HA: Eat More, Exercise Less, Stress Less

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).

Girl dressed in all black standing against a red brick wall.

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!

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    1. Whole Woman
      November 5, 2016 AT 1:26 am

      Hi Brittany

      I am in recovery from HA after being told I would never have a period again by doctors. The answer really is food and rest. I really recommend the book No Period Now What by Nicola Rinaldi. Recovering from HA can be very very challenging to our sense of what ‘healthy’ is, but it is also an amazing opportunity to truly embrace the healthy, self loving, self nurturing message that so much of the natural health industry purports to promote. Good luck with your journey, if you are struggle I would recommend joining a few of the facebook support groups, they are places of great love and support with women in similar situations.

    2. stephanie
      October 22, 2016 AT 4:23 pm

      I am going through the same thing! I was on beyaz for 11 years! I just started accupunture and vitamins so we will see how it goes! How long has it been since you’ve had a period? I am constantly worried so thank you for sharing this post. I felt I was the only one with these issues. All of mt friends didnt have any problems after getting off BC.

    3. Tina
      August 17, 2016 AT 3:29 pm

      Hi and thank you so much for sharing. I am struggling with the same issue, I was diagnosed with last month. I never heard anything about it and many of my friends don’t know about it either. I was on the pill for about 4.5 years and went off in July 2015, I had 5 cycles following that, they were between 32 and 56 days. In January this year I had my last cycle. The weird thing is that I was exercising a lot more last year in the fall, I was also skinnier, but I still had periods, long cycles, but I had it. I had blood work done and my hormones look normal but on the lower end. My ovaries have follicles too. I did the progestin challenge twice and never had a withdrawal bleeding. Initially I thought this is all post pill related, now that I am learning so much about HA I believe it might be my workouts. I used to exercise 5-6 times a week, this included running up to 5 miles 4 times a week and weight exercises 1 or twice a week. (not too heavy, I’m little!) I ate enough though. Always been a food lover and hate being hungry. I love avocado and nuts and have plenty of healthy fats in my diet. i did track my food intake though and tried to stay under 1800 calories. I am 5.1 and weigh 114.6 lbs, BMI of 21.7. I consider myself healthy and not too skinny. this is my second week with no or low impact exercises and walking. It is really difficult as I don’t want to gain weight, I hope that I can just maintain my weight and regain my period through exercise elimination. I wish you good luck on your journey and hope you get it back soon! I’ve lost too much hair, my skin is dry, my skin is dry, my libido is gone, I get depressed, really need those hormones to do some work for me soon :)!

      1. Lena
        August 31, 2016 AT 5:17 pm

        Hi Tina,
        same here. I went off the pill in July 2015 and had my period 3 times (October, January and the last one in February). I thought it would be like that (a few months between having a period instead of a few weeks) but in May I got a bit worried and went to see a doctor about it. She first checked my hormones (low estrogen) and had me do the progestin challenge – didn’t work. Got an ultrasound two weeks ago, that acutally got me really worried and that’s when I started to research about it and found this blog entry. I am so happy that I found out that there are more women who go through the same problem and know I am happy to know that you also got your period and it stopped again. I have a similar BMI (taller and heavier 😉 my target calorie intake is more like 1300..) but I don’t work out that much. So I guess I’ll keep doing what I am doing and try not to stress out about the situation and relax more 😉 We’ll see and I guess it just takes time.. Too bad we didn’t know about that before. I never heard about it! They should tell you that before you start talking BC..

    4. MEB
      August 7, 2016 AT 1:21 pm

      wow…thank you for your honestly. I cannot believe how many woman have had this experience. I suffered as well in my early 30s (I am 39 now). I was a vegan for 10 years and exercised excessively. I did numerous rounds of IVF and was able to have two beautiful babies through that process but with years of heartbreak that also included unsuccessful rounds and miscarriages. Fast forward to life with 2 kids and a integrative medical doctor who changed my life and told me that I must eat protein and fat and little sugar due to my insulin resistance and messed up hormones. At the age of 38 I started to have a regular cycle and got pregnant for the third time without trying at all (the biggest shock of my life). I believe that it is 100% related the change in my diet. I was only about 5 pounds more between my second and third babies. Not my ideal weight but definitely not a big deal with perspective.

