It’s been a bit quieter around here for a while, and for a very good reason! For a long time I have wanted to create a tool to support women with Hypothalamic Amenorrhea (HA for short) who are trying to recover their missing period. I know that learning a completely new way of eating was one of the hardest things parts of my period recovery journey. So.. my secret project that has been keeping me busy the last couple of months is that I have created a HA recovery meal plan. Aka the period recovery meal plan!
I am so excited to finally have this ready to go. I hope that it will be a helpful tool for all of you beautiful readers who are on this exciting but challenging journey of recovering your period. I know this is not all of you but I know that a large percentage of my readers are women who are were I was 5 years ago when I was trying to get my period back after 8 years of Hypothalamic Amenorrhea. If you haven’t read my story you can find out more in my previous post and video here. I have also shared many posts previously about the causes of Hypothalamic Amenorrhea and how to get your period back which you can find here.
When I finally realised that my poor nutrition and crazy workout regime was the reason for my missing periods I was stunned. I remember being extremely confused and so unsure of how to eat more after years of restricting both the quantity and types of foods I ate. I know back then I would have loved to have a HA recovery meal plan to guide me on this new way of eating. I even went back to university to study nutrition and trained to become a Women’s Wellness Coach because I was determined to use this experience to help other women in the future. So I am very happy to have finally created this period recovery meal plan and to be able to offer it to you now!
What does the HA recovery meal plan include?
The HA recovery meal plan is 38 pages long and split into 10 sections:
I have created 20 simple recipes and combined these into a 7 day HA recovery meal plan to inspire you on your period recovery journey. As I highlight in the book, I am a Nutritionist and not a chef! All meals are super easy to make and take less than an hour to prepare. I have based this meal plan on a minimum of 2500 calories per day which is the recommendation of Dr Nicola Rinaldi, researcher and author of No Period Now What ( I highly recommend purchasing her book for more on the science of Hypothalamic Amenorrhea and the recovery process). I know 2500 calories can sound scary if you are coming from the world of diet culture. I explain why this minimum energy intake is necessary within the guide.
How was the period recovery meal plan designed?
I have carefully designed the meal plan to ensure that each meal and snack contains a balance of macro-nutrients. This is to provide your body with the fuel and building blocks it needs to recover your hormones. In addition, I have chosen a wide variety of foods throughout the meal plan. This is to maximise the micro-nutrient intake and ensure that your nutritional needs are met. Nutritional rehabilitation is a major part of recovering your period if it has gone missing due to under eating, over exercising or excessive stress. Therefore this was an important element when designing the meal plan.
You want your body to finally feel safe and nourished. I hope that the recipes in the HA recovery meal plan will do just that! The plan is designed around whole, unprocessed foods with a high nutrient density. Not because these are the ONLY foods you should eat. Rather to give a strong nutritional foundation from which you can play around with other foods. It is designed to inspire you and give you a launch pad from which you can get creative. The sample 7 day period recovery meal plan includes different recipes for each meal, every day of the week. However you can use the 20 recipes in which ever way you choose.
Personally I like to consume the same lunch and breakfast for a whole week to make meal preparation easier. Then I switch it up to ensure variety throughout each month. I have provided a full macro and micro nutrient breakdowns of the 7 day meal plan. Additionally, each recipe comes with a summary nutrient breakdown in EU label style. I know not everyone likes to focus on numbers. However it can be a useful tool to understand how different foods can support your body. Full macro and macro nutrient breakdowns for each recipe are available as additional pdfs on request (email me following your purchase for this option).
Will I definitely get my period back if I follow this plan?
Of course there can never be any guarantee that you will get your period back. I would be lying if I told you that, however it is very possible and so many women have made this journey and regained a natural cycle even after many years of HA. It is important first to confirm the diagnosis of Hypothalamic Amenorrhea with your doctor. You want to rule out any other medical issues which could be causing your missing period as the treatment plan could be different. However, the rates of recovery for confirmed Hypothalamic Amenorrhea are very promising when following a healing lifestyle.
One survey concluded that after making lifestyle changes (including adopting a period recovery diet and reducing exercise), 57% of women recovered their period within 6 months. For some women the process can take longer, sometimes up to 2 years. What I can say is that regardless of the outcome, adopting the period recovery diet set out in this HA recovery meal plan will NOURISH you. Eating this way will ensure that your body gets plenty of energy from nutrient dense sources which will improve your overall health and vitality.
Remember to focus on the process and not the outcome. Your body is intelligent and knows how to heal itself when it has the resources it needs.
How can I purchase the HA recovery meal plan?
