If you’re just joining us, these two posts (one, two) will provide some context. We’re talking about (secondary) amenorrhea, which affects an estimated 3-4 percent of women, but prevalence may be as high as 69% among female athletes. (Not just the pros — endurance exercisers, that includes you.)
The day came about one month after running my first marathon. I wasn’t on the pill anymore (we’ll get to that), I had essentially gone vegetarian overnight without a roadmap — shocking even myself — and for the first time in six years, there it was. The sign every young not-ready-to-be-a-parent woman waits for every month, the moment you let out a sigh of relief because, whew, now that mood swing yesterday, the balloon currently inflated in my core, and the insatiable desire to sleep for ALL the hours (just me?) makes more sense. Oh, and the relief in knowing that for at least one more month, you won’t be thinking about how life looks raising a small human.
Ladies and gents, you know that relief.
But when it hadn’t just come on its own in six years? It was a little more like shock. Like, what just happened? Body, IS THAT YOU? Are we back in business for real?! Don’t fuck with me. This is no time for joking around. But OMG, I want to give you the biggest hug right now! Loveyoulongtime.
In many ways this was confusing to me. Let’s enter 2010-Heather’s head:
I just ran a marathon! Isn’t that THE stressor of all exercise stressors?! (A: No, an Ironman probably is. Or an ultramarathon. Plenty of things, girl. Chill out about your 26.2 miles.) I just stopped eating meat! I hadn’t planned to, but have you seen “Food Inc.”, or read Eating Animals? Okay, I know it’s not the same for all of us and this won’t last long, but it was a big change for me. (Hi, six years later, still 99 percent veg…) And then here we are, a little over one month later and voila – look who shows up to the party.
Exit 2010-Heather’s head.
The thing is, I had largely stopped thinking about being amenorrheic. I was 23, having a blast living in DC and easing into adult life. I was at least a year or two out from obsessively counting calories. I was running for FUN because all my friends were runners (by design, of course) and they signed up for a marathon so I signed up for a marathon (#fomo). I was in a good relationship; I was head over heels for the city I lived in; I was eating new-to-me things and much more open minded about food for the first time ever.
Translation: here’s what seemed to reverse amenorrhea for me
- Less overall life stress. I was finally done with school and my internship, I was settled into life in DC, I had (have) great relationships, I was financially stable and independent, I was exercising for fun not punishment or to burn calories, and I was eating enough to support that.*
- I wasn’t thinking about it ALL the damn time. I had actually kind of forgotten that it was my reality for a few months. I took the pill for a while beforehand, but went off of it in late February/early March, prior to the marathon.**
- I was at a healthier body weight, for me.*** I had stopped weighing myself (a standing non-habit), stopped hitching weight to health, and was in a much better place, emotionally and mentally.
- I was eating real food. I had given up on diet everything, embraced a variety of fats, ate more plant-based proteins and things with shorter ingredient lists. I was noticing how much better that felt, overall.
To be clear
*I wasn’t counting calories or thinking about food in relation to my marathon training. I was trying something new: eat when you’re hungry, try new foods, be open and relax a little bit. I had no more food rules.
** This was in no way a calculated decision: I realized that my “sugar-pill” week would fall right on Marathon day, and NOPE. No thank you. I am not risking that. So, I just stopped taking the pills and then didn’t start taking them again after, for no real reason other than my disdain for being on the pill in general.
*** I had been at a higher weight and a much lower weight; at the time my amenorrhea stopped, I was somewhere in the middle. I do not think “gaining weight” is good advice for amenorrheic females. That can cause stress to the body as well if it’s not a healthy weight gain, whatever that may mean for you.
Next up: let’s talk about stress. As with many chronic health issues, it largely comes down to that.
I initially began to open up about this in relation to the work we’re doing at Spright. If you’re expecting, a new parent, have a few young ones, or know friends who fall into one of those camps, we have this for you.