Having an eating disorder can, unfortunately, often mean that many girls and women lose their period. Their reproductive hormones stop working properly since the body is not getting an adequate amount of energy and nutrition. This can mean you lose your ability to have a baby, but also that your body will suffer from serious health issues.
Some of the main causes of losing your period can be:
- calorie restriction
- overeating, binge eating
- purging, overexercising
- being underweight, low weight
- low body fat
- deficiency of vitamins or minerals and macronutrients such as fats
- too much stress (dieting and overexercising also includes as stress)
- fast weight loss, unhealthy weight loss
- hormonal imbalance (dieting is a recipe for hormonal imbalance)
- having an eating disorder
If the body is constantly running on a deficit and is under stress (restriction, dieting and overexercising are very stressful to our body!), then it will stop producing enough reproductive hormones and, instead, will focus on keeping you alive. It figures that the environment is not safe for pregnancy. Your body is not strong or healthy enough to carry a child.
Many girls who have lost their period may think that having no period is preferable and life is much easier because they don’t have to worry about cramps, bleeding, or PMS. Many who have written to me don’t see the big deal about losing their period, and some don’t care if they have it or not.
Low bone density
However, losing your period is a clear sign that something is very wrong and your health is in decline. Not having menstruation means you can’t get pregnant, but it also means that if not treated ASAP, you can develop osteopenia, and if that progresses, you will have osteoporosis. Osteopenia and osteoporosis both mean low bone density. The first one is curable, but if it develops into osteoporosis, then it’s not.
Osteoporosis is a disease which breaks your bones down over time. As your bones lose mass, they become very thin and brittle and are easily broken or fractured. Something as simple as sneezing can result in a broken rib, and a little stumble may lead to a fractured spine. In a nutshell – you become fragile as glass. While any bone in your body can be affected, the most common areas for fracture in people with osteoporosis include the hips, spine, wrist, and ribs.
Now, before you panic, it’s always best to first go to see your doctor for professional advice and get a bone density scan. The best is the DEXA scan.
Female Athlete Triad
Another big risk factor for losing your period is exercising too much while having an eating disorder. This is known as Female Athlete Triad. It is a combination of three conditions: disordered eating, amenorrhea (loss of menstruation) and osteoporosis (low bone density).
A female athlete can have one, two, or all three parts of the triad. People with disordered eating are trying to use exercise as a way to compensate for calories and control their weight. But when you don’t eat an adequate amount of calories to make up for the exercise, it leads to a decrease in the hormones that keep your reproductive organs healthy and regulate your menstruation cycle. As a result, your period becomes weak or irregular, or you lose it altogether.
Then, as a result of poor nutrition and energy-burning through excessive exercise, there is a decrease in estrogen and the nutrients in your body that are essential for good bone health – and your bones start to deteriorate. When the illness is in the beginning stage (osteopenia), it can be curable, and you can reverse the damage if you start recovering as soon as possible. But if you wait too long, it can progress to a much more serious illness (osteoporosis), and at that stage, it becomes incurable.
Even when you increase your calories to compensate for the calories lost in exercise, your menstruation and bones cannot recover if you continue to exercise. You have to completely refrain from any exercise and continue to eat enough calories to recover your menstruation and bone health.
Low weight and restoring a healthy weight
Sometimes, for a person with an eating disorder losing their period can really be a major turning point and a red flag that something is really wrong. And they finally realize that what they are doing is not healthy. But, it does not mean that when you do have your period then there is no major damage happening to your body or it is okay what you are doing. Still having your period does not mean automatically that you are “fine”.
There have been some rare cases when women lose weight until underweight (below BMI 18,5) and still have their period. So from outside they may think nothing is wrong or at least it is not so bad, right? But still having your period does not mean you are healthy at this low weight. Your body is still suffering and your hormones are not working properly and you likely experience many other starvation symptoms. Also, a woman’s body needs an adequate amount of fat on her body to be hormonally healthy. Fat is a hormone-producing organ, you need fat to be healthy.
Being on the birth control pill can also be a reason you may still have your period. This, however, does not mean everything is ok. Or when you have lost your period and you decide to take a pill to get your period back it does not mean your hormones are actually working. It is a fake period. That is why just taking a birth control pill without proper recovery and weight gain won’t make you healthy or produce an actual normal period.
