HA recovery diaries #12 Building positive habits

One thing that has been on my mind lately is how to navigate the world of food and exercise now that my period has returned (number 5 and still celebrating!). Going “all in” for recovery was not easy by any means but at least it was clear what to do. No exercise means no exercise. Food means FOOD. The slightest hunger or craving and I would eat. I didn’t want to deprive my body in any way. Looking back I can see that in a way it was still within the safety of my black and white thinking.

Now I am 5 months into recovery, I am starting to build some healthy habits back into my life. I have recently starting working out again and I am being more conscious of my food choices. But this time around it is coming from such a different place. I am making choices to look after my body, not to punish it. I am doing exercise that I love and I am not pushing myself too hard. I am trying to nourish my body as best I can but I am still enjoying treats when I want them. But I do still worry about where the line is. Finding balance is a constant challenge!

Perfect-Balance

Looking back at my journey with food and exercise, it is hard to see the exact point where things started to go wrong. I am pretty sure that most of us started off this journey with the best intentions. Maybe we wanted to get healthier, feel fitter or look better. Maybe we started out by making a few tweaks to what we are eating, cutting out a few snacks here and there, eating less takeaways or “junk foods” and starting to move our bodies more often. At one time these were probably good habits.

Habit – an acquired, automatic behaviour developed through repetition

Habits can be either positive or negative and voluntary or involuntary. By that I mean they can be actions that we do subconsciously, for example nail biting. Or it can be a behaviour we choose to adopt because of the perceived benefits to us, such as drinking more water. Either way, the mechanism is the same – we repeat the behaviour and eventually the pathways in our brain become so established that we continue to do it without awareness. But there is a point when habits become compulsions and this is when we enter the danger zone.

Compulsion – an irresistible urge to behave in a certain way

I know after a while my healthy food choices became strict diet rules. There were allowed and not-allowed foods, set times and amounts to eat, workouts that had to be done no matter what. I became so rigid in my thinking that any slight deviation from my routine would send me into a tailspin of anxiety. For me, this was definitely a gradual change which happened so slowly that I hardly noticed my free will disappearing and my life becoming smaller and smaller.

Even now the tendency to create rules is there. I think it is only human to want to put things into boxes, set things into order and follow a routine. It makes it easier on our brains to not have to make decisions and to operate on autopilot. Intuitive eating involves tuning into our bodies signals at any given moment and believe me they are constantly changing! It definitely gets easier but in the beginning it takes a lot of thought to tune in to what you actually want when there are no rules to follow.

When it comes to recovery, there are three key challenges relating to habits:

  1. Undoing old, unhelpful habits and compulsions

The first one definitely takes a radical change in the way you think. There is a quote by Einstein that I think is so relevant here:

“We can’t solve problems with the same level of thinking that got us here.”

For most of us, we accidentally ended up in this mess by taking a detour from rational thinking. Somewhere along the line, something happened in our life which set us off down the path of believing that we are not good enough as we are. The thing is, we were doing what we believed to be the right thing. And it was, with the information we had available to us at the time. The difficult part is learning to let go of old habits and beliefs now that we have new information that proves otherwise.

It took me a few months of hardcore brain reprogramming to undo beliefs that I had held for years. Doing a social media revamp definitely helps – unfollowing fitspo and clean eating accounts filling your feed with body positive and anti-diet messages instead. Also, listening to podcasts (I found Meret Boxler’s Life Unrestricted soooo helpful) and connecting with other healing women online will help to change your thinking.

         2. Setting up new, positive habits

The second challenge is deciding what you want to do, now that you know what you don’t want to do. Or more likely who you want to be, now that you know who you don’t want to be. Once the unhelpful thoughts about weight loss are fading, you have a lot of mental space freed up. If you want to be successful you have to find something new to fill that space with, otherwise your life will start to feel empty without dieting and working out to focus on and you might be tempted to go back.

Journalling is a really helpful tool for this. Allowing your true values come to the surface then taking action to prioritise them in your life. Maybe its spending more time with friends and family, getting back into old hobbies or dedicating yourself to a cause. Whatever it is, find something meaningful to focus on instead of focusing on what is missing. I definitely made healing my focus in the beginning and this can be helpful in the reprogramming stage but after a while I think it can be too stressful and we end up going round in circles wondering what we are doing wrong, when maybe all our bodies need is time.

In the early stages of recovery, I definitely recommend that exercise and thoughts about nutrition take a back seat. Later on , you might start to feel like adding some healthier habits back into your life. When it comes to food and exercise, figure out what you actually like. Eat your favourite foods and some healthy foods too (maybe you will find some things fall into both categories! Ahem, sweet potatoes…) and exercise in whatever way is fun for you. Tune into your bodies’ needs instead of intellectualising your choices. Hint – if your mind is saying yes and your body is saying no then it is probably not right for you in that moment.

