilst still following a vegan diet. If you haven’t read my previous posts on the HA recovery diet and how I got my period back, I’d recommend to check those out first before going ahead with this one because I explain all about the factors that can cause your period to disappear or become irregular and the strategy to recover. This is a topic I have researched extensively over the years and I have personal experience with so I wanted to share my advice from a public health nutrition perspective.

So to return to the initial question: can you get your period back whilst following a vegan diet? The short answer is yes, it’s absolutely possible and I did it myself. After watching documentaries about the environmental impact of animal agriculture and the health benefits of a vegan diet I was committed and I chose to maintain my vegan diet whilst trying to recover my period. I did manage to get my period back after 4 months of going “all-in” with my diet and no exercise so it is definitely possible! However does this mean I recommend a vegan diet to my clients or that I believe a vegan diet is optimal when try to get your period back? Definitely not! In fact I am no longer vegan and although I have no regrets, if I could go back in time with the information I have now I would definitely choose differently. Here are a few reasons why…

1. Calories

One of the important factors for many women with Hypothalamic Amenorrhea is eating enough calories. When you lose your period due to an energy imbalance, i.e. not eating enough to support your activities, increasing your energy intake is very important. You can definitely do this on a vegan diet simply by eating more food but as many plant-based foods are more calorie dilute this can be a struggle! Especially if you eat a lot of fruit and vegetables, starchy carbs and legumes which all have a high amount of water and fiber, you might find that you get full before you consume the amount of calories that your body really needs. This makes a plant-based diet great for weight loss but not so much when boosting your energy intake is your goal.

Of course, you can add in more energy dense vegan foods such as nuts and seeds, nut butters, oil and processed foods which take up less space in your stomach and are easier on your digestive system, but in my experience, bloating and other digestive issues are likely even when consuming the minimum calorie intake for healing your hormones. Actually I had forgotten how it felt not to be bloated until I finally reduced the amount of fibre I was consuming from beans, vegetables and nut butters. If you are extremely committed to recovering your period on a vegan diet, you can opt for easy to digest foods such as bread or crackers with jam, processed cereals and plant-based milk. However, as I will come to in the next point, these are not the most nutritious foods and you might find that your body needs ALOT of them to satisfy your nutrient needs for healing.

2. Nutrients

Hypothalamic Amenorrhea is an issue primarily of energy imbalance, but as all foods contain both macro and micronutrients, not eating enough food can easily lead to nutritional deficiencies. Part of recovering your menstrual cycle is nutritional rehabilitation which means flooding the body with as many building blocks for repair as possible. Nutrients that can be difficult to obtain and absorb in a vegan diet include iron, calcium, vitamin A (retinol) and vitamin D. Under stress our bodies also use some nutrients at a much faster rate than usual. Yes, it is theoretically possible to eat a well planned vegan diet which meets all of the recommended daily amounts. However, we don’t have control of our internal processes and if digestion is compromised, which is often the case with hormonal imbalance, then we can’t be sure we are really absorbing and benefitting from all of these nutrients.

It’s important to reflect on your history with dieting and if your past experience with restricting your food intake or the types of foods you eat could put you at risk of nutrient deficiencies. Or if you are unsure and you have the budget you can also ask your doctor to run a blood test for the key nutrients. The problem with this is that, there may also be additional compounds present in animal products which we don’t yet fully understand and for that reason, I think it’s just not worth the risk. Personally, I would suggest that if you are determined to follow a vegan diet, it’s better to heal the body with a high nutrient, omnivorous diet then, once the body is healthy and functioning optimally, consider adopting a more plant-based diet.

3. Fat and cholesterol

In general, the vegan diet tends to be higher in carbohydrates and lower in fat compared to diets including animal-based products. In addition, the fats available in plant-based foods such as nuts, seeds and avocados are generally poly-unsaturated fats and there is some research to suggest that these fats are actually less supportive to metabolic health compared with saturated fats which are found in meat and dairy. Losing your period is commonly a sign of being in a lower metabolic state and so you really want to be eating a metabolism supporting diet to get your period back. I am by no means saying nuts and seeds are unhealthy and that we should avoid them, but when we want to send the body the signal that the famine is over and its safe to rev up the metabolism and reproductive system, we want to make sure we are consuming enough saturated fat.

Adding in more fat from coconut is a good step towards a more metabolically supportive vegan diet but getting more variety of fats and nutrients from animal based sources will take your diet to the next level. Animal fats also contain cholesterol which is another nutrient you want to be consuming when you are trying to get your period back. Often cholesterol is demonised and we are told to avoid high-cholesterol foods if we want to be healthy. But when it comes to hormone balancing and especially recovering from Hypothalamic Amenorrhea when hormone production is lower than it should be, having some cholesterol in your diet can actually be beneficial and speed up the healing process. Cholesterol is a building block for reproductive hormones such as estrogen and progesterone which are necessary for a healthy menstrual cycle and regular period. Cholesterol cannot be synthesised by plants and is only found in animal-based foods such as meat and eggs, therefore consuming even a small amount of these foods on a regular basis can support your hormone healing process.

4. Mental restriction

This is a tricky one because personally, adopting a vegan diet was what finally enabled me to let go of restrictive dieting and allow myself to eat an abundance of food. Because I was no longer focusing on choosing food to maintain a low body weight but rather on sourcing ethical food, it took the focus away from calories and allowed me to eat more. That said, once I finally decided to let go of veganism and re-introduce animal products, whilst still allowing myself to eat the amounts of food my body asked for, I experienced a whole new level of food freedom which I didn’t know I was missing, especially in social situations where I had always felt isolated being the only vegan. I think you have to be very honest with yourself about the reason you want to follow a vegan diet and whether there is a chance that a desire to restrict your food is influencing your decision.

