Recovery diaries #4 feminine energy and amenorrhea

Since I started my recovery journey I have learned so much about masculine and feminine energy and the importance of keeping them in balance. Looking back at my life in the last 10 years it makes me laugh because it seems so obvious why I didn’t have my period for so long. I was living entirely from my masculine side, and through that I manifested a career in a very male dominated industry (engineering) and surrounded myself with male friends. I thought this was just because I got on better with guys and found I could talk to them easier, but what I didn’t realise was that this was because I was so out of touch with my feminine side that I just didn’t know how to communicate with girls any more and found that I just never really “clicked” with women that I met.

So when I say masculine energy what do I mean? I don’t mean the standard stereotype of watching football and drinking beer (although I do like a good craft ale) but more the masculine energy traits that we all have. These are left brain kind of traits such as logic, planning, control, striving, analysing and being goal orientated. And let me just stress that these are not bad things!! But when we take them too far and don’t balance them out with more feminine traits, that it when problems emerge. For me I have always been a very determined person, setting goals and planning what I can DO to get there. Finding out that in order to achieved the goal of getting my period back I actually need to just BE was a huge shock to me.

Feminine energy is much softer and calmer. It includes traits such as creativity, intuition, nurturing, patience, empathy and most importantly for me, surrender. These were all so alien to me! I have always been what people might call “a strong independent woman” but I didn’t know that by playing that role I was entirely sacrificing my feminine energy. For those of us that are classic type-A perfectionist kind of personalities it can be so easy to drift towards a strict routine with a long to-do list and packed schedule every day. We want to be productive and not waste a single minute. We see resting as a waste of time or even as being lazy. Often just sitting still makes us feel anxious as we feel we should be doing something! 

It is so easy to see how this kind of attitude can lead to losing our periods. When it comes to our bodies we tend to view them as machines. We really take the energy in=energy out principle to heart and see health and fitness as a numbers game. We set ourselves (often very ambitious) goals for how we want our bodies to look or what we want them to do and come up with a plan of how to get there. We apply our will power to eating “clean” or following intense exercise plans and quite often are praised by others for doing so. When I was in the depths of my disordered eating and exercise I got praise all the time.. people telling me I was so fit and healthy or that they wished they had my discipline around food and working out. What they didn’t know was the effect that my behaviours were really having on my body and the mental stress that this lifestyle was causing.

So what can we do to nurture our feminine side if we are lacking? 

I am still learning about all of this but here are a few things that I am working on at the moment.

  1. Getting in touch with my senses – listening to calming music, lighting candles and incense, finding out what foods I actually LIKE and allowing myself to enjoy them daily and wearing soft, comfortable or flowing materials
  2. Calming down my workout routine – I used to lift weights and do boxercise and other HIT workouts. I have also done yoga for years but often more intense power or ashtanga styles. I have recently discovered shakti yoga which much more graceful and feminine, almost dance-like, and is great for discovering your “inner goddess”
  3. Accepting help – Like I said i have always been a very independent person, wanting to do things for myself and not look weak or incapable. Now I am learning to relax more and allow people to do things for me if they offer. I am finding that letting people in in this way is even helping improve my relationships
  4. Getting in touch with my creativity – I have never been a very imaginative person but I love sewing and crafts so I am trying to channel my inner creativity in this way and who knows maybe I will uncover some long lost talents
  5. Connecting with others – I have found that reaching out and sharing my fears with others in my life or online has helped so much. Being vulnerable is actually so empowering! And in being honest about my struggles I have learnt so much about other people too
  6. Being kind to my body – this is quite a tough one but I am trying to get back in touch with what my body needs and learn how to look after myself again. I am so used to neglecting any signs of “weakness” and pushing my body through tiredness, injuries etc that I am finding it quite difficult but I definitely becoming more in-tune with time. I am learning to be kind to myself which takes on different forms every day.. some days it is accepting that my body needs to rest, other days it is going out for a walk in the fresh air, others it is eating lots of chocolate mmmmm

I hope that this can give some inspiration to anyone looking to channel some feminine energy. If you have any suggestions too I would love to hear them 🙂

Amy x

 

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Tumeric & cinnamon oats

One of my recent experiments I just had to share.. it may seem a little crazy but bear with me. After reading about the benefits of tumeric (here) I started experimenting with it in everything. I found that adding it to porridge along with cinnamon makes a really great breakfast. This is one of my favourite recipes at the moment – I am having it every day! The spices make it really warming and comforting and the toppings turn it into a tasty morning treat.

