What to Do When You Don’t Fit The ‘HA’ Mold AKA “Unicorn Syndrome”

Hey lady

Oh I KNEW you were going to read this. I knew it because it’s one of the biggest questions on your mind – or at least, it has been at some point.

What if I’m not the person that hypothalamic amenorrhea applies to.

You’re most likely self diagnosed (and good on you for taking the time to work this out) but you’re still in doubt.

Because hypothalamic amenorrhea…you can’t see it! It’s not some rash or growth that you can Google and be like “yup, that’s it” and it’s not something that really shows up all that clearly to medical professionals.

In fact, many medical professionals still have associations about HA (“no, you don’t have that, that’s just seen in athletes”) that cause you to question your diagnosis even more. 

The fact that HA is hard to see and not all that well known in the medical field – which still baffles me because it seems like women’s health 101 but okay – causes us to think that we are special, shining, glimmering unicorns with rainbow tails and mains with flowers braided in them.

But today, I’m here to write one of the few articles on the internet that tells you that you are actually not a unicorn, I’m sorry.

Let’s bust down some of the most common myths and reasons why we think we’re unicorns, and get you moving along from this confusion.

  1. You’re not thin enough

This is where I started in my journey, so this is where I’m starting in this article. I tell my story in THIS YouTube video and THIS podcast episode, if you’d like to watch or listen. I explain how it took me a while to get to where I am today because I lived in denial based on my ‘normal’ sized body.

The reality was that although I was a ‘healthy BMI’, I had lost about 9kg/20lbs and that hit my body HARD.

I was not used to being such a dramatically different weight. That sent my body a signal that said “wooooow ya’ll, we’re clearly experiencing a consistent lack of food here. Let’s be extra cautious and shut some bodily functions down now so we can weather this storm”.

That actually makes a LOT of sense when you think about it. Imagine your city is going into a lockdown – which is easy for you to imagine in 2021. People start buying up resources in the store and suddenly there is a very noticeable discrepancy in our ability to purchase living essentials like toilet paper, bottled water and fresh produce.

So, the government and the stores step in. Rules get placed on our usage of certain essentials so that we can control the distribution and keep everyone ALIVE.

The same system is happening in your body and some bodies’ governments, AKA the brain, are a lot more cautious than other peoples. Just like in the real world, we can’t really compare our bodies government to someone else’s.

Can being ultra thin be a problem? Absolutely. Does it mean that HA isn’t likely an issue for you because you are not thin? No, it has nothing to do with it.

  1. You already eat so much now and recovery isn’t working

Oh yeah, you can be all-in for 2 weeks and have it feel like 2 months, so to be all-in for 2 months can feel like 2 years sometimes.

Remember that you’re the one living this new routine every single second of every day, so it’s going to feel like a slog. You need to eat a lot of food, so being aware of your HA is likely going to be a constant in your mind. Be mindful of the reality of how slowly time moves and remember, you’re not the unicorn, this is a part of the process.

Now YES, it actually can take a long time. I mean 6 months to a year is a long time for us (wondering where you’re at? Take this How Long Might It Take to Get My Period Back quiz) so let me explain why it’s not that you’re broken or unique, it’s that this is a part of the process.

  • It takes time for your body to realize it’s out of famine.
    Just like in our government lockdown analogy, just because the crisis is looking better today doesn’t mean it’s lightening up on its new regulations. Give your brain time to get the message that the coast is clear so that it can start restocking on hormone levels and then sending signals to the ovaries to begin growing follicles again.
  • When those reproductive signals do start firing again, the process from follicule growth to maturity and then to ovulation takes a while. Like…90 days. Some people have some follicles already half way or almost there and all those follicles were doing was waiting for the signal to mature and release, but some of us are further behind. Be patient with that.


Now this last part… I don’t want to ruffle your feathers here and you can take it or leave it. But let me ask you this: are you really eating enough still?

Your answer could be 100% yes and that is why I began my answer as I did, but I do need you to take a solid assessment of your lifestyle and ask yourself “where can I actually increase my intake” and “am I 100% sure I am not restricting in any way with my food intake”. If the answer is not 100%, then there is a potential reason that recovery is taking a hot minute. Don’t be mad, just be aware.

  1. You’re not an athlete

Sigh, this mindset is problematic. Yes, athletes are highly likely to end up in an energy deficit, but in no way does that mean you are not susceptible.

Additionally, the way we exercise these days is wildly different to how we exercised back in 1970-1990 when studies about womens exercise were being performed a lot.

I have a personal opinion that we are working out so much harder than our pre-2000’s sisters were and we are only getting more hardcore about the whole thing.

In fact, I did sit down and read over 30 popular studies on women exercising when pregnant to understand their recommendation for ‘vigorous’ exercise during pregnancy. My take away: vigorous exercise needs a little more definition around it.

The point is, many of us are pushing ourselves to a level that is more athlete like than we really realize. I know what you’re thinking – athletes train FULL TIME every day at the highest intensity.

WRONG. They do not. Coaches and professionals know that athletes need time to recover AND athletes spend a lot more time on recovery, skill work, reaction work and mental work than we realize. Yes, they work out more than we do but when they are pushing themselves to their highest limit, it could be comparable to how much you work out.

Tell me, how far would you run each day? How many minutes of HIIT did you do a week? Yeah, I think your athlete counterpart did that too, but with triple the massage time, naps, body work and 100% less of the added stress of a job or school.

  1. You never ate only 1200 calories

See my answer about not being thin enough – it doesn’t matter.


But let’s talk about why your caloric intake being “higher” doesn’t make you a unicorn.

It’s about the consistent deficit.

If you have consistently strived to hit a certain set of macros, even if they were close to or around the 2000 range, you have put yourself in a tiny deficit likely in the pursuit of weightloss.

Let me say that again simply: if you have been in the pursuit of weightloss for a prolonged period of time, even at a caloric intake higher than 1200 calories, you have been in a consistent calorie deficit.

This means, like we spoke about earlier, your brain is making choices around your body to shut things down in order to preserve life. The rules remain the same, regardless of the size of your deficit. It’s up to your individual body what caloric deficit shuts that system down, but that’s about the only unicorn thing about you.

While we’re on this topic I’d like to take a moment to say that 2000 calories, 1900 calories, 1800 calories, 1750 calories – they are all a lot lower than you realize that they are. Shivers, even 2400 can be too low for a lady, and I’ve definitely seen it at 2200 calories. So that number doesn’t matter as much as your intentions have been around your eating over time.

Have you been attempting to lose weight with some kind of calorie deficit? Then you are susceptible to hypothalamic amenorrhea. Annoying, I know!

  1. What if its mold/autoimmune/PCOS etc

Hey, I’m all about continuing to look into what else could be playing a contributing factor here for you and your hypothalamic amenorrhea.

If you have evidence of mold exposure, check it out. If your doctor wants to look at auto immune or PCOS or the illusive brain tumour, do it. But do not stress and do not let the potential finding of something else down the line make you waiver from your choice here to get your period back with rest and food.

Look, 9 times out of 10…maybe even more, it really is hypothalamic amenorrhea. So just keep that in mind while your pursue these other avenues. I have a client that I work with 1:1 who is also looking into potential PCOS right now and I am completely on board and supportive of her getting that information at the recommendation of her doctor. At the same time, I’m going to remind her that we’re doing the best we can with the information that we have at the time, and that information currently points to hypothalamic amenorrhea.