Unfortunately, there are also many rabbit holes to fall down when it comes to the vegan diet which can lead to some pretty extreme dietary restriction: raw vegan, starch solution, high carb low fat, 80 10 10, vegan keto just to name a few! So while it is possible to regain your period on a vegan diet, I’d say that for a full mental recovery following a balanced diet that includes all foods is optimal. Coming back to the idea of safety, you want to create an environment of abundance to really allow your body to relax and heal and this means abundance both in terms of quantity and variety of foods. If you are 100% sure that you are choosing a vegan diet for ethical reasons only, you can support your body better by eating a varied and balanced vegan diet and not being seduced by the health claims of these more restricted diets.

Over to you…

So those are my thoughts on why a vegan diet is not optimal when trying to recover your period. I understand that for some, eating animal products is simply not an option so I hope the few tips for how you can modify your vegan diet to be more hormonally supportive were also helpful. Please like and share this post to support my channel and share with anyone who might benefit from this article.

If you are interested in this topic and would like me to talk more about my experience with getting my period back on a vegan diet or the process of reintroducing animal products back into your diet after long-term veganism, leave me a comment or drop me an email and I will do my best to help! If you are looking for guidance, support and accountability on you health journey, please contact me for information on the nutrition and holistic health coaching packages I offer. I would love to work together with you to get you feeling your best again.

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Why we should NOT use BMI to diagnose eating disorders

Today’s post is a bit different from my usual content but I saw a story on BBC news yesterday which really stirred up emotion in me and inspired me to write. It was a young woman sharing her experience with disordered eating and being told by doctors that her BMI “wasn’t low enough to be anorexic” when she went to seek help. Here is the short video clip:

For those of you who haven’t read my previous posts about my struggles with disordered eating, I had an undiagnosed eating disorder throughout my teens and early twenties and lost my period for nearly 10 years due to being underweight for my body type. During this time I too was told by doctors that I was healthy because my weight was within the normal range and was led down the road of more and more tests to figure out why I wasn’t menstruating. This definitely prevented me from getting the help I needed and delayed my recovery by several years as I was able to keep kidding myself that I was healthy and continue with my unhealthy behaviours around food and exercise.

I still have anger inside me towards the medical system for failing to help me and I think it’s so important to share stories like these in the hope that they can help someone else who might be going through something similar. Disordered eating is something that so many women go through at some point during their life and often it is brushed under the carpet because obsession over our bodies, chronic dieting and exercising to lose weight is seen as just part of being a woman in today’s world. Using the BMI scale as a measure of disordered eating is so outdated and only continues this issue. Women and girls, like me in the past, who do become aware that perhaps they have a problem around food are often made to believe we “aren’t sick enough” to seek or receive support.

The BMI scale was developed around 200 years ago by a mathematician as a quick way of determining whether an individual is at a healthy weight for their height. It is usually seen as a chart of height vs. weight like the one below with marked ranges for underweight, normal weight, overweight and obese. However, it was never intended to be used as a formal diagnosis of health. It wasn’t developed by doctors but for some reason it has been adopted by the medical system and is still used, often without question, to this day.

According to most doctors, a BMI within the range 18.5-25 is considered “normal” but there are several major problems with using the BMI scale. The main one I want to highlight is that it doesn’t take into account the percentage of lean mass which consists of bones, organs and muscle tissue. So someone with a larger bone structure or more muscle mass can quite easily be considered overweight or even obese. Think football players or figure skaters who are often lean but extremely athletic and muscular, according to the the BMI scale many would probably need to lose weight to be considered healthy.. really?! How can a basic mathematical formula know what it healthy for your body type. All it is is statistics. On average, humans have less than 2 arms but does that mean that the typical human has less than 2 arms? Of course not!

What is healthy for our bodies depends on so many factors, including our genetics, the environment we are currently living in and what stressors we have in our lives. At certain times it’s healthier for us to hold more fat and at others it might be more advantageous to be leaner. Our bodies are smarter than we give them credit for. I look at photos of myself at my lowest weight when I was around a BMI of 18.5 and I wonder how any doctor could have thought I looked healthy. I was 20 years old but I looked like a child. There was nothing womanly or fertile about how my body looked at that time. I had hardly a scrap fat on my body, no breasts at all without a padded bra and my knees stood out a mile on my stick legs.

Of course, I didn’t look like the completely skeletal anorexic figures that you see, but I was clearly not at a healthy weight for my frame. It’s obvious to me now why I didn’t have my period. As women we need fat on our bodies to support a healthy pregnancy and to nourish a growing baby. I definitely was not eating enough to support my activity level and I was restricting food groups and specific “unhealthy” foods. I had a high level of cognitive dietary restraint meaning that I thought a lot about food and I was constantly controlling and denying my cravings. My body was sending me all the signals that it wanted to be at a higher weight, I would have crazy binge eating episodes because my body was starving for calories but I saw this as a lack of motivation or as emotional eating. I wasn’t underweight for my height so I didn’t see the problem.

This is the issue with the BMI scale, it lumps everyone in the same category and doesn’t account well enough for our bio-individuality or our bodies’ natural intelligence. Personally, I had to workout excessively and restrict my diet in order to maintain this weight which should have been a major red flag that it wasn’t my natural set point. Perhaps another woman could maintain this same weight naturally with little effort and could be healthy but that is not how my body was designed to be. But because I was so attached to the BMI scale and trusted doctors when they told me I was healthy, I carried on this delusion for too long. I’m sure there are so many other women (and men) stuck in this same false narrative, believing that their behaviours around food are healthy when in reality it is causing more harm than good.

When it comes to eating disorder diagnosis, I think using the BMI scale can be extremely dangerous. Especially today as the trend online is not just to be skinny but also to be fit and lean. There must be so many girls and women out there who are suffering in order to achieve a “perfect body” either by being overly rigid and restrictive around food or by over-exercising but they are at a normal BMI so they must be healthy, right? Wrong. Eating disorders are about so much more than physical appearance, they are mental disorders. Diagnosis should be based on thought patterns and behaviours and not on weight alone. If someone is focused on food to the point it is affecting their life, if they are afraid of certain foods or obsessed with losing weight, it doesn’t matter what BMI they are, they deserve help.

