There is an odd gray area.
On one hand, you have a person clearly in need of help. She is in recovery for an eating disorder. Maybe she has bones protruding from her chest or maybe she runs to the bathroom after eating the smallest of meals. It is very clear that she is ill.
Then, there is the person who has no misgivings about food. She eats a piece of pie when she wants to. If her jeans don’t fit, oh well, she just buys a new pair. She has friends and reads and goes to the beach and sleeps and lounges around the house on Sunday mornings.
But there is an odd gray area.
There is the girl who doesn’t look ill. She is in a normal BMI range. She is not clearly overweight nor is she clearly underweight.
Nothing is seemingly wrong.
But the outward appearance is deceiving. Maybe she has been on birth control for a prolonged period of time and doesn’t realize that her intense workouts have caused her to lose a period. Maybe she will go out for a sushi dinner with friends but had no lunch or breakfast and worked out like a fiend beforehand.
There is an odd gray area.
Anorexia and bulimia are two types of eating disorders that get the most spotlight attention, yet there are numerous other food related rituals and cognitions that can lead a person to develop a disordered eating mindset. And when that mindset takes a hold, negative physical and psychological effects can occur. One such side effect is hypothalamic amenorrhea.
What exactly is hypothalamic amenorrhea? And why is it so important? Well, in a nutshell, when your hypothalamus (a gland in your brain) gets a signal that your body is EXTREMELY stressed out, it will do whatever it takes to get back to normalcy and protect the body from demise. What happens? All systems that are seen as not vital are put on reserve, one of which being the reproductive system. Yes, that means menstruation and ovulation will cease. There are some women who suffer from primary amenorrhea (no period by the age of sixteen) and others who suffer from secondary amenorrhea (missing three consecutive periods or missing a period for six continuous months). The cause of this may stem from a genetic abnormality or PCOS, but for many females, the cause is actually too little food, too much exercise, and WAAAAY too much stress.
When I first investigated HA (Hypothalamic Amenorrhea), it was because I was at a “normal” weight (my BMI was in a healthy range, but we all know how skewed that number can be!), yet I had missed my period. I did not have a cycle for a while. Like, months. Oddly enough, I didn’t even think twice about my missing period as I was so busy with work and family and friends and church and training that it was only after I stopped to look at the calendar because I was asked by my doctor when was the last time I had a period, that I realized, I DIDN’T HAVE ONE. FOR A LONG TIME.
That realization scared me.
Given my history of anorexia, I knew that no menstrual cycle was a consequence of lack of nutrition. The only other time I was without period was when I was underweight or pregnant. Obviously, I was not with child. And mathematically, I wasn’t underweight.
I was in the grey.
So I started researching, and reading articles, and listening to podcasts, and reading more articles, and listening to more podcasts.
I bought No Period, Now What? and found myself nodding along in agreement that yes, I needed to relax my body.
I listened to all of Jill’s videos on A Case of the Jills, and found myself nodding along in agreement that yes, I needed to relax my body.
Now, the question you may asking yourself is, “Wait, wait. I thought you were recovered from an eating disorder. But you didn’t have your period. That’s not right.”
You’re right. It’s not right. But oddly, it was only when I was already months without a period that I realized I was actually unhealthy because my mind and body was under a considerable amount of stress. And while I knew what the eating disorder voice was saying and would say to me (Ugh! Carbs! Ugh! Rest!), HA snuck in. Some may say that HA, like orthorexia, are not technically eating disorders because there is no DSM-IV (or DSM-V) definition for them. But in reality, if your body is not operating the way God intended it to, THEN SOMETHING IS WRONG.
No period equals something is wrong.
Worrying about eating a banana because the fruit has carbs is wrong.
Fretting over not being able to go for a daily run is wrong.
These warning signs are often times overlooked because they are normalized by society. How many times have you seen an advertisement touting the evils of carbohydrates? Or how many times have you seen professional female athletes prized for their muscular physiques?
So what is a gal to do if she finds out she (in fact) has hypothalamic amenorrhea? I’ll write more about that in my next post!
In the meantime, I’d love to hear from you! Have you gone through HA recovery? Are you in it now? What are the steps you took to recover from HA?