So before I share my story about having hypothalamic amenorrhea (which I will also be referring to as “HA” for short throughout this blog post) I want to define what it is for those of you who have never heard of it before. Hypothalamic amenorrhea or HA occurs when the hypothalamus, a gland in the brain that regulates body processes, slows or stops releasing gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH), the hormone that starts the menstrual cycle. This can result from one or a combination of low body weight, low percentage of body fat, under-eating (low intake of calories/fuel not enough to sustain you), high levels of stress, excessive exercising or a deficiency of leptin. In other words you stop menstruating because your hypothalamus which is the reproduction center of the brain tells your body to temporarily shut down reproduction. This is very different from primary amenorrhea which is when you have never had your period versus losing it once you’ve already had it.
I first noticed it in the month of July. I had been keeping track of my cycle on an app called “Flo” (which I highly recommend!). It helps me remember what days I get my period each month since my cycle was a little bit irregular to begin with. I noticed that month that I didn’t get my period. I didn’t think I was pregnant because we weren’t trying to conceive but I took a test anyways. Negative. I first thought “maybe it’s just late”. That wouldn’t be uncommon for me since I’ve had months where I would get it a few weeks later than usual. But this time it was different. A whole month went by and it never came. I first experienced slight cramps that would be on and off similar to the start of a period but much more subtle. They eventually completely disappeared. A month, two, three and four months went by without one. I finally thought “ok somethings not right because I haven’t had my period for months now”. I scheduled an appointment to meet with my obgyn and we did some blood work checking my thyroid and various hormone levels. Everything came back normal. I thought to myself “Ok, well that’s good” but still didn’t know the root cause on what was going on with my body. I’ll be honest, for a while I ignored the symptoms and missing period and went about daily life. It was refreshing in a way not to deal with it at all. But I knew I would have to do something about it eventually-especially when we DO decide to start trying to conceive.
There is a fine line between eating “clean” and having an unhealthy relationship with food: I put it off for quite a while. During this time though I thought I was being healthy when in fact I wasn’t. This was not to long after I started focusing on my “health” and eating “healthy” or so I thought. Then I started to think back to what happened prior to losing my period. The past year I had made major changes to my diet and lost weight in result of that. I took my new healthy habits to the extreme. Which for me was restricting my eating and cutting out certain food groups. At the time I thought I was making heathy choices but I became too rigid in what I was eating and what I wasn’t and was not eating enough calories to support my body functions. At this point I had lost my period for over nine months. I also started to intermittent fast a few days a week because I too thought that was healthy for me. On top of all that I took on running as a new hobby and started running a few days a week with Landon (my husband). I kept pushing my body and its limits without even realizing it. I found at times I would have lower energy and usually was cold even if it was warm. This cycle continued for a while.
While doing research on various wellness blogs I came upon something called Hypothalamic amenorrhea. The moment I read about it I knew that was exactly what I had. As I researched further I read many success stories about women getting their cycles back. One book in particular was very inspirational and I highly recommend it. The book is called “No period now what. A guide to regaining your cycles and improving your fertility”. You can heal through eating more food, reducing or cutting out workouts (while recovering) and stressing less A LOT less. For me, the eating more part was hard for me to hear since I didn’t know exactly how much more I would have to consume and I was comfortable with my weight where it was. (Even though I as underweight). But I knew in order for my recovery to be successful, I needed to be less restrictive not only with the amounts I as eating but with incorporating all of the food groups and adding in much more variety. I hadn’t been diagnosed with HA at this point. Shortly after I went to my obgyn for a second time and we did a physical exam and ultrasound. At the end of my appointment we came to the conclusion after reviewing everything that yes it was in fact HA.
Checking in with Myself: At this point I already started adding in a little bit more into what I was routinely eating but wasn’t “all in” just yet. I also had already been implementing maca and other heathy superfoods into my morning smoothies which helped support my hormonal health. After my appointment I was determined to get on track and change my mindset. I decided to go all in and make a daily commitment to myself to put in my best efforts. I started meal prepping even more than I already was so I always had a supply of beans, grains and peas in my fridge at ALL times and would go food shopping with more of an open mind. I needed to fuel myself with ALL of the proper nutrients not just fruits and vegetables. I added in much more heathy fats, carbs and protein into all of my meals and listened to my body. If I was hungry I ate and if I was full I just stopped eating. Intuitive eating and being in tune with my body has taught me so much! I wanted to get my cycles back naturally and knew if I put my mind to it I could do it. For me one of the hardest parts was body image and learning to love myself in my own skin. I know this is hard for many people. Meditation has been a HUGE help for me for not only recovering from HA but also for managing my anxiety and stress. I wanted to love my body and for it to love me back enough to trust me. That I was giving it the fuel it needed to be able to allow my body to reproduce when that time comes.
The hardest part of recovery was the first few weeks because my hunger cues were all over the place. I would wake up at 6:00am starving to the point I was nauseous and I was constantly hungry and then VERY VERY full. This lasted for about two/three weeks or so and then my body started to acclimate to the changes.
“I wanted to love my body and for it to love me back enough to trust me”.
Sooner than expected one and a half months later from going “all in”, I was at my mother in laws and I got my period! It was one whole year from my last menstrual cycle. Landon and my mother in law ran downstairs so excited almost even more than I was. Unexpected so soon but almost a relief, I was proud of myself for all the hard work and progress I had made. I was proud that I was ABLE to recover on my own terms and redefine what it means to be healthy and eat healthily. It is POSSIBLE to get your cycles back from HA. It just takes a lot of hard work, commitment and really working on your mental health. That is TOP priority. Your body can heal itself by itself if given half a chance.