So, is this is something you are interested in? Would you like to invest in the HA recovery meal plan as a tool for your period recovery journey? Well I have an exciting offer until the end of the year! I will be selling the plan at a 20% discounted price until 31/12/2021. So if you want to have this as a tool for the new year to start or continue your period recovery journey then go ahead and grab your copy!
HA recovery meal plan
Period recovery food guide with 27 recipes and a sample 7 day meal plan with full nutrient breakdown
NOTE – If you do purchase the plan and you find it helpful, I encourage you to please leave a review and to share the product link with other ladies who might benefit from this tool (please don’t forward the pdf directly as I have put much time and effort into creating this work).
Over to you…
Comment: Are you on your period recovery journey? What is your experience so far?
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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!
Women often ask me whether it’s possible to heal your hormones and get your period back on a vegan diet. In this post I will give my opinion and explain my reasons why. 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. There I explain all about the factors that can cause your period to disappear or become irregular. I also explain in detail and the nutrition strategy to recover your menstrual cycle after Hypothalamic Amenorrhea.
So to return to the initial question: can you get your period back on a vegan diet? The short answer is yes, it’s absolutely possible and I did it myself. I went vegan in 2015 after watching documentaries about the environmental impact of animal agriculture and the health benefits of a plant-based diet. At the time 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 to get your period back on a vegan diet!
However, does this mean I recommend a vegan diet to my clients? Or that I believe it is optimal to get your period back on a vegan diet? Definitely not! In fact, I am no longer vegan and re-introduced animal products to my diet 3 years ago. 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 it might be more difficult to get your period back on a vegan diet. This is a topic I have researched extensively over the years and I have personal experience with.
Why might it be hard to get your period back on a vegan diet?
Eating the calories needed to heal
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, increasing your energy intake is very important. You need to eat enough to support your bodily functions and daily activities. Plus extra for healing and repair of damage caused by malnourishment. You can definitely do this on a vegan diet simply by eating more food. However, as many plant-based foods are more calorie dilute this can be a struggle!
Fruit and vegetables, starchy carbs and legumes all have a high amount of water and fiber. If you base your vegan diet on these healthy whole foods, 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! Unfortunately, it’s counter-productive when boosting your energy intake is your goal. If you want to get your period back on a vegan diet you need to eat a lot of food!
How to eat more calories on a vegan diet
Adding in energy dense vegan foods such as nuts and seeds, nut butters, oil and processed foods helps. These foods are lower in water and fibre. This means they 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. As a vegan I ate a lot of beans, vegetables and nut butters which are all super high in fibre. Actually I forgot how it felt not to be bloated until I finally reduced the amount of fibre I was consuming.
If you want to try to get your period back on a vegan diet, focus on lower fibre foods. Don’t get caught up in the low fat trend. Eat fats from nuts, seeds and coconut. 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. Therefore, you might find that your body needs a large quantity of them to satisfy your nutrient needs for healing.
Getting adequate 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. This 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. Often hormonal imbalance and compromised digestion go hand in hand. If your digestion is poor, you can’t be sure you are benefitting from all of these nutrients.
It’s important to reflect on your history with dieting. Consider if your past experience with restricting the amount or types of foods you eat could put you at risk of nutrient deficiencies. If you’re unsure you can also ask your doctor to run a blood test for the key nutrients. If you have the budget, you can also order tests online via companies such as Thriva or Forth. What ever diet you follow, make sure to include foods containing these nutrients to rebuild your stores.
The only problem is that there may also be additional compounds present in animal products which we don’t yet fully understand and aren’t covered by tests. I think it is better to heal your body with a high nutrient, omnivorous diet. Then once your body is healthy and functioning optimally you can consider adopting a more plant-based diet long term if you desire. You want to make the healing process and simple as possible for yourself! You have a whole lifetime to follow a vegan diet once you get your period back and your body is healthy again.
Quantity and type of fat
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. There is some research to suggest that these fats are actually less supportive to metabolic health. Conversely, saturated fats which you mostly find in meat and dairy, are pro-metabolic.
Losing your period is commonly a sign of being in a lower metabolic state. 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 you should avoid them entirely. But when you want to send the body the signal that the famine is over and its safe to rev up the metabolism and reproductive system, you want to make sure you are consuming enough saturated fat. Adding in more fat from coconut is a good step towards a more metabolically supportive vegan diet. Eating coconut oil, milk or flakes will make it easier to get your period back on a vegan diet. However, consuming 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 include daily when you are trying to get your period back. Often cholesterol is demonised and nutrition guidelines tell us to avoid high-cholesterol foods if we want to be healthy. When it comes to hormone balancing and especially recovering from Hypothalamic Amenorrhea, hormone production is lower than it should be. In this case, having some cholesterol in your diet is actually beneficial and speed up the healing process.
