Disclaimer: I’m not a doctor, dietitian, or medical professional. I’m simply sharing my experience with PCOS and FHA and the strategies that have and have not worked for me. Always consult with your health care professional and remember that what works for me may not work for you.
It’s been a minute since I’ve written or talked about my PCOS and FHA. In case you missed it or want to catch up, I was diagnosed with PCOS and functional hypothalamic amenorrhea in the winter for 2016 and have since been on a journey to find ways to keep my body happy. You can read more about that here:
Since my last update, quite a lot has happened. I started dieting and it was going quite well – I was making decent body composition changes, my lifting was going well, and the scale was even moving down. At my last endocrinologist appointment in late December/early January, my testosterone levels were a smidge elevated but nothing that was extremely out of the ordinary for what was going on in my life at the time. For me, my testosterone levels will get elevated during times of high stress, low sleep, and when I’m doing training that is focused on higher intensity (i.e. heavier lifting) rather than high volume. I had not been experiencing any negative symptoms that tend to occur when my levels are high, so I took note to chill out a bit more and went on about my life.
Stress and Regression
Stress is my number one “trigger” for my hormones getting out of whack. Stress comes in many forms ranging from stress because of positive things, stress from acute traumatic incidents, and daily life stressors. I like to think of the stress response as a light switch on a dimmer. When we incur stress like the physical stress of training, daily life stressors, and a fight with a friend or significant other, our dimmer switch gets turned up and our room is brightly lit. We recover, eat well, hydrate, calm the fuck down, and then the dimmer switch gets turned down. Sometimes though, there are stressors that turn that switch all the way up and keep it up. Things like traumatic events, large life changes, and jarring incidents would certainly qualify here.
In January, my switch got turned ALL the way up. My brother had a very extreme health episode and was in the hospital on life support for several days. (Sidenote: thank you to everyone who reached out with kind words – it meant A LOT to me and my family <3 ) He is physically fine now but sustained an anoxic (lack of oxygen) brain injury and suffice it say, life has not and will not be the same. His recovery has been nothing short of incredible and his prognosis is the best that it could possibly be. The body is freaking incredible and my levels of gratitude for his health, my family, and life in general are astronomically high, but the trauma of that event left a serious mark on my body. Add to that the ever present stress of trying to build and run a business by myself, general life shit, and a very busy schedule…and well, my stress levels were lit the fuck up.
I continued on with my life, adjusting to this new normal, and tried to give myself some compassion. Training changed to accommodate a hectic schedule and stress levels, however, I was already committed to a powerlifting meet in early February. I decided against pulling out of the meet because I just wanted to do something that was normal. Things continued to go well in training and I was so ready to have a great meet.
When I went to go weigh in…I was told that I was FIVE pounds over. I had cut weight (mind you, not extremely hard) and according to my apparently very defunct home scale, I was at weight the night before. Not being at weight isn’t a big deal for powerlifting and quite honestly, I didn’t care all that much – I knew I wasn’t going to sweat out 5lbs in the next few hours and I just lifted in the higher weight class. But, it DID throw me off my game enough to shake my confidence somewhat. And more than that, it was a big glaring sign that things were not quite right on the hormone front.
I felt defeated – my competition plan for the year had already fallen apart but I promptly made a new plan because that is the human that I am. I felt very out of control of my body and was honestly pissed off. I DID THE THINGS DAMMIT. I did my time! I’m ready, SO ready, to just push forward and do what I want to do. I just felt like someone had pulled the reigns back, just as I was prepared to sprint ahead. My meet went sort of okay but it was abundantly clear that my body was not happy. My anxiety was outrageous, my recovery was shit, my weight was one big guessing game, and I felt off. That light switch had been pushed to the brink and in that glaring light, I was forced to see what was in front of me. Hormonally, things were not okay.
So what now?
Now, I’m in a space that feels familiar yet very different – clearly, my hormones are a little whacky and my body has detected that things are not quite normal. I’ve been here. I’ve done this. I know HOW to do this. But also, I don’t. The stressors aren’t the same, the process isn’t the same, and my body isn’t the same. This narrative is certainly one that is not unique to anyone who has experienced PCOS or hypothalamic amenorrhea. So, what is game plan now? Quite honestly, it isn’t much different than what I have done in the past.
The biggest factor, for me, is stress management and reduction. This includes several things:
- more food and lots of it
- trying new recovery methods
- blocking out time in my schedule to not work/check email/train/etc.
- saying no a whole lot more often
- more quality sleep
Training & Nutrition
As far as diet and training go, I was starting to prep for an April strongman show however, given my current weight situation, I decided to withdraw and hold off to aim for a summer show. Switching gears into strongman training means that my volume is quite high and intensity is relatively low. For me, that tends to push my testosterone levels back into the normal range and serves as a good mental relief for me. Training is one of the few times when I am doing something that is solely focused on myself and I can have some time to not interact with a ton of people all the time. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely LOVE what I do, but I do need specific times to not be talking, educating, coaching, etc.
On the diet front, after a couple weeks of dieting and being stalled out, my coach upped my calories substantially to help bring stress down and get hormones in a better place. I need to lose a decent amount of weight to make the LW class for my strongman show and honestly, it was not a fun decision to decide to pull out of the April show BUT, there are other shows and that is totally okay. Now it is time to focus on eating more, recovering, and turning that dimmer switch back down. Is it frustrating? Yup. But, I know that it is worth it. I also know that I’ve learned when I’m starting to dig a hole that is too deep and can catch it early, so hopefully, it doesn’t take quite as long to climb out of.
And that’s the current update! I’m also reading a TON about hypothalamic amenorrhea and female hormonal issues to compile a list of resources that would be helpful. If you have any suggestions, please leave them below!