Instead of wondering “maybe it’s this other thing” and therefore not taking any action out of fear, frustration or uncertainty, take action towards your best guess. No one can fault you for that, including yourself.

At the end of the day, if you resonate with the stories of HA’ers and the symptoms you’re seeing, this is likely what it is and right now, rather than giving yourself a definite case of unicorn syndrome, give yourself a probable case of hypothalamic amenorrhea until you have more information.

Well, that’s it from me today. I hope this helps to crack the code on your super secret unicorn powers today just a little bit.

Want to know the likely recovery time for you based on your HA situation? TAKE THE QUIZ!

QUIZ: How Long Will It Take Me To Get My Period Back?

How to Do a Nutrition Self-Assessment for Hypothalamic Amenorrhea

A nutritional self assessment is a great tool if you’ve been wondering any of the following:

  • How do I know if I’m eating enough?
  • How do I know if I’m eating the right things?
  • I’ve been ‘All-In’ FOREVER and nothing is working
  • I’ve been progressing with my recovery and now I’m ready to dial it in further
  • I have a period but my cycles are acting weird – how can I make changes to improve?

There is a huge emphasis in the hypothalamic amenorrhea community about “eating more” and “eating all the things” and there are even recommendations to focus on cake, sodas, fast food and the like…

Don’t get me wrong, we should be rebuilding our relationship with those foods and getting them in for the calories, joy and connection that going out to eat them provides, but FOCUSING on them? I don’t think that’s super wise.

So, when my ladies ask me for help around why their period isn’t returning, I coach them through a nutritional assessment (I also do this in 1:1 calls for my coaching clients).

Today, I share that assessment with you so you can do it yourself. Grab a pen and paper and answer these questions honestly. Remove any bias you have from your answers of “but that should be fine” (this is honestly why I recommend you do it with someone else who understands but I trust you can be unbiased here.)

  1. Food Frequency
    Do you eat breakfast within 30 mins of waking up?
    Snacking frequently so you don’t go longer than a couple of ours?
    Do you eat lunch at lunch time, or does it get pushed back late?
  2. Food Intake
    Do you eat at least 3 square meals?
    Do you have at least 700 calories in each square meal?
    Do you have snacks?
    If snacking, are you choosing snacks that are nutrient dense?
    If snacking, are you choosing snacks that are calorie dense?
  3. Vegetable Intake
    Do you eat vegetables in at least two meals a day?
    Do you eat vegetables that are mostly green (cucumber, celery, broccoli, asparagus, green beans etc) or do you incorporate colourful vegetables? (pumpkin, carrots, beets)
    Do you eat mostly lower calorie vegetables (cucumber, celery, broccoli) or do you incorporate denser calorie vegetables daily? (potatoes, sweet potatoes, root vegetables)
  4. Protein Intake
    Do you eat meat? How frequently?
    Do you eat eggs? How frequently?
    Do you favour poultry or fish or do you change it up?
    Do you eat red meat weekly, if not a couple of times a week?
    Do you favour leaner cuts of meat, or do you seek out fattier meat?
    If you don’t eat meat, where does your protein come from?
    If you don’t eat meat, do you think you are eating a comparable amount of other sources of protein?
    If you don’t eat meat, are you supplementing with B12s?
  5. Fat Intake
    When you eat poultry, do you eat dark meat? How frequently?
    When you eat poultry, do you ever eat the skin? How frequently?
    When you eat fish, do you focus on white meat or do you incorporate fatty meat like salmon?
    Do you cook with butter or oil regularly or do you avoid it?
    Do you use full fat dressings or do you opt for fat free?
    If you were to eat avocado, would you eat ¼ of an avocado, ½ or the whole thing?
    Where else do you get fat from? (nuts, egg yolks etc)
  6. Caffeine Intake
    Do you drink coffee daily? How much?
    Do you drink it before you eat first thing in the morning, or after you eat?
  7. Movement
    Do you eat BEFORE being active?
    Do you eat 2+ meals before being active?

Now reflect on each of your answers – what can you see that is standing out to you?

Maybe you’ll notice “oh, wow…yes…I am getting a walk in BEFORE breakfast” or “yeah…I do actually only eat chicken breast…”

These small observations, of which at least a few you can spot for yourself, are going to be an amazing place to get started dialing in and making slight changes to move you forward in your hypothalamic amenorrhea recovery.

I regularly see great progress with clients when we do this assessment and make changes. We find that their basal body temperature starts to rise, blood tests come back with more positive results and of course, we see cycles return. We regularly see women with irregular cycles have them normalize, too!

We definitely take for granted the power of these small actions.

Completed the assessment but unsure exactly where to spot opportunities? This is what I work with clients on daily. Learn more about coaching with me here, and book a free consult call.

How This CrossFitter Got Her Missing Period Back – Abby Case Study

Meet Abby – one of my HA recovery clients! I love telling Abby’s story because she was a dream client for me and I think you’ll find her inspiring too.

As a kid Abby was athletic.

“Growing up, like many of us, like I was an athlete. My whole life I can remember tumbling, gymnastics, and I was in every sport I could think of. I’ve always been super into fitness and my passion for health and fitness early on came very naturally.”

So it’s not surprising that into adulthood she found herself LOVING CrossFit. She was competitive at it, too.

“In my freshman year, but mostly my sophomore year of high school, I really got into CrossFit. It was never chasing an aesthetic that was a main driver for me but I was developing patterns around eating and stress and exercise. More so because of my love for competition. If you just ask any of my friends, I’ve just always been a competitive person.”

“Pretty quickly, I realized, “wow, I love this. I want to do this and do it at a competitive level”. I started to realize “this is this is a sport people do competitively.”

But let’s be real, there usually is a desire to look the part, too.

“When it comes down to it, whether you’re an elite CrossFitter or not, you are aspiring to look like these elite athletes. I think i’s a little bit different in some other sports. As a runner, you may be looking to have a much smaller figure whereas in CrossFit, you want to look lean. You want to look really muscular.”

Naturally, she lost weight – but she didn’t feel like it was a ton of weight.

“I didn’t really lose a ton of weight. I may have lost 10 pounds by the time that I actually lost my period and it wasn’t even that short of a time. It may have been two or three months and I was pretty healthy. I don’t know if I would look back and say that it’s healthy now but just it wouldn’t be your traditional “oh I lost 10 pounds in one month or 10 pounds in two months.”

So where did her period go?! After diving into the research, including discovering The HA Podcast she made some connections.

“I really started to listen to more podcasts and read more research about hypothalamic amenorrhea.”

“Looking back to now, realizing it was a restrictive diet just around how clean of food I was eating and the pressure that I put on myself to not go out to eat and not do certain things…you don’t think it’s stressful but it is. It was so stressful to me”

“It was not enough food for what I was doing (CrossFit). It wasn’t 1200 calories, absolutely not, was it maybe around 1800 to 2000? Probably. Maybe sometimes it was going above that but just looking at the level of everything I was doing it just wasn’t enough food. It wasn’t at all.”

Eventually, Abby was ready to take some action to get her period back. She stopped exercising and started eating a minimum of 2500 calories a day.

“I tried to really work on taking down the intensity, taking down the hours of training I was doing during the week, making sure I was eating a little bit more food. And I would say during that time, I definitely made progress. You know, I started to feel like some more symptoms of having a period and things were coming, I would say I was having some positive symptoms.”

But she also knows herself well and realised that there was only so far she could get going 100% solo.

“I like to pride myself on being a person that can handle all things and do all things. But looking back, it’s like, what do I know? It got to the point where I just know my personality, and I have an addictive personality. If I’m going to do something like I do it 100%.”

