Exercising While Getting Your Period Back (Hypothalamic Amenorrhea)
Can you exercise while getting your period back Hypothalamic Amenorrhea?
This is a very, very finicky topic.
A lot of women with Hypothalamic Amenorrhea – the absence of a period due to energy deficiency and/or stress – lost their period with a combination of over exercising paired with undereating. This is true for me.
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Asking a chronic exerciser to not exercise is not easy. It’s filled with anxiety and denial. So let’s dive into this issue.
But first: my disclaimer. I’m not a doctor, I’m just giving you my experiences and the advice I would give you if we sat down to coffee together and you started to cry because you don’t have your period and you don’t know why.
Do you need to reduce exercise to get your period back? Yes
Do you need to quit cold turkey? It depends.
Cold Turkey VS Easing Off Exercise Slowly
If you’re trying to have a baby or if there is a reason, perhaps a very prevalent health condition that requires NOW NOW attention, yes, quit cold turkey.
It feels logical that if those things are in the forefront of your life, reducing exercise to nothing may be one of the easier things you’re dealing with right now, so this could be more of a non-issue.
For many others, it’s a big issue. Although having a period is extremely important, the process of getting one back can be really anxiety inducing and a full blown tirage of Hypothalamic Amenorrhea may not work for everyone. Here’s the thing...
Part of your missing period is stress related. So if quitting exercise and going from being a fitness junkie to a couch potato is going to cause you a whole new kind of stress, then that’s not going to work either. This was also the advice of my Nutritional Therapy Practioner.
I didn’t quit cold turkey because of a whole lot of reasons, one of which was that…
I Was Curious
I could go “all in” (a concept created by the amazing Dr Rinaldi, author of No Period. Now What? in which you eat all the food and relax a lot to fast track the return of your missing period) but not get a whole lot of information about what was actually tipping me over the edge and causing the HA.
I wanted to know, what is it that my body is particularly sensitive to? Specific foods, nutrients, exercise or a combination of the two? If it is a combination, which combination is it and how much!?
Many people will argue that it’s definitely an energy deficiency and worrying about specific nutrient deficiencies is being in denial of your overall deficiency, but I wanted to prove that for myself. But we’ll get to that.
I’m going to give you some tips for dealing with a reduction in exercise, many of which will help people who are trying to quit cold turkey and those people who are easing off of exercise slower. Do what works for you.
Before I do, I just want to remind you that you can interact with me about this topic on Instagram or YouTube!
Tips for Reducing Exercise to Solve Health Issues like Hypothalamic Amenorrhea
Dress For Exercise
Putting on your yoga pants, a sports bra, and putting your hair in ponytail for activities like a walk, going to the store or even just hanging around at house will help you feel a little better about things.
The clothes we wear are a huge trigger for the level of ‘effort’ we think we’re putting in to our lives. Which lets face it, is the #1 trait of women with HA.
Reduce High Intensity to Low Intensity
You can choose to do this cold turkey, ie. quitting CrossFit for easy walks or you can ease off if that works better for you mentally.
Tell your coach, trainer or workout partner, if you have one, what you’re trying to do and that you’re going to be scaling down the intensity. 400m runs become 200m or 100m runs. 35lb dumbbells become 15lb dumbells. 10 rounds of a workout become 5 rounds and so on.
Turn Your 5-6 day a Week Program into 2-4 Days a Week
Showing up and doing half of the amount of the work at the gym is going to be a LOT easier on your mind than not showing up, and your body will start to feel less load on it. For many women, easing off working out can be enough, and if that’s you, congrats.
Prioritize Walking Over Working Out
I made it a personal rule that if I only had time for one thing, I would choose a walk and skip the workout. Do your best to remind yourself that this is still a legitimate form of movement (because it is) and has other benefits that are making it worth your while.
An additional benefit to walking is getting sun and Vitamin D. If you’re near a park, even better. Head over and walk with no shoes on. You’re meant to connect with the soil and getting your connection to nature on is a game-changer.
Do Mobility Work
You’re probably not prioritizing your stretching and mobility as it is. Setting aside time every day to stretch and mobilize instead of work out intensely will not just fill that time in your schedule but it will also have you feeling better. When you feel better, your body functions better and you’ll also be in a better mood which will help you through this time. It’s a win-win-win.
Fill Your New Found Time with Creativity
I started to draw a LOT and then I grew a cool Instagram following for my art. I also grew a veggie patch and was able to take more trips with my husband that were not anxiety inducing.
The time I got back was put to use in a fun and creative way and that was wonderful. Give yourself something else to make it worthwhile, don’t make it all about the period.
Don’t Discount Your Activity at Home
This tip is a little controversial because focusing on your NEAT can be a problem and even a disordered behavior for many people, but while you’re working on dialing things back, it might help you to remember that ditching the gym to tidy your house is still activity. When you’re dialing an intense exercise regime back, it’s ok to lean on these small vices. Think of it as your nicotine patch as you back off from exercise.
Journal it All
You need to be having a constant dialogue with yourself to keep yourself sane.
If you just listen to your brain go around in spirals you will not realize how irrational and incoherent it’s being. For me, writing down “I feel really full and lazy because I’m not working out” and then being able to write down “but this is important for me to do because I want to be healthy” was a game changer.
You are RARELY able to have that kind of back and forth in your head without a lot of practice and prior experience in therapy.
When You Dial Exercise Back But Still Don’t Get Your Period Back
Many of you will try some of these things but they still won’t work. After a couple of months, you’ll want to try dialing back on exercise further. Especially if you’ve been increasing your food intake but seen no improvements.
I chose to reduce exercise and increase calories at different times to see if the different actions triggered anything. If I made changes to both my food and my exercise at the same time and got a period I wouldn’t feel as confident which one worked. Was it one action or a combination of the two?
But remember, understanding the culprit of my missing period was important to me. For many of you, just getting it back is what is most important. You can make simultaneous changes if you want but having that information was helpful so I could see what was and wasn’t working, and make more educated decisions on my next steps and if HA pops back up again later in life.
Also, I don’t promise that you won’t eventually have to dial it back to zero exercise. I was able to continue with some light exercise recover my period after about 6 months but I never had to completely go bedridden.
Walking to Mitigate “Damage”
Be aware of when you’re taking walks to try and undo any “damage” you think you’ve done VS walking because you need some sun and blood flow.
It’s easy for us to trick ourselves into thinking we’re doing the right thing, or to take action and then find a way to mitigate it later, for example, eating a big meal and then freaking out and adding in extra long walks and trying to turn everyday activities into calorie burning opportunities.
Not Continuing to Reassess Your Protocol
Make sure you are continuing to assess your progress and make changes as necessary. Don’t get stuck in the “well I’m doing the protocol so that should be enough” mindset. Everyone is individual and you need to keep reassessing your progress and your plan.
If you make one small change to your diet or exercise regime and never adjust when you notice that no progress is happening, then you’re not on track. Be active about making changes that conserve your energy and help you get your period back. That is the goal here.
So again, for a lot of people stopping exercise completely is the best choice and honestly, for all of us it will get you your period back a lot faster, but I have so much compassion for those of whom that strategy is just a massive undertaking.
If taking an extra few months or even 6 months to get your period back is what will work for you then I’ve got your back. It’s better than never. But PLEASE pledge to yourself that your priority is to get your period back and recover from hypothalamic Amenorrhea. Be aware of when you’re making decisions that might not be serving you.