The missing piece: How changing my exercise practice helped me to regain my period.

“I think this is the best option”… are the words I remember my doctor telling me. At 14, I went to the GP with my mum and had ‘the talk’ about contraception and how the oral contraceptive pill (OCP) was the ‘best’ option (well, at least in the eyes of my GP). Not only was this teeny little tablet supposed to prevent a pregnancy, it was also going to help with my acne and irregular periods, bonus—at least I thought so at the time.

For most of my twenties I chose to participate in exercise that was of high-intensity, high impact and for long durations—often between 1-2 hours daily. My early to mid twenties was a time in my life where my body image and self-esteem were at an all time low, which led to disordered eating, depression and exercise that became excessive in nature, depleting both the health of my mind and body. This was a dark time in my life, one that was loaded with immense stress both physically and mentally.

By the time I hit the age of 30, and with my wedding approaching and the prospect of my soon to be husband and I starting a family, I decided it would be a great idea to come off the OCP to see if my hormones had balanced out. At this stage, I had incorporated some stress management techniques into my life, my disordered eating was no longer, but my exercise regime remained the same. To my surprise, 6 months went by and still no period. An entire year went by and still no period, it was at this point I knew something was wrong, and I reached out for support from a Naturopathic Doctor. 

After many blood, saliva and stool tests, I was finally on track with the ‘right’ supplements, nutritional meal plan and a non-negotiable meditation practice that had become part of my daily regime. But, with that there were only small changes seen in my cortisol levels and my estrogen was still almost non-existent, along with my progesterone being very low—which meant no ovulation for me. There was one thing I hadn’t really paid much attention to—the exercise I continued to do. This all changed when I learnt about Hypothalamic Amenorrhea (HA), a diagnosis I was given by my Naturopath. HA is a condition that occurs when a gland in the brain called the hypothalamus, slows or stops releasing gonadotropin-releasing hormone, which is responsible for menstrual cycle activation. Common characteristics of HA are; low body weight, very low calories intake, low body fat percentage and strenuous or excessive exercise.1

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Changing your exercise routine can be likened to changing your face moisturizer, you have been told its better for you, its more natural and hydrating but—there are still unanswered questions like, what if I breakout? Or in the case of exercise, how will I maintain my fitness levels? Or what if my body changes and I don’t like it? For me, this proved that there was still some work to be done around body acceptance and my self-worth. 

With time, support and a very gentle approach to action such change, I managed to alter my exercise regime. What started as a 7-day-a-week routine, decreased to 6, then 5 and then the form of movement changed from long bursts of high intensity to walking, dance, pilates and my new all time favourite, yoga. This change in routine, coupled with the work I had done previously with my nutrition, supplement plan and meditation practice was the cherry on top of my dairy-free chocolate sundaeJ. This missing piece of my puzzle allowed my hormones to even out, my cortisol levels were no longer peaking intensely in the middle of the day, and it saw my estrogen levels become detectible again via blood results and most of all my period returned!

Ditching the long intense workouts…

My body needed me to reduce the intensity of my workouts, how did I know that? Because, when I did it was as though it let out a big sigh of relief. By doing this I created space to try new forms of movement, which was super fun!

 

 Our bodies are made to move, but each of us is built differently and what works for one body type may not work for the other. Moving your body through a pilates session will help connect you with your breath and elongate and strengthen your muscles without strenuous impact placed upon joints in the body.2Whereas, high intensity interval training (HIIT) as the name suggests, is an intense workout but with only short bursts of intensity, allowing for recovery phases with each exercise repeated over 15-20 minutes.3 If you’re short on time but feel like a sweaty ‘get your heart rate up’ kind of session, HIIT will definitely deliver. However, this intensity does create stress in your body and if you’re battling with a MIA period, have HA or high cortisol levels, I would hold off on this one for a little while. Yoga on the other hand, works to bring strength and focus to the body and mind and is like a moving meditation, combining different postures with breath work.2 The beautiful thing about yoga especially if you have HA or are a highly stressed person is that it reduces levels of stress within your nervous system, decreases anxiety and fatigue and induces an overall sense of calm and wellbeing.2

 

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Trying new forms of movement increased my body acceptance…When I was able to integrate new movement into my daily routine, I was able to feel and appreciate my body more. I could feel how tired and burnt out it had been and I began listening to how my body felt each day and chose to move it from a more mindful and compassionate. 

The feeling you get from moving your body is key… It isn’t all about the aesthetics (that’s just a bonus)…Movement was very rarely joyful for me; it was more often than not about the outcome, a bigger booty, defined arms and a toned stomach. However, through cultivating awareness and space for change, I began moving for the enjoyment and fun of it and for how it made me feel—not depleted but more alive and energized. The more I followed the feeling the less focus there was on how I looked—feelinggood and longevitybeing of greater importance. 

If anyone is battling with regaining their period or have hormonal imbalances and have always chosen super intense workouts, I urge you to give yoga a try. Allow yourself to look beyond your aesthetics in any form of movement and let yourself explore the benefits that this practice can bring to both mind and body. 

Move toward the resistance… Not away.... I have learnt over time, where there is resistance to change our energy needs to flow towards and not away from it. If I hadn’t moved in the direction of my resistance, I truly believe the journey to regaining not only my period but also my overall wellbeing would have taken much longer to happen, if at all. Plus, I wouldn’t have found forms of movement I enjoy, feel good and that nourish my body, mind and soul.

Love

Sammy xx

PS - I would love to hear from you...if you feel called to share your own story to period health then comment below or send me an email at sammy@sammyjpearson.com

PPS - If you haven't already click the link to download your free guided meditation. Take some time just for you, to be still and allow your mind and body to be nurtured and nourished.