    5. Allison
      August 4, 2016 AT 9:01 pm

      Thanks so much for sharing! As you said, infertility struggles can be so isolating in a world that appears to be full of very fertile women. My husband and I have been working through what is still “unexplained infertility” for the past 20 months. As some other ladies have mentioned, I too have recently started weekly acupuncture and their practice suggests a pretty strict clean-eating diet. I need to dig out my notes from your 28-day program and revisit your wisdom! (Shout out to casual Pokemon walks)

    6. Ginny
      August 1, 2016 AT 5:25 pm

      I haven’t had personal experience with infertility or HA, but I wanted to say that I think it is great you are taking about it! So often we get a diagnosis and search for others who are experiencing the same thing only to come up empty-handed because we don’t create conversations where conversations are warranted. I hope you find healing and adjust to your new “normal”.

    7. Adriane
      July 31, 2016 AT 11:32 pm

      This post really hit home for me I saw a naturopath last week who prescribed a 30% fat high protein diet to hopefully change things around. It’s truly a journey

    8. Heather Tobey
      July 28, 2016 AT 6:12 am

      This is such a hard subject that doesn’t get a lot of loving or spotlight time. Thank you for sharing your story and being so willing to put yourself out there. Your vulnerability is beautiful – really.

      I have been dealing with diagnosed PCOS for 6 years now and finally decided to see a naturopath in January (I go to Richmond Natural Medicine and see Dr. Reckers!). With a history of anorexia/bulimia, over exercising, as well as 6 years of untreated PCOS and a lack of ovulation for YEARS, I decided it was time to act and move forward with a plan to correct whatever was wrong. I saw Dr. Reckers and got blood work done to examine my hormone balances. Everything was WACK. I mean, I’m 23 years old and my hormones were that of a woman past menopause. I was horrified and quite a mess for the three weeks leading up to my next appointment with the Dr. I’m not trying to get pregnant now, but that is a deep, strong desire for the future so it was terrifying to think that dream may have died out long ago. I blamed myself because of my eating disorders.

      I brought all this to the naturopath and she responded with such hope and empathy. I started a tincture of dandelion root, damiana, chaste tree, and saw palmetto as well as a thorough vitamin/supplement “therapy.” I also started eating animal protein (I was a vegan) and integrating a more ketogenic diet style. With the higher fat content, I gained between 5-10 pounds. It was needed though. I went through the whole self-image thing again and really struggled loving myself and taking care of my thought life. But the more I spoke kindly to myself and remembered that my body NEEDS the extra few pounds to hold life it became easier.

      The most incredible thing began to happen in my body when I allowed it to go where it wanted and stopped restricting it’s limits. My period came back… and it’s REGULAR for the first time EVER… I have a period every single month… my skin glows… my body looks sexy and feminine… I have boobs for the first time ever… I could go on and on about it!

      I’m still wondering if this means that I am ovulating and able to sustain another life inside of me. But that will work itself out when the time comes. What I am sure of is that I am the healthiest I have been and I look the best I have ever looked in my life (even though I am the “heaviest” i have ever been). Each time I have my period it reminds me why I eat the way I do and why I exercise the way I do (I backed down on the cardio for 6 months and slowly worked my way up to cardio 3-4 times MAX a week with weight training about 2 times a week). My body is singing a hallelujah chorus and other people can see it too. I’ve gotten so many compliments like “Heather, you look SO good – what are you doing?”

      Anyway, all this to say that I encourage you to keep loving your little body and nourishing it. Don’t restrict it and keep it neatly packaged in a box. Let it move and grow and blossom where it naturally wants to go. Give yourself lots of grace and love.

      Heather T.

    9. Hannah Elizabeth
      July 25, 2016 AT 9:53 pm

      Oh Brittany. I went through/am going through something so similar that I feel so much the same as you! A few years ago, I was in the throes of an eating disorder and during that time was also diagnosed with Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism. Also I had amenorrhea for a year and half + in there somewhere. Obviously, I don’t know what led to what, but while my naturopath was treating my Hashimoto’s and trying to coax my period back with herbs and supplements, I started also working on my body image, banishing self hate and embracing all types of bodies, not just the one type that society sees as acceptable. I am still working on that (it’s a daily practice), but I’ve found my way to a great deal more food freedom along the way. I also gained weight as well (I see now that I needed to, and I’ve actually regained my period since! ????????), which was, and sometimes still is, very triggering to me and sometimes I start to question what I know is right and start believing the lies I’ve been fed from the media my whole life. Part of what has helped me tremendously on the road of recovery and just improving body image generally is podcasts. I don’t know if you listen to podcasts, but I would highly recommend Mind Body Musings with Maddy Moon (also Finding Our Hunger with Kaila Prins is good, and addresses some of the greater sociatal and marketing issues as well, but she does touch on some topics that make me uncomfortable…I am sure there are other people would be fine with it though). Anything by Isabel Foxen Duke is amazing IMO; she has a blog, but not a podcast, though she is frequently interviewed, so if you search for her name in the podcast app, you get a lot of results! Her Stop Fighting Food free video series is one of the top things I’d recommend to anyone! One other blog/video series that has helped me is by Libby Crow…she’s awesome! I know you didn’t ask for all these like body positive suggestions, but I wanted to throw it out there, as these resources are what helped me so much when I was going through a very similar circumstance. ???? Big hugs to you!