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Prep time:  15 mins (5 mins to prepare and 10 mins to cook)

Ingredients:

1/2 cup oats

1 cup plant milk (I use soy or oat milk)

1/2-1tsp tumeric

1/2-1tsp cinnamon

I put 1/2-1tsp for the spices, just experiment and find the amount of each which tastes best to you. I usually just guess how much I am putting in so it varies slightly each time.

Small handful raisins

Squeeze of any sweetener (I use agave or maple syrup)

Optional:

1/2tbsp ground flaxseeds

Sprinkle of almond flakes

Method:

  1. Add all ingredients except sweetener and almond flakes to a pan and heat gently until all liquid has been absorbed and oats are soft. If adding flax you may need to add a bit more water.
  2. Remove from heat and allow to cool. Top with sweetener and almond flakes if using.

And that’s it! Enjoy 🙂

Amy x

 

Recovery diaries #3 Eating by the clock

At the depths of my struggles with food, I would put off eating for as long as possible during the day. I would wait until I was literally starving, belly growling before each meal or snack. At first I felt ok and lost quite a bit of weight but of course it wasn’t a sustainable way to live. After a while my body started to fight back. Often, when I finally did give myself permission to eat I would eat till waaaayyy past satiation to the point of being uncomfortable and even in pain. At the time I saw this as a lack of control, being greedy and a problem to keep secret and overcome by myself. Now I can see that it was only a natural survival response and a huge flashing warning sign that something wasn’t right!

I remember coming across this hunger scale a while back and realising that I really need to change things.

hunger-scale

Instead of hovering around the ideal zone and listening to my body’s gentle hunger and fullness signals I was swinging wildly from level 1 to level 10 on a daily basis. Even when started to eat a healthy amount and gained weight eating this way, my cycles never returned. Now I understand the importance of consistency with HA recovery. For our bodies to feel safe again and trust that there is enough energy available for “unnecessary” functions such as menstruation, we need to feed them sufficiently and reliably.

Even though I know all of this, a habit that I am finding very hard to un-learn is eating by the clock. Not in the sense of eating at fixed times every day, but more deciding how long after a meal it was OK to eat again. Now I am trying to get back in tune with my body, I am finding it hard to totally let go and trust my body’s signals. I am not even sure if I am aware of them half of the time, never mind listening to them.. If I get hungry a couple of hours after a meal, the first thing that pops into my head is

“I can’t be hungry I just ate!!”

The magic number for me seems to be 3 hours. I don’t know where along the line I decided that but my mind expects a meal to last that long and if I get hungry before then I will question it. The thing is, as long as we don’t have natural cycles, our bodies are going to demand more food. I need to keep reminding myself of this! Every time I delay eating because “it hasn’t been long enough yet” I am reinforcing those restrictive thought patterns in my brain. It is something that has been there so long it has woven itself into the fabric of my daily life and it is super hard to unpick!

I am definitely making progress as now, even though I still have those thoughts, I choose to act otherwise and do what I know is right for my body. Every time I do this I am strengthening new, positive thought patterns which will help me to recover. I am trying to honour my hunger signals and eat whenever and whatever I feel like eating. I know that sometimes this means eating out of boredom or emotional eating rather than true hunger but right now that is something that I am happy to accept as part of a normal, healthy relationship to food. I am hoping that eventually I will get to the point where it is as simple as feeling hungry and eating. No thinking back to my last meal. No wondering if I can hold out till my next meal. Just eating!