Abby joined The HA Society to get that extra boost and that was one of the biggest pushes she needed to be able to see that she was NOT a special unicorn who didn’t fit the description for hypothalamic amenorrhea and she was not alone.

“Obviously The HA Society was such a groundbreaking piece of my journey. You don’t know until you connect with other women that are going through this. You feel so alone in your healing journey and you feel like you’re this anomaly and that your body is broken. And that you’re just one in a million that are going through this, despite all the signs that would point to the direction that this isn’t you. This isn’t your situation, this is not me. And then you connect with these other women that, yeah, you might not be able to relate to every single one of their stories, but when you find those people you’re like “Oh my gosh, that is me. They say things that are me.” Yeah, we all think that we’re the anomaly.”

To keep momentum up, Abby started working with me doing 1:1 HA coaching. We met every week for a few months and went over the past weeks, always making a plan for the week ahead.

After a couple of months together addressing her nutrition, life stressors, fears and looking at her charts (assessing basal body temperature, cervical mucus and more) the symptoms started to get stronger and we were anticipating a period…and it came!

It was probably the end of the two months that I got the first one. And it was a pretty typical seven day cycle. I mean, it wasn’t as heavy as I was expecting at first, but it definitely got there.”

At the time of this interview, she was waiting on her third cycle.

“as we speak right now, I’m kind of waiting for that third period.”

Don’t worry, it came! That’s kind of the journey of HA recovery. First, you work for your cycle to come back and then when it does, you worry about the next one and the next one!

Today, Abby is working CrossFit back into her life carefully so that she doesn’t lose her period again, preparing for her wedding day and building her own personal brand as a dietitian.

“[When you’re obsessed with working out and exercising] you just close yourself off to so many other possibilities. Look at what more you have to offer and what you’re capable of.”

Although we’ve finished our coaching together now that she’s recovered, she messages me with questions if she ever has them. I am open to that for all of my clients!

“Working with Dani was the “push” I needed to fully embrace the all-in process and commit to recovering my period. I could not wait for our call each week, because it forced me to dig deep, think hard, and truly reflect in ways I wouldn’t have been able to on my own. Not only did I come out of our time together with a recovered period, but I also gained new insight and motivation for the trajectory of my life both professionally and personally. Dani’s energy and wit will basically keep you laughing at all times, but her ability to genuinely listen and reflect with you is where the real magic happens.”

Ready to have this transformation for yourself?

Book a free 15 minute call with me to see if working together to get your period back is a fit!

How Elyse Got Her Period Back from Hypothalamic Amenorrhea

Elyse is a member of The HA Society and joined really early on in her recovery from hypothalamic amenorrhea. Today, I’m taking you through her story as a case study.

Elyse lives in country New South Wales, Australia. She’s a personal trainer and student.

“Being a personal trainer I genuinely thought I was healthy and fit but I also know now, obviously, I wasn’t. I also know now, looking back, I was suffering a lot from disordered eating and I had a very disordered relationship with exercise. But at the time you couldn’t tell me that.”

Aside from her background in PT and interest in health and fitness, she had been on the pill for 10 years.

“I don’t really know when my HA started so the pill definitely hid a lot of the symptoms and I just put it down to being on the pill for so long.”

Eventually, with the help of her fiance, she realised that her missing period was probably a problem. She discovered books, podcasts and joined The HA Society.

I remember first meeting her and getting to know where she was at in her recovery. Each week that she showed up to a call or posted in the group she was a little further along in her progress. It was really fun to watch.

She created a protocol for herself, but she implemented it gradually.

“I decided I needed to start eating more. I was eating about 1700 calories and for me to get to 2500 calories was a bit of a push so I did it gradually. I didn’t just wake up the next day and eat 2500 calories.”

During this process, however, as PT who loved and maybe relied a little too much on her movement, exercise was a bigger challenge to hurdle.

“I was going to go all-in and I did: cold turkey no exercise for that first week. I went back to my doctor’s absolutely miserable because I felt lost and so confused. I kept going back in my head being like ‘well do I actually have HA? Do I actually have to do this? Is this me?”

These questions and negotiating with yourself are common, but with the help of a community, both at home and online, getting clarity on the truth is easier.

“My doctor said ‘we have to look at your lifestyle factors’ and that’s when I had to take a really hard look at myself and realize what was going on and try not to deny it anymore.”

When she asked her doctor about balancing exercise throughout this process…

“She said yes if it’s coming from a place of enjoyment and not because you feel like you have to.”

With some attempts to exercise only from a place of enjoyment, Elyse realized that she wasn’t quite there yet. Exercise still had a hold on her and she eventually was able to stop completely.

“To rebuild your relationship with exercise you have to start from the beginning and that really means stopping for a while in order to get a proper reset.”

Elyse shows that just because you’re not able to give up some aspects of your exercise or dieting immediately, that you can still get there with time, patience and determination.

Once she did give up exercise completely, she made HUGE progress.

“I got my first period two weeks after I gave up yoga so that just validated the fact that my body did need the rest. That’s when the real work started – after my first period. There was a whole new level of hard afterwards because it took 62 days for my second period [to come].”

This is why I preach the work we do in The HA Society so much. It’s not JUST about working towards getting your first period. It’s also important to develop the tools and mental fortitude to continue on and get healthy periods after that – which Elyse learned first hand it isn’t as simple as we sometimes think.

She started to track her cycles to spot when ovulation was happening and anticipate her next period, but…

“I don’t think my first cycle was ovulatory, which I think is common in people recovering from HA”

She discovered that she had to keep working towards getting ovulatory periods now that she had experienced her first bleed. With time, however, and by being a constant participant in The HA Society calls and by being her own biggest health advocate, she sorted out the thingsA that were still standing in her way.

“After my first recovery period I didn’t really change anything if I’m being 100% honest. I think there was something subconsciously going on, I got my first period and didn’t gain as much weight as I thought I was going to gain and I thought “this is amazing I still look good, I still feel good, I didn’t have to gain ‘x’ amount of weight and I could tell just by my language that I was still hung up on the weight gain side of things, like I hadn’t made peace with it.”

“I came to the conclusion that I was still holding on to this control. Before, it was the exercise. I still wanted to control the walking and the yoga. And then with my second period, it was the control of my weight, I was scared to gain more weight. And in hindsight, I did gain more weight. And I’m okay with it because I knew my body needed it. After so many years of calorie restriction and over exercising and, you know, just being in that energy deficient state, my body needed the extra weight gain. And I actually started calling it weight restoration.”

After this journey, Elyse was able to restore her cycles to a healthy length WITH ovulation.

“I kind of approached recovery like I would approach any other goal. I thought ‘this is what I have to do and I only want to do it once.’ And I’m not saying I’ve done it perfectly at all, but I’ve just been open to listening to what my body needs. Because right now my body calls the shots.”

I am super proud of Elyse and feel really lucky to have her in our community.

Want to be in control of your recovery like Elyse was able to be?

Make sure you’re on the waitlist for the next opening of The HA Society!

Fertility Awareness Method for Hypothalamic Amenorrhea

I’m a HUGE advocator for tracking your cycles using Fertility Awareness even when you have HA. I know what you’re thinking: but I don’t have a cycle to track?! Well, trust me, it’s valuable to start even without a cycle. But a caveat here, if you are not ready to track something or feeling totally overwhelmed by tracking, don’t do it. You’ll know when the time is right.