Cholesterol is a building block for reproductive hormones such as estrogen and progesterone. These hormones 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.
Overcoming 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. I was focused on sourcing ethical food which 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, 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. Is there is any chance that a desire to restrict your food is influencing your decision? Are you consuming a balanced vegan diet or are there still rules and restrictions present? Do you still fear certain foods because you believe they are toxic or will make you gain weight?
Restrictive vegan diet rabit holes
Unfortunately, there are also many rabbit holes to fall down when it comes to the vegan diet. This can lead to some pretty extreme dietary restrictive diets. Raw vegan, starch solution, high carb low fat, 80 10 10, vegan keto just to name a few! So while it is possible to get your period back 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. You need to really allow your body to relax and heal. This requires 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, support your body better by eating a varied and balanced vegan diet. Don’t be being seduced by the health claims of these more restricted vegan diets!
Summary on whether it’s possible to get your period back on a vegan diet
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. Are you interested in this topic? Would you like me to talk more about my experience with getting my period back on a vegan diet? Leave a comment below or drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org!
Over to you…
Please like and share this post to support my business. Share with anyone who might benefit from this article and follow my blog for more posts on holistic health and hormone healing.
Contact me for guidance, support and accountability on your period recovery journey. I will make the process easy for you and help you to overcome any road blocks. I would love to work together with you to get your hormones balance and you feeling your best again!
Can exercise delay periods? | The short answer is yes! Exercise is one of the factors which can lead to delayed or missing periods aka Hypothalamic Amenorrhea. In particular too much exercise or too high intensity exercise. If your body perceives your exercise as a stress or if you aren’t eating enough to fuel your activities then exercise can delay periods.
A common question from women trying to recover from Hypothalamic Amenorrhea is “Can exercise delay periods coming back?” or “Can I exercise while trying to get my period back?”. I wrote another post about my tips for exercising during HA recovery. If you are thinking about taking a break and need some motivation, here are 5 ways exercise can work against your recovery.
Can exercise delay periods? 5 reasons why!
1. It burns calories
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. Compensation for eating
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. Exercise causes stress
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. Weight control
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. Appetite supression
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.
Can exercise delay periods after HA recovery
Once you have recovered your period and have accepted your healed body, you might want to start exercising again. Hopefully this is from a much better headspace! By this I mean it will be a conscious choice to take pleasure from movement rather than because you feel you have to control your body in some way.
As long as you are taking care not to push yourself too hard, you should be able to exercise in the future without losing your period again. It’s best to listen to your body and observe any signs of hormonal imbalance to know if you are on the right track. I enjoy hiking, cycling, dancing and yoga and I am able to do these things regularly and maintain a healthy period.
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.
If you are here, you are likely wondering why your period has gone missing. You aren’t pregnant, you don’t have any health issues that you know of. Nevertheless, your period has been missing for months or even years. Perhaps I can offer you an answer. In this article I explain a condition called Hypothalamic Amenorrhea, one of the common causes of missing periods. I will also outline it’s causes and a basic treatment plan to get your period back.
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. Hypothalamic Amenorrhea and Functional Hypothalamic Amenorrhea are known as secondary amenorrhea. This 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 (usually15 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.
If you have ruled out other causes of missing periods, Hypothalamic Amenorrhea could be the most likely diagnosis. 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
Low bone density or osteopenia
These symptoms are similar to those of hypothyroid. This is because Hypothalamic Amenorrhea often occurs alongside low thyroid function. Both are related to a lowered metabolic rate although the causes might be different. As a result, in some cases a hypothyroid diagnosis can be reversed following a Hypothalamic Amenorrhea treatment plan.
Hypothalamic Amenorrhea explained
If you aren’t interested in the science 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. Primarily core body 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 Hypothalamic Amenorrhea is the release of Gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH). This signal causes another gland, the pituitary to release Follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) and Luteinizing hormone (LH). FSH and LH are responsible for maturing a follicle in the ovaries and releasing the mature egg. The release of an egg is called ovulation and 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. These hormones also play a role in regulating the menstrual cycle and reproductive health. The hypothalamus and the pituitary are connected to the ovaries along what is called the Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Ovarian (HPO) axis. In Hypothalamic Amenorrhea, there is disruption to the HPO axis due to some sort of stress on the body. This results in low levels of FSH, LH and estrogen. Put simply, 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 Hypothalamic Amenorrhea 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 Hypothalamic Amenorrhea can also affect women in less extreme circumstances who might have lost weight quickly 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!). Another example is 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 Hypothalamic Amenorrhea recovery the formula is pretty simple although implementing it can be difficult!