         3. Maintaining habits with them becoming compulsive

Once you have set up some positive habits that help you to feel great, the challenge is to maintain balance and avoid becoming obsessed. We all want to look after ourselves but in reality, stress is one of the most damaging things for our bodies so if our “healthy habits” become stressful or we feel deprived, we are actually doing ourselves a disservice. It is much better to have some key foundational habits and from there remain flexible and have fun.

One thing that definitely helps is to keep mixing things up. Trying to keep experimenting with food instead of eating the same thing every day. Working out at different times on different days and trying new things. Yoga was my rock during recovery and I am keeping that up but I have recently got into Zumba and I am loving it! During HA I did a lot of endurance exercise like running and cycling as well as weight lifting. I have been out on my bike a few times this summer and I do miss lifting but I think for now I need to be careful. I am so happy that my body is functioning again and I don’t want to jeopardise that!

Also, if I ever have a thought that comes up that I shouldn’t do something, I make sure to do the opposite right away. If I have a craving for chocolate and my mind tells me I have snacked too much already today or that I should wait till after dinner then I go and get myself some chocolate ASAP. If my mind is planning a workout and my body tells me it is tired and needs to rest, I listen to it and give myself at least an hour of true relaxation time and maybe workout later if I feel like it. Doing this shows our bodies that things are different now and their needs will get met.

So those are my tips to create healthier habits in recovery. I hope this is helpful, where ever you are in your journey. I would love to hear from you as I have no idea who reads my posts at the moment! If you want to connect please comment below with where you are in your journey and a positive habit you are adopting 🙂

Amy x

HA recovery diaries #8 Your body is made to heal

This weekend was a huuuuge milestone for me.. post-recovery period number three!

I never thought I could be so happy to be bleeding but I am ecstatic and so proud of myself.

Bleeding

I am also in awe at how quickly the body can heal and things fall into place when you treat it well. I was reminded of something Hannah Lipman from The Healing Woman always used to tell me – it is the bodies’ sole purpose to heal, we just have to get out of its’ way. On the surface this sounds like a pretty abstract concept, but it is such an important message. And when you think about it, it makes scientific sense. Well, maybe one of its sole purposes as continuation of the species is a pretty high priority too..

Our body is just a big ball of chemicals flying around, trying to maintain our internal environment in juuuust the right conditions to survive. We have hormones to regulate our blood temperature, pressure and pH within the narrow ranges required for proper functioning of our bodily systems. If we cut ourselves, our skin heals. If we break a bone, our body repairs the damage. When we shave, our hair grows back to its natural length (we wouldn’t all be walking around like Chewbacca if we didn’t shave for a few months!). Our bodies know our “set points” and are constantly working, making adjustments to maintain this balance.

I have spoken to so many women with HA who feel broken and think that they have done so much damage over the years that their body will never be able to recover. They get disheartened after a few months on the No Period Now What healing protocol and start to lose hope. I have to say, I had days where I felt like this too! But I am glad to say that it is simply not true. Our bodies are miracle workers. When we provide the resources and conditions for healing, it will happen.

The protocol is simple: eat, rest, sleep, repeat. It sounds so simple and almost too good to be true. I suppose this is why it can be so hard to trust in the process. It goes against everything we have been told about health – that we need to work hard to  eat the “right” foods and keep active. This is definitely important for maintaining the condition of an already healthy body, but it doesn’t mean it is going to heal us. Not when that was what caused things to go wrong in the first place. In order to recover from chronic energy deficit, we need energy! This means taking in more energy from food (and I am talking plain old calories here not specific micronutrients) and using up less energy through activity. The less we eat and the more we move, the slower the healing process will be.

It is natural to want to DO something. This journey is a difficult one in that we can’t always see the healing occurring. We don’t know if what we are doing is enough and we feel like we are waiting on the platform for a train that may never come. I have had lots of women ask about supplements which could speed up the healing process. My opinion is that supplements can be great, but they are no substitute for the healing fundamentals – food, rest and relaxation. I tried a few supplements on and off throughout recovery but there is no such thing as a magic bullet. There is no way round the truth that in order to restore health we need to reevaluate our opinions on what constitutes health.