I coach plenty of women, both 1:1 and inside of The HA Society, to track their cycles both before they get that first period and most definitely once they do get it and are ready for their second one and beyond!

Tracking cycles during HA and the early months of HA recovery is helpful because seeing signs of progress in hypothalamic amenorrhea recovery can be pretty slow. A lot of the time it’s all unknown until the day we get a bleed. But that’s not true! There are plenty of signs that you can learn to identify.

By using cycle charting we can see if the lifestyle changes you’re making are having an impact to your:

  • Basal body temperature (BBT)
    We see this by taking your temperature because many HA’ers have lower-than-normal preovulatory temps. As we’re increasing food intake, adjusting meal times, gaining weight, de stressing and all that good stuff, we’re able to see if this is making a difference in your BBT. If we can see your basal body temperature get up to a baseline that is healthy for you, we know we’re on track.

    Naturally, tracking your BBT allows us to spot issues and know where to look for creating a custom plan just for you!
  • Cervical mucus production (CM)
    Our cervix produces mucus thanks to an increase in estrogen, and that mucus is actually the magical substance that keeps sperm alive while they await ovulation. When we’re not ovulating, we don’t see this mucus. When our body is preparing to ovulate, we do. So tracking mucus production is valuable.

Tracking allows us to closely monitor and track other major symptoms like breast tenderness and mood too. In general, we are really bad at self reporting and remembering what we’ve seen. This makes cycle charting really valuable for you as an HA’er, no matter where you’re at in your cycle.

Knowing how to chart correctly is the tricky part. Anyone who helps women with cycle tracking will tell you there’s a learning curve and working with someone to learn how to chart is going to help you skip the learning curve. This is especially true when you have HA because your charts won’t look how they look in the courses and textbooks. Those example charts and teachers are often not talking about women with hypothalamic amenorrhea.

We’re looking for subtle shifts in the data that tell us what might be keeping you in HA and what’s going to help you get it out. The data from charts can help us determine if we need to:

  • Get your body weight up
  • Increase your food intake
  • Adjust your eating schedule
  • Look at your stressors: caffeine intake, life stressors, lack of sleep
  • Do a nutritional assessment and see what’s missing from your diet

If you’re ready to try this on your own first, or just need a quick refresher, here are some tips to get you up to speed and charting correctly from the start.

Tips to Chart Well with HA

Choose your tools

Charts

I actually don’t use the apps, but many of my clients do. I chart using paper charts. You can buy this book by Fertility Friday which I love because it also has great information in the front of the book to help you interpret as you go.

One app I don’t mind that is free is Fertility Friend. You’re looking for a chart that shows a temperature spike that’s easy to read on a graph (we’ll get to this) and this app generates charts that show your temperatures nice and clearly.

Credit: Fertility Friend

Image courtesy of Fertility Friend – super easy to read visually

Some of the other apps don’t show the ebbs and flows of your temperatures very clearly and it can be hard to interpret easily. Additionally, if you’re working with someone else who is interpreting your charts, some of the charts are only really readable inside of the app so a third party interpreter is working a little blind. Consider this if you might be sending screenshots to friends, coaches or fertility doctors…

One of my clients charts – not as obvious to read visually.

You need to hover over the dates to see the temperatures and so it makes it hard. Fertility Friend generates a graph with all the dates and temperatures so it’s easy for the third party to give advice. Especially hand if you’re inside of The HA Society where members send me their charts regularly with questions. 

Thermometer

I use a simple, cheap drug store basal body thermometer. Just like with my paper charts, I simply prefer to do it all manually and be the person responsible for interpreting my own charts.

There are all kinds of fancy thermometers and even ones that are connected to apps like the Daysy. I don’t mind the apps and have helped plenty of women find success with them. However, if you’re going to use them keep in mind that they interpret your chart for you, so you’re not gaining as much of the life skill that comes with manual interpretation.

I also find that because these apps are really optimized for women with cycles that are generally pretty stable, not HA’ers, the algorithm can get a bit confused and confirm ovulation when we can see that actually it didn’t really happen. There is only so much these apps can interpret with math. AI isn’t quite there yet.

Tips for taking your temperature accurately

These tips are really important. I don’t think I’ve had one client that I haven’t had to troubleshoot wonky charts by revisiting these principals. Remember that if your charts are looking super weird, a large part of it is likely some kind of user error or something that can be optimized in the charting method first. We always visit these basics before going down the rabbit hole of “there’s something wrong with you!”

Note that these tips will only make sense to people with a basic understanding of charting already. If you want some help from the VERY beginning let me know and I’ll make that resource for you.

  • Take your temperature at the same time every day
    Ideally within 1-2 hours of your normal wake up time. So if you normally wake up at 7am but today you wake up at 6am or at 8am, that won’t make a huge difference. If you wake up at 4am on weekdays and sleep to 9am on weekends, that will show crazy spikes in your chart every 5 days. Crazy spikes like that can be interpreted by the apps as ovulation when really, you’re just sleeping in so your temp is higher.

    If I have clients who have a sleep schedule like this, we either have them still set an alarm for 4am to take the temperature and go back to sleep or we use temperature adjustment calculators. You just pop in your usual wake up time VS today’s time and temperature and it will calculate the likely difference. But remember this is NOT fool proof and ideally only for people who wake up a little outside of their wake up usual time.

    If you usually wake up at 6am but today you wake up at 3am and can’t go back to sleep, you’re honestly better off just skipping that day in my personal opinion and getting back to it the next day VS using the temp adjuster.
  • 5 consecutive hours of sleep before taking your temp
    This is hard to control, but ideally you’ve had 5 consecutive hours of sleep. It’s ok when doesn’t happen, we all wake up in the night. Just note on your charts that you did wake up and it wasn’t 5 hours of sleep. No worries, your temps won’t be WILD from a quick wake up but they might sit a little higher that day. Knowing this can help you identify why you might be seeing a spike in your temperature so you don’t assume something is happening that really isn’t.
  • Hold your thermometer in your mouth for 10 minutes
    This sounds like forever I KNOW. But seriously. I have had many girls show me their charts and it looks like a sawtooth and they think they have a thyroid issue. But in the end, it’s because your temperature reading isn’t stabilized yet.

    Think of those old thermometers before the digital ones were around. You had to hold those in your mouth for a while before the temperature would read. You couldn’t pop it in and out in 30 seconds.

    The reality is that digital thermometers are still the same. It takes a while for your mouth warm up the thermometer to get an accurate reading. So if you have one of those thermometers that beeps after 30 seconds or so, try holding it in your mouth for 10 minutes before you press the button to actually take the temperature.

    Let it warm up. If 10 minutes is a no go for your lifestyle, do as long as you possible can. You’ll see your temps stabilize and be MUCH easier to read. Pro tip: I set my alarm for 10 minutes early, my “temp alarm”, and then put it back in my mouth. Do my meditation, morning thoughts, fall back asleep…then the real alarm goes off and I take the temperature.
  • Don’t move around
    I can’t give all these temp tips without mentioning the importance of staying in bed while you take the temperature. If you get out of bed even to pee and immediately take the temp, it can screw up your reading. Truth be told some women don’t react as wildly to having got out of bed for a bit, but some do. You’ll probably learn which bucket you fall into over time but in the beginning we don’t know how your body will react so better just stay in bed until you’ve taken that temperature.
  • Alcohol will make your temperature spike the next day
    Just something to note.
  • Check for mucus all the time
    I find a lot of women report “not much cervical mucus”. It’s really common to start checking for mucus only by looking in your underwear when you go to the toilet. Know this: cervical mucus does NOT exclusively land in underwear. It has no idea what underwear even is.