EAT REST RELAX REPEAT
Eat plenty of food and I’m talking a surplus of calories
Let go of any diet restrictions and consume all food groups
Take a break from intense exercise
Rest or focus on low intensity movement such as light yoga
Remove as many stressors from your life as possible
Take time to relax and de-stress every day
Consider therapy to help with making the changes above if they feel challenging
I will talk more about the specifics of this healing protocol in future posts. Alternatively, apply to work with me for personalised advice and guidance on your healing journey.
In conclusion, Hypothalamic Amenorrhea is a fairly common condition amongst women who restrict their diet, are under stress or exercise excessively. It is usually treatable and requires a combination of rehabilative nutrition, rest and stress management. This is best done under the guidance of a doctor, nutritionist or health coach depending on the severity of the situation.
I hope this article helped you to better understand Hypothalamic Amenorrhea and why your periods might have stopped. Let me know in the comments, what is the most difficult part of the recovery formula for you?
Over to you…
Comment: Have you ever experienced missing periods? Had you heard of Hypothalamic Amenorrhea before?
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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
I shared a story a while ago about my experience with Hypothalamic Amenorrhea (HA) and how I got my period back (see my posts here). But I finally decided to make a video about this topic as I realised just how important it is to spread this message. I don’t know whether it is just the online circles I hang around in but I feel like hormonal issues are becoming much more prevalent, especially in young women.
What is Hypothalamic Amenorrhea?
Hypothalamic Amenorrhea is the absence of menstrual cycles due to stress or negative energy balancing in the body. Menstrual disorders like that are affecting more and more women as we strive to achieve the perfect body through restrictive diets and punishing exercise regimes.
I don’t think social media is helping as we now are faced with images of attractive women and messages of how to eat and exercise to stay skinny, youthful and beautiful whenever we open up our phones or computers. Often this is packaged up as health but is this truly the message being sent? I don’t think so.
More like we are being shown an ideal which is unhealthy for most and unattainable for many. I’m sure that a good proportion of the women in the fitness industry are suffering inside, over exercising and restricting their diet to the point of physical deprivation and mental anxiety. Of course there are the exceptions but on the whole I think the fitness industry these days is pretty toxic.
How I got my period back after 8 years
Watch the video below from my Youtube Channel where I share my story of how I got my period back. Scroll down to the bottom of this post for links to my other articles where I share the specifics about diet and exercise for recovery.
Getting my period back after having HA for 8 years (!!) was a huge turning point in my life. this experience is what sparked my passion for nutrition and yoga that I love sharing to this day. I am still interested in health, including eating well and moving my body. But nowadays this is from a much more relaxed, intuitive place.
I’m not fighting my body at every turn I’m just going with the flow. I am able to maintain a healthy body without depriving myself or running myself into the ground and my mind is sooo much calmer and happier for it.
If you know anyone who could benefit from this message please feel free to share this video. Or if you are ready to work with me to rebalance your hormones and get healthy in a holistic, intuitive way then apply for holistic health coaching.
Over you to you…
Comment: How do you feel about the HA recovery diet? Which is the most difficult element for you?
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If you have read my last post on Why has my period stopped and how do I get it back? you will know that I recommend to take a break from intense exercise when you are trying to get your period back. This includes any form of intense cardio such as running or HIIT as well as heavy weight lifting. In this article I want to talk more about exercise during HA recovery *. In particular, how much and which types of exercise are ok whilst healing your hormones.
*HA stands for Hypothalamic Amenorrhea. It is a functional condition where your periods stop due to an energy imbalance or excessive stress on your body.
What types of exercise are ok during HA recovery?
When healing your hormones, low intensity is always the way to go. Walking, easy cycling, yoga, stretching, swimming, dancing. These can all be great ways to move your body and feel good without increasing your heart rate too much. If you use a heart rate device I would suggest to stay below the “light” zone of 60-70% HR max. This is an easy pace and not too tiring on your body. You should be able to exercise without pushing yourself to exhaustion. Afterwards you should feel energised and happy, otherwise you are likely overdoing it.
That said, if you are tired and you don’t feel like exercising. It is totally ok to rest and do nothing! Actually this is the fastest way to recover so don’t feel guilty if you want to relax on the sofa all day. It’s much better to take a complete break for a month or two than try to continue exercising and the process take much longer, right? Feeling tired is common once you start to eat more and your body goes into repair mode. It’s a good sign that inner healing is happening so don’t freak out. Let your body guide you to when it’s time to start moving again.
How long and how often can I exercise during HA recovery?
I really think that the way to recover your period quickly is to take a total break from intense exercise, at least for a few months. Dr Nicola Rinaldi, author of No Period Now What, suggests waiting to return to exercise till you have 3 normal periods post HA recovery. If you are really keen to continue exercise, try to avoid high intensity cardio. Moderate workouts and weight lifting for up to 30 minutes may be ok a few times a week. However, every body is different and even working out a small amount could be the difference between getting your period back in 3 months or 3 years.
