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 #11 It is ok to take a break

Just a quick update to let you know that I haven’t disappeared off the face of the earth. I am simply taking a break, easing off social media and the internet in general..

I know I am not alone in taking on too much. It is a common theme amongst women suffering from HA and disordered eating. That type A, constantly busy, doing everything for everyone and doing it PERFECTLY persona. This last year I have been working full time as an engineer plus studying part time at the College of Naturopathic Medicine and doing a foundation teacher training course with the British Wheel of Yoga. AND healing from HA along the way. So I have been very busy!

But right now I am at a point in my life where the opportunity to take a break has presented itself to me and I would be stupid not to take it. I recently left my job, moved house and my next adventure begins in September. I am coming to the end of my course at CNM so I have a few things to finish off for that but otherwise I am free to relax for a few weeks.

Recovery is hard. It sounds like the easiest thing in the world to stop exercising and eat food but it takes so. much. energy to do that. The constant mental battle is exhausting. But I am now at a point where the hardest work is done and I want to take some time to recharge.

So it might be a few weeks till my next post but I will be back 🙂

Remember that we are not machines. It is ok to be tired. It is ok to take a break. It is ok to rest and allow yourself some time out. In fact it is necessary every once in a while to destress, reevaluate and reprioritise.

Here is a great blog if you want to read some more

http://bewellplace.com/its-okay-to-take-a-break-when-youre-overwhelmed-and-reprioritize-whats-important/

HA recovery diaries #10 Liberation not limitation

A huge part of recovery from HA or any form of restrictive disorder is letting go of the rules.  It seems like it should be easy once we learn that our habits are responsible for our poor health to just stop exercising and start eating but it is very rarely so.  Often we have spent years beating ourselves into submission that it becomes almost impossible to disentangle ourselves.

So why do we place these rules on ourselves?

Almost always we begin with the best intentions in mind.  We want to get healthier, to be fitter, to look better, to create “the best version of ourselves”.  And how are we told to do this?  Eat less, move more, lose weight.  We are surrounded by these messages in society to the point that they become embedded into our psyche.  Almost everyone is living in the mindset of either trying to lose weight or not wanting to gain weight.  Dieting and exercise have become the social norms.

When we first set out on a health or weight loss journey, we do our research and arm ourselves with knowledge.  Which foods are low in calories or have the most nutrients? How many calories should we eat?  Which foods are more fattening?  How much exercise a day is needed for weight loss?  Which exercises burn the most fat?  All of this information is too much to carry around in our heads so we develop rules to follow to save hours of deliberation every time we need to eat or move our bodies.  Following a plan is so much easier as it takes the pressure of decision making away.   But this is not necessarily a good thing!

For example, take some common food rules:

I can only eat X calories a day

I shouldn’t eat chocolate

I can’t have dessert

If I go to a restaurant I have to have a salad

I am only allowed to eat X times a day

I must leave X hours between meals

Notice any similarities?

The words only, can’t, shouldn’t, must, allowed..  How do these words make you feel?  Ask most people to choose between oppression and liberation and I can almost guarantee they will choose freedom.  But living with words like this, we cannot be totally free.  For some reason we seem to enjoy creating a cage for ourselves to live in, placing restrictions and limitations on our own lives.

Why do we do this?

I don’t have the answer to that.  Maybe it is because we are scared.  So scared of our own power that we feel we have to reign ourselves in.  Scared that without the rules we will be totally out of control.  And ironically enough, rules create exactly the kind of environment for this kind of rebelling to occur.  If you are the kind of person that tends to spiral into chaos the minute you break a rule, think back to before you ever had any rules.  I am guessing that you were doing just fine.   As soon as we place restrictions on ourselves we ignite the deep desire to rebel and it becomes a viscous cycle.

