For a solid 6 years my period had commitment issues. Either it was not there at all, or it was irregular. In this post I'm going to break down the exact steps that not only myself, but so many other women have taken (with a 98% success rate!) to get their periods back and you can, too!
Why Do We Lose Our Period?
There can be SO many reasons why we might lose our periods. Some of these being:
- Natural causes (pregnancy, breastfeeding, menopause)
- Oral contraceptives (AKA hormonal birth control AKA "the pill")
- Medications (Antipsychotics, cancer chemotherapy, antidepressants, blood pressure drugs, allergy medications)
- Lifestyle factors (eating habits, exercise routine, stress)
- Hormonal imbalances (polycystic ovary syndrome, thyroid malfunction, pituitary tumor, premature menopause)
- Structural abnormalities (uterine scarring, lack of reproductive organs, other structural abnormality of the vagina)
Now, while these are all possibilities, one of the main causes of missing periods is due to something called hypothalamic amenorrhea. It's actually estimated that it effects about 1.62 million in the US and 17.4 million women worldwide. That's, like, a lot.
What Is Hypothalamic Amenorrhea?
In a nutshell, hypothalamic amenorrhea (HA) is when the hypothalamus (a little gland in your brain that regulates the cycle) slows or stops releasing the needed hormones. Three of the main causes of this are due to disordered eating habits, excessive or overly strenuous exercise, or stress (environmental, emotional, mental- all of it!) It could be one of these or, more likely, a combo.
Now, I'd like to note that when you read that, and what I used to think, it might seem like this is a problem for those only with an eating disorder, exercise addiction, or who lead insanely stressful lives. And while, yes, that can definitely be a chunk of the HA population that is not the ONLY chunk.
HA can happen to anyone, at any size. You can be under-fueling your body with the appropriate nutrients at ANY size. One of the books that I LOVE and really recommend about how to get your period back is No Period Now What and one statistic they share is that only 33% of those who lose their period were underweight from a survey they conducted. Another very interesting find was that 82% said that they had lost more than 10 pounds in the past, showing a correlation between weight loss and loss of a period. I'll say it again, we can lose our periods at. any. size.
How To Get Your Period Back From HA With A 98% Success Rate
There are two books that I recommend reading in order to adapt a period diet plan, or healthy menstrual cycle diet plan, in order to regain your period or to fix irregularity in your periods and they are:
Here is a summary of the info I gathered from reading these books that you apply to your own life to compile your own period plan to regain your cycle! Oh, and Nicola states that her period plan has a 98% success rate. Holy. Cats. Talk about good stuff!
Healthy Period Plan & Menstrual Cycle Diet
You Have Got To Eat Enough
- rigid food routines
- weight cycling & frequent weight fluctuations
- feeling loss of control around food, including compulsive eating behaviors
- restricting food
- overexercising to "make up" for eating certain foods or amounts of food
When I say we need to eat enough, I mean we need to eat enough CONSISTENTLY! Yo-yo dieting, doing a diet, then likely eating even more between a diet, then going back to a diet, doesn't count. The amount that you eat when yo-yo dieting is actually likely the same if not more than your body needs, but it's not getting it in a consistent flow. Make sense?
The first thing to do is STOP. DIETING. Stop the food rules. And let yourself eat! I know this is scary so I have a whole free e-book for you on how to finally find food freedom. You can snag a copy here.
I'll be blunt. The No Period, Now What? book states to aim for a minimum of 2,500 calories a day. It sounds like a lot, especially when compared to the default MyFitnessPal recommendations, but it's not. Your body, in essence, needs to repair itself from the dieting damage. And, guess what? It takes energy to do that.
Now, I don't recommend counting calories. You can read my entire post on counting calories here. We KNOW when we are allowing ourselves to eat to satiety. We KNOW when we are restricting. Be honest with yourself. If you've been restricting food or dieting for a long time you may not get strong hunger cues at first, not knowing when you're hungry. This is because your body is like "Well, she isn't listening to me so why am I trying to tell her to give me food? I'll just stop." If that's you, you don't know when you're hungry, my post on how to GET hunger cues is probs a good place to go after this post!
What To Eat On This Period Plan
One thing to note is that you might be thinking "Okay, I'll eat more, but only "healthy" foods and "clean eating"". Well, I'd challenge you to re-think that. I'd actually recommend allowing yourself to eat the ice cream. Grab a mid-afternoon brownie if you feel like it. Why? If you try to come at this purely from a "clean eating" angle, your body may become a little overloaded with things like fiber and overall volume of food. The more "treat-like" or "indulgent" or ugh.. hate the world... "unhealthy" (not true, BTW) foods are going to be much more nutrient dense and can actually make eating more energy (calories) more comfortable. Now, I'm not telling you to go eat a million brownies and call it a day, not at all. I'm saying give yourself permission to enjoy them guilt free!