What determines when you should eat – your brain or your body? Are you struggling to let of self-imposed rules about when to eat? Let me know in the comments 🙂 

Amy x

HA Recovery diaries #2 The body knows best

Something I have realised since starting my recovery journey is just how detached from our bodies we often are.  Living in our heads with a constant conveyor belt of thoughts; to do lists, criticisms, judgements, action plans..  Our bodies become something of an inconvenience and we find ourselves getting frustrated when they don’t look or behave how we think they should.  The fact that we consciously decide what our perfect body looks like and then try to make it so results in a constant uphill battle. Our bodies are smart!  They have their own ideas about what size they should be and can maintain that balance without any conscious thought from us.

I don’t even want to think about the amount of time I have spent over the years focusing on the size and shape of my body and what I can do to change it.  Endless hours spent researching diets, planning meals, killing myself at the gym, staring at my “flaws” in the mirror, worrying about falling off the wagon and how I can get back on. Never once did it cross my mind about what would happen if I just decided NOT to get back on.  Such a simple idea but one that seems so ludicrous when you are caught up in the whirlwind that is the diet and fitness world.

I never really bought the idea of “set-point” weight before. Like many people, I saw weight loss purely from a mathematical point of view and to be honest I thought that the only thing between anyone and their goal weight was their effort and motivation. Now I know that is not true!! For years and years I exercised intensely most days and limited my energy intake – what most of us feel is necessary to maintain a low body weight.  I didn’t trust my body, I thought that I was MUCH better off letting my mind do the thinking and planning and then my body could do as it was told. Of course this didn’t happen and resulted in me getting stuck in a vicious cycle of overeating and restricting/over exercising to compensate.

Every time I “failed” at a new diet endeavour, I was angry at my body for not conforming to my plans. I would religiously start again the next day in the hope that this time my body would listen to my mind which knew what was best for it. This constant feeling of failure left me feeling anxious and out of control. I never considered the fact that maybe my body was trying to tell me something. I was so convinced that what I had planned was the right thing to do; that I needed to eat a certain amount and exercise a certain amount in order to look at a certain way.

Since deciding to go “all in” with my recovery, my eyes have been opened to the fact that my body has its own agenda and that it really isn’t so bad! I have stopped all forms of intense exercise now since 3 months and have totally relaxed all of my food rules. And guess what, my body has hardly changed. I have gained a few lbs yes, but nothing hugely noticeable. I honestly can’t believe the amount of effort I put in for so long trying to maintain a slightly lower body weight. I guess we just have been taught not to trust our bodies and it becomes a belief that we have to constantly control ourselves. Letting go and trusting the process is so freeing and although my body weight might be higher my mind is so much lighter.

I am writing this hoping to give some reassurance to anyone waiting to take the leap out of restriction and into a life of freedom and abundance. And also as a reminder that just because we surrender doesn’t mean we are out of control. Choosing to make every decision based on the intelligence and intuition of our body and mind at that given moment and not on some arbitrary rules is the ultimate way to take control of our own life and health.

Do you find that you are “living in your head”? How about handing over control to your body just for a day and see how it feels.. you might just surprise yourself 🙂 

Amy x

HA Recovery diaries #1 My story and perceived stress

Is it normal to lose your period? Is it ok?

For a long time I thought the answer to both of those questions was yes. Now it is a resounding NO!!

In my second blog post “How I got Veganized”, I shared some photos of my weight journey throughout the years. What I didn’t share was the intense struggle with food and exercise that was behind those changes. At the time I was quite embarrassed about it I suppose but now I know just how many people are going through similar issues that I think it’s something I need to speak about. It is definitely the reason behind my absent periods and the hell I have been through over the last 12 months (please see my previous blog for background if you haven’t already).

Since high school I have been what I would call “body conscious”. I was about 14 when I first started to really look at my body and I didn’t like what I saw. I thought I should be thinner, more toned yet more “womanly” (small goals hey). Being the determined, driven person that I am I took it upon myself to change that so I joined a gym and started eating less. At first it was healthy and I felt good but it quickly spiralled and within 12 months I was spending several hours a day at the gym and meticulously counting calories. I had no idea about nutrition or how the body works and I thought well calories in=calories out so I tried to balance what I ate with what I burnt off through exercise. I didn’t know at the time that our bodies need calories just to run normal functions!