In creating rules, we hand over our power to adapt and change.  Life is not constant – in fact its common to hear that the only constant thing about it is change.  And rules don’t account for this.  We are constantly evolving as humans and the world is in a state of continuous flux.  Just because something works for us today does not mean it will work tomorrow.  But often we cling to the rules we make, far beyond the point where they no longer serve us.  The habits and beliefs we have built become so deeply embedded that it is difficult to consider any other option.

This is why going “all in” works can be so challenging.  Although the fundamentals are non-negotiable there is a lot of room for individualisation.

We know that we need to exercise less but how much is too much?  Can we carry on with what we usually do but less frequently?  How about lifting weights?  Is walking ok?  If so for how long?  What about yoga?

We know we need to nourish our bodies but how much do we need?  Is 2000 calories enough?  3000?  Should we be eating junk foods or focus on nutrition?  Is eating a lot at night ok or should we be spacing things out throughout the day?

These are all questions that come up frequently and there simply is no answer.  Everybody is different and it is up to you to find what works best for your body.  And this can be scary if we are coming from a place where we had a set rule book to help us make our decisions.  We knew what was ok and not ok.  We had external guides to tell us what to do.  And now we are supposed to just let ourselves loose in the world?!

Again, most people want to live a life where they feel free.  In the western world, we are lucky to have abundance available to us every day and yet we choose to turn away from it.  Partly this is because we are made to believe that we can only have certain things if we do as we are told.  If we deprive ourselves in the short term we will receive the rewards of health, beauty and happiness in the long term.  No pain, no gain.  But this simply isn’t true.  We can have all of these things without punishing or depriving ourselves.

What we aren’t told is that there is a shortcut.  Welcoming the abundance in our lives with gratitude will bring us all of these things.  Getting in touch with our needs on both a physical and emotional level and focusing on the things that mean the most to us will bring a deep, sustainable joy which no health or fitness plan can ever promise.  You are the most powerful person in your own life and unlocking this power and using it is so rewarding.  And by power I don’t mean will-power, the ability to stick to external or self-imposed rules but the power to live your life the way you want to.  The power to go against the grain, to make mistakes, to change your mind.. what ever you need to do.

When it comes to food, give yourself the freedom to choose what, when, how much.  If you feel compelled to exercise, give yourself permission to rest.  If your body wants to move then explore that gently.  Take away all numbers, measurements, times and go with whatever feels right.  It might be scary at first but once you get to know your body and your intuition, this will become your safe place.  And when you are stuck or unsure about a decision in your healing journey, maybe try approaching it with a question.

Will this bring me closer to liberation or limitation?

 

HA recovery diaries #9 The scale, friend or foe?

A couple of weeks ago in my progress update blog, I mentioned that I had fallen back into the habit of weighing myself and that I was going to go scale-free for the next 30 days.  Since I started trying to get my period back 4 months ago, I stayed away from the scale for fear of setting myself back. But then thoughts started to creep in I wonder how much I weigh these days?  And this eventually I caved. Before long I was back into the habit of weighing myself every few days.

I wasn’t consciously trying to lose weight or change what I was eating as a result of the number and it definitely didn’t have the same power over me and my emotional state as it has in the past.  But I found myself experiencing mild disappointment if I saw the number rising and secretly was glad that my weight was finally pretty stable after my initial gain.  Even though I told myself I was ok with my new weight, I can’t deny that knowing it still brought some anxiety.  In the back of my mind I still had the thought that I was “big enough” now and I think on some level this was reflected in the choices I was making, whether I was aware of it or not.

I found myself questioning myself more often about whether I was really hungry for that snack.  Or whether I should have the fruit instead of the chocolate I was craving.  Or thinking that maybe I should go out for my usual walk even though its pissing down with rain outside.  When my third period didn’t come as I expected I had to reevaluate what I was doing.  I needed to ask myself some questions and be totally honest with myself. Where did this need for me to monitor my weight come from?  And was it really helpful in my recovery journey?