There are a few things you can aim to incoproate into your diet if you are working on this "period diet" too get your period back. Here are a few:
- whole grains (can help with inflammation and hormone levels; oats and whole grain breads are great ideas)
- vegetable protein sources (tofu, beans, etc. have higher levels of antioxidants which can help balance hormones and protect eggs from possible damage and less saturated fat)
- vegetarian sources of iron (chickpeas and cooked spinach are great, these have higher levels of antioxidants which can help balance hormones and protect eggs from possible damage)
- monounsaturated fats (like avocados or olive oil VS things with saturated fats, like palm oil or coconut oil. These unsaturated fats have more protective health benefits)
- full fat dairy (full-fat dairy products were associated with a lower risk of ovulatory infertility)
Reducing Exercise On This Healthy Menstrual Cycle Diet Plan
Even though it isn’t a direct food related item, exercise is a HUGE part of this healthy menstrual cycle diet plan and allowing your body to get your period back. Why? First off, if you aren’t giving your body enough energy in the first place, you’re only creating a larger energy deficit by exercising. Personally, when I was working on regulating my cycles after dieting I did stop exercising for a few months. You can read more about the time when I stopped exercising and what happened in this blog post.
Your body is in need of rest in order to repair itself, like we talked about. The No Period, Now What? book is very adamant on stopping all exercise, and only allowing some yoga, stretching and light walking. They say nothing that gets your heart rate above 100bmp.
Also, exercise, especially high intensity, increases cortisol levels (this is the stress hormone) which suppress the hypothalamus and can result in the no or irregular cycles you might be facing.
They say if you can’t do this, can't cut back on exercise, you need to tack on an extra 2kcal/kcal burned onto your 2,500. So, if eating that much already sounds scary, adding even more probably sounds scarier.
I know this piece is SO scary. One tip is to take it day by day. Don’t go in with the idea “I’m giving up running/spinning/etc for months” simple just make the choice to rest one day at a time.
Get Your Period Back By Managing Stress
This is HUGE. And tough since a lot of us who struggle with food/dieting struggle with perfectionism, which is stressful as crap. Stress is normal but when it is chronic it can impact the hypothalamus and suppress our cycles. Managing cortisol, the stress hormone, levels is huge. You can do this with therapy, meditation, relaxation, etc.
And, no, running can not be your therapy right now. W have to make sure we have other ways to cope, too. Remember that running is going to increase our cortisol levels and create an even larger caloric deficit.
Supplements On The Period Diet
There are a few supplements that you can take in order to assist in your efforts to get your period back. But it's important to note that you can NOT out supplement the previous recommendations. Don't expect to take these supplements but not fuel your body appropriately, reduce high intensity activity, and manage stress. It just doesn't work that way. Here are a few supplements that the No Period, Now What? book recommends:
In several studies L-carnitine has shown to improve low LH, which is a lab test that you want your doctor to check. LH is low in those with hypothalamic amenorrhea and can be due to reduction in stress induced adrenal activity.
Some say carnitine is touted for weight loss, by the authors of No Period, Now What? could not find any actual evidence of this, only hypotheses. So the concern of well, you’re trying to have me gain weight, but I could take this supplement, isn’t really a concern.
Flax seed contains fiber, lignan alpha-linoleic acid, and phytoestrogen precursor secoisolariciresinol diglucoside which contribute to it’s health benefits. Some benefits observed are:
- Fewer anovulatory cycles in normal cycling women
- Longer luteal phase with higher progesterone/estradiol ratio
- Reduced stress hormones and perception of stress
- A number of more general health benefits including improved lipid profile, reduction in risk of cardiovascular disease, decreased A1c in type II diabetics, and potentially cancer prevention
You can consume whole or ground flax seed, however Nicola recommends ground, since most of the studies have been on that form. One study points out 10g of flax seed per day, which is like 1-2 tbsp. You could top it on oatmeal, toast, yogurt, etc.
The evidence seems quite clear that ashwagandha can help reduce both perceived stress and blood markers of stress. This may be helpful in recovery of missing periods, especially in someone who experiences a lot of stress and anxiety. There are some things to think about with this one. One paper did note that those allergic to herbs belonging to the Solanaceae family (tomatoes, potatoes, peppers etc.) should not take ashwagandha. Don’t take if you’re taking hyperthroid.
What To Do After You Get Your Period Back
The goal after you get your period back is to eat more intuitively. At first, when implementing this healthy menstrual cycle diet plan it might feel anything but intuitive. There will likely need to be a conscious effort to add MORE to your day when increasing intake during the time where you're making efforts to get your period back. Like I said, I don’t think you need to count calories during this. We know when we are being restrictive and when we likely haven’t eaten enough.
After 3 consecutive cycles is when the No Period, Now What? book recommends to transition to a more "intuitive" eating style and guiding your eating choices more so with hunger and fullness, VS a conscious effort to eat more.
Also, after you've got your period back give yourself a HUGE hug because that's AMAZING, girlfriend!
I hope that this blog post was packed with info for you to learn how to get your period back. Like I said, I'd highly, highly recommend snagging those two books that I mentioned earlier and reading them for yourself. Also, if you're suffering from a loss of period due to an eating disorder please reach out to a dietitian for help, do not take this as personalized medical advice, because it's totally not!
Leave a comment with your thoughts on this blog post! I love hearing from you all. Personally, I'm fascinated by the topic of women's health and plan to dive more into this topic. Let me know in the comments if you'd be interested in learning more, too!
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