I understand that the NHS has limited resources and that they have to prioritise those who are at the highest risk. Being dangerously underweight can cause so much damage to the body and of course these people need to be under medical care, but for those who fall into the grey area of not being sick enough to receive support this can be a real problem. Disordered eating develops over time and generally the earlier it is diagnosed, the easier it is to recover. Eating disorder thoughts are like a fungus that enters your brain, sets down roots and spreads a network across your psyche. Rooting out all of the false beliefs, stories around food and your body and replacing them with healthy, helpful thoughts takes a lot of time and effort.

Putting off treatment because your weight isn’t low enough yet means falling further down a slippery slope and it can become harder if not impossible to achieve a full recovery. Eating disorders are already such a secretive disorder, drenched in shame and denial. Even when part of your mind realises there is a problem and wants to seek help, the disordered part wants things to stay as they are and will hold tightly onto any excuse to stay stuck. A healthy BMI is exactly that, a lifeline of denial for the eating disorder voice. I still have to deal with these thoughts today, even though I can recognise them and not act on them. I think this is partly because of my disordered eating being hidden and allowed free reign of my sub-conscious mind for so long.

I do believe that full physical and mental recovery is possible but it’s much more likely when these things are caught early and don’t go as deep. I definitely consider myself fully recovered now and have for many years but I don’t think that quiet voice will ever completely go away. As a nutritionist and yoga teacher, healthy and wellness is still a big part of my life but I am fully aware that I have to stay vigilant as it can be a fine line between looking after your health and obsessing over your health. It’s not like recovering from alcohol or drugs where you can completely abstain, you can’t recover from obsession with healthy eating by avoiding healthy foods.. that’s a recipe for disaster! However, my motto now is be healthy to live, don’t live to be healthy. Eat vegetables but also eat chocolate cake. Move your body but know when to rest. It might be cliche but balance is the way!

Over to you

Please like and share this post and help to spread awareness of this issue. Follow my blog for more posts on balanced health, yoga and nutrition for healthy hormones.

If you feel like you or someone you know is suffering with disordered eating, please please reach out for support. Don’t let having a healthy BMI get in the way of getting the help you need.

YOU DESERVE TO HAVE A HEALTHY, ACCEPTING RELATIONSHIP TO FOOD AND YOUR BODY NO MATTER WHAT!

BEAT: https://www.beateatingdisorders.org.uk/support-services/helplines

NHS: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/eating-disorders/

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hypothalamic amenorrhea

Real health #20 Why your period is so important for your health

It’s been a while since I talked about my favourite topic.. the menstrual cycle aka your period. Specifically why your period is important for your overall health and the problems associated with not having a regular menstrual cycle. Any guys out there, maybe this isn’t the article for you but feel free to read on and you could just learn something to help the ladies in your life!

We usually think of our menstrual cycle as two phases: bleeding and not bleeding. In reality it is a menstrual cycle with levels of several reproductive hormones shifting throughout the month. The amount of these hormones your body produces is sensitive to stress, including both physical stress from under-eating and over-exercising and mental and emotional stress. When you lose your period because something is off in your lifestyle is it called Hypothalamic Amenorrhea (HA). I wrote all about this in a previous post so you can check that out if you are interested in learning more. But here I want to focus on the problems that come with not having your period.

The problems with not having a period

The most obvious reason to have a regular, healthy period is of course your fertility. The whole point of your menstrual cycle is to prepare your body for pregnancy and allow you to have a baby. If you don’t have your period, it’s very unlikely you are going to be able to get pregnant. But what if you have decided you don’t want children or you’ve already had children? It’s still important for you to have your period too! I spent many years believing it was “fine” that I didn’t have my period and it was actually pretty convenient to be honest, not to have to buy tampons, worry about getting pregnant or have my period ruining my plans but once I found out what it means to not have a period and how unhealthy it is for your body I was shocked and I wished I’d been told sooner.

One of the key hormones that drives your menstrual cycle is estrogen. Apart from it’s role in your menstrual cycle, did you know that estrogen also helps to build your bones? When women enter the menopause and stop producing estrogen they start to lose bone mineral density and are at an increased risk of developing osteoporosis or brittle bones. Not having a regular period is a sign that your hormone balance is off and estrogen levels could be low. Girls who don’t have their period due to hypothalamic amenorrhea during their teenage years are at risk of developing early onset osteopenia which can lead to osteoporosis if not treated. This might not mean much when you are young but trust me, you want to make sure you are building strong bones while you can! And don’t forget that your if your bones are losing minerals then it’s highly likely that your teeth are suffering too putting you at increased risk of cavities and teeth sensitivity. Who thought that periods and teeth were related??

Another surprising link is between hypothalamic amenorrhea and heart disease. Estrogen has an anti-oxidative, anti-inflammatory effect in the body and also acts as a vasodilator meaning it causes your blood vessels to expand and low levels of estrogen have been linked with an increased risk of developing heart disease. Even though most of the research is in post-menopausal women, there have also been studies linking low estrogen levels in younger women with build up of plaque in the arteries and increased risk of heart disease in later life. And yes this is even for those who exercise! You might think you are being super healthy and boosting your cardio-vascular system but if you are exercising excessively and you have lost your period then you are undoing all of that hard work. Another thing I wish I’d known about sooner..

Other problems with hypothalamic amenorrhea

Not only does hypothalamic amenorrhea put you at risk for issues later in life, it can also cause problems in the here and now. Low estrogen can also be the explanation for fatigue, headaches, low sex drive, vaginal dryness, anxiety, depression and insomnia just to name a few. And as well as your reproductive hormones, not having your period could be a sign that other things are off in your body. We often think of our body systems acting in isolation but in reality, all of these things are connected and if one falls down it can have a domino effect throughout your body.

