PCOS & FHA: 1 Year Update
*Disclaimer: I'm not a doctor. What has worked for me won't necessarily work for you and you should always, ALWAYS take the advice and recommendations of your medical professional.*
Well, it's been just about a year since I was diagnosed with PCOS and FHA (functional hypothalamic amenorrhea). You can read much, much more detail about my initial diagnostic progress, actions taken, and my progress thus far in these two posts:
I've hesitated on writing a new update because, well...things are pretty great! At my last endocrinologist appointment all of my bloodwork was normal (including my testosterone), my periods have been mostly regular, and everything has felt surprisingly normal.
Since July, there have been a few tweaks made to my training and my nutrition that have been a sort of litmus test to see how things have come along. The past year has been one giant experiment: how would my body react? would my hormone levels stay normal? what works for me? what doesn't work for me? My coaches, Anthony and Annie at Complete Human Performance, have been absolutely incredible with helping me through this entire process and providing amazing guidance. It truly has been a big collaborative process and I can't thank them enough for helping me through this tough year. With that being said, let's play catch up.
Training has involved a lot of playing with different types and styles of programming, working around some nagging things that are really a result of old injuries, my hypermobility, and the fun stuff that comes along with having autoimmunity issues. I've spent the majority of the year training submaximally and building up a lot of volume. A LOT. OF. VOLUME. Particularly for things like my squats (sets of 20, anyone?) I've also spent a lot of time working various sticking points in all of my lifts and just steadily building over time. I haven't really competed since my meet in March, minus a literally last minute decision to help fill a weight class at a strongman show which I treated as a training day.
I have most of my competition plans for 2018 laid out and am currently starting a 3 month powerlifting meet prep and starting to push the intensity of training. A large component of being able to do this is learning how to work around my cycle. Since my period has started coming back with regularity, it has decided that I now have a 17-21 day cycle (why, tho?!) so I really only get about one to one and half weeks of normal non PMS/non cycle hormonal levels. The biggest implication of this with my training is that I get very extreme joint laxity before and on my cycle, which means I have to be extremely mindful of positioning, technique, and various other factors when I'm training. I don't tend to experience any extreme variations in strength or abilities around my cycle, but I do monitor it closely to make sure I train accordingly.
This has been the area that has experienced the greatest change over the past year. Last year, I dieted very hard and made some really great progress physique-wise and then once my body had enough, it really had enough. As I have alluded to in previous posts, I put on a decent bit of weight (around 15lbs or so), which is a bit more than I typically try to put on in an off-season. It has been incredibly difficult, both mentally and physically, to watch this unfold but it has also been incredibly rewarding.
The most beneficial thing I have done for my body, my sanity, and managing these issues has been: not losing weight. Seriously. I spent almost the entire year not dieting and in fact, spent most of the year bringing my calories way up and keeping them there. If you're dealing with FHA, the one piece of advice I would give is: STOP DIETING. Stop. Stahp. Stop it. There are exceptions to this, of course (and your doctor knows better than I do), but bringing food up and maintaining it there has worked absolute wonders for me and several other women I know.
After implementing the carb cycling I discussed in part 2, my period returned to normal, as did my hormones, and my physique began to normalize out a bit after a few months. I still carb cycle between my rest days and training days but I've gradually added in a little more carbs on rest days and that seems to be working quite well.
I've been able to begin actually dieting for my season next year with a very slow and steady approach and I'm eating about 600 calories more than I did when I was dieting last year. My coach has only lowered my calories once or twice throughout the past 2 months and I'm continuing to see progress. I'm steadily losing weight in a way that doesn't feel brutally hard, isn't impacting my cycle, and isn't impacting my performance. Honestly, it's been...easy. THAT is what spending a year of not dieting and really trusting the process will do. It wasn't easy, especially mentally, but it was absolutely worth it.
Stress management still continues to be the most difficult thing for me to implement. It's easy for me to get overwhelmed, spread myself too thin, and get caught up in all of the things I am doing. The difference now is that I am more aware of when this is starting to occur and I do my best to mitigate it. I've made some really big decisions to help with this and while they are scary, they're more than necessary. I've also really thrown myself into things aside from just training and competing. This year has been an incredibly year of growth and quite honestly, I don't think it would have gone that way if I hadn't had really great people in my corner to support me directing my efforts to other things. Managing my expectations regarding my body and training continues to be a huge component of making this entire process manageable.
And that's where I am at! I have another follow up in January to make sure my hormone levels stay normal while I'm dieting and training hard. I'll continue to make updates as things change as well.
Onward and upwards. Always.