Most women would love to pass on period cramps, say so long to sweet and salty food cravings and bid buh-bye to that once a month bloat . Then on the other hand, there are women like me who can’t wait to get their period each month. No, not because I am that sexually active (that would be wishful thinking), but because after I stopped taking an oral birth control contraceptive back in 2016, my period never returned.
Stopping the pill
In 2016, I discovered how awesome I felt when I chose to eat real, whole foods. (Thank you Whole30). After singing the praises of yet another successful Whole30 to my cousin, she turned to me and asked me a serious question. “Why are you still taking synthetic birth control pills?” If I was so hyper aware of what I was putting in my body through food then how could I not take into consideration the synthetic hormones I was taking on a daily basis? (Insert mind blown emoji here).
After some some serious consideration, I paid a visit to my OBGYN and told her that after 10 years on the pill, I wanted to stop taking birth control. My doc said it wouldn’t be a problem and that I should expect my period to return within a month, or possibly a little longer.
30 days later…nothing. 60 days later.. still nothing. 90 days… nothing! After six months of being period-less, I revisited my OBGYN for some blood work to see if anything was off. The results came back and everything appeared to be normal. My doctor recommended I give it another six months to see if anything changed. Fast forward six months, and I still did not have my period, which meant I had gone one full year without my period.
Now you may be thinking, “That’s awesome! I would love to go one full year without my period,” but the thing is, having a healthy period is an important pillar of feminine health, and when your period is MIA, then that’s your body’s way of saying something is seriously off.
According to Syanna Wand, Nutritional Therapy Practitioner, “A woman’s menstrual cycle is the center of her health, both reproductively and generally. Even if she decides not to have a child, it is her body’s rhythmic and cyclical way of cleansing, renewing, energizing and restoring itself. Without a healthy cycle, we feel tired, irritable, overweight, dull, under-slept, stressed, lifeless, restless, pms-y, depressed, anxious or all of the above. When we balance the menstrual cycle, we balance the entire body and regain the vitality, life force and power inherent to womanhood.” I mean, is she right or is she right?
So, where did my period go?
My OBGYN took a second round of blood work and once again everything came back normal. She concluded that I either had PCOS or complete ovarian failure, which meant if I wanted to consider having kids, I would need to freeze my egg…like yesterday. I was only 29 years old; how could I be having complete ovarian failure?
In all seriousness, I never even really knew if I ever wanted to have kids or not. When my friends would see a baby, they would coo and say, “Aww, I want one” — then there was me who would scuff and say “Ugh, no thanks!” However, true to my Type A personality, when I was told I couldn’t do something, I was even more motivated to show my OBGYN I could have a baby.
My OBGYN thought that perhaps my recent weight loss could be playing a role in my medical diagnosis, a hypothesis I struggled to understand. After all, I’d lost the weight mindfully by following Whole30 and incorporating more workouts into my routine—healthy lifestyle choices that I thought could only benefit my body, not damaging to my reproductive health. Instead, she recommended I gain back 10 of the 20 pounds I had lost the year prior. “Um, yeah okay. That’s so not happening,” I thought to myself, so I took matters into my own hands.
I had heard the Keto diet could potentially help women regain their periods. The Keto diet is based off a high fat diet and since fat is the building blocks of hormones, I figured eating more fat may help my period return, so I gave Keto a go for roughly 4-6 months. At the same time, I was hearing that cutting back on my workouts could help me regain my period, and so I did that, too, cutting my workouts from 5-6 days a week to maybe 1-2 days a week. It was quite the change!
Although I really enjoyed the Keto diet, it eventually backfired on me and I ended up gaining back all of the weight I had originally lost (probably inevitable, since I was eating 120 grams of fat per day and cutting back on workouts). And despite all that effort, guess what…I was still period-less!