Also, when you finally get your period back after eating disorder, it does not mean you are completely finished with recovery, or when you hit the healthy BMI range starting with 18.5 + you are automatically weight restored. Being truly weight restored and getting hormonally healthy can mean different things for different people. Only your body decides!
How to Get Your Period Back
- Eat enough calories, and eat them regularly. Make sure you eat the MinnieMaud calorie guideline amounts plus pay attention to any additional hunger or extreme hunger. And do not skip meals. Eat frequently, every two to three hours.
- Eat enough carbs and enough fats and concentrated sources of calories. Do not get your calories only from watery fruits and veggies, but eat more calorie-packed foods such as bread, pastry, pasta, rice, potatoes, cookies, chocolate, oils, nut butter, nuts, and seeds, avocado, coconut milk, etc.
- Skip all calorie compensation! No purging, dieting, fasting or exercise. Rest as much as possible, and sleep as much as possible. Only light walking or everyday tasks are okay. Walk to the fridge to get more food and then back to the couch – you get the point.
- Lower your stress. The biggest stressors in an eating disorder are, of course, not eating enough calories, restricting, overexercising, purging, etc., so if you avoid those things in recovery, it’s a good step forward. But also, limit any other stress as much as you can – school or work stress, stressors within relationships, and so on. If you have a lot of stress in your everyday life, then maybe find some things that will help you relax or de-stress such as meditation, listening to soothing music, taking a hot bubble bath, reading a novel, or anything else you can think of. This is not the right time to start running an hour a day to “relieve stress.” Remember point 3!
- Give it time. Do all the above things, continue doing it, and just give it time. Some women may get their period back in the first weeks and some in a few months – it really depends. The information here is quite general, and every case is different. When you get at least three consecutive periods (the more, the better, of course), you’ll know that things are working properly again.
Next is a short interview with a girl who got her period back after 7 years not having it!
Recovered after 7 years of amenorrhea (no period)
“My story is probably a little bit different from other women because it didn’t start with a simple diet. After a liver disease, I lost a lot of weight and also experienced some changes in my personal and professional life that lead me to a depression. I never recovered the lost weight and besides the depression, I started to have an abnormal behavior with food (orthorexia).
When you’re undernourished your physical body and also your mind can become very sick. And if you don’t try to do something about it, it can become a cycle and it’s very difficult to get out of it.
I felt tired and sad and without hope in myself. I was living like this for years and now I look back and ask “How is this possible and why did I live like this for so long? Why?” I just didn’t have the strength to get out of that cycle that was continually pulling me down. I wasn’t able to see what others were seeing.
Only after a big and scary episode I realized that if I didn’t do something about it I could have a tragic end because my body was so weak.
I decided to do my own research. However, this doesn’t mean that I advise other people to do it alone especially if they’re severely underweight!
But the truth is that I was able to conquer my freedom again with the help of some brave women like Elisa Oras that inspired me to keep on fighting! You really have to want it! You have to make an effort! Nobody can help you if you don’t want to live free again and regain your health. Yes, it can be hard but it’s worth it!
For me, the biggest struggle was the physical symptoms that came with recovery. All the pain and the bloating. I was so-so tired all the time – even more after eating! I thought it’s supposed to feel good!
That was definitely the biggest challenge but reminding myself that it was temporary made me keep on going.
And whenever I had my doubts I just listened to Elisa’s words: “It’s ok. Everything is going to be ok. It takes time but it will happen”.
I also recovered from a 7-year amenorrhea and I still have some digestion issues but I think I’m getting better every day.
What do you have to do to recover? What I did? I would say #1 is to EAT with no restrictions and #2 just relax and try to live your life fully as possible with your love ones. Those are the major aspects that you’ll have to keep in mind.
We can’t be too hard on ourselves and we must realize that there are no perfect people with a perfect health and living in a perfect world.
It is ok being “just” NORMAL :)” – Ana
I hope this little story and testimonial inspired you for your recovery. As you can see your body is able to recover its hormonal health and restore itself if given the right conditions. You have to stop listening to the eating disorder fears and instead fight back by giving your body what it desperately needs – enough food, rest and a big gulp of LOVE.
Image from HERE.