During HA recovery, light activity is ok on a daily basis as long as you are eating enough calories to balance it out. Getting your period back requires a surplus of energy, meaning that you need to eat more calories than you burn. So there is no need to panic about not being able to be totally sedentary. Just go about your daily life and eat plenty of food and you will be fine. Try to keep even light exercises like walking or yoga to under an hour and aways listen to how your body feels. If you are tired, rest!
In the beginning of my HA recovery, I took a break from all exercise except walking to work. I did this for for 4 months until I got my period back. I also practiced gentle yoga most days but I focused on stretching and breathing rather than anything intense. My yoga practice was more for mental health and stress relief than physical fitness. I did find it a struggle to let go of my old exercise habits and my belief that I needed to “sweat daily” to be healthy. But when I started to see fertile signs and increased energy levels, I know I was on the right track!
Can I exercise again once I get my period back?
I didn’t quite manage to kick the exercise addiction though. Once I had got my period back, I missed the “stress relieving” effects of getting a good sweat on. So once I had 3 regular monthly periods I thought I was good to go and I joined a gym. I started going to exercise classes and lifting weights again. This was a bad idea! My next 3 periods were 50-60 days long and a lot of the healthy fertile signs I had vanished again. I thought because I wasn’t doing long runs or intense cardio sessions I would be fine but not the case. So I was back to zero exercise for another few months until my hormones balanced out.
Once you have recovered your period, if you decide you want to exercise again then you can. Experiment until you find the sweet spot where you get the benefits of moving your body but without over-stressing your body. If you are paying attention to your body’s reactions, you will know the signs that you are overdoing things!
For example, when I tried lifting weights after HA recovery, I got moody and irritable for no reason. Eventually I realised it was my workouts that were depleting my energy reserves and I had to stop. This whole process has definitely given me a greater awareness of my how my body reacts to different things. This year I started “cycle-syncing” my exercise routine which I am finding really beneficial and I will share about this once I have a few more months of experience with it.
Looking to the future
Now I am 3 years into recovery, I am back to a much more active lifestyle again. Although I am nowhere near the obsessive gym-rat I used to be. Now I can cycle, run or do at home circuits a few times a week and still get a regular period. I also walk a lot and go to dance classes like salsa and zumba. Recently I tried a couple of times to go back to weight lifting because I genuinely enjoy it. Unfortunately, I could feel that my body felt exhausted afterwards and my recovery was very slow.
So if you are just starting out on this hormone healing journey, know that the decisions you make now are not forever but just a step on the road towards better health. Sometimes if you have taken things to the extreme (e.g. exercising like a fiend) then the pendulum has to swing right to the other side (e.g. sitting on the couch all day) for you to eventually find a healthy balance. Give yourself the gift of rest and learn to enjoy it. Chances are if you are over tired and stressed, you aren’t reaching your fitness goals anyway and taking a break may actually help you come back stronger than ever. Even competitive athletes take off seasons for recovery and repair and this is all part of their fitness journey.
Over to you…
Comment: How have you experienced hormonal imbalance from over-exercise? Did you manage to recover your period?
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If you have read my posts in the period recovery series on Why has my period stopped and how do I get it back? and What is Hypothalamic Amenorrhea? you will know that chronic or restrictive dieting is one of the major reasons for missing periods. So what is the perfect HA recovery diet? What should you eat to get your period back if it has gone awry? In my previous posts I stated that good food and lots of it is the way to go. In this article I want to give a few more tips on exactly how to eat to get your period back.
Just a quick note before we start, I am a qualified Nutritionist, Yoga teacher and Women’s Wellness Coach. My specialty is helping women to balance their hormones and heal their body and metabolism after chronic or restrictive dieting (see My Certifications page for further details). The information shared here is a combination of my nutrition and health education, my personal experience with getting my period back after 8 years of Hypothalamic Amenorrhea. I also learned a lot from the research of Dr Nicola Rinaldi, author of No Period Now What. If you are looking for guidance, support and accountability on your HA recovery journey, please contact me or check out the holistic health coaching packages I offer.
Now, on with the article!
How much should I eat to recover my period? How many calories in the HA recovery diet?
It is recommended to eat 2500 calories or more to recover from Hypothalamic Amenorrhea. Yes, even if you aren’t exercising 2500 calories is the minimum for HA recovery diet. Your body needs to be in an energy surplus right now. This means you need to take in more energy than you are burning through being alive. Plus extra calories for any physical activities you do and to support your body to heal. If you have dieted for a long time, your body has a whole list of things waiting to repair. I don’t just mean your hormones, this energy will also go towards building healthy bones, teeth, hair and nails just to name a few!