    Cervical mucus will secrete from your cervix and come out while you pee or poop and when you wipe. This makes it easy to miss if you only look into your underwear. If you check diligently, it will become impossible to miss!

    Fold your toilet paper flat so there are no creases and wipe before you go to the toilet. Check for mucus on the toilet paper. Then, when it’s time to regularly wipe, do that and check your toilet paper again. Now you’re checking before you wipe, after and in your underwear.
  • Consistent low temperatures
    This is common in HA’ers and important. Your preovulatory temperatures (so all the temperatures before you’ve ovulated) should be at a minimum, 36.4C/97.5F. Postovulatory (after you ovulate) they should spike to a minimum of 37C/98.2F. So if you’re not seeing a period and noticing your temps are dropping below that, then you know that’s a tangible place for you to start working to improve with lifestyle factors.

Those are my have-to-know tips for trackers with HA (but really, all trackers).

Want to learn more about fertility awareness, hypothalamic amenorrhea, body image and all that good stuff?

Join The HA Society Waitlist

I Missed My Period But Didn’t Change Anything: Hypothalamic Amenorrhea

So here is a question I love:

Have you heard much of people getting their period back and then losing it? It's bizarre as I've had 4 very consistent periods and then this month it hasn't come but I can't think of anything I've changed. Not sure whether it's almost HA again or just one of those random things with my cycle just not yet finding a complete pattern?

I thought you might like to hear my answer.

Your cycle doesn’t lie. There is no such thing as an atypical period for no reason. That’s why charting and tracking cycles is so valuable. It’s information that can help you determine if something in your body or your lifestyle has changed.

If you’re experiencing a longer cycle after you’ve had a consistent set of recovery cycles already (because that first 1-3 can take a while to get a rhythm and until then, you don’t know what your ‘normal’ is) it’s not spontaneous, it’s connected to something.

It’s easy to think that you’ve not changed anything significant in your lifestyle this past month, but if you really take stock of that month compared to the previous, we can find something to work with:

  1. Exercise or movement did increase.
    Maybe your daily activity feels like it hasn’t increased much, but it doesn’t take a lot of extra movement to cause a shift in your cycles behaviour – especially as a post-HA’er.

    So, did you have a few active weekends? Did you add some accessory work into your workout routine? Did you do more walking than usual?

    Remember there is nothing “wrong” or “bad” if you observe that these things happened, life is full of ebbs and flows and your activity isn’t always going to be the same. But it can provide an answer for your long or short cycle.
  2. Your stress levels went up.
    Were you more stressed at work, buying a house, getting a new dog or staying at someone else’s house for a while? These are all significant lifestyle changes that could impact your health.
  3. Your stress levels went down.
    Remember sometimes a sudden change can be positive, too. Maybe a stressor like the above mentioned finally went away and you saw a 35 day cycle come down to 29 days and you’re wondering “WHAT IS HAPPENING?! I thought I was a 35-day-cycler, something must be wrong!”

    It’s important to analyze that a cycle change isn’t always the sign of a problem. It’s just information.
  4. Your eating changed.
    Let’s be real, we don’t all behave exactly the same all of the time and the further into our HA recovery we get, the less diligent we naturally become with eating enough, especially when it comes to eating variety.

    This can be fine, even a sign that you’re on the path to leaving obsession around food behind…but it can also be happening from a place of feeling confused about where you stand now that you’re on the border of HA recovery and officially recovered.

    Sometimes when we’ve had a few periods we don’t feel as connected to our goal of keeping that period and even get a little scared that the consistent cycles mean that you DEFINITELY gained a lot of weight. This makes us sneak back in the other direction a little more, hoping we can maintain a cycle and lose a little weight in the process.

    Allowing these thoughts to seep in and affect our eating or exercise habits even a little bit is a quick way to see an increase in the length of your cycle or another missed period.

Dig deep on some of these – are you absolutely sure NOTHING changed, or did some small changes sneak their way in? I mean, it’s natural, you can’t be exactly the same every month forever.

Changes and abnormalities in life are normal. So look at your cycle through that lens and make the next best decision based on what you see happening with your cycle.

See? There is always something.

Ready to learn more about tracking your cycles with HA and post HA? I’d love to work with you on this.

I use charting as a diagnostic tool to help you determine what’s happening with your cycle and come up with the next steps required to keep it running optimally.

This work is great for you if you have HA or if you’ve already recovered and want to ensure you stay that way.

On these calls we go over your HA history, create a plan to help you recover your cycle (that isn’t just eat more and don’t exercise), work through the mental and emotional roadblocks that recovery has and learn how to track the signs that our bodies are giving us.

Wondering how long it’s going to take YOU to get your period back?

Find out your recovery time frame PLUS a bunch of strategies to help you speed up progress depending on your results.

Why I Don’t Really Talk About the Pill with Hypothalamic Amenorrhea

I actually don’t talk much about the Pill on The HA Podcast or anywhere really, but today I will talk about it just a little.

The reason I don’t talk about it is basically because I wasn’t really on the pill. I mean I was, but that was about 10 years ago now and I knew that it wasn’t the cause of my hypothalamic amenorrhea.

As I’ve been on this path of learning about HA, I’ve obviously learned a lot about what causes it and honestly, it’s not the pill. Yes, the pill has considerations for you to make for your health, but I’m referring specifically to the role of the pill in hindering your efforts to get your period back after you’ve gone off it.

I recently did a podcast episode with Renee McGregor and we discuss this on the episode. She explains the fact that the pill is simply masking your HA, which is caused by something else.

I get a lot of wonderful DMs and emails from listeners which I love, so keep doing it! Many of them will start their story with “I was on the pill for X years” and then go into their backgrounds. I always just skip over the pill facts and look at the rest of their story.

The thing is, your body WANTS to ovulate. It’s SO smart. Once you go off the pill, it will start trying to cycle again pretty soon.

So, if you don’t get your period back after being on the pill it’s because you have HA. You don’t have HA because you were on the pill.

And remember that this isn’t a conversation about whether or not the pill is “good” or “bad” – it’s about whether or not your period isn’t coming back because you were on the pill.

You’ve heard people say “the pill is masking your HA before” and this is true. Many women will take the pill and also the sugar pills so that they get a bleed, but if they have HA that may not work and they may not get a bleed. However, they chalk this up to being a strong pill or just an effect of the pill. However, it’s more likely to be a case of HA or some other issue that is suppressing the bleed.

So, the reason I don’t talk about it much is because I feel like the role it’s playing in HA isn’t massive. Once you’re off the pill, the protocol is the same for anyone that was never on the pill.

Let’s talk a little about how much your body wants to cycle.

I did a few interviews with people that I know to get some good anecdotes and data of my own on this issue.

I have a friend and her name is Jenna. Jenna is a pretty chill gal, a primary school teacher who lives out in the country with her husband on a nice piece of land. She doesn’t seem to workout particularly intensely. She has 2 kids now.

I asked her about her experience getting pregnant and basically, she came off the pill and got her period back the next month. I connected that maybe her low stress lifestyle mean’t a quick turnaround to ovulation after the pill. She had no complications with her pregnancy.