      1. Brittany Mullins
        July 26, 2016 AT 11:46 pm

        Hi Hannah! Thank you so much for sharing your story. I love hearing from ladies who are on the other side. It gives me hope! 🙂 And thank you for all the body positive recommendations. I really enjoy podcasts so I’ll definitely check out the ones you mentioned. I already follow Isabel Foxen Duke and love her work!

    10. Joyce @ The Hungry Caterpillar
      July 24, 2016 AT 11:16 pm

      I hear you, Brittany! I totally hear you. I had HA for almost five years before regaining my period. I went on the pill this year, but I’ve noticed that my period has become very light to absent since then. *sigh* HA is not easy to recover from.

      1. Brittany Mullins
        July 25, 2016 AT 11:40 am

        Thank you Joyce! I totally agree. When I was on BC my period was very light but I was told that was normal! :/

    11. Victoria
      July 23, 2016 AT 6:15 pm

      I am in shock reading this, I had NO clue that you and so many others have experienced the same thing I am going through! I stopped BC after 12 years non-stop on it, and it has taken me 8 months to get a period. I am no clue when it will be normal again, but having started weekly acupuncture and started taking the stress levels in my life more seriously, and doing my thing with food and exercise, too. I have recently started meditating and that has made a huge difference. Thanks so much for sharing, it is SO nice to know others out there are experiencing the same thing!

      1. Brittany Mullins
        July 26, 2016 AT 11:49 pm

        Thank you so much for sharing, Victoria.I have started meditating a bit too, but I really need to do it more often! Do you use an app or video or do you do your own mediations?

    12. Whitney @ To Live & Diet in L.A.
      July 23, 2016 AT 6:07 pm

      Thank you for sharing this girl. I don’t know much about the subject but I know there are tons of women out there going through this and it’s nice to hear someone with a platform discuss the issue openly. I hope the new routine works for you!

      1. Brittany Mullins
        July 26, 2016 AT 4:43 pm

        Thanks so much, Whitney!! <3

    13. Ashley @ Fit Mitten Kitchen
      July 23, 2016 AT 5:36 pm

      Brittany thank you so much for sharing this! While I haven’t gone to the doctor to take a look at anything, I have to wonder if the weight I put on was due to my hormones and getting off of birth control, plus the stress of moving, not eating enough or too much, etc. It is 100% hard to not fit into pants and shorts that you used to. I am trying to remind myself that I’ve also put on a bit of muscle over the years, but change is hard no matter what way you look at it.
      I am sure things will be looking up for you soon. Thanks again for sharing <3

      1. Brittany Mullins
        July 26, 2016 AT 11:51 pm

        Thanks so much, Ash! I appreciate the thoughtful comment. I agree, body changes are really hard!! I’m trying to keep my head up and working on staying positive. Wishing you the same. <3 <3

    14. Alyssa
      July 23, 2016 AT 10:27 am

      Thank you for sharing this and shining a light on a topic that many people struggle with. I struggled with this as well, and boy is it frustrating. You are doing everything right though for your body, and soon mother nature will take course. Sending lots of love girl!

      1. Brittany Mullins
        July 26, 2016 AT 4:43 pm

        Thanks so much, Alyssa. I really appreciate the sweet comment.

    15. Dani @ Dani California Cooks
      July 22, 2016 AT 3:28 pm

      Hey Brittany! I’m working with a nutritionist right now to regulate my hormones because all of my years of restricting carbohydrates put my metabolism and hormones into whack as well. She has the same advice – eat more, exercise less. It’s been a journey and definitely not something that feels “natural” to me because I a) love to exercise and b) tracked my food for so long.

      We will get there! Keep at it! 🙂

      1. Brittany Mullins
        July 22, 2016 AT 3:44 pm

        Wow! I didn’t know you were struggling with hormonal imbalance as well. Thank you so much for sharing and thank you for the kind words. Sending you a hug (because I understand the struggle) and lots positive vibes. We will definitely get there. Just have to be patient, something I’m not very good at.