For sure it really is a tough topic with regards to recovery from restrictive eating and weight suppression.  On one hand, if you are trying to gain weight, weighing yourself can be a useful tool to monitor your progress and check you are eating enough to repair your body and get to where you need to be.  It can also be useful to have a goal to work towards i.e. the “fertile BMI range” of 22-23 where a lot of women tend need to reach in order to recover their menstrual cycles.  But for those coming from a much lower weight, this can seem like an unthinkable goal, a huge mountain that is near impossible to even imagine climbing.

And for those of us who are already close to this target weight at the start of our recovery journey, it can become more of a limit on how much we are willing to gain.  In order to fully heal, we need to surrender to the process and let go of all restrictions on our body, including the self-imposed limitations on what we should weigh.  For many women, it is necessary to go above the “healthy” BMI range for our bodies to feel safe enough to menstruate.  How can we label a BMI healthy if our body cannot perform one of its basic functions?!  BMI is such a generalised approach and is in no way suitable for all individuals but I will talk about this in more detail in another post..

Right now I want to focus on how weighing ourselves makes us feel in our bodies.  When you are trying to recover, there is always the risk of setting yourself back mentally.  For lots of us chronic dieters, weighing ourselves has been a regular ritual which we relied on to determine our self worth.  I know from personal experience that you can feel really good and confident and then step on the scale, see a number higher than you were expecting and all of a sudden your self esteem is through the floor.  Even with all of the work towards changing my attitude towards my body I still had a mini eeeeeshhhh moment in my head when I first saw how much I had gained a few months into recovery.  And bear in mind that this is when I had been trying to gain weight on purpose.

In the past I have often let the scale rule my life.  If the number was up I would try to restrict my food or exercise even more, constantly seeking that thrill of seeing a smaller number next time.  Often this restriction would lead to me over eating and feeling even worse when I stepped on the scale and saw an even higher number than before.  If the number was down it could go one of two ways.. either I would chase the high and continue restricting or I would go into self-sabotage mode and end up overeating. Total insanity.

And this time round the habit had got sneaky.  I wasn’t using the scale as a way to measure how good at dieting I had been but I was still judging myself based on what I saw.  I was assuming that if I was truly listening to my hunger and fullness cues then my weight should stay the same.  I was using my weight as an external guide of how successful I was at “intuitive eating” which of course goes against the definition of intuitive meaning that I wasn’t successful at all.  It is much better to rely on your own internal compass to determine how you feel.

SCALE-3

Our bodies provides us with all of the feedback to tell us whether they are happy or not, we just have to learn to listen to them instead of handing all of our power over to a useless piece of machinery.  Turning inwards and looking at our energy levels, our digestion, our mood and our quality of sleep provides us all of the information we need to know whether we are “on track” or not.

In my opinion, there is simply no need for anyone to keep track of their weight, regardless of whether they are in recovery or not.  It is not the weight that determines the our health but our behaviours and self-esteem.  For those who are underweight, adopting healthy behaviours and truly providing the body with the nourishment it needs will bring the body to a healthy weight.  The goal is full recovery, not just weight restoration.  We want to make sustainable changes to the way we treat our bodies, to find that inner caretaker who is going to help us look after ourselves through all of life’s twists and turns.

And to update on my progress – two weeks after my scale freedom I got my period right on time!  It has now been almost four weeks of liberation and I don’t see myself going back anytime soon.  I feel so much calmer and hadn’t even realised the underlying anxiety until it lifted.  It was as if I had been carrying around an invisible burden which was pressing down on me and suppressing my ability to relax and feel happy, without me even realising.

I hope that this post will give strength to anyone who still has that emotional attachment to the scale to just throw it out.  It is definitely not your friend. Make some new friends that will make you feel good about yourself and watch your whole attitude and outlook change.

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!