I asked my mum a similar question. This time I asked her how soon after giving birth did she get her period back. She got it back 2 months later. After interviewing her a little, we discovered that because she didn’t breastfeed, her body was likely ready to go back to ovulation sooner than a mother who was breastfeeding. She wasn’t utilizing more calories to breastfeed so her body got a move on. Often it can take 6-16 months to get a period back post partum just due to breastfeeding.

Now let’s look at the women I talk to regularly about HA who are post pill.

One girl, who honestly represents so many, that I spoke to recently said that she was on the pill for 9 years and has been to a lot of doctors. She was finally diagnosed with HA and is excited to get to work on getting her period back.

When we dove more into her background we discovered that:

  • She was walking her dog 2 miles every morning before breakfast
  • She had a high stress job
  • She was working out 6 days a week

I’ve spoken to many others with basically that exact story, so to tell them would be repetitive. I know these are just anecdotes, but they’re my own little studies which I will continue to do.

Really, truly, your body wants you to ovulate. Once you’re off the pill you have to look at your lifestyle and make a real, honest assessment of what you’re doing and how it could be impacting your cycle and delaying your ability to get it back.

Some studies and articles to support and further educate:

  1. This study concludes the connection of post pill amenorrhea to HA, however ignore the conclusion that it only needs intervention if pregnancy is required *sigh*
  2. This article by Ava is a great explanation basically of post pill amenorrhea
  3. This article by Jolene Brighten talks about the testing you can undergo to find the true cause or at least, the hormone levels that are the cause of your HA
  4. This study is actually from 1977 so it’s old but it’s interesting because it says post pill amenorrhea is rare (haha, oh the good old days) and it’s conclusions are kind of rubbish BUT it does find a connection between most women have hypothalamic-pituitary dysfunction.
  5. This study found no definitely connection between oral contraceptives and amenorrhea BUT it did find a correlation between significant life events and lifestyle changes and amenorrhea.
  6. This article by Babymed cites weight loss by itself as a common cause for post-pill amenorrhea. It also cites other causes that are more rare and totally possible.

Want to learn more about these issues?

Make sure you join the waitlist for the next opening of The HA Society. It opens every new moon.

How I Solved My HA and Luteal Phase Defect and Got Pregnant

If you’re looking for information about getting pregnant after having no period OR solving a luteal phase defect in your cycle, I’m your girl!

I have a YouTube video where I go into these details AND share my pregnancy symptoms.

Watch the full video on YouTube!

Let’s start with some bullet points:

  1. I recovered my period for about 5 months before we started to try to get pregnant.
  2. We tried for 3 months, however I will say we didn’t try “hard”. We probably had sex 1 time within the window of ovulation where as many people will try every 2 days or more.

    I was of the belief that if everything in my body is working as it should, sex just once should work. Your body wants to do this and is trying to do this. It’s not that I didn’t want to have more sex, but I’m a curious person and wanted to give it a try.
  3. When it didn’t work for the first 3 months, I knew it was because of my short luteal phase. I was ovulating and I confirmed this each month, but my luteal phase (the second half of my period after ovulation) was always short. We’re talking 6-8 days. It should be 10+ day.

    So I started working on that:
    – Working out even less, a reduction of another 1-2 days and less intense workouts (they were not even that intense anyway, this is how sensitive my body is).
    – Eating breakfast FIRST THING in the morning. I believe this was one of the biggest helpers for me. I got lazy and was eating around 9.30-10am, which means I had been awake for hours before eating. Now, I was trying to eat within the first hour of being awake whether I felt like it or not.
    – Eating bigger meals by just a little bit. Not a huge increase, but some extra olive oil here, avocado there, more rice here – you get it.

After a month of those changes, my husband and I did the baby dance. I will say, when I look back at my other months of trying, the days that we did the dance were never the very day before ovulation and this time, we did the exact day before I ovulated so that was within hours. Usually it was a couple days before.

I had a feeling that we nailed it (haha). I had made such big changes that month to my lifestyle and when I saw that we had sex the day before ovulation I had never felt so sure it worked.

I was so sure, that I tested on 7DPO and got a pretty obvious positive result. It was faint, but you could see it. That’s really early to test but there you have it. That same day I went straight to my doctor.

We did blood tests immediately that day and then two days later I went again to check that my HCG levels were rising. They should double every 72 hours or so, so if she saw a huge increase that was a confirmed pregnancy. But I knew as soon as I saw the test that this was real.

So that’s my story, I hope it’s helpful to you if you’re struggling with any of these issues OR informative and able to help you avoid any of these issues in the future.

Ready to learn more about these issues?

Join the waitlist for the next opening of The HA Society – a community for women with HA to recover together.

Getting Your Life Back [From Hypothalamic Amenorrhea] By Elyse Lawry

This is a guest post by Elyse Lawry @yourperiodPT. Elyse is a member of The HA Society and is studying to become a sports physiologist. She hopes to use her career as a way to help women avoid the pitfalls of period problems!

Thinking about trying to get your period back, but assuming it isn’t important until you want to start a family? Well let me tell you, recovering from Hypothalamic Amenorrhea is much more than just getting your period back, it is about getting your life back.

For years now I have lived in my body, unhappy with how it looked. I felt like no matter how much I tried to manipulate it, it was never good enough. If you really think about it, our society and culture has taught us that we can never have enough. That if you are content with what you have, you are in some way failing at life. This is manifested through the fact that there is always something that is bigger, better or fancier than what you currently have. Things such as cars, phones, clothes, houses and sadly even our bodies get dragged into the mix.

When I realised that all my hard work to become healthy was actually doing the opposite. I felt guilty. I felt like a fool. How could I have done this to my body? This was when my mother shared Maya Angelous’ quote with me, “You do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, you do better.” Something that has stuck with me throughout my recovery journey. Beating myself up about my old lifestyle wasn’t going to be productive. 

Looking back, I think that my old lifestyle served a purpose, a purpose that was no longer needed. I now understand that my issues with exercise, food and my body began many years ago as a teenager. However, that is a story for another day, I am going to start us off in early 2019. This was around the time I started to really feel like a stranger in my own body. It felt as if I was living in someone else’s body and I realised for the first time I didn’t know who I was. This was such a scary thought to have in your early twenties, a time in your life where society is telling you that you should have it all figured out.

I began listening to different podcasts, to help figure out why I was feeling this way and to ultimately figure out who I was. I stumbled upon one that talked about the negative side effects of the pill. Now, at this point in my life I had been on the pill for ten years and everything that was being described in this podcast was me. I had this sudden realisation, I spent a whole decade of my life overriding my body by shutting down many of its natural processes. All this time, I was tricking her and I thought I had a normal, regular cycle. Boy was I wrong! 

However, it took me another year to commit to come off the pill. So, in March 2020, I did. (I also ran out of my prescription so if there was ever going to be a sign, this was it!) I truly thought that this would solve all my issues within myself. Issues which transpired into my relationships with my partner, family and even friends. I mean how could it not? For so long, many of my body’s hormonal processes had been chemically altered! 

Now, it wasn’t until four months later, in July, that I went to see my doctor for a check-up when she asked if I was still on the pill. I had mentioned that I had come off it in March and still hadn’t had a period, which I figured was to be expected and that one day it would just show up (like magic… Massive facepalm moment!). What she said next changed the course of my life. I know, it sounds dramatic but it is the truth. She looked at me and said “This is very common but it is not normal. We should run some tests to see if we can figure out what is going on.”

I know now that a lot of women, and I mean a lot, have had difficulty finding support when it comes to getting to the bottom of their missing period. I count myself very lucky to have had someone right from the get go tell me it wasn’t normal. 

