My Journey to Regaining My Hormonal Health
I GOT THE DOT: After a Decade of Amenorrhea
Over 5 years ago I was officially diagnosed with amenorrhea and have yet to regain a consistent “flow” ever since.
Amenorrhea: simply put, is the absence of a menstruation during the reproductive years
It’s now been nearly 10 years- 10 FRICKEN’ YEARS- since I could recall the date of my last REAL cycle: ya know, the type of cycle that requires you to softly whisper to another female “ya got a tampon?”: ya, I haven’t had to do that since like… high school.
In fact, I have a very hazy memory of EVER feeling like I was in control of my bodies natural female rhythm, EVEN whilst consistently taking hormonal birth control (ALSO for 10 FRICKEN YEARS up until recently).
When you’re 20 years old, losing your period is a god-send. It makes life, sex, sports and swimming all a little bit easier. BUT, when you’re 27, madly in love and wanting to build a family: losing your period is petrifying.
Seeing as low body fat levels, nutritional deficits and excessive exercise do NOT work in alignment with hormonal re-structuring, I can only assume that my passion for bodybuilding and fitness has tainted my bodies natural ability to ovulate and cycle properly. Duh, Ashlyn. I’ll take ownership for this, I’m not trying to play dumb.
I completely understand how my fitness lifestyle interferes with my bodies ability to do it’s job: I just hate to admit it ‘cause changing my habits is daunting to me. My push-it-to-the-limits-over-the-top approach to my aesthetic and athletic endeavours has me in this pickle, and for once, “work harder” cannot be the solution. I do want to add that not every female who has a six-pack or trains excessively is going to encounter these issues: this is just my personal vendetta I am sharing.
So after multiple blood panels, ultrasounds on my ovaries, bone density and body fat scans, chit-chats with my naturopath at East Meets West Health Centre and a plethora of downloadable PDF quizzes and knowledge thanks to Dr. Jolene Brighten– the solution to getting my period pretty much came down to:
“Eat a higher fat diet, don’t lift weights so much… and put some fricken fat on your bones” – very scientific, I know.
Although this has been an ongoing issue for nearly a decade, in the last 2 years more specifically- thoughts of infertility, early-onset menopause and PCOS diagnoses have began to fill my mind like a pebble in the bottom of my shoe during a long run. Always there. Always reminding me. Never prominent enough to ACTUALLY change my rigid, structured, Type A nutrition & training regime: but always nagging my brain to find acceptance in what was necessary. But there I was: push, push, pushing past it, never stopping- just hoping one day the period Gods would sort it all out for me: BUT as we know now, that never happened. Like I tell my clients, only ACTION cures anxiety. So, ACTION was a must.
A few month ago, following my last Competition Prep: I finally decided NOW was the time to face the music, to take the shoe off and shake that bitch out, to take the action- to put the necessary weight on, to ditch the birth control & to take the correct steps towards my future goal of becoming a parent: unfamiliar and uncharted territory for someone who’s devoted their life to acquiring, morphing and altering their physique for aesthetic benefit.
All the medical professionals I outsourced recommended LESS exercise and MORE food as the prescription for increasing my health. Whaddya know. For most, this prob. sounds like a DREAM: but for someone who has weaved their identity and purpose in life into their intensive relationship with exercise and semi-orthorexic eating behaviours: the last 2 months were more of a mental shit-storm. But, I did it. I’m doing it. I’ll be doing it for a while.
And guess what? Last week, after YEARS of “I think it’s coming” and “it’s totally coming” … it ACTUALLY came. I GOT THE DOT: for the first time in nearly a decade.
It was like waiting for an old friend to finally come visit and then quickly realizing that as much as you missed her you’d probably be fine if she‘d GTFO of your house and off your couch. Yup, that’s my period. Welcome back old friend, it’s been awhile.