I will stress though that this is a minimum and if you are hungry for more than this then you should listen to your body and eat. When I first started following a HA recovery diet I spent a good few months eating at least 3000-4000 calories a day. Sometimes way more than that. Because that was what my body needed and asked for. Did I gain weight? Yes! I gained 20lbs in the first 4 months of recovery. But again, that was what what my body needed to heal my hormones and restore my menstrual cycle. Over time my appetite settled down. However, even now I rarely eat below 2000 calories and I have maintained a healthy period for nearly 5 years.
I don’t recommend counting calories long term but it can be a good idea in the beginning to get an idea of how much you need to eat. Especially if you have been under-eating for a long time, you will need to recalibrate your idea of a normal quantity of food.
What should I eat to fix my period? What is the perfect HA recovery diet?
When you start recovery, it matters less where these calories are coming from. When you are in a serious energy deficit, it is the calories and macro-nutrients that are most important. As a nutritionist of course I am all about eating well and getting plenty of micro-nutrients into your diet. However, this is something that should be done over the long term. What you do for a few months of recovery is less important. You can choose to re-feed with only “healthy foods” or you can choose to add in more “fun foods”.
Consume a good variety of foods from the different groups and eat enough calories and you will be fine. If you are concerned about nutrient deficiencies, you can work with a nutritionist or dietician. They will help you to check your levels and ensure your HA recovery diet is appropriate to restore balance. My recommendation is to get plenty of nutritious food into your body without obsessing over having a perfectly healthy diet. Make sure you eat foods that taste good and bring you pleasure. If you are going to eat lots of food and gain weight you might as well let go and enjoy it!
(edit – see my more recent post on the best foods to eat to raise your metabolism and heal your hormones!)
Will eating more fats bring my period back? What about carbs? What is the best macro ratio for HA recovery?
The first question women often ask is do I need to eat more fat to get my period back. The answer here is maybe! Check what you are eating right now. Are you following a low-fat diet? Our bodies need fats to function optimally and produce hormones so eating more fats could be exactly what you need. The HA recovery diet is definitely not a low-fat diet. Your body needs fats to produce hormones and to protect your nervous system.
On the other hand, the HA recovery diet is also not a high-fat low-carb diet. If you are following a high-fat paleo or keto style diet, adding more carbs may be the answer. Restrictive carbohydrates can lead to hormonal imbalance and missing periods. When you eat a low carb diet, your stress hormone levels are elevated and your body enters a survival state where it can rely on fat for fuel. Eating carbs produces an insulin response which helps our bodies feel safe that there is plenty of food around. This sends the signal to your hypothalamus that it can come out of energy-saving mode.
I fully agree that special diets can be therapeutic for overcoming certain diseases. Metabolically healthy healthy people might also experience benefits when experimenting with restricted diets. However, if you have lost your period, this is a major sign that you are not a healthy person right now. So in short, no, there is no specific HA recovery diet or macro-nutrient ratio to follow. Just make sure you are getting plenty of carbs, proteins and fats and listen to your cravings. Trust that your body knows exactly what it needs and don’t be afraid to go with the flow.
What about liquids? How much water should I drink?
On that note, I want to talk about water consumption. Many of us fell for the myth that you need to drink lots of water to be healthy. We also listened to the same people who told us to eat less salt to be healthy. For many of us with a perfectionist, all or nothing mindset we took this too far and drank several litres of water per day and ate hardly any salt. This is a recipe for disaster! You need salt to maintain a healthy water balance in your body. Drinking too much water flushes out electrolytes leaving you feeling cold, dizzy and “washed out”.
If you have been doing this, I recommend experimenting with reducing the amount of water you are drinking and increasing your salt consumption. This is something I only learned way after my period recovery journey but it has been extremely beneficial for my overall health. I learned this from reading book Eat for Heat, a book written by Matt Stone, an expert on raising metabolism. He describes a symptom of restrictive dieting that I experienced myself. In particular, needing to pee all of the time as well as a low body temperature and cold extremities.
Especially at the beginning of recovery, or if you are feeling very cold, replace all zero calorie drinks including water and diet soda with things like milk, juice, smoothies or even sports drinks containing electrolytes and glucose. Your body actually needs salts to properly absorb the water which explains why plain water often feels like it goes straight through you. You can even add a pinch of salt to every glass if you are really struggling with hydration. If you notice yourself peeing less frequently, feeling warmer, especially your fingers and toes, and sleeping better then you know you are on the right track to recovery.
Does it matter when I eat during recovery? Can I get my period back whilst intermittent fasting?