Often women with hypothalamic amenorrhea have higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol which also has been associated with bone loss as well as anxiety, insomnia and lower thyroid hormones. In hypothalamic amenorrhea, your metabolism is suppressed which could explain symptoms of hypo-thyroidism such as feeling cold all of the time, hair loss and low energy levels. Many women who develop hypothalamic amenorrhea due to restricting their food intake also experience digestive problems like bloating, stomach pain, constipation and food intolerances. If you don’t have your period and you feel like you are constantly struggling with digestive issues, then maybe the two could be related.

What should you do if you’ve lost your period?

So if you have made it to the end of this post, well done and I hope I didn’t scare you too much. If this is you, don’t worry, now you know you can do something about it! First you can read my blog posts about hypothalamic amenorrhea, how to recover and my recovery story. I’d also recommend buying the book No Period Now What by Nicola Rinaldi if you want an in depth explanation of all things hypothalamic amenorrhea related. If you need that final push to commit to getting your period back, definitely buy her book. If you think you have hypothalamic amenorrhea, visit your GP to get your hormone levels checked and Nicola also offers blood test results analysis through her website if you’re unsure. Three steps you can take right now:

  1. Eat more food and let go of any dietary rules and restrictions
  2. Take a break from intense exercise for at least a month
  3. Reduce the stress in your life and add more stress relieving activities

Easier said than done I know, but I believe in you! It’s never too late to recover your period and undo at least some of the damage to your body from hypothalamic amenorrhea. Recovery is challenging but so worth it.

References

Emma O’Donnell, Jack M. Goodman, Paula J. Harvey, Cardiovascular Consequences of Ovarian Disruption: A Focus on Functional Hypothalamic Amenorrhea in Physically Active Women, The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, Volume 96, Issue 12, 1 December 2011, Pages 3638–3648, https://doi.org/10.1210/jc.2011-1223

Over to you…

I hope you enjoyed this article on why it’s important to have your period and the series so far. Let me know in the comments below your thoughts and experiences, I’d love to hear from you.

  • If you want to follow along with this Real Health January blog series, like this post and follow my blog for daily updates. And please share with anyone you think might be interested!
  • If you are looking for guidance, support and accountability on you health journey, please contact me for information on the nutrition and holistic health coaching packages I offer. I would love to work together with you to get you feeling your best again.

Other posts you might like

Shufelt, C. L., Torbati, T., & Dutra, E. (2017). Hypothalamic Amenorrhea and the Long-Term Health Consequences. Seminars in reproductive medicine35(3), 256–262. https://doi.org/10.1055/s-0037-1603581

caffeine and health

Real health #17 Is coffee healthy? Caffeine and health

Caffeine.. one addiction I just can’t seem to shake! I go through periods of giving it up and feeling great then after a bad night or two of sleep I am tempted to go back. I know it’s not good for me, now I am aware of the effects I can feel the stress hormones coursing through my veins even after just one cup of coffee and as someone who has struggled a lot with sleep it is really not a good idea to be drinking coffee. But the love affair continues…

One of the first things I recommend to my health coaching clients is to cut down on caffeine if they are drinking a lot. Ideally, I’d suggest anyone with hormonal imbalance or fatigue to go completely caffeine-free but I totally understand this isn’t always realistic. So I generally suggest sticking to 1 cup of coffee a day (and I don’t mean huge Starbucks size coffee, just a normal cup). Why? There are many ways that caffeine affects both our hormonal and overall health:

1. Caffeine and stress

Caffeine works by stimulating the adrenal glands to produce stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline. This can make us feel good in the moment as we feel energised, motivated and happier and it can also boost our physical and mental performance. But we’re not designed to live with our nervous system in this stressed state, even if we don’t feel stressed as such that “pumped up” feeling that we are addicted to is stressful for our bodies. Caffeine can also speed up our thoughts, making our minds race and can lead to anxiety and keep us stuck in a loop of worry and negative thoughts, especially if we are already in a stressful situation or have an over-active inner critic.

2. How caffeine affects your sleep

Whether we like it or not, caffeine does affect our quality of sleep.  For most people, stopping drinking coffee around midday is enough time for your body to process the caffeine before you go to bed. But for some people even drinking caffeine in the morning can impact their sleep many hours later. Depending on how sensitive you are, you might notice that caffeine causes you to go to bed later wake up during the night, or maybe your sleep feels less refreshing. If you have been consuming caffeine daily for many years, you might not even notice the effect it is having on your sleep. If you are struggling with insomnia or fatigue, try going caffeine free for a week or two, if this feels impossible it’s probably a sign that it could be just what you need!

3. Effects of caffeine on blood sugar

One of the effects of caffeine stimulating the adrenal glands is a spike in blood sugar as it causes stored glycogen from our muscles to be converted to glucose and pumped into the blood for us to use as energy. Coffee is known for it’s appetite suppressing effects and is often used by dieters to curb cravings. It works in the moment but often leads to increased hunger and cravings later in the day. Especially if we consume caffeine on an empty stomach first thing in the morning, this can cause a spike in blood sugar followed by a crash an hour or 2 later when we crave.. guess what.. more caffeine and/or sugar. This results in a blood sugar rollercoaster which can leave us feeling exhausted and wrecked by the end of the day.  Often when people try to quit drinking coffee they notice more cravings for sugary foods and this is why!

4. Caffeine affects digestion and absorption

As well as  affecting our cravings, coffee can also impact the way we absorb nutrients. For example, caffeine has been shown to reduce absorption of vitamin D and calcium which are both necessary for maintaining healthy bones and teeth. It is also not recommended to consume tea or coffee within an hour of taking an iron supplement as caffeine reduces absorption of this key mineral for energy and vitality. Women are more likely to develop iron-deficiency anemia because we lose blood each month during our period and those who drink coffee regularly are even more at risk. And if that wasn’t enough, as caffeine is a diuretic (it causes you to pee more), it can lead to flushing out water soluble nutrients such as vitamins B and C as well as causing dehydration.

