Today, I want to share with you my personal story of how fitness made me infertile. Well, I should say, “fitness…” emphasis on the quotation marks.
It’s a story I’m not necessarily proud of, but at the same time, I am proud because it’s my journey and I’ve come a long way. It’s a very personal story, but if my experience can help just one soul out there, it’s worth the vulnerability of exposing this to the world.
So here goes nothing. Put your seatbelt on, because this one is quite the ride.
For the past ten years, I’ve been slowly killing myself.
Weapon of choice? Kale and running shoes. No, really. This is true. The ironic part? I thought I was the healthiest human in the world. I was toned, I had a six pack, I never skipped my 5-mile daily run, and I did crunches and push ups every night before I went to bed. I ate heaping piles of “lean protein” and vegetables and devoured berries, bananas and apples daily.
People told me I was skinny, and complimented me on my ripped arms and quick WOD times in crossfit. I could beat the guys at pull-up contests and I could hold a plank for 6 minutes straight. I was known as the fitness girl, and I was unstoppable.
Occasionally I would wonder if I was pushing myself too hard. That maybe when I had a sinus infection or a pulled muscle I should skip my morning workout routine, but I was addicted. I was addicted to the rush of pushing myself physically and mentally, and I liked how I looked. I was comfortable with the number on the scale and I secretly felt proud of myself when I turned down a piece of cake because that meant I was healthy.
My mind was sick.
And so was my body.
I hadn’t had a natural period since I was 14, but I’d been on birth control for years, so I figured everything was fine.
I began to have horrible digestion issues and was diagnosed with IBS and SIBO. Of course I didn’t correlate this with my low weight and malnourished body. Instead I restricted further, cutting out gluten, dairy, sugar, all processed foods, believing that these were the culprits behind my gut distress. Things only got worse.
When I went off birth control and didn’t have a period, I got my hormone levels tested. My blood work came back reflecting the levels of a post-menopausal woman. I was 22. I was advised to get a DEXA scan to test for weakened bones because of the lack of estrogen in my body. That’s when I learned that I had osteopenia. If I didn’t do something to improve my bone strength, I would have osteoporosis at the ripe old age of 30. I was devastated and scared. I’d heard that weight-bearing exercise helped strengthen bones, so I increased my exercise, jogging the track while carrying 20 pound plates. I truly believed I was helping myself to heal.
I was able to sustain my rigid lifestyle for those 9 or 10 years, but then, at 23 years old, my body hit a wall. I started to have chest pain, weird heart palpitations. I wasn’t sleeping well, my hair was thinning, I was anxious, stressed out and very unhappy.
And I wanted a baby.
But turns out you can’t make a baby when you’re infertile. “Fitness” had robbed me of my fertility. Instead of a baby I had six-pack abs, osteopenia and hypothyroidism.
I was broken.
After some Web MD-ing (I’ve gotten too familiar with that website) I diagnosed myself with hypothalamic amenorrhea (HA) and started researching. HA occurs when your hypothalamus (a region of your brain) senses that your body doesn’t have enough resources to keep living. This can come from overexercise, under-eating, mental stress, or a combination of the three. In order to help you survive, your hypothalamus shuts off your reproductive organs, slows down your thyroid and down-regulates your metabolism. That way your brain and heart have enough energy to keep you alive.
Our bodies are so smart.
In my research, I learned that in order to reverse HA, I needed to make my body trust me again. I needed to gain weight and stop exercising. I needed to let my body have what it had been craving for years…food and rest. And lots of it.
I’m a very determined person, so I told myself I could do this. I sat on my bum and ate ice cream for two months. I cut all exercise besides walking and yoga. I gained 10 lbs. It was hard.
But I started to feel good. I had energy. My heart palpitations started to disappear. I felt a freedom I hadn’t felt in years because I was no longer a slave to my morning workout routine. I no longer planned my day around my workouts. Instead, I did yoga if I wanted to and if I didn’t feel like it, I’d skip that day.
It was hard to watch my body change. Good-bye abs, hello cellulite. My clothes didn’t fit anymore, and I felt huge. But occasionally I would get a glimpse of my now slightly curvier body and think, “Hmm, this is how a woman is supposed to look.”
