So today I want to talk about periods and feminine things that might seem uncomfortable to talk about but are actually infinitely important for us to talk about. Right here. Right now.
And this here is a churro waffle salted caramel ice cream sandwich because....Monday.
Today I want to chat about why the absence of menstruation, or hypothalamic amenorrhea, isn't okay. I've seen articles floating around the webosphere suggesting that not getting your period is actually a good thing. Wahhhhttt? After screaming into my pillow and wondering how on earth people can be so ignorant, I decided to handle this how I handle most situations that fluster me into cranial chaos---by writing about it.
Now it's important to note that not getting your period can be the result of many different conditions. See a doctor to eliminate possibilities like PCOS, ovarian failure, hyperprolactinemia, or genetic abnormalities. While genetics and stress can play a huge role in your cycle, nearly all of the women I see don't get their periods because they're a) not eating enough or b) working out too much.
When we under-fuel our bodies and/or over-exercise, menstruation takes a back seat. Your body doesn't really care about your reproductive system, your body temperature, your hair, skin, or nails when it barely has enough energy (ahem, calories) to maintain vital functions like keeping your heart beating and brain buzzing.
Just like literally everything medically speaking, we are all very unique. While your best friend may be able to menstruate on a 1,200 calorie diet or a gym routine of running twelve miles a day, you may not. Increases in stress-related hormones like cortisol, which is released during exercise, can lead to amenorrhea. That means that over-exerting yourself at the gym is a surefire way to lose your cycle. Again, your body is smart and it's going to conserve its precious energy for what really matters, and that's keeping you alive. Burning away half the calories you eat puts your bod in a pretty tough spot. Just like you can't expect your car to drive across the country on a quarter tank, you can't expect your body to exert more energy than what you're giving it. Every single thing that happens in our bodies, from blinking to sleeping to riding a bike, requires calories. And lots of 'em!
My personal period saga begins in seventh grade. Come high school, the terrible cramps, super long and heavy cycles, back pain, and near fatal mood swings drove me to get on birth control like the rest of the universe (or so it seemed). I got my period every 28 days like clockwork and my cycle only lasted about four days rather than seven. Birth control had me in period HEAVEN. Those were the days when my friends and I thought it was normal (maybe because our doctors told us it was fine?) to purposely skip our periods and to take the Plan B pill whenever we forgot to take birth control. We treated our bodies like they were automatic machines.
Fast forward a while to grad school. My best friend went off the pill and then I did, too. I don't have anything against the pill and realize it's the preferred method of contraception for tons of women (including myself for many years); but I decided I didn't want to be taking a hormone every day. It took a while for my period to come back and I didn't think much of it. My body needed time to adjust, right? It wasn't until later that I learned that post-pill amenorrhea actually isn't an evidence supported conclusion at all. I studied up on menstruation, read No Period, and learned that bleeding every month on the pill doesn't mean you're actually getting your period. Yes, your birth control may very well be masking the lack of a real cycle.
I didn't get a period for more than six months after stopping birth control and my doctor told me it was fine. She didn't ask me if I was stressed, if I was eating enough, or if I was exercising too much. She didn't ask if I was a perfectionist, if I may have issues with food or body image. Did you know research shows that women who don't get their period have "higher levels of perfectionism" than those that get their period regularly? The only question she asked me was if I wanted a prescription for some pill that would induce a period.
Looking back, I probably should've looked a helluva lot closer to my body. Was I eating enough? Was I sleeping enough? Was I managing my stress properly? I didn't think twice about taking that pill back then. I was the typical consumer who wanted to walk out with meds that would magically solve my problem. Lifestyle intervention? As if!
I took that pill and I did eventually get my period back. The weirdly amazing thing was that my miserable PMS symptoms never came back, nor did the terribly lengthy cycles from pre-birth control days. Our bodies change. Pre-birth control menstruation doesn't always equate to post-birth control menstruation. And hallelujah for that!
Luckily I haven't had any issues since. But if I were to not get my period again, I surely would not turn to medication. I would turn to myself, to my body, and how I'm caring for it. Sometimes caring for it means a giant green smoothie and sometimes it means feeding my soul a warm donut.
Fast forward a bit to me discovering LOLA, a female-founded company that delivers the cutest box of organic cotton tampons right to your doorstep. I found them because I really, really like mail. Mail makes me happy. I also liked the idea of turning my period into something fun and exciting. Getting pretty wrapped tampons in the mail is totally fun and exciting. I wanted to not loathe but actually celebrate my period. That goes for my clients, too! My period makes me feel strong and sexy and womanly like I can do anything. I mean I could birth a freaking human if I wanted to!
Being super into food and what's in food, I started to explore what's in tampons. It made me feel warm and fuzzy that LOLA was transparent about the ingredients in their tampons, pads, and liners. No rayon or polyester or mystery fibers---just 100% organic cotton with no added chemicals, fragrances, synthetics, or dyes. With their customizable subscriptions, you can leave those frantic drug store trips behind you!
How much does this subscription cost, you ask? Applicator tampons (made with BPA-free plastic) are $10 per box and non-applicator tampons, pads, and liners are each $9 per box. For subscriptions with more than one box, LOLA offers $1 off each box in your subscription, so two-box subscribers save $2 and three-box subscribers save $3. They offer free shipping and you can cancel your subscription at any time. I appreciated the fact that you can pick from light, regular, super, and super+ so you're not left with a box full of the size you don't need. We've all been there. LOLA delivers exactly what I need, exactly when I need it.
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So here's the thing. Not having a period isn't just abnormal. It can have serious long term side effects. If you aren't getting your period, your estrogen and other reproductive hormones are low. So besides dull skin, a super low sex drive, and the inability to conceive in the short term, amenorrhea can lead to brittle bones, fractures, cardiovascular disease, early cognitive decline, and dementia in the long term. Losing your memory from lack of menstruation? You bet.
I had a client once that used to do bodybuilding. She told me that her teammates would brag about who hadn't had their period for the longest. The sad reality is that there is indeed a body of women who pride themselves on this because it means they're restricting in some way. That they're in complete control. You are so much more than that.
There's really no answer to how long it will take to regain a period, but if you don't have a condition like PCOS or another genetic factor, the chances of getting it back with proper nutrition support and exercise education is extremely high. It could be two months and it could be two years. What I will say is that regaining your cycle likely means stopping all intense exercise, finding meaningful ways to cope with stress, and eating not just more, but a variety of foods. Changing your thoughts surrounding food and exercise and body image is not unlike changing your religion (this podcast on the religion of dieting is gold). It's not easy. If you're in this boat, I highly recommend reading the book No Period and seeking nutrition counseling from an intuitive eating dietitian in your area. The tools for success are inside you but sometimes it takes a little outside boost to let them truly shine.
Not getting your period is not cool. Period!
This post is sponsored by LOLA. Thanks for supporting the brands that make Hummusapien possible!