Tuesday, 1 July 2014

Hypothalamic Amenorrhea and How To Exercise

I get asked this question A LOT. Especially since Sarah Wilson kindly posted my story on her blog. I think, inherently, we are all a little voyeuristic. A little pervy. Wanting to know the intricate details of other peoples’ lives. Or perhaps we just want a little guidance or confirmation that we are doing the right thing. Either way, I have decided to share how I approached exercise as I was healing from hypothalamic amenorrhea.

Peeping Toms in Tokyo, 1951. Image via pinterest by sahua d
First, know this: hypothalamic amenorrhea (also referred to as the Female Athlete Triad) is often a result of over-exercising and/or under-eating, which leads to an overall negative energy balance for an extended period of time. The body senses that you are, essentially, starving and says “Righteo, no energy for reproduction, then” and bids farewell to your monthly lady holiday.

So, taking this into account, you can see that exercise is perhaps contraindicated in the treatment of hypothalamic amenorrhea. Right? Right! 

Chronic exercise = no good. BUT movement = good!

Prior to actually deciding to do something about my infertile situation, this is what my exercise looked like: 
  • Monday: Body Attack (1hr) followed by Body Pump (1hr). I might have walked ~1/2 -1hr too
  • Tuesday: Maybe a walk, maybe a weights session (maybe both), maybe a cardio session
  • Wednesday: Body Attack (1hr)
  • Thursday: Body Step (1hr), ½-1hr walk
  • Friday: Body Attack (1hr), weights (1hr)
  • Saturday: Body Step (1hr) – every second Saturday
  • Sunday: Body Step (1hr)

Holy crap. I am exhausted just looking at all of that! So much time wasted in the gym! Granted, it was my job, which made it more “legitimate”, I suppose, albeit no less damaging to my health and fertility.

I realised that this was unsustainable and would leave me in my infertile state if I were to continue. 

Yes, thank you for your wisdom, Albert. For a while, I was insane. I thought I could just throw herbs and vitamins at the situation and it would sort itself out. But, after spending thousands of dollars (literally), I realised this approach was no bueno. So here is what I did…

I progressed quite gradually, and it helped that it coincided with my dietetics placement, so I had an excuse to no longer teach a lot of my classes.

Stage 1
  • Monday: Body Pump
  • Tuesday: Walk
  • Wednesday: Weights (functional training 1hr)
  • Thursday: Yoga
  • Friday: Weights (functional training 1hr)
  • Saturday: Body Step (every 2nd weekend)
  • Sunday: Body Step

 A considerable change, but probably not enough. Cue stage 2.

Stage 2
  • Monday: Body Pump
  • Tuesday: Walk/yoga
  • Wednesday: Weights (8 minutes – YES, you read right EIGHT minutes – 8 sets of 3 clean and presses; sets 1 min apart)
  • Thursday: Walk/yoga
  • Friday: Walk/yoga, maybe a Tabata session (4mins of cardio)
  • Saturday: REST
  • Sunday: REST

Although it was tough (mentally), I stuck to this routine for quite some time (until my period returned), gradually adding in more yoga (vinyasa/yin/hatha NOT bikram/ashtanga) and taking out the Body Pump. As I have previously mentioned, I found the yoga incredibly beneficial to the healing process as it allowed me to focus more on my body’s ability, rather than its aesthetics.

So, now that my cycle is getting back on track, how do I exercise? Well, it depends. I try and get outside as much as possible for a gentle walk/hike, as I now live in the nature-lover’s playground:

Image by Lake Wanaka Tourism
But if it is raining outside, and I feel really good, and my stress levels are low, my week might look like this:
  • Monday: Weights (1hr - 10 min mobility warm up, 30 min weights, 20 min stretch/yoga)
  • Tuesday: 1hr yoga
  • Wednesday: Body Pump
  • Thursday: Tabata
  • Friday: 1hr yoga
  • Saturday: Hopefully the rain has stopped by now and I can go for a hike!
  • Sunday: Rest

Note: I do at least 30 minutes of yoga every day in the morning. It grounds me and sets me up for an awesome day.

Now please note, this was MY journey. This gives you a general idea of what worked for me. It may or may not work for you. Listen to your body. If you have exercise/stress/lack of food-induced amenorrhea, then you probably need to pull right back on the exercise to start with, then take baby steps along the way, depending on how everything is tracking along.

If this is all too overwhelming for you, I get it. My hubby (who is a PT and peak performance coach) helped keep me on track. Everyone needs someone. Feel free to shoot me through an email via my website if you would like to book a consultation for some more structured, personalised guidance that will help you get your sexy back.

Final note – as always, be kind to yourself. x

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