I almost gave up, multiple times. When it had been 6 months and still no period, I started to slip back into my old exercise routine, figuring it was too late for me to get my fertility back. I had ruined my body and now I had to pay the consequences for my decisions.
But just as I was giving up for good, I stumbled on a book called “No Period, Now What.” It was just the push of motivation I needed. With the incredible support of the online HA community and the knowledge and motivation the book offered, I decided to go “all-in” for a few more months and see what happened.
I took a deep breath, and settled in for the long haul. No exercise. Minimum of 2,500 calories a day.
Rinse and repeat.
After another month and another 10 lbs. of weight gain, my body finally got to its “happy weight…” the weight where it trusted me again. I got my first natural period I’d had in 10 years! I was thrilled. I’d worked SO hard to get to that point, and was finally rewarded…not just by the return of my fertility, but by a positive pregnancy test nine months later!
After getting that first cycle back, I decided to give my body some time to build some bone mass back up and continue to heal and rest. I slowly added exercise back into my routine, and continued to have natural cycles for eight months, while maintaining my recovery weight. We got pregnant the first month we tried…I think God decided I’d waited long enough.
I’m now 21 weeks pregnant with a little baby boy. 🙂
Looking back, sometimes I feel angry at myself for putting my body and mind through what I did for all those years. But then I remember it was all done in innocence. I never meant to harm my body. I’d just compared myself to my “skinny” friends and saw photos of “fit” people on Instagram and told myself I wanted that. I truly believed I was living a healthy lifestyle.
Oh how wrong I was.
True “health” and beauty are so much more than having 6-pack abs and wearing size 2 jeans. Whoever decided that was beautiful anyway? Just because society has put a stamp of approval on restrictive diets and skinny girls taking gym-bathroom mirror selfies doesn’t mean that’s something we should strive for. I did strive for that and guess where it landed me? In the doctor’s office with weak bones, infertility and a disordered mindset of what’s healthy and beautiful.
I’m the heaviest I’ve ever been in my life. I kissed my six-pack abs goodbye months ago and I threw out my entire wardrobe.
But I am happier than I’ve ever been in my life, because now I am free. I no longer base my worth on how many calories I did or didn’t eat, how many miles I did or didn’t run or how my skinny jeans do or don’t fit. Now I value myself because I am a daughter of God, a wife to an incredible husband and a momma-to-be. I value and respect my strong body that is so, so forgiving and resilient. And I’m dang grateful for the extra fat on my body because it means I am healthy, happy and full of life. Literally… this baby is fillin’ out my tummy more and more every day 😉 .
Over this past year or so, my mindset around health and fitness has changed completely. I’m very active again and plan to continue living an active lifestyle for the rest of my life, because movement brings me so much joy. But now I have a much more balanced idea of what “fitness” looks like. It doesn’t control me like it used to. Now I see fitness as a luxury that I get to enjoy when my body is rested and properly fueled. Everything has changed for me. And for those girls out there who are struggling with a toxic mindset of what “fit” and “healthy” is, I pray things can change for you too.
I hope you can stop comparing yourself to photoshopped models and Instagram fitness accounts. UNFOLLOW THEM. Get them out of your phone, out of your head, out of your life. We need to stop forcing our bodies to conform to our idea of what beauty looks like. Instead, honor what your body wants. If it needs a big green salad, eat the salad. If it needs a bowl of ice cream, eat the ice cream and don’t look back. If it needs a day, a month, a year away from the gym, honor that.
Throw your scale away and eat food. Lots of it. And please, by all means, don’t go down the road I did. I learned the hard way so you don’t have to. You are more than the size of your body! You are YOU, so love that, flaunt that and live the life God intends you to live, which I can promise you, is not one full of celery and treadmills.
These mindset changes take a lot of time and a lot of work. But if I can do it, you can too! Regardless of where you are in your health and fitness journey, if you’re struggling with your body image, I wrote an e-book titled, “From the Ground Up” (see below) that dives into the strategies I used to heal my negative mindset around food and my body. I truly hope that it can help you find the freedom and peace that I found. 🙂