That’s when I decided to call in an expert—not my OBGYN, who simply told me “gain more weight” and never asked me about anything beyond my exercise routine. No. I wanted someone who would look at my entire lifestyle (i.e. diet, nutrition, exercise, sleep, stress) and help me get down to the bottom of all this. I did some research, spoke with friends who I trusted and reached out to have a complimentary consultation with an NTP.
Working with a Nutritional Therapy Practitioner
Short for a Nutritional Therapy Practitioner, an NTP is an individual who completes a comprehensive education in holistic nutrition and can help heal you through diet and lifestyle choices.
After working closely with my NTP for three months, we concluded that my period was MIA due to elevated cortisol levels. Cortisol is the stress hormone that is released when, you guessed it, we are stressed.
As a Type A personality, I pretty much constantly find myself in a state of stress, to some degree. To be completely honest, that stress is more often than not self-induced, but taking into account other areas of stress in my life — too little sleep, too much exercise, too much intensity in my workouts, calorie restriction, work, and relationships — it was just all too much for my body to handle.
Through working with my NTP, I learned that when I listen to my body and slow down (aka clock 8-9 hours of sleep every night and work out 2-3 times a week for 20-30 minutes each workout) my period returns full force and is strong and healthy. YAY!
However, I am a girl who is used to 4-6 workouts per week at a minimum of 45-60 minutes each. Here’s the thing though: my body (externally) responds really well to 4-6 workouts per week—hellooo muscle definition. Unfortunately, my body (internally) doesn’t respond well to 4-6 workouts per week, as my period isn’t as strong and healthy as I know it can be. Putting it together, that means that although my body on the outside is growing strong, internally, it’s struggling. Ugh, for the love of hormones!
So what’s a girl to do?
It’s been just over one year since I worked with my NTP and to be quite honest, it is still a very very delicate balance for me as I still do not have a healthy period. It’s something I work at every day, but the question I struggle with the most is when does the self love kick in? Do I choose self love for how good I feel (and look) after intense workouts at the expense of my hormones, or do I put my hormones first while forgoing the aesthetic results that make me oh so happy?
To be honest, coming from a background of lifelong body insecurity, it’s very challenging for me to put my hormone health first. It’s so easy to get addicted to the physical results we see in the gym, but I know a healthy period is the foundation of female health, which is why I am making small adjustments every day that will support my body in producing healthy hormones and therefore a healthy period. Granted, this is easier said than done, but like all of us, I am a work in progress.
How does this apply to you?
Okay so you may be thinking, great story Ash, thanks for that, but how does this apply to me? You’re right, that was rather long and if you have stayed with me thus far then I owe you a high five the next time I see you!
In all seriousness, if you take away anything from this piece, it’s the following:
#1 Listen to your body.
Your body is incredibly smart and will send you signals when something isn’t right, (hello missing period), so don’t try and drown it out. Listen to it!
#2 You know what’s best for you, your body and your overall health.
Your health ultimately lies in your hands, so trust yourself. Your body will guide you there if you let it. It’s perfectly okay to disagree with your doctors and seek a second opinion somewhere else. You owe it to yourself and your health to follow your gut.
#3 Reconsider what synthetic drugs you are taking and see if there is a more natural alternative.
Now I am totally stating the obvious here, but I am not a doctor— so keep that in mind when reading the following. We work so hard to stay healthy by making the right choices when it comes to what we put in our body through our diet and nutrition, as well as what we put on our bodies through our skincare.
That said, don’t overlook what medications you are taking. Consult with your primary care physician before making any changes to your current medications, but I am a strong advocate for reevaluating your current medications to make sure they’re working for you the way you want them to — especially birth control. It’s a conversation worth having.
I am still on my own unique health journey with my hormones and if my story can motivate or inspire someone to reassess their current health journey, especially regarding their own reproductive health, then this article was well worth sharing.
If you would like to learn more about my health journey (I know, how could there possibly be more to share?!), share your own journey or even ask a question, please feel free to reach out to me via Instagram @312ChicagoBlonde. I would love to hear from you!