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?

 

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 🙂

 

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