It’s not uncommon for those with anorexia to experience amenorrhea, or loss of your menstrual cycle. This can last from weeks, to months, to even years. Whatever the time span may be, the loss of our period can cause a whole range of emotions and thoughts. The eating disorder may actually gain a sense of pride when this happens. Let’s face it: our menstrual cycle is sustained when we are healthy and our body is functioning properly. Loss of our period must mean that we are doing a “good job” at “being anorexic.”
On the other end, the healthy side of us that exists is scared as hell! Loss of our period means that something is going on internally that is keeping our body from producing the hormones it needs. In either case, the reality is that as a result of not giving our bodies enough fuel and nourishment, our reproductive hormones are thrown out of whack. The consequences? Higher risk of infertility and lasting health issues.
First off, WHY?
Great question. Why do those with anorexia typically experience amenorrhea? To name a few: calorie restriction, purging, a low level of body fat, unhealthy weight loss or fast weight loss (or both), hormonal imbalance (often caused from restriction or yo-yo dieting), and overexercising can all contribute to the development and maintenance of amenorrhea.
Loss of my period doesn’t sound SO bad…
I rather continue buying new tampons every month and dealing with not-so-cute “period underwear” than be faced with the consequences of amenorrhea. There are serious health risks involved with amenorrhea. Like I just mentioned, the risk for infertility increases significantly. To put it simply, if the body is continuously on a nutrient and caloric deficit, your body will focus on merely keeping you alive versus producing reproductive hormones. This is your body’s way of saying: “this body is not healthy enough to carry a child.” Another risk involved with amenorrhea is the risk for developing osteopenia, or low bone density. While osteopenia is curable, it’s still not something to take lightly; especially because if it goes untreated, it can develop into osteoporosis (which, in contrast, is untreatable).
What can I do?
Great question #2. The most important thing you can do to help gain your period back is to develop a plan of consistency. This means eating regularly throughout the day, and eating ENOUGH. Eat a range of foods that supply different health benefits; sticking to only low-fat products won’t do the trick here.
- Iron: women who do not get enough iron actually experience poor ovulation (or a lack of)
- Vitamin C and vitamin B: both improve proper hormonal balance
- Essential fatty acids: get those omega-3’s in your diet!
- Fiber: works to remove excess hormones from your body and to regulate the blood sugar levels that impact fertility
- Zinc: the body uses this mineral to keep hormone levels stable throughout your period
While I know that anorexia itself can be extremely stressful, try to lower your stress levels in different areas of your life. Stress plays a huge role in hormone production, so it’s encouraged to keep stress levels to a minimum. Rest as much as possible; exercise at this point in recovery does more harm than good when it comes to getting your period back.
When you do regain your period, this does not automatically mean that there is no more work to be done in your recovery! Your period is an external sign that your body is producing reproductive hormones; however, other important internal functions are not visible. Your body still needs a great deal of repairing. Gaining your period back is something to celebrate and feel proud that you are making steps in the right direction. At the same time, it should also serve as a motivating factor to continue progressing and to continue giving your body the nourishment it needs.