Thoughts on Fitspo

This morning a friend posted this image on Facebook.

fitspo

I know she had the best intentions behind the post but it really got me thinking about the “Fitspo” trend and its affects on body image.  The Urban Dictionary definition of the word is:

“Images of active, strong, and fit women that promote proper exercise and diet. May also include images healthy foods. Much like thinspo (images of dangerously thin women used by people with eating disorders to motivate) but healthier.”

From the definition it sounds like a great thing. Replacing the horrible trend of “thinspo” and encouraging women to be healthy and active.. both of those things get a great big TICK from me.

However, what can’t be escaped is the fact that images like this still encourage women to focus on their body shape and size. They still provide a body ideal, a goal for women to aim for. They still encourage women to base their self-worth on their appearance and attach morality to food and exercise. And this results in the same feelings of unworthiness and disappointment for those women who don’t follow the rules and don’t look like the picture-perfect instagram babes.

The image above does an amazing job at showing us that the number on the scale is, well only that really. A number. The point here is that body weight and BMI are pretty meaningless and bodies of the same weight can have completely different body shape and composition. That’s all well and good, but what does the image imply? That we should be focusing on getting lean and toned instead of skinny? That it’s much better to be heavier and look like the photo on the right? Yes it may be successful in shifting the focus away from the scale but to what… the mirror?

Lots of women (myself included) are falling into the trap of shifting goals from trying to weigh as little as possible to eating clean and looking lean. What the images above don’t show is how the woman is feeling in each photo and what her life really looks like. What kind of behaviours is she engaging in to maintain her body? What is her overall health like? How are her relationships and social life? Is she following her passions?

There could be a whole range of things going on behind the scenes. We often assume that just because someone looks “normal” that they are not suffering and this is not always the case. Disordered eating can take on so many shapes and sizes. Bulimia and exercise bulimia, orthorexia, food fears, laxative abuse, binge eating. All of these can often go unnoticed as people can maintain a normal BMI and not end up looking like the skeletal eating disorder stereotype. I am not saying by any means that the girl in the photos is suffering from any of these issues but what I am trying to say is not to take photos like this at face value. Images mean nothing unless we know the story behind them.

For me personally, looking lean came at a great cost. I did all of the right things. I worked out daily. I ate clean. I drank plenty of water. But I didn’t feel good and I didn’t know WHY. I wasn’t healthy. My periods were totally absent. I started to wake up in the early hours of the morning for no reason. I felt fatigued all of the time and had to rely on caffeine more and more. I know not everybody will have the same experience but I am sure I am not the only one. It took a lot of effort to unlearn all of the so-called healthy habits I had developed and get back to focusing on feeling good.

For those of us in the health and fitness world, food and exercise and shaping our body can easily become the focus of our life. Yes it is fun to experiment with food and of course moving our bodies feels great. But it doesn’t have to be our sole purpose. It is very easy to get caught up in the bubble and forget that there is an outside world. Real life social connections and meaningful relationships where you can be yourself can do so much more for your health and wellbeing than following some online fitness guru and feeling connected to others by the restraints of whatever lifestyle they preach.

We all want to be healthy and lead a long and happy life but there is more to life than health than working out and eating salads. Having a passion and following your dreams gives you vitality and a sparkle in your eyes that no workout can ever bring. Getting in touch with your true values and finding a purpose in life will make you feel amazing . You don’t have to eat a certain way or look like a fitness model to feel valuable and do good in the world. And chances are you will want to look after yourself in whatever way feels right for you in order to achieve what you want in life. If that means working out a few times a week and feeling strong, great. If that means eating chocolate every day, also great 🙂

Calling all health freaks on birth control

Are you taking the contraceptive pill?

Are you into “health and fitness”?

Do you exercise a lot?

Do you watch what you eat?

Are you underweight or at the lower end of an average BMI?

Are you under a lot of emotional stress?

If the answer to any of the above questions is yes, then listen up.

Your hormonal health may be suffering and be masked by taking the pill.