5. Caffeine and masculine energy

The balance of masculine and feminine energy is important for all humans but especially women who are trying to balance their hormones. I will write a whole post on this topic but for now I’ll summarise by saying that masculine energy is the “doing” associated with productivity, activity, busyness and logical thinking and feminine energy is the “being” associated with creativity, softness, surrender and going with the flow. In today’s Western world we so often focused on productivity and work is at the centre of our lives. It’s very normal for us to get up, get ready, have our coffee and start work. I think of caffeine as a way to get myself to do things I don’t feel like doing such as working when I’m tired and need to rest or doing a boring task when really I want to do something fun or creative. In this sense coffee and caffeine can be used as a way for us to suppress our bodies needs and remain in our masculine energy rather than taking the rest and relaxation we need.

How to consume caffeine in a healthy way

That being said, coffee and caffeine can also be a source of pleasure and a social activity. Right now I am living in Greece and the culture revolves around coffee. And I am British so I can help but love a good cup of tea and a chat. If you can’t imagine giving up coffee and tea, try to wait least 30 minutes after a meal rather than drinking it on an empty stomach or with food as this will help to minimise the impacts on stress hormones, blood sugar and nutrient absorption. But for those healing from insomnia, fatigue or hormonal imbalance I recommend choosing decaf, at least most of the time and not becoming reliant on that boost from caffeine to get through the day. As well as decaf coffee and and black tea, lower caffeine alternatives include:

  • Green tea (has some caffeine but also lots of anti-oxidants)
  • Cacao/cocoa (still stimulating but easier on the adrenals)
  • Herbal teas (mostly caffeine free)
  • Chicory coffee (caffeine free coffee alternative)

Over to you…

I hope you enjoyed this article on caffeine and health. Let me know your thoughts below on whether coffee is healthy and how easy you would find to cut down or give it up.

  • If you want to follow along with this Real Health January series, like this post, check out the recommended posts below and follow my blog for daily updates. And please share with anyone you think might be interested!
  • If you are looking for guidance, support and accountability on your health journey, please contact me for information on the nutrition and holistic health coaching packages I offer. I would love to work together with you to get you feeling your best again.

Other posts you might like

Real health #13 Are you drinking too much water?

Most people worry about drinking enough water these days and getting in their “8 glasses a day”. There are even water bottles with markers on showing how much water you should have drank by this time of the day. This really freaks me out! Are we really so detached from our bodies that we need to rely on a plastic bottle to tell us when to drink water?! In this post I want to talk about problems you might encounter with drinking too much water and how much water you should drink to stay healthy. If you are reading this thinking you hardly drink any water and don’t have any issues then maybe click away but I’m talking to the health and fitness enthusiasts here who can’t leave the house without their trusty water bottle by their side (and this used to be me!).

Of course we need to drink water to stay alive. Dehydration can cause all sorts of issues from headaches and poor concentration to dry and dull skin. But do we really need to be chugging water non-stop all day to avoid dehydration? The thing that many people don’t realise is that we also take in water from the food that we eat, especially water rich fruits and veggies. The recommended 2L of water a day also includes this water, not just the water that we drink. It also includes the water in other liquids such as juice, tea and coffee. If you are already following a healthy diet with plenty of fresh food, you might already be taking in all of the water you need without drinking any water at all.

What are the downsides of drinking too much water?

You might think that water is pretty harmless and it’s not possible to drink too much but it is actually possible to run into health issues from drinking too much water. The problem is that water, especially tap or filtered water, doesn’t include the same amount of electrolyte salts as the water in your body. Over-hydration can dilute the levels of salts such as sodium, calcium and potassium levels in your body causing all sorts of problems. On the extreme end there is water intoxication where someone who drinks too much water too fast can cause damage to their brain and even death. But this is extremely rare and not something you could do by accidently drinking too much water during the day. More likely is a chronic, low level dilution of the electrolytes in your extra-cellular fluid which can cause:

  • Low core temperature and cold hands and feet
  • Muscle weakness and cramps
  • Tiredness and fatigue
  • Constipation and digestive issues
  • Dry skin and lips (this can be because you’re not truly hydrated, more on this in a moment)

If you read yesterday’s post on the signs of a low metabolism, you’ll recognise some of these symptoms. Drinking too much water can affect the metabolic rate as you are effectively throwing water on your metabolic fire. That’s not to say you should stop drinking water to speed up your metabolism but it is about finding a good balance.

How to know if you’re drinking too much water?

  • You drink excessively including when you’re not thirsty
  • Your pee is completely clear
  • You are peeing frequently (e.g. every 1-2 hours and once or more during the night)
  • You have a sudden urge to urinate
  • You feel cold all of the time, especially in your hands and feet
  • Your basal body temperature is below 36.5 degrees C

How much water should you drink to stay healthy?

Really that isn’t a question I can answer because how much water you need depends on your body, your diet and your activity level. But if you are drinking a litre of water when you wake up, walking around all day with a water bottle and refilling it several times throughout the day then there’s a chance you are overdoing it. Unless you live in a desert or do crazy amounts of exercise you probably don’t need that much water. There is a myth that once you’re thirsty you are already dehydrated so you should avoid being thirsty at all costs. But our body has a thirst mechanism for a reason, to tell us when it needs water! So put simply, only drink water when you’re thirsty.