I speak a lot about surrendering to the process. By this I mean, stop trying to control and allow things to progress at their natural pace. Stop resisting and fighting the healing protocol or trying to find a sneaky way around it. Accept that this is how things are, for now, and allow yourself to be healed. Listen to the guidance of the hundreds of other women who have walked this path before you and trust this this will happen for you too in time. We are all individuals but at our core we are so similar. We are all human and our bodies want to survive!

HA Recovery Diaries #7 Progress Update

It has been two months since my last post so I thought it was time for an update on my recovery process.

I had my first period at the beginning of March and my next cycle came right on time after 28 days. I was amazed and thought it was too good to be true!

And it was.

On day 17 of my third cycle, just a few days past when I should have ovulated I had a random two day bleed.  And nothing since..

It was quite disappointing as it had felt like a miracle had occurred and things had just fallen back into place but looking back, it was actually a great thing. A big STOP sign which led me to pause and reflect on my life and recovery process. I felt like things hadn’t changed so I went back to the book (Nicola Rinaldi’s No Period Now What book that is for those who haven’t been following my posts) and reminded myself of what can send our cycles out of whack.

Cycle

The first point is a tough one. I definitely have not been eating as much lately as during my peak HA recovery efforts. This hasn’t been on purpose but more because my focus has shifted towards other things and I simply don’t feel like sitting around eating biscuits and chocolate in the evenings.  I have gravitated back towards a whole foods plant based diet simply because this is what makes me feel good! I am still eating a ton of food and I am definitely not in a calorie deficit but maybe I do need to think about introducing some more “fun foods” back into my life.

I am still keeping away from the gym and all cardio activity. Since the weather is getting warmer I am probably walking more than I was but nothing extreme. I am still focusing on yoga and trying to slowly build my strength back. I don’t feel like my current activity level is enough to stress out my body but if I am not seeing any positive signs in the next few weeks I may have to rethink things and give my body more time to rest and heal. This is pretty frustrating as I love cycling and I was hoping that I would be able to spend the summer exploring on my bike but maybe this is not a good idea for me right now.

My weight has stopped increasing and has remained pretty stable since my period returned. How do I know that you might ask? Well if I am honest, I have got back into the habit of weighing myself every once in a while “just to check up on things”. This is something that absolutely needs to stop. I am so past the point of feeling that my weight defines my health, happiness or value as a human being but old habits die hard. So from now on, I am enforcing a scale ban for a minimum of 30 days.

Now to the big one: stress! I have had a lot of stress in my life this month. I have decided to leave the safety of my job and venture into the unknown. I will write more about this in another post but to summarise, my anxiety levels sky-rocketed when I had to make that decision and again when I had to actually make it happen and tell people at work that I am leaving. Now that stress is over I have the dull, underlying worry of wondering what I am going to do next, when I will find another job and whether I will be able to pursue my passions and find a new career that I love.

So really, looking at the bigger picture, it is no surprise that my cycle went a bit wonky this month. Recovery is not a linear path and I expect the future to be full of ups and downs in the road. But this is ok. Even being aware of this is all amazing progress. My advice for those who are still working towards recovery is to be patient  with yourself. Treat yourself with kindness and compassion and celebrate the small victories. Don’t dwell on the setbacks, learn from them and move on. Never stay stuck in your comfort zone, keep trying, keep challenging yourself and facing your fears. I promise it will be worth it!

HA recovery diaries #6 the roller coaster of healing emotions

In the beginning of this journey I thought that getting my period back was the final goal. Little did I know back then that this was merely a sign that I was on the right track on a much longer healing journey. It has been 3 weeks since the return of AF and it has been a rollercoaster of emotions.. mainly joy, excitement and gratitude but also fear and uncertainty.

Deciding to tackle this mountain of an issue is not easy. Most of us have dedicated years of our lives to our “health” and “beauty” goals only to find out we have been fed a pack of lies. We have spent so long cultivating beliefs about how we should look in order to be happy and successful that finding out that this isn’t necessarily what is right for us is quite a blow.

At first we remain in denial – our lifestyle can’t possibly be the cause of our lack of periods, we are slim and fit therefore we MUST be healthy..right?

Once we start to realise that maybe fixation on our weight could be responsible we get defensive – we aren’t exercising THAT much, we aren’t VERY underweight, we know people skinnier than us who still have their cycles..

