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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!
- 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?