There is also is the question of when to eat? Again, there is no strict rule on this but consistency is key. You can eat 3 square meals or you can graze throughout the day. As long as you are getting in plenty of calories it doesn’t matter how you do it. The trick is to not let yourself get too hungry as low blood sugar is perceived as a stress by the body. If you are getting cranky, anxious or panicky before your next meal you have probably left it too long. The solution is to add an extra snack before you get to that point. Often 3 meals with 3 snacks is recommended as a good eating structure. If you have no clue then this can be a good place to start.
One thing I don’t recommend as part of a HA recovery diet is intermittent fasting. Again, there is some research showing fasting to have lots of health benefits but it is really not a good idea when you are trying to get your period back. If you want to practice intermittent fasting I would suggest to do no more than 12 hours fasting e.g. 7am to 7pm eating window. This gives your digestive system a break to heal and repair but doesn’t leave you going for long periods during the day without food. Personally I got really hungry at night during my recovery. Sometimes I would wake up during the night starving and need to eat. It really depends on where you are coming from, how long and how intensely you have been dieting. So, do what you need to and don’t set any rules as really anything goes.
Can I get my period back on a vegan or vegetarian diet? What about gluten-free?
Another question women ask is if it is possible to recover on specific diets such as vegan or vegetarian, gluten-free. The answer to this is yes it is possible! However, I would recommend to examine why you are following this diet. If it is a way for you to continue to restrict then maybe it is time to reconsider. I personally recovered my period on a vegan diet but later decided to incorporate animal products back into my diet. I realised that this was still a way for me to control my food intake and keep my eating disorder alive.
If you are following a particular diet for ethical reasons or due to a health condition then this is fine. But make sure you allow yourself to eat plenty of food and do not restrict any macro-nutrients. Find suitable alternatives for foods that are off-limits so that you don’t feel deprived mentally.
What if my diet is limited by digestive issues? Can I still get my period back on a restricted diet?
If you are avoiding certain foods due to digestive issues, it is for you to decide whether you want to include them in your recovery diet. If you have allergies or intolerances then by all means stay clear of foods you are sensitive to. However, I will say that many people on restrictive diets find that they develop food sensitivities over time and end up eliminating more and more foods from their diet. This is a sign of your digestive system shutting down rather than of food sensitivities. It is a signal to increase the quantity and variety of foods in your diet not to continue to restrict further.
Personally after following a high fruit vegan diet for over a year, I struggled with stomach pain, bloating and gas. This happened when I added grains and legumes back into my diet and it was an uncomfortable phase to pass. Funnily enough, this didn’t happen with animal products, despite my fear that dairy and meat were toxic and difficult to digest. Unfortunately it takes time for our stomach acid, digestive enzymes and gut microbiome to re-establish. After a period of restriction it can take a while to settle out.
Again, this is where eating processed foods comes in handy as they are much easier on your digestive system. Things like crackers or rice cakes with nut butter, jam, molasses or hummus spread on top were a big part of my HA recovery diet in the first few months. I also ate a lot of cookies, cereals and sandwiches and found they digested really well. Later on I drifted back towards a more whole foods diet but still ate these foods on a regular basis. The best thing is to listen to your cravings and experiment freely without judgement or guilt.
Do I have to eat processed food to get my period back?
What I will say is that processed foods are your friend, there is no need to be afraid. Foods such as bread, crackers, pasta, nut butters, milk, cereals and jams are easy to digest in large quantities. Eating these foods will help you to get the calories you need into your body without over-stressing your digestive system. Basically you want to increase the energy density of the food you are eating i.e. more calories per volume. I know this is counter-intuitive to everything you hear in the health world but it is a necessary part of healing your hormones and getting your period back.
The reason that a low calorie-density, whole foods diet is so successful for weight loss is because your body can feel full on fewer calories. This is due to the higher amounts of fibre and water in foods such as fruits, legumes and vegetables. This is great for people who need to lose weight and overcome conditions such as diabetes and heart disease. But again, you are not one of those people. You need to give your body the energy it needs to repair and feel safe again. With this goal in mind, processed foods are extremely helpful.
Something that helped me with adding “fear foods” back into my diet was realising that a healthy system is a robust one. A healthy system can digest and thrive on a wide range of foods. A healthy body is not one that can only function on a very specific, limited list of foods. The aim of the recovery process is to rebuild a healthy metabolism so that your body can function optimally again. A person with a healthy metabolism can consume a lot of food and has energy to live an active fulfilling life. Visualise your recovery, the person you want to be and the life you want to lead. Focus on that every day to help you get through difficult choices!
Over to you…
Comment: How do you feel about the HA recovery diet? Which is the most difficult element for you?