The other problem is that plain water is not really hydrating for the body. As I said earlier it contains minimal electrolytes which means it isn’t easily absorbed and utilised by your body. Inside the water can go “straight through you” putting pressure on your kidneys because they have to work even harder to maintain balance. One thing you can also try is drinking mineral water, coconut water or adding electrolytes to tap water to make it more hydrating for your body. You want to have a good balance between the glucose (sugar) and salts (sodium and potassium) that you are taking in through your diet and the amount of water that you drink. Think about when someone is in hospital and they are put on a drip. This fluid is the perfect ratio of fluid to salts and glucose to be absorbed by the body.

Warming foods and cooling foods

To understand this food/water connection further, we can think about foods as cooling or warming for the body. By this I don’t mean cold or hot foods but rather the effect that different foods have on your core body temperature. Herbal tea is a cooling food and ice cream is a warming food – confused? Try drinking a pint of plain tea and eating a pint of ice cream and notice how you feel an hour later once the initial effect of the food temperature has worn off. Generally speaking, cooling foods are high in water and low in calories and salt e.g. fruits, vegetables and low calorie liquids. Warming foods have a lower water content and are more energy dense and salty e.g. crackers, bread, cheese, chocolate. The more cooling foods in your diet, the less water you need to drink. If you eat a more warming diet, then you’ll want to drink more water to balance it out. Simple!

Cooling foods (L) vs. warming foods (C, R)

For example, if you eat a heavy takeaway meal or a bag of salty crisps, your body is going to send you signals to drink more water. In this case the water helps to dilute the salts you have take in. But if you eat a big fruit salad followed by a glass of water, you will probably be running to the bathroom to pee afterwards and might start to feel cold. Make sense? This is a problem with a lot of “healthy” diets which encourage restricting salt and sugar and focusing on cooling foods (ahem raw vegans…). If you are following this kind of diet and have signs of over-hydration above, add some salt to your diet, reduce your water intake and focus on more warming foods for a while until you feel more balanced. And if you are a healthy person aim for a balance of the two and drink whenever you are thirsty.

If you want to learn more about this I highly recommend the book Eat for Heat by Matt Stone. His writing style might put some people off but what he has to say is very interesting and following his protocols helped to get me out of a metabolic slump and recover the symptoms described above. Remember, my point with these posts is to make you question some of the common health myths out there and not to tell you what to do. There’s no need to throw your water bottle away and eat loads of salty foods without drinking any liquids. No extremes here, there is such a thing as too little water! Listen to your body and you will find your balance.

Your challenge for today and the week ahead is to start to pay attention to how you feel after taking in different foods and liquids. Maybe play around with the amount of water you are drinking and your balance of warming and cooling foods and see how you feel.

Over to you…

I hope this article got you thinking about water and whether you are drinking too much. Let me know in the comments below your thoughts and experiences in the comments below.

  • If you want to follow along with this Real Health January series, like this post, check out the recommended posts below and follow my blog for daily updates. And please share with anyone you think might be interested!
  • If you are looking for guidance, support and accountability on you health journey, please contact me for information on the nutrition and holistic health coaching packages I offer. I would love to work together with you to get you feeling your best again.

Other posts you might like

why diets don't work

Real health #7 Why calorie restricted diets don’t work long term

The fact that restrictive dieting works for weight loss is one of the most widespread myths of the western world. We are made to believe that to lose weight, or maintain a healthy weight, we need to restrict our calories to 1800, 1500 or even 1200 calories a day, cut out all treats and always choose low fat or low carb options. I remember being a young teenager and reading the pages on weight loss and celebrity diets in women’s magazines and thinking this is how I need to eat to be beautiful and successful.

Yes, dieting works in the short term but what happens a few months or years down the line? The fact is that most diets don’t work long term. It’s estimated that 95% of people who lose weight on a diet gain it back within 5 years. So many women (and men!) are stuck in this constant cycle of calorie restriction and deprivation followed by rebound overeating and weight gain. Not only is this bad for your physical health but the dieting cycle is bad for your mental health too.

The problem is that we don’t see the yo-yo dieting as a cycle. We see it as lots of separate, successful diets with periods of failure on our part in-between. We see the diets as being successful due to our initial weight loss and then blame ourselves for “falling off the wagon” and gaining back the weight. Then of course, we see the only solution as starting a new diet. What we don’t realise is that with every cycle our body builds it’s defenses against the perceived famine. Your body does this by:

  • Slowing down your digestive system in an attempt to squeeze every last calorie out of the food that you eat, leaving you feeling bloated and sluggish.
  • Turning down your metabolic rate so that you waste less energy as heat, resulting in a drop in your core body temperature and symptoms such as cold hands and feet and sensitivity to cold.
  • Growth of your nails and hair also slows down as your body tries to conserve energy by limiting unnecessary functions and women may experience disruption to their menstrual cycles.
  • Even you slow down as you start to feel the effects of being in a chronic energy deficit such as fatigue, brain fog and muscle aches and pains.

Basically, everything slows down when you are on a calorie restricted diet! Not only that, your body develops ways to persuade you to eat more when you diet, including decreasing the hormones which make you feel full and increasing your hunger signals. Your body is smart and it remembers where the the highest sources of calories are. Calorie restriction can lead to intense cravings for sweet and fatty foods making you feel like you just don’t have the willpower that you used to. Often, we feel like we have no control around food and start to think about it wayyyy too often. We blame ourselves and try to diet harder but in reality it is the restrictive dieting that is causing the problem!

Even though our society views dieting as the healthy and often even the moral thing to do, chronic calorie restriction and yo-yo dieting are some of the most damaging habits for our bodies long term. Really, calorie restriction can go one of two ways:

  1. Sustained weight loss / chronic calorie restriction

Yes there is a small percentage of people who lose weight through dieting and successfully keep it off. However, it is important to realise that those who lose weight through dieting need to eat less and less over time in order to maintain their weight. Sometimes this is referred to as “metabolic damage” but in reality it is actually our bodies getting super efficient. Naturally our energy requirements decrease as we get older so it’s much better to keep our metabolic rate as high as we can while we are young.