In my HA Recovery Diaries series I wrote about my struggles with Hypothalamic Amenorrhea. This is when women stop having their natural menstrual cycle due to physical or emotional stress on the body, including over-exercise, under-eating and being at a low body weight (and by low body weight I mean below our bodies’ happy point, not what is defined by the media or fitness industry).

The hypothalamus is like the control centre of our brain. It sends out hormonal signals which regulate all our important bodily functions, including metabolism, body temperature and reproduction. When the hypothalamus detects a stressful situation, in particular an “energy crisis” which can arise from exercising too much and moving too little, it shuts down any unnecessary functions. This can result in symptoms such as feeling cold, brittle hair and nails and, of course, loss of our menstrual cycle.

For women who are on the pill, this huge sign that something is wrong can easily be missed. The pill introduces synthetic hormones into the body in order to trick the body into thinking it is pregnant, thereby preventing ovulation. In order to induce a monthly bleed, 7 days of sugar pills replace these hormones every 4 weeks. The “period” that we get when on the pill is in fact a withdrawal bleed from the sudden drop in hormones. This means that we assume everything is fine with our hormonal system when actually things could be going very wrong!

In today’s body conscious society, I think this is a much more common problem than we realise. It has become fashionable to hang out at the gym, living in leggings and sports bras, striving to achieve the perfect, toned body. We are told that exercise is important to maintain a healthy body, which is true to a certain extent, however it is not the full story. Moving our body is of course good for our health, however exercising too intensely or frequently is perceived by the body as a physical stress and can cause our metabolic and reproductive systems to shut down.

I was lucky that I came off birth control after only 12 months and after a few years of being fobbed off my doctors that my “post-pill amenorrhea” was normal I realised that something else was going on. However, it still took me another 6 years to actually get to the bottom of the issue and to regain my cycles. During my recovery process, I have met so many women who have come off birth control to try and get pregnant and found that their cycles just didn’t come back. I can only imagine the disappointment and frustration at wanting a child and your body simply not being ready.

And the recovery process is not always quick or easy. Depending on the extent of the damage done, not so much in terms of physical damage to your body but more in how ingrained the thought patterns have become, it can take months or even years to recover. For many who have built their life around nutrition and exercise and may be known by their friends and family as “the fit one” or “the skinny one”, habits can be extremely hard to break. Even once you start treating your body right, it may be months before it feels safe enough to grow a child. I am not saying all of this to scare you, I am just being honest.

You might think that because you are not trying to get pregnant, then it isn’t all that important to have a period. Certainly the whole point of the birth control pill is to shut it down. But like I said earlier, not having a period is a clear signal from your body that it is not happy and that things need to change. Think of it like your monthly report, indicating how well your body is functioning. Menstrual cycle disruptions, including PMS as well as amenorrhea, indicate the health of your bones, thyroid and metabolism. This beautiful, complex hormonal cycle also regulates our emotions, sex drive and even how much we enjoy sex. These days everyone is using fitbits and health and fitness apps, but we have our own built in tool to inform our health decisions and we are simply not using it!

467289-best-fitness-app-round-up

So to summarise, if you are on the contraceptive pill and there is a chance you fall into the category of “health freak”, “fitness fanatic” or “stress head” then I strongly advise you to do some research on Hypothalamic Amenorrhea. Read my HA Recovery Diaries series, check out this link and see what you think. If you think you are someone who could be affected by this then it may be a good idea to come off the pill for a while and see what happens. The first stage of solving any problem is awareness and you now have that after reading this post so you are already on the journey to recovery. Next comes acceptance and hopefully it won’t take you 6 years to get to this stage like it did for me.

Finally comes action! And if you get to this point you are in great company. I have met so many amazing women online going through this healing journey. I have discovered Intuitive Eating, Health at Every Size and Life Unrestricted communities which have helped to totally reprogram my brain. So for that I am thankful!

If you have any questions please contact me and I will be happy to help 🙂