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Unfortunately after I graduated I slipped back to some of my old ways. I was still struggling with gastritis and other digestive issues and doing endless research online to find the “perfect healing diet”. This is where I found veganism, specifically the high-carb low-fat vegan diet. I started following all of these Youtube channels with skinny, shiny women promoting this diet where you can eat as much as you want and as long as it is vegan and low fat you won’t gain weight. I dived straight into this whole-foods based diet. I was convinced I was doing the right thing for myself as well as the planet and the animals. My diet took on this new moral value instead of simply being a way to control my body.
On one hand it was great as after years of calorie counting and restriction I finally let go and allowed myself t eat as much as my body wanted. This meant loads of fruit, potatoes, grains etc. At first I felt amazing with this new found freedom and I genuinely believed I had found the golden ticket. However, in reality my eating disorder had just morphed into something new that I didn’t recognise: orthorexia nervosa. This is an obsession with eating healthy food to the point where it controls your life. I might have been allowing myself to eat more but food was still taking centre stage in my life. I spent so much time reading and watching videos/ documentaries on the vegan diet, talking about veganism, writing about veganism, taking photos of my food for instagram etc..
At the time it was fun and I genuinely enjoyed it. It’s crazy how eating disorders can shift and manipulate you. I know my parents were worried about me at this time thinking that I had switched from one restrictive disorder to another but I couldn’t see it. I was in denial and so defensive if they ever brought it up. I gained this self-righteousness that I was following the way and they just didn’t understand. I tried not to be preachy and annoying but I definitely was! I was always the odd one out at social events and had to bring my own special food. I pretended that it didn’t bother me but of course it did. I started to feel so isolated and dived into the online world and groups of vegans where I could feel like I belong. This only pushed me away from my real life friends and left me feeling insecure and lonely.
Around this time I also got back into exercise as a way to control the stress from my new graduate job. Again I thought that this time was different because I was weight lifting instead of spending hours on cardio machines. But I was still using exercise as a way to manipulate my body, following fitness influencers and trying their workout programs to look like them. I was still choosing to go to the gym instead of socialising and still pushing myself to exercise when my body was crying out for rest. By this time I was struggling with insomnia and feeling exhausted ALL of the time but instead of letting go and allowing my body to heal I continued to exercise on a daily basis using pre-workout and coffee to drag myself through.
So it won’t come as a surprise when I tell you that my periods disappeared again (if you could count the couple of feeble periods I had as them returning). After a year I was back in the doctors office and this time something showed up on an ultra-sound scan that I hadn’t seen before. Small cysts over both of my ovaries. With this and blood test results which showed low estrogen and elevated testosterone, I was diagnosed with PCOS and the doctor told me I might never be able to conceive naturally. This was such a bombshell I literally cried for days afterwards. I was angry at myself thinking that my behaviours had caused this and I was screwed for life.
My doctor recommended that I took birth control pills to regulate my cycle but I knew straight away that this wasn’t something I wanted. It just didn’t seem to make sense to add extra synthetic hormones into my already imbalanced system. Plus I knew that it would be a fake period and was really only masking the problem. Once I’d calmed down I (again) turned to the internet. This time looking for natural ways to heal PCOS. I found an amazing community where omen were healing PCOS naturally via a plant-based diet. As I was vegan already I was like bring it on and jumped straight in to the 8 week program.
This was only fuel for the fire of my eating disorder. Of course in the mindset I was in this was exactly what I wanted to hear and I carried on down my orthorexia path with my food choices getting stricter and stricter over time. I spent months trying to do various detoxes and cleanses – raw food, fruit diets, smoothie cleanses.. Foods that I had previously thought were healthy under the high-carb low-fat diet banner such as bread and pasta now moved into the “unhealthy” category. I became more and more attached to my healthy food choices so that it became part of my identity to be the “health nut”. I rewired my brain to think that ordinary foods were toxic for my body and I became afraid of them.
Am I saying that veganism is unhealthy or “orthorexic”? No!! Am I saying that exercising and wanting to tone up is unhealthy? Again, no!! What I am saying is that the mindset I had at the time was unhealthy. I was over-controlling and the reasons behind my choices were out of fear and anxiety about what would happen if I chose otherwise. Maybe you’re reading this and you think well I do these things and I’m perfectly healthy. Maybe that’s true and if it is then good for you. However, I know that there a a whole bunch of girls out there (guys too but this is aimed at women) who are trapped in this cycle of obsessive thoughts. The easy access to information that the internet brings only makes this worse. You only have to look at the number of “what I ate today” and body transformation videos on Youtube to see this collective pre-occupation with food and fitness.
In Part 3 I will talk about what finally motivated me to recover and what this process has been like for the last 5 years.