Restrictive dieting doesn’t only mean you are eating less calories but you are also taking in fewer nutrients putting you at risk of deficiencies. Remember, weight loss doesn’t always equal health! Being in a calorie deficit is also a stressor for our bodies, causing levels of stress hormones such as cortisol to sky rocket. Short term, this has the effect of raising your blood sugar and increasing the breakdown of lean tissue for fuel. Long term, chronic stress affects all systems of the body causing digestive issues, a suppressed immune system and an increased risk of cardiovascular disease… and you thought going on a diet was healthy??

  1. Weight cycling / Yo-yo dieting

Cycling between extreme calorie restriction and rebound overeating is a trap that many dieters fall into. One of the issues with this is that we can still end up depriving our bodies of essential nutrients. In the dieting phase, we might be eating healthy food but as I said earlier, if we are not consuming enough calories then it is unlikely we are getting the nutrients we need. In the rebound phase, our bodies are desperate for energy so we are much more likely to reach for calorie dense, processed foods that provide that quick surge of energy but still don’t provide enough of the essential nutrients for a healthy, thriving body.

Of course, this is another survival mechanism as if we were in a true famine it is much better to survive with a nutrient deficiency than to waste away from lack of energy. But when we are practicing this pattern of yo-yo dieting and calorie restriction again and again throughout our lives we can get into trouble. In addition, each weight loss cycle results in loss of muscle as well as fat which can change our body composition significantly over time. Reduced lean mass leaves us with a lower resting metabolic rate (i.e. the amount of energy we burn in a day with no activity), meaning that each time we fall of the wagon we seem to regain weight quicker and each time we diet it gets harder and harder to lose weight.

So if dieting is off the cards, what is the solution?

As I said in a previous post, you can definitely lose weight on restricted diets such as a paleo, keto or vegan diet if you need to. I don’t think these diets are doomed to failure but it’s important to make sure you are eating enough to keep your metabolism healthy and your body feeling safe. If you aren’t feeling full and satisfied after your meals and are constantly wanting more, it’s unlikely you are eating enough. That said, I think jumping off the diet wagon altogether and learning to eat intuitively is one of the healthiest things you can do for your long-term health. I really recommend the book Intuitive Eating by Evelyn Tribole as a guide to escaping the diet cycle and tuning into your body’s needs. It is definitely a journey rather than a quick fix as it take time to unpick old habits and form new ones but one that is so worth it!

Right now, I am in the healthiest place I ever have been with food. I probably weigh 15-20lbs more than my old “goal weight” but in time I am realising how warped my view of ideal actually was. Now I am at a healthy weight for my body where my hormones are balanced, my hunger levels are in check and I feel fit and strong. Plus, I have maintained this weight for the last 4 years on probably twice as many calories than I used to eat which is so liberating. I eat food that I love and that I know is nourishing for my body and eat plenty of it. And when I want to treat myself I do. I go out to eat knowing that I can have whatever I want with no guilt and I eat until I am satisfied (sometimes more and that is ok too!).

If you are currently stuck in the dieting cycle, today’s challenge is to take a moment to write down a timeline of your dieting history and look at the patterns.

I know for me it really helped to see on paper how long I had been chasing my tail – just how many times I had lost and gained the same 5lbs and just how many “fresh starts” I had had. Sit and really think about the emotions that you feel during each phase of the cycle and ask yourself whether it is worth it. And if not, know that there is a way to step out of all of that and into food and body freedom.

Over to you…

I hope you enjoyed this article and the series so far. Let me know in the comments below your thoughts on calorie restriction and whether it works long term.

  • If you want to follow along with this Real Health January blog series, like this post and follow my blog for daily updates. And please share with anyone you think might be interested!
  • If you are looking for guidance, support and accountability on you health journey, please contact me for information on the nutrition and holistic health coaching packages I offer. I would love to work together with you to get you feeling your best again.

Other posts you might like

cycling exercise during period recovery

Can exercise stop your period coming back? 5 ways exercise can slow recovery

A common question from women trying to recover from Hypothalamic Amenorrhea is “can I exercise while trying to get my period back?”. I wrote about my tips for exercising during HA recovery but if you are thinking about taking a break and need some motivation, here are 5 ways exercise can work against your recovery.

1.Exercise burns calories which could otherwise be directed towards healing and repair of damage caused by dieting. The point of eating a lot more food during recovery is to flood the body with energy and nutrients to use for healing and repair. Exercise burns up some of these precious resources which will only prolong the healing process. Often women find it hard to meet the minimum recommended calorie intake for recovery and if you choose to exercise you should eat even more to compensate which can be a challenge.

2. Many women use exercise as a way to compensate for “over-eating” and it can be temping to start to move more when we allow ourselves to eat in abundance. We don’t want to exchange one control mechanism for another, we want to be completely free of all restrictions and compensations around food. We want to get to a place where we let go of any toxic beliefs around exercise and let go of guilt for resting. Exercising to make up for eating more is just another form of disordered eating behaviour.

3. Intense exercise is perceived as a stress by our hypothalamus, the brain master control centre. This means it can continue to feel it is unsafe to reproduce and not send the signal to restart our cycles. Although exercise is a good way to relieve mental stress, it is a physical stress on the body as it depletes glycogen reserves, increases the heart rate and damages muscle tissue. Exercise is healthy for a healthy body but if you don’t have your period you are not healthy right now and rest and recuperation will be your medicine.

4. For many women with HA, exercise has long been used as a way to manipulate their body and separating exercise from weight loss is difficult. We want to get to the point were we can exercise for fun and well being, regardless of the impact that it has on our physical appearance. If we continue to exercise during recovery, we might not do some of the mental work that is needed to fully break free of the weight loss mindset. It’s likely that you need to gain weight if you have lost your period and exercising could make this more difficult.