Anyway, to cut a long story short I eventually lost my period. I had been on the birth control pill and when I stopped taking it after a year my cycles never returned. I was told by doctors that this was fine and normal and that it would take a while for my body to settle out. 12 months later.. still no period. I was told by doctors that it was fine and normal for active women and not to worry if I wasn’t trying to get pregnant. So I accepted that and carried on with my life.

I tried to keep up my diet and exercise regime but after a while my body started to fight back with EXTREME HUNGER. I still had my goal in mind though so I carried on working out and restricting my calories. But I would keep having these full on crazy binge eating episodes. I didn’t know what was going on. Seriously. I felt like something was invading my mind and forcing me to eat everything in sight! Then afterwards I would feel guilty and vow to eat less and exercise more the next day. Always frustrated, angry at my body for not conforming to the size and shape I had decided it should be. Every time I binged there was “something wrong with me” and I worked hard to make my body pay for its mistake.  And so the cycle continued..

This graphic from Deanna Schober sums it up pretty well.

br-cycle

I carried on in this confusing, agonising cycle for years and years. I went to university and definitely calmed down a bit, I was eating more and exercising less but the desire to change my body never left. I never fully let go and carried on trying to control my body through diet and exercise. The periods of binge eating kept cropping up meaning that my weight remained stable. Everyone around me thought I looked great and some even envied my discipline around food and working out. So many times I just wanted to scream about just how much pain I was going through to keep the body I had. And the funny thing was I still hated my body. I couldn’t see that I was slim already. I always thought I needed to do MORE to make myself LESS.

When I left university my life totally changed. I had started to notice my health declining and decided I needed to fix things. Around this time I discovered the plant based lifestyle which literally saved me! I won’t go into too much detail here but becoming vegan made me realise that there was so much more to my food choices than how many calories it contained. My focus switched to eating food that was good for the planet and for myself and my eyes were opened to the suffering caused by animal agriculture. People often ask my do I feel restricted on a vegan diet but honestly, after coming from a background of self- imposed restrictions around all sorts of foods I found it so liberating to just EAT.

Things changed dramatically in a few short months. I started to feed my body properly and my mind was in a much better place. I had gained about 15lbs by this point though which I really wasn’t happy with. I had lost the desire to be skinny but now I wanted to be toned. I was still working out most days, often going swimming before work and the gym after work. I was eating more YES but not enough to gain weight. I was just teetering on the edge and stayed that way for about 12 months.

At the time I thought that I had “recovered”. I was in a place where many women live their entire lives. Maintaining my weight but always anxious around food, always controlling. Scared to eat one biscuit in case I ate the whole pack (which happened many times..). Always ordering what the “skinny bitch” voice in my head told me to in a restaurant rather than what I actually wanted. Pushing myself further and further in my workouts, chasing that body ideal and the perceived high that comes with it. I have to say that compared to where I had come from this place felt GREAT.

Once I made it my goal to get my period back though, things changed again. This time the shift was in my mind. I started researching like crazy and found out the effects of all this restriction on the hypothalamus – the control centre in our brain for many of our hormones. It’s weird, even though I kind of knew before that under eating and too much exercise can cause our periods to stop, I just couldn’t relate to it. Because I was a healthy weight, eating plenty and exercising what is considered by most people to be a healthy amount I just thought that couldn’t possibly be what was happening. But what I hadn’t realised was the effect of perceived stress on the body.

I started to learn that the energy behind my choices made all the difference. An action performed in the same way but with a different mindset can have hugely different effects on the body. For example, take these two situations:

  1. “I am going swimming tomorrow before work. I will go before my breakfast so I can burn some fat as I really could do with losing some! I only have 30 minutes though so I had better push myself hard and get my heart rate up”
  2. “I am going swimming before work. I don’t have much time but I can just do 30 minutes. Swimming wakes me up and refreshes me and makes me feel great!”

Both cases involve swimming for 30 minutes but the perceived stress on the body would be much less in situation b. The same goes for food choices. I learned about something called cognitive dietary restraint which is basically perceived restriction around food. Again, for example, imagine being at a party and being offered a slice of cake.