    16. Kelley
      July 22, 2016 AT 1:32 pm

      Thanks for sharing your story. I would greatly appreciate if you would share what kind of sandals you’re wearing; I’m obsessed with them! Sending positive vibes your way : )

      1. Brittany Mullins
        July 22, 2016 AT 3:06 pm

        Thank you Kelley. They’re the Toms “Lexie” sandal. http://bit.ly/2a3nwpO 🙂

    17. GiGi Eats
      July 22, 2016 AT 12:04 am

      Cutting caffeine out of my life would just not happen – Ah ha ha! But ugh, I am sorry you’re going through all of this lady, I am hopeful you’ll be able to figure out antidotes!

      1. Brittany Mullins
        July 22, 2016 AT 3:10 pm

        Thanks friend. I’m on day 4 of no coffee!! Wish me luck. 🙂

    18. LaurenKellyNutrition
      July 21, 2016 AT 10:28 pm

      Thank you so much for sharing this with everyone! I am sure there are so many people out there that you re helping. I am sending you lots of love!

      1. Brittany Mullins
        July 22, 2016 AT 3:11 pm

        Thank you so much lady! <3

    19. Gina @ Running to the Kitchen
      July 21, 2016 AT 10:18 pm

      Kudos for posting about this. I can’t imagine how frustrating it is to feel like your body is failing you. I know I’d go nuts in your position so I’m sending good vibes and thoughts your way, lady 🙂

      1. Brittany Mullins
        July 26, 2016 AT 5:31 pm

        Thanks Gina!

    20. Ruth
      July 21, 2016 AT 11:16 am

      Thank you for sharing such a touching and informative post. Please take all of the love and kind words from all of your readers and comments to hear 🙂 Not to be creepy, but I’ve been curious about the status of you and HA since your last post. I am so happy to read good news and healthier stats – congrats! As one who also struggles with keeping a happy, regular cycle, I totally understand all of the confusion, doubt, and struggles. But you are so blessed to have a wonderful and supportive medical team and husband 🙂

      1. Brittany Mullins
        July 26, 2016 AT 5:30 pm

        Thank you so much for the sweet comment, Ruth. It means a lot! <3

    21. lindsay Cotter
      July 21, 2016 AT 9:08 am

      girl, yes! i can so relate. All the stress really does a number. It ruined me. Working on stressing less AS WE SPEAK. We are all here to support. Thank you for being so open.

      1. Brittany Mullins
        July 21, 2016 AT 2:47 pm

        Thank you so much, Lindsay. I feel like stress is the root of so many health issues! I’m doing major work to decrease my stress level too. Day 3 of no coffee and I just got home from a yoga class. Woo!

    22. Nikki
      July 21, 2016 AT 6:47 am

      I had HA for about 5 years in my early 20s. For all those losing hope about future pregnancies, I got pregnant immediately with my son and now accidentially with my second, meaning we were going to wait a bit longer. For not having my cycle for so long, it had no effect on my ability to get pregnant and I hope it won’t for all you ladies suffering.

      1. Brittany Mullins
        July 26, 2016 AT 4:52 pm

        Very interesting! Thank you Nikki!!

    23. Debbie
      July 21, 2016 AT 12:04 am

      Thank you for your post. Your post wasn’t too long. Are you feeling any better, eating more and yoga? What’s being done about the debris in your uterus? That sounds like it would be painful. I hope you get well soon. What a ordeal you’ve had to go through. I’m sure your information will help others. Hang in there.

      1. Brittany Mullins
        July 26, 2016 AT 4:49 pm

        Thanks so much Debbie. My doctor said the debris might clear out on its own when I have a period so I’m kind of waiting for that to happen before doing anything about it. Fingers crossed it will happen soon!!

    24. taramdeal
      July 20, 2016 AT 10:50 pm

      I’m so sorry to hear that things are still not 100% yet. I really appreciate your honesty with the situation. Keep up the positive thoughts, Brittany! I’m wishing you the best of luck!

      1. Brittany Mullins
        July 26, 2016 AT 4:47 pm

        Thank you so much, Tara!

    25. Molly B
      July 20, 2016 AT 9:19 pm

      Thank you so much for posting this. I was diagnosed this year, and didn’t even know this was a thing! It’s nice not to feel so alone–I was so happy to read your post, and the comments!

      1. Brittany Mullins
        July 26, 2016 AT 4:53 pm

        So happy this post made you feel less alone. That was the main reason I wanted to share. <3 <3

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