I should probably say at this point, I am studying an exercise and sports science degree, so it is safe to say I love research. I love learning why and how things happen and in a way I need science to clarify things. However, I am also into the intuitive side of life, in the sense that I believe the universe will not throw anything at us that we cannot handle. I even have my own set of tarot cards on my bedside table when I need a little extra guidance. With that said, you will understand the impact of what happens next. 

When I left the doctors office, my university lecturer had posted a list of dietitians who had either blogs and podcasts, in case anyone was interested. Seems irrelevant, I know but because of this I found Nicola Rinaldi, I was finally introduced to the world of Hypothalamic Amenorrhea. Listening to Nicola describe HA I just knew, deep down, this was me. This was why I didn’t have a period. At this moment, I realised this information had always been out there but up until now I was not ready nor open to hearing it. If someone had told me I had a problem with exercise or with food, I would have felt personally attacked. I would have told them they didn’t know what they were talking about or that they should mind their own business. (I mean now I understand why, I was hungry hangry!)

That night, I bought the ebook and couldn’t put it down! Every page was screaming at me. It was as if the book was written about me, not for me. I thought the pill was my issue, but that was just a bandaid for what was really the problem. My lifestyle! The pill may have altered my body but it was my relationship with food and exercise that altered my mind. 

I knew instantly what I had to do. I had to go “all in.” It was my only option. You see, I knew my personality was all or nothing. I either give 110% or none at all. So, the very next day I spoke with my gym and put my membership on hold. I increased my calories from around 1500 per day to 2200 and eventually the minimum of 2500. (I mean 1500 calories really?! There is no way I could only eat that much now, nor should I!)

Now, I think I may have jumped “all in” too quickly but I wouldn’t take it back. When I say too quickly, I mean I knew physically what was going to happen to my body. I knew I had to gain weight but I never really stopped to imagine how that would make me feel. I never imagined the feelings of grief that were associated with letting go of my smaller body. Honestly, the first week cold turkey was the hardest thing I have ever gone through. I cried day in and day out, I mourned what was going to happen to my body. Something I had worked so hard for and a body I still wasn’t happy with. Yet here I was crying like someone had just died because in a sense the old me did. Crazy right?! 

My older sister told me to go back and see my doctor, my partner supported me in seeking professional help through a psychologist. I knew I was strong enough to get through this on my own. I also knew I didn’t have too and if the first week of going “all in” was any indication of how difficult recovery would be, I saw how quickly my own thoughts could turn against me. Now seeking out professional help has to be one of the best decisions I have made for myself. There is nothing weak in asking for help, I now see it as an act of bravery. 

Moving forward I continued to practice yoga and I would go for a walk everyday. It was around 6 weeks “all in” when I connected the dots. I still needed control, I had not let go completely, I had still not given my body full permission to do what she needed. It dawned on me that this toxic relationship I was in with food, exercise and my body was very real. I needed to cut it entirely, that is if I was going to rebuild a healthier relationship in its place. I went away for a week to see family, and I didn’t have the time or the means to be practicing my yoga or go for a scheduled walk, which was exactly what I needed. I can say this with certainty because two weeks later, I was pleasantly surprised with my first recovery period!! This to me, was validation that our bodies, ladies are truly magical! 

It is safe to say that I was over the moon that it had taken me just shy of two months “all in” and only 10kgs to get my period back! In a way I was relieved, I had gotten my period back at a weight I felt comfortable with and it wasn’t as much weight I thought I’d have to gain. Now, it should be obvious by my thoughts, I was still very concerned about my weight, especially the idea of gaining more! 

If I can, I want to fast forward to right now, this very minute, I am on cycle day 60. It has been absolutely heartbreaking all over again. The thoughts are almost twice as powerful the second time round. 

“I had one period, why not a second?”

“What am I doing wrong?”

“Doesn’t my body trust me?”

“What is going on?” 

You should hopefully know by now, I am willing to speak openly and honestly about my recovery. So I will tell you, what I believe is behind my missing (second) cycle. In some way, I subconsciously tried to control my weight. I am not entirely sure how I did this but I realise now I still had not handed over the reins to my body completely. My mind and my body were still at battle with each other, maybe not as much as they were before but a battle nonetheless. My body knew this, she tempted me with my first period. Gave me a taste of what recovery feels like but knew I wasn’t ready. I still had lessons to learn and things to let go of. 

What this has taught me, is that you cannot trick your body into recovering. You cannot tell yourself that you have accepted your new body if deep down you have not. Please do not get me wrong, of course you can eat all the food and rest all you want and eventually you will get your period back! I mean at the end of the day that is the science behind it. Although the inner work is where the real recovery happens. The inner work in my opinion is the sole purpose of recovery. It is what prevents you from relapsing, from falling into the old habits of exercising and restriction. So, until you finally accept yourself for who you are and the body you are in you will never truly be free. 

As I write this today, I believe wholeheartedly I have let go of the control. I am more receptive of what my body wants and needs and more importantly what she doesn’t. With each new day, I become more accepting of who I am. I am making sense of the idea that my identity is not tied to the size of my clothes or what the scales show but is tied to my ability to listen and treat others with respect and compassion.

Through this journey, (it really is a journey because there is no destination) I have begun to find who I truly am. I am a daughter, a sister, a friend, an aunty and a girlfriend, things I was before my recovery began. The difference now is I get the chance to be a better version of each of these every day. Why? Because I have more space, more energy and more time for others now. Don’t get me wrong, I was always there for people when they needed me, however I was not present. I feel as if most people going through their own recovery will understand where I am coming from. I didn’t realise how much noise I had going on in my head distracting me, until it got quieter and then one day it just stopped. 

I am also starting to recognise little things about me, that somewhere in the last ten years I lost. I remember when I was younger, I had so much empathy towards others, I used to feel so much, something I had thought might be gone forever. I used to be funny, I used to laugh a lot and do silly things, things I stopped doing when I started taking myself too seriously. 

Just the other day, my mum asked me, “When did you get so funny?” 

I replied with “When I stopped working out!”

I guess it is true what they say, recovery slows down every aspect of your life, not just exercise. You relax more, smile more, laugh more and man do you cry more. Throughout this ongoing journey, I am determined to really own who I am. I am determined to be my authentic, truest self. I have spent too long trying to be somebody I am not. I mentioned earlier that the pill altered my body but my lifestyle altered my mind, two things I am now free of. I can now allow my mind and body to connect with each other and now my mind can begin to love my body. 

Like I said in the beginning, there is more to recovery than getting your period back. You are going to get your life back and then some! You are going to get the life you really dream of, the life you deserve. A life where you are no longer a slave to the gym or a prisoner to food. A life in which you can exercise and eat what you want or don’t exercise and still eat what you want. In a way isn’t that what we are all searching for in some form or another? Balance. I mean hands up who thinks there is no greater freedom then eating PB out of the jar without worrying about calories? I can’t be the only one! 

No matter where you are on your recovery journey, know that you are exactly where you need to be right now. Enjoy it, learn from it and allow it to shape you into the wonderful human being you were destined to be. Remember, your darkest days are where you’ll find your strength.

You cannot have joy without pain;

laughter without tears and;

you cannot have compassion without suffering. 

Lastly, I may not know what it is like to have a regular cycle yet, but I do know what it feels like to be me, for the first time in my life. I know that my journey is far from over, it is only just beginning and I am very excited to see where it takes me. 

Let this be your reminder to keep going, your future self will thank you. 