  1. “Ooh cake! Thanks!” Person A eats the cake and enjoys it and carries on with the party not thinking about it again.
  2. “Ooh I’m not sure, I am trying to eat healthy. Oh ok go on..” Person B has a mental dilemma about whether to eat the cake or not. Wanting to eat it but agonising over the calories or the fat content. They eat the cake but spend the rest of the party worrying about it and planning how they will make up for it later.

Both people ate the cake. But the perceived stress in Person B would be so much higher. This basically summed up my relationship with food and exercise. Even though I was making healthy choices my mindset was not healthy and this made all the difference. Even though I was eating more I was still making my body feel restricted by setting a limit. I had moved the calorie bar higher but what I needed to do was remove the bar all together!

This was a hugely scary realisation at first. I was terrified that if I just let go I would lose all control and eat everything in sight. And I have to admit, sometimes that does happen. It is a work in progress to get back to eating what my body wants and needs rather than what my mind thinks it should have. And I have to accept that after feeling restricted for so long it is only natural for my body to ask for more. But now the work is to accept that, focus on nourishing my body at every opportunity and cultivating a feeling of abundance and liberation that I haven’t had for a very long time.

I can’t say for sure whether this change will help me to get my period back but after connecting with recovered women online it seems to be the right path. I don’t know how long it will take but I trust the process and will keep going.

Can you relate to this? Do you feel restricted or liberated? Please leave any comments I would love to hear your thoughts 🙂

Amy x

PC-no-S

I just checked and it has been 9 months since I last posted.  The whole “starting a blog” thing didn’t really work out for me at that time.. But a lot has been happening since then which has given me a whole new perspective.

Basically, I haven’t been having my periods. For a LONG time. 7 years to be precise. For a while it was pretty convenient I’ll be honest and I was assured by doctors that it was fine and normal (can I just say here that just because something is common does not mean it is normal!). I tried to forget it and carry on with my life but it was always there niggling in the back of my mind.

In May 2016, around the time of my last post, I finally decided to go and see a doctor. I was sent for an ultra-sound which showed that I had multiple cysts on my ovaries and I was diagnosed with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) which is a surprisingly common condition of hormone imbalance in women. I was told there was no reason WHY it happened and no known cure, my best hope was managing my symptoms and potentially having treatment later down the line if I wanted to have children. Naturally, I was absolutely devastated.

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. So I did some research online and found a wonderful program/community called The Healing Woman (Success Healing PCOS at the time) where women were healing their PCOS naturally via a plant based diet. As I was vegan already I was like GREAT bring it on and jumped straight in to the 8 week program.

Through working with Hannah I started to uncover all sorts of ideas around my relationship to food and exercise and how it had impacted my body. As I spoke to more women I started to doubt my diagnosis of PCOS, I didn’t have any of the symptoms of high androgens and just didn’t seem to fit the profile for PCOS. Eventually, I had the confidence to go and see another doctor and question my diagnosis. I had some blood tests which confirmed my testosterone levels were normal and a second ultrasound scan which showed my ovaries were totally normal too. So I was undiagnosed with PCOS! But I still had the issue of no period..

I spent so much time researching online trying to figure out what was going on and eventually I came across something called Hypothalamic Amenorrhea (HA). This is basically the loss of menstrual cycle due to physical or emotional stress. Finally something that seemed to make sense! It pointed at 4 basic causes:

  1. Under-eating
  2. Over- exercising
  3. Maintaining a low body weight
  4. Stress/anxiety

I could identify totally with all of the above. I think in today’s society it is so normalised to be on a diet or trying to lose weight. But being in an energy deficient state has serious impacts on our bodies and I am just one of many suffering the consequences of striving for the “ideal body”. I don’t want this post to be too long so I will save the rest of my story till next time (which won’t be another 9 months!). I am now going “all in” trying to heal my body and tackle a lot of issues that have come up since I opened this can of worms.

I hope that you can share this journey with me 🙂

Amy

P.S. If anyone reading this is in a similar situation of being diagnosed with PCOS but not showing the symptoms I strongly recommend visiting the following link and downloading the resources which were so useful for me in figuring out what was going on!

http://www.noperiodnowwhat.com/hypothalamic-amenorrhea-info/hypothalamic-amenorrhea-vs-lean-pcos