Yes 8 years… I know it’s not great. But, hear me out because it has all been a great learning curve that I hope others can take away something helpful from as well.
The beginning of the end to a natural cycle: the Pill, my eating disorders and competing.
8 Years ago, I went on the pill and stayed on it until April 2019. Within those 6 years I suffered from my eating disorder, meaning my hormones were naturally going to be very out of balance due to being underweight, under-eating, over-exercising, and bulimic. I did however, recover, re-gain 13kg and swapped cardio for weights. This led me to competing in 2018. At the time I thought my strength training and competing was a great idea. It meant maintaining a healthy enough weight and gaining muscle. The downfall here for me (this is not the case for every competitor) was the fat loss to get to a “stage lean” condition, again resulting in unbalanced hormones. I reverse dieted back to my “normal” physique after 4 shows though and maintained my training routine without a restrictive diet. At this point in time, I was still on the pill and any cycle I had was regulated by the synthetic hormones. My period was consistently light and honestly close to non-existent even being on the pill and I put this down to the years of self-sabotage, restrictions, malnourishment and excessive training.
Coming off the Pill
Fast forward to April 2019, I chose to come of the pill as I was hearing more and more conversation topics on the negative effects of the pill on our bodies and the struggles to regulate naturally once coming off it. So, I thought better to start the journey now to stop the pill as I was certain it would be a long one… I never had any signs of period after coming of the pill, but doctors would say that is normal and to just give it time. After about a year I had one GP check my hormones with a blood test. My hormone levels, supposedly, all came back normal, and they said to give it more time. It was obvious something was not normal and in hindsight I wish I sought a second at the time.
2 Years of Amenorrhea and a Routine GP check up
It took me another year and my pap smear check-up appointment at the start of May this year before I pursued the matter again. I went to a new GP for my pap smear and routinely she asked when my last cycle was… I told her 2 years and she instantly wrote me up a pathology script filled with a long list of tests to find out the cause of my amenorrhea. I took note what was being tested and it included my hormones, thyroid and cortisol levels (that was an interesting test) as well as an ultrasound to check my ovaries. My results: high testosterone, low thyroid and cysts on my ovaries. The diagnosis: PCOS. My ongoing acne was also a contributing factor to the diagnosis. The recommended treatment from my GP was to go straight back on the pill for 3 months to quick start a cycle*.
My Self-Guided Treatment Plan
There was honestly no way I was doing that. It didn’t make sense to me to put synthetic hormones back into my body, so I did A LOT of research and asked a lot of people for advice and natural ways to treat my amenorrhea, low thyroid and high testosterone. I was confident that I could find a more natural treatment or at least try. I told myself I’d give it a couple of months and if nothing changed, I would then seek professional help. From my research I came up with a self-guided treatment plan:
- Less stress (mentally and physically)
- Change diet: mainly pescatarian to increase iodine levels but overall, less protein, less sugar, less caffeine, more water and spearmint tea every night.
- Added supplements: myo-inositol, n-acetylcysteine, licorice root, vitamin D3 along with my usual vitamin C and zinc and magnesium.
- Gain weight if my body wants to.
As you can see the protocol is nothing extreme. I realised I needed to adjust my diet to lower my testosterone and increase my thyroid function. Consciously decrease stress, both mentally and emotionally by not overloading myself with work and cutting my caffeine levels as I know I become anxious with too much caffeine in my system (I was having 3-4 coffees a day on average). I now have 1 a day or just a decaf coffee. I also decreased the physical stress on my body by changing my training routine. I cut back from 5-6 training days to 3 and over the past 5 weeks I have built that back up to 5 days. I also set aside time for stretching and foam rolling 1-2 times a week. I wanted to give my body the best chance to focus on healing my amenorrhea rather then constantly focusing on healing my muscles.
I knew there was a high chance I would gain weight by cutting back my training and I was also aware that I was probably too lean. But weight gain has never been easy for me to accept so I had to be sure that I was mentally prepared for it in order not to reverse back into any eating disorder tendencies. I committed to weighing myself no more then once a week, just to keep track of my progress and on the days where my body image mindset was down, I would just wear loose clothes, avoid the scales and avoid mirrors (silly but for anyone who’s been through an eating disorder it is effective). To date, I think I have gained around 3kg.
As for the supplements I included I won’t go into full detail of why I choose each one, but most came from PCOS research for helping to rebalance everything to their normal levels. Here is the list and dosage I chose for myself:
- Myo-inositol 2000mg/day
- N-acetylcysteine 600mg/2 x day
- Licorice Root 1800mg/2 x day
- Vitamin D3 2000mg/2 x day
- Zinc 20mg/day and magnesium 300mg/day (combined supplement)
- Vitamin C 2000mg/1day
- Spearmint Tea 1-2/day
My Body’s Response in 25 days on the Plan
To be honest I’m still shocked with the results of following my self-guided plan. It started off with my skin clearing up a little bit and a lot of baby hairs coming through on my scalp. I’ve always had thick hair, but it had definitely thinned out over the years. About 3-4 weeks into the protocol, I started to get acne along my jaw line (known to be hormonal) and, as mentioned above, by this point I had gained about 2kgs but all of a sudden, I had a lot of water retention (which wasn’t normal for me) and it wasn’t going away! 1 week later I got my first natural period in 8 years… and cried with happiness! It lasted 4 days and was as normal as they always were for me originally, pre-pill.
Now that it’s been and gone for the first month, I’m still continuing on with my self-guided protocol in hopes that it arrives on time next month. Maintaining the supplements, dietary changes, prioritising recovery and sleep, slowly increasing exercise expenditure as I feel fit to.
Please note, that this was my personal journey. I am not recommending my treatment plan to anyone, I just knew the approach I wanted to take to heal my body and I want to share it as I found other people's stories helpful to me.
*I understand that it is beyond a GPs scope of practice to recommend anything other than the pill in my situation and that synthetic/artificial treatment is sometimes the best in some cases. However, if anyone’s in a situation like mine I would highly recommend questioning everything. Do your own research, get a second, third and even forth opinion on the matter.