5. Exercise can be used as an appetite suppressant or a distraction from hunger. Exercise puts our nervous system in “fight or flight” mode when our body is stimulated and running on adrenaline which decreases hunger. You might find that you are more hungry on rest days because your body has calmed down and this is exactly what we want for healing. If you are hungry on a physical or mental level you should eat. Don’t fall into the trap of being “too busy to eat” as this will only delay your recovery.

Once you have recovered your period and have accepted your healed body, you might want to start exercising again from a much better headspace but at least it will be a conscious choice rather than because you feel you have to control your body in some way.

Over to you…

I hope this article gave you something to think about! It’s a personal choice whether you decide to stop exercising all together during your recovery. Women have recovered successfully from HA whilst still exercising but it is my opinion that we recover faster and more completely if we give our bodies chance to rest and fully repair.

  • Let me know in the comments, how do you feel about taking a break from exercise? Does it feel scary or a relief? For those in recovery, are you still exercising or taking a break?
  • If you are looking for support, guidance and accountability on your period recovery journey, please contact me for further information on the 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.

Other posts you might like

exercise and hypothalamic amenorrhea

What is Hypothalamic Amenorrhea? Why have my periods stopped?

What is Hypothalamic Amenorrhea?

Hypothalamic Amenorrhea (HA) or Functional Hypothalamic Amenorrhea (FHA) is when a woman has no period for 6 months in a row or more, despite having no anatomical or disease-related reason for lack of menstruation. Functional means behaviour related and we will come to what those behaviours might be later in this post.

Primary vs. Secondary Amenorrhea

Amenorrhea is the medical term for missing periods or the absence of a menstrual cycle. HA and FHA are known as secondary amenorrhea, which is when a woman’s periods have stopped or she has missed several periods in a row. Primary amenorrhea is when a woman has reached reproductive age (usually considered to be 15 or 16) and her periods have not yet started. Primary amenorrhea can be due to genetic conditions affecting the ovaries, hormonal issues relating to the pituitary or hypothalamus glands or structural problems with the reproductive system. The most common causes of secondary amenorrhea are pregnancy, breast-feeding and menopause but it can also be due to birth control methods such as the contraceptive pill or implant as well as functional conditions such as Hypothalamic Amenorrhea.

Hypothalamic Amenorrhea symptoms

Aside from missing periods, there are many other symptoms which can occur with Hypothalamic Amenorrhea. I have listed some examples below although not all (or even any!) of these symptoms have to be present and every woman’s body is different.

  • Thinning hair or hair loss
  • Feeling cold, especially cold hands and feet
  • Excessive tiredness or low energy
  • Anxiety and depression
  • Low sex drive or no libido
  • Abnormal appetite
  • Low bone density or osteopenia

Hypothalamic Amenorrhea explained

**If you aren’t interested in the science-y part then feel free to skip to the next section!

Hypothalamic refers to the hypothalamus, an area of the brain sometimes called the “master controller”. The hypothalamus has many functions, the main ones being regulating hormone levels and maintaining stable conditions inside the body including temperature, blood pressure and appetite. It does this sending out correcting signals responding to changes in internal and external factors.

One of these signals relevant to HA is the release of Gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) which causes another gland, the pituitary to release Follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) and Luteinizing hormone (LH) which are responsible for maturing a follicle in the ovaries and releasing it in ovulation which is the main event in the menstrual cycle. Watch the short video below if you want to learn more about how the hypothalamus and pituitary glands work together.

The ovaries are the reproductive organs which release the sex-hormones estrogen and testosterone which also play a role in regulating the menstrual cycle. The hypothalamus and the pituitary are connected to the ovaries along what is called the Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Ovarian (HPO) axis. In HA, there is disruption to the HPO axis due to some sort of stress on the body resulting in low levels of FSH, LH and estrogen. This means no ovulation and a missing period.

What causes Hypothalamic Amenorrhea?

There are several factors at play when it comes to missing periods:

  • Under eating, chronic or restrictive dieting or poor nutrition
  • Over-exercise, especially endurance sports
  • Low body weight or rapid/extreme weight loss
  • Stress and excessive worry

The typical woman suffering from HA is a type-A personality and over-achiever in all areas of life. Especially when this perfectionism extends to diet, exercise and body weight. Extreme examples are women who are constantly on a diet, restricting calories or types of foods and go running 7 days a week. Those who maintain a very low weight even though they are fighting against their body to stay there. Or women who work or study long hours expecting nothing but the best from themselves at all times.

But HA can also affect women in less extreme circumstances who might have lost weight in a “healthy” way or who have been accidently under-fueling over a long period of time (I’m talking to you busy working mums!). Or women who have gone through a stressful life transition. Basically our bodies are trying to keep us safe and alive by conserving calories during a stressful time.

Treatment for Hypothalamic Amenorrhea

There has been a steady increase in the number of searches for “how to get my period back” over the last 10 years. In the case of HA recovery the formula is pretty simple!

EAT REST RELAX REPEAT

  1. Eat plenty of food and I’m talking a surplus of calories
  2. Let go of any diet restrictions and consume all food groups
  3. Take a break from intense exercise
  4. Rest or focus on low intensity movement such as light yoga
  5. Remove as many stressors from your life as possible
  6. Take time to relax and de-stress every day
  7. Consider therapy to help with making the changes above if they feel challenging

Over to you…

I hope this article helped you to better understand HA and why your periods might have stopped. If you want to read more on how to get your period back and recover from Hypothalamic Amenorrhea, check out the posts linked below. Like this post and follow my blog for more like this!

  • Let me know in the comments, what is the most difficult part of the recovery formula 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.

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Information sources

Gibson S, Fleming N, Zuijdwijk C, Dumont T. Where Have the Periods Gone? The Evaluation and Management of Functional Hypothalamic Amenorrhea. J Clin Res Pediatr Endocrinol. 2020;12(Suppl 1):18-27. doi:10.4274/jcrpe.galenos.2019.2019.S0178