I know now that I sure as heck am not the only one with menstrual cycle issues: in fact, research has shown that this is quite common amongst the female fitness, dance, gymnast, cross-country and track community. So I felt it important to note that just because amenorrhea is COMMON- does not mean it is NORMAL. If you’re reading this thinking “shit, that’s me”: IT’S OKAY GIRLFRIEND: I was (and still am) the chick with the frog in her throat and gut-punched feeling in her stomach every time this topic has been discussed: now I’m just here to face the issue head-on and give you all the deets on how I’m fighting my feminine groove: So here it goes:
About 10 weeks ago, I intentionally released my natural inclination to portion, weigh, and eat in accordance with ANY type of structure. No meal plan, no caloric cap, no macro counting- no nothin’. Letting go of my step-wise life felt uncomfortable to say the least: especially after 5 months of intensive programming where every morsel of food was tracked, measured and portioned into tiny white boxes that arrived at my doorstep every Sunday (shout-out to Nutrimeals.ca cause that convenience is priceless): but to instantly switch my thinking from “shame on me for the extra 10g of quick oats for breakfast” to “everything is available and you SHOULD consume it” cause #health) was a mind-fuck. But I did it. I’m doing it. I’ll be doing it for a while.
My current hormone-supporting diet is now full of my absolute favourite fats: Avocados, brazil nuts, cashews, coconut, chia seeds, hemp hearts, flax, almond butter, dark chocolate, goat cheese and pecans. I’ve also been eating summer-time fruits and vegetables like they’ve been missing for years: salads the size of my head and fresh pressed juices regularly.
In addition, I’ve also made some plant-based supplement changes and have had the opportunity to try the complete Nutrimeals menu without fussing over calories. Delicious.
As well, I created a revamped vitamin regime: adding Tumeric, Magnesium, Pre-natal Vitamins and Milk-Thistle to my already established Probiotic, Omega-3 and Vitamin-D routine. I told you guys, I’m doing the shit. All the shit.
Letting go of my rigidity with food did NOT feel like taking a bra-off and exhaling heavily as I laid on the couch after a long day. Netflix, chill, nap. Nope. Not that easy, sister. Letting go of my habits felt completely forced, against the grain, emotional and resistant. I did not feel in-control or in “alignment” or in “flow”: I felt fricken’ puffy, heavy and emotional. Un-Ashlyn-like FOR SURE.
In addition to going balls-deep in the micronutrient rich foods and vitamins, I also refrained from organizing weekly training splits and workouts in advance so that I could move my body each day in accordance to how I felt, not in accordance with what the “plan” stated. I’ve also gone through bouts of ditching my Apple Watch activity tracker to force my body to move in accordance with its own rhythm and not in accordance with my pre-planned workouts of the week. I’m still working on this one. “Hello, my name is Ashlyn Gunderson and I am an exercise addict”. Although my exercise abundance is still heavy- I have, however, found pleasure in new forms of exercise outside the gym: mountain biking, spin-class, hiking, long outdoor runs: I’m digging it all. I’ve been told that an exercise regime higher in LISS cardiovascular activities and less extreme in the HIIT Training & resistance training department would be my best bet. So I did it. I’m doing it. I’ll be doing it for a while.
In addition to the changes in the food, supplements and fitness, I have had the unwavering support of my GP and from the practitioners at East Meets West Health who have been nothing but amazing when confronted with my amenorrhea issues. My naturopathic doctor and acupuncturist have devised a plan to support my mensural cycle over the course of the next year for which I am so grateful. IV Vitamin Therapy, consistent blood work, Acupuncture points and a swack of herbal remedies are all in my near future. Oh, and they’ve made it really clear that bodybuilding competitions will not be permitted. Bring it on, baby. (Heavy on the BABY)
Although getting my first REAL period is definitely an indicator of success, I am looking at this only as a guidepost in the right direction: ‘cause we still got work to do folks.
One period does not “fix” years of skipped and missed cycles- but it does confirm that my efforts are working. It confirms that the 15 extra pounds I am carrying around are facilitating my journey to hormonal health and it confirms that releasing my strict control over my body is what I NEED to be doing right now. It confirms that the cramps, the bloating, the oily skin, the tears and the body dysmorphia are WORTH IT and it gives me a glimmer of hope that I can be a mom one day (a deep fear I’ve been fighting for years).
If you’ve managed to make it this far through a blog that talks about my period: THANK YOU.
If you’re struggling with similar issues: LET’S TALK.
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OK- That’s it for now.