HA: Eat More, Exercise Less, Stress Less
Published Jul 20, 2016, Updated Jun 26, 2020
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Sharing my experience with hypothalamic amenorrhea and where I’m at with it right now.
Exactly one year ago I wrote about dealing with post-pill amenorrhea. At the time I had been off birth control for about 10 months and hadn’t regained my cycle. I initially thought my body just needed time to get back on track after being on the pill for such a long time, but after some blood work I was diagnosed with hypothalamic amenorrhea (HA).
My doctor’s main recommendation was to eat more and exercise less. As a health coach, personal trainer and healthy living blogger this was crazy talk to me. I thought what I was doing for the past 10 years was super healthy so how could my body not be working properly? After being upset (with a WHY ME, I’m not even THAT skinny attitude) for a few days I took his advice to heart, scaled back on exercise, stopped running and started eating whatever I wanted without worrying whether or not it was healthy. The “eat everything” mindset was fun for a while, until I gained about 7 lbs in two weeks. My clothes became uncomfortably tight and I was unhappy with how I looked and felt.
A few months later a new fitness studio called OrangeTheory opened in Richmond. I decided to try it, LOVED the workouts and started going 3-4 times a week, taking 3-4 days of rest. OTF is a lot of running and high intensity, but I justified it because I was working out less than my old routine of moderate exercise (PureBarre, walking, running or strength training) 6-7 days a week. I was running faster than I had ever run before, I felt stronger and I really enjoyed the community there.
I also started back tracking my food again, working to lose a few of the extra pounds I had put on and feel better about my body. Even with doing OTF and eating cleaner/less, my body wasn’t responding. It was holding on to everything. Definitely a sign that something was off.
Eat More, Exercise Less?
While all of this was going on I found a few online groups with other ladies who have dealt or are currently dealing with HA and everything I read talked about the solution being to exercise less and eat more, just as my doctor had suggested.
Finally I decided that I most likely need to give the whole eat more, exercise less another go if I want to regain my cycle. I haven’t worked out in about 4 weeks. I have attended 3-4 gentle yoga classes, gone on walks (mostly Pokeman hunts) or bike rides with Isaac, but that’s about it. I’ve also given myself the freedom to eat whatever I want while trying to be mindful and intuitive. I naturally crave healthy food so I’m still eating well, but I’m not giving myself any restrictions.
I’m not sure how much weight I’ve gained because I’m not weighing myself, but I know I have gained because all of my shorts are tight, some I can’t wear at all. It’s definitely been hard. Some days are harder than others, especially since it’s summer and bathing suit season. I’ve had moments of tears and moments where I question if this is really the solution. One thing that has really helped is the book Intuitive Eating. I started reading it a few weeks ago and I love all the advice about listening to your body and ending the dieting, deprivation, guilt cycle. It’s been an awesome thing to read while going through this process. I highly recommend it if you haven’t read it.
High Cortisol Levels
I also recently had updated blood work taken and received the results last week. My LH, FSH and TSH have all increased and my Estrogen levels have doubled over the past year. Great news! At this point everything is in the normal range except Free Testosterone, which is low and Cortisol (stress hormone), which is high.
From my research I know that stress, both metabolic and psychological, can affect the HPA axis and reproductive health negatively. This article does a great job explaining it. With this in mind, my main goal right now is to work to decrease stress and therefore decrease my cortisol levels. Cutting out intense exercise will surely help and doing more yoga and light walking should help too. Caffeine can also increase cortisol so as of this week I’ve decided I need to cut back on coffee. As a coffee lover this is going to be a big change for me, but totally doable.
As I shared in my amenorrhea update in November of last year, I had some additional tests done that showed debris in my uterus as well as a bit of uterine lining migrating into the muscle around my uterus. This info is scary and I’m still not sure if these issues are part of the reason my period is missing.
Sorry for the lengthy post. I just wanted to share where I’m at with this journey right now. I know there are a ton of ladies dealing with similar situations and I just want you to know that you’re not alone. HA, and infertility issues in general, aren’t talked about very often and if you don’t have any close friends who’ve gone through something similar, it can feel really isolating. I know I’ve felt that way at times. Here’s to increasing awareness around these issues and healing our bodies!
2020 UPDATE: Just wanted to share that I was able to heal hypothalamic amenorrhea, get my cycle back, became pregnant and had a beautiful baby girl. If you’re currently struggling with HA right now I’m sending hope, love and positive vibes your way!