XOX 

Elyse

*Edit – Now, I could not make this up… The day after sending Dani my first draft, I woke up with this cramping sensation in my lower stomach. I went to the toilet, not trying to read too much into it. You won’t believe this, but there was blood. Here was my second period, safe to say I cried. I squealed with pure joy and sheer happiness. Ladies, our bodies know what they need to do if you just give them the chance!

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CrossFit and Missing Periods

Photo by The Lazy Artist Gallery on Pexels.com

I wanted to write this article because missing periods are a lot more prominent in the CrossFit and HIIT workout space than women are letting on.

More women than ever are tired, under-performing, under-functioning, have low libido and are feeling down, anxious, sad and overwhelmed with the pressure that society has put on them. The pressure to be athletic, look the part, successful in their careers and to be amazing family members whether they’re a mother, sister, partner or daughter. Oh, and don’t forget to travel a lot and have an enviable social life.

When you have all of this pressure on yourself, its’ a real recipe for hypothalamic amenorrhea – the absence of a period due to stress, over exercising and underfueling.

One reason this has become so prominent in general is because talking about periods is taboo. If you avoid and ignore that it’s not there, well, then maybe it’s not there!

I believe the reasons why it’s become so prominent in the CrossFit space, however, if because:
1. A missing period is confirmation that you’re training ‘hard enough’.

2. It means that you’re showing up every day, pushing yourself to the edge to adapt and make the gains you need to make that PR or win that workout.

3. It means you’re lean enough, strong enough, tough enough and is a great, unbiased indicator that you’re on the path to elite athlete status.

And look, no one has done anything wrong. The issue is just that many of us don’t realize how important our period really is. This makes it easy to ignore that we’re not cycling and we see it more like an optional extra that we only need when we’re trying to get pregnant.

I wrote this article for Working Against Gravity where I explain more about why periods are important. 

I have seen an increase in CrossFitters talking about their cycles in general: training with the phases of their cycles for example, or stating that it’s important to look after yourself in this way, but not enough women are speaking out about the fact that they’ve missed periods or don’t have a cycle at all. The uptick in awareness has been encouraging to see, however, more needs to be done. It needs to be common knowledge.

Let’s dive into why Hypothalamic Amenorrhea – missing periods – is so common in the CrossFit space.

HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) Done at High Intensity Intervals

I did CrossFit for a long time and I’ve been to a lot of gyms, so I’m clued in here. It’s common to see HIIT about 5 days a week at a CrossFit gym and this is a recipe for a missing period because of the stress that HIIT can place on your body.

Often 3-4 days a week of HIIT training is programmed and because CrossFit has an addictive side to it, people love it and they want to keep going. People identify as being a CrossFitter and they think that the more they come, the better they’ll get, quicker.

This means that a female could go from a 3 day a week workout, to 4, 5 and 6 days a week.

CrossFit gyms do program in strength days, but those are often less than the HIIT days and can sometimes be followed up with more HIIT or MISS (moderate intensity steady state, like a short run or row).

I would be interested to see what happens when female CrossFitters who are struggling with irregular periods, short periods or hypothalamic amenorrhea (missing periods) back off HIIT entirely and attend the strength days only. I think many would see a return in periods and those who do have periods might see a positive change in the length of their cycles. 

I’ve seen time and time again female CrossFitters who are trying to get their periods back stop CrossFit altogether and see their period return within a few months.

I’m not saying you can never return to CrossFit or you should never do it, it’s great fun and if you’re meant to do CrossFit forever, it will always be there for you. However right now, with a missing period, we need to revisit our frequency, programing, stress and fueling. We’ll get to that.

Under fueling Your CrossFit Workouts

With the craze of CrossFit also came the desire for many women to ‘look the part’. “I want to be able to work out in just a crop” is a frequently seen goal for many women – because apparently there is a prerequisite for being ‘allowed’ to wear things in the gym.

Looking the part means being lean and muscular. This desire is really damaging because the message that many of us have received from society in general is that if you want to be deemed worthy, you should look a certain way. This is especially true for the CrossFit community where looking like an elite athlete is the goal.

But the thing is, most of us are not elite. We didn’t start training at the age of 6 for our sport and we didn’t slowly build up the strength, endurance and tolerance for what CrossFit is throwing at us. Those who excel at CrossFit are unicorns AND we also can’t be sure about what’s happening under the hood of their menstrual cycle.

Because we’re approaching by trying to make up for 10+ years of non-athleticism AND watching what we’re eating so as to get as lean as possible at the same time, we’re definitely under-eating.

We’ve also been told that there are health benefits related to staying in a slight caloric deficit and fasting – it’s the primal way. So we fight our natural hunger cues even more thinking that we’re doing ourselves a favor.

“Cavemen didn’t ALWAYS have access to food. We were designed to fast.”

Yeah, and we were also designed to evolve, improve our ways of sourcing food like figuring out propagation, agriculture and improving our tools for hunting so that starvation wasn’t as big an issue, but sure.

One primal thing that we’re designed to do that makes a lot of sense today is to shut down our reproductive system when it’s not safe to have babies – like when you’re over exerting energy and underfueling.

Prioritizing One Macronutrient Over Another

When you’re in a caloric deficit and doing CrossFit, taking a lower fat approach is common. This makes sense because carbs are important for performance and protein is important to build muscle, which is a common goal while trying to cut body fat.

In order to get into that desired caloric deficit to be able to workout hard and look lean, fat often takes the hit. Unfortunately, that means your body is missing out on a lot of the nutrients it needs for healthy hormone production.

Many people go the other way, too, opting to increase fat and reduce carbs. This is equally as problematic because your body needs carbs too. Try not to be so keen to cut one macro over the other!

Active Recovery Isn’t As Restorative Rest

Often, ‘active recovery’ is displayed as a mile – maybe even longer – row, run, swim or bike ride. The repetitive nature of CrossFit (lots of squats, deads, pull ups, push ups, presses etc) makes it easy to sell a row, bike or swim session as recovery because it’s ‘low impact’.

The thing is, these mile recovery exercises paired with 3-6 days of HIIT and strength training is a lot more strenuous than it seems.

There is a lot of flack given to rest days on the couch or just doing a stretch session, but the reality is when you’re filling your days with only active activity and active recovery, when do you actually get to actually rest? When you sleep, sure, I guess so, but sleep can only keep your body up-to-date on restoration so much before it has to start dipping into the bank (aka downregulating your temperature, putting a pause on digestion and, obviously, shutting down your reproductive system).

Pressure of CrossFit Competition

Stress is stress is stress, and competition is definitely a stressor. I mean, when that clock starts counting down and that music starts blaring and everyones PUMPED UP and ready fight for a good finish on the gym leaderboard, adrenaline rushes and cortisol spikes.

Think about when you try to work out by yourself in your garage after being used to working out in a class setting. It’s WAY different – why is that? Because you’re allowing your stress response to kick in and help you work hard. Many of us are sensitive to stress, and the stress of trying to be the best every day of the week is something to consider if you’re wondering where your period has gone.

I would love to see more women stand up and say “yep, this has happened to me too” and spread awareness that life’s not all about PR’s and crop tops, it’s also about giving your body the rest and recovery it needs.

And again, I hope you don’t think I’m knocking CrossFit, I love it and all it’s done for the community in terms of getting people active. Let’s just keep an eye on this important issue and raise the awareness!

Wondering how long it’s going to take YOU to get your period back?

Find out your recovery time frame PLUS a bunch of strategies to help you speed up progress depending on your results.