At some point we experience anger – anger towards the media and diet industries for making us feel unworthy and for providing us with our body ideals and even anger towards our own bodies for not conforming to these images of “perfection”

Of course there is the sadness too –  we are sad that we have neglected our bodies in this way and grieve for the time and energy we have lost and can’t get back

Yet along the way we discover the other women who are also walking this well-trodden path and we find hope – time and time again we see healing stories which give us hope that we can also overcome this

But we haven’t yet cultivated patience and expect miracles to happen over night  – when we don’t see the changes we want we start to feel lost and broken like we are different from the others and will never be able to heal

We start to feel uncertainty – we don’t know whether this will work, we are out of our comfort zones and crave the safety of our old routines. We can’t quite let go of something, maybe our weight, our control over food or our exercise routine

Eventually we surrender and feel a huge sense of relief. – giving up the struggle and allowing our bodies to lead the way instead of our minds constantly planning, analysing, criticising

This is where the magic happens

Getting my period back brought me huge joy but it is not the end of the road. Now I have to relearn how to look after my body.. I want to eat well and move my body but I don’t know how to go about it any more. Everything I learned from the past is a no go and I feel totally lost. I need to discover where my boundaries are – what can I do? how much is too much? Right now I am remaining cautious and I am very aware that I could easily slip back into old patterns.

It seems like I am in this for the long haul but I wouldn’t have it any other way 🙂

Amy

HA recovery diaries #5 I DID IT

I never expected that this day would come so quickly on only diary entry number 5 but here it is.. I got my period back!! After 8 years of amenorrhea, BAM it is back. I am so so happy I can’t stop smiling and telling everyone I see!

I posted my recovery story in Nicola Rinaldi’s No Period Now What facebook group so I am just going to share this post as I don’t have time to write a separate entry today. I am so full of gratitude to Nicola and also to Meret Boxler and her Life Unrestricted podcast for helping open my mind and get my life back. Also big thanks to Hannah Lipman from The Healing Woman for supporting me throughout this journey!

So here it is…

For those who wanted to hear my story.. I lost my period 8 years ago through very restrictive dieting, over exercise, stress and the birth control pill ( perfect storm hey!). My lowest bmi was probably 18 but after a couple of years I fell into a binge/restrict cycle and gained up to bmi 21. I have been at that weight for the last 6 years.. maintaining the diet mentality, weight suppression and over exercise. I was constantly thinking about food, planning what to eat, worrying about what I ate, eating on a schedule rather than listening to my body. I lost my spark for life, my emotions and libido were severely suppressed and I lost interest in hobbies and socialising. I would still do these things but I almost felt like I was just going through the motions and lost my excitement for life. Last year I was (wrongly) diagnosed with PCOS and at that point discovered a high carb vegan diet and started eating loads of fruit, veg and starches probably around 2500 cals. I started to feel much better but despite no longer physically restricting I still was mentally restricting and always terrified of weight gain and used exercise to maintain my figure. In November 2016 after researching endlessly online I found out about HA and how it can be easily mistaken for PCOS – this was my story exactly and was the kick up the butt I needed to accept things needed to change. I decided to stop exercise other than walking and yoga (which was such a hard and scary decision to make after nearly 10 years of addiction!). In Jan 2017 I discovered Nicola’s blog and bought NPNW book and realised I was still not “all in” even with all of the positive changes I had made. Even though I eating plenty, I was still not completely free and still using brain power to control my body’s cravings and urges. At that point I decided I needed to let go of allll rules. I ate anything I wanted, including lots of processed foods that I had only ever eaten during binges before, sometimes scared that I was getting out of control as I was so hungry all of the time and terrified I would fall back into my old bingeing habits. I aimed for 3000 cals a day but never tracked anything so I couldn’t say for sure.  I still wanted to stay vegan for ethical reasons and eat lots of fruits, veg and starches as I felt good doing this but I ate biscuits, chocolate, ice cream ON TOP. I stopped the all or nothing, black and white thinking and realised that I don’t have to be perfect (not that there is any such thing!). I knew that my controlling nature had got me to HA and that I needed to give it up to get past this.. I focused on letting go, stopping the struggle and surrendering to the process. Paying my body back for all the restrictions and letting my cravings/instincts lead the way. 5 weeks later I saw ewcm for the first time and now 7 weeks later AF!! So all in all this has been a 12 months since I upped my calories, almost 4 months since stopping exercise and 6 weeks since going all in with food no restrictions. I have gained some weight but not much I don’t think although I haven’t weighed myself I am somewhere between 21 and 22 I would guess. I hope this is helpful if you have any specific questions please ask xxx

I am still going to keep up this blog as I have so much more I want to write about. The above is just a summary to show that recovery is possible! Now I need to go and celebrate and I am going on holiday tomorrow. In the past I would have been gutted about getting my period just before a beach holiday but now I am so thankful. I will never take it for granted again. Sending love to anyone reading this and pleeeeaaase remember to trust your body, regain that connection and miracles can happen!

Amy x

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

 

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