Athletics & Amenorrhea: My Experience

Having a period should be a normal part of every woman’s life. Unless you are one of the few with a rare condition that explains your lack of periods, amenorrhea (a lack of periods) should never be ignored. Unfortunately, amenorrhea seems to have been normalised in the sporting world. For this reason, it is often neglected and eventually leads to more serious health complications. In this post, I’m going to talk about my own experience with amenorrhea and how I came to terms with it and needing to get my periods back.

one of my biggest supporters 🙂

Disclaimer: I speak from personal experience only with no qualifications. Amenorrhea is a serious problem which should be addressed with a medical professional. If you are suffering from amenorrhea, please consult a Doctor as soon as possible.

A bit of context

You might have seen on my Instagram yesterday that, until then, I hadn’t had a period for 850 days. That’s almost 2.5 years. You’re probably wondering why it took me so long to get them back – which is totally fair. It’s a hell of a long time to just brush the issue under the carpet and pretend it isn’t there. With my eating disorder history, my periods – which had started briefly before my ED – never regulated themselves properly. Then, a while after I recovered, I got them back for a few months and gained a somewhat-regular cycle. However, somewhere along the way my nutrition & training balance collapsed and I lost them again. Cue: amenorrhea.

Me & Pip (another fabby friend)
Why I didn’t sort it earlier

At first, I think I just assumed they would come back the next month. I was still new to the whole concept of cycle regularity, so didn’t think much of it. Soon, two months turned into two years and I still hadn’t done much about it. I’d been to various GPs, but the response was always the same: stop running and you’ll get them back. Obviously, I didn’t want to stop running. It was like asking me to cut off an arm. An essential part of me that I wasn’t going to give up. Plus, I knew of countless female athletes without periods, and got caught up with that mentality that amenorrhea was just a sign I was training hard, like everyone else. How wrong I was!

preemptive celebratory porridge
Amenorrhea in the (sporting) world

Generally speaking, periods are still a taboo topic. Society asks half the population to basically hide the fact of their existence. We step around the topic by referring to “that time of the month”. Boys and men mock girls for being “emotional” and “bitchy”, typically blaming it on their menstruation. Some women get cramps, dizziness, migraines and other pains. No wonder it has a stigma attached to it!

strong & amazing friend part 3 (& basic huji filter😫)

More specifically in the sporting world, amenorrhea has become normalised. Periods aren’t spoken about enough. The fact that their absence means low levels of oestrogen, putting female athletes at risk of low bone density (osteopenia) and making stress fractures – amongst other injuries – far more likely. Instead, we rely on the false idea that lighter = faster, so amenorrhea is just collateral damage of being fast. Young girls are raised in this environment, hitting age 18 without ever having a period and not even batting an eyelash. This needs to stop.

Period principles

I repeat: I am no qualified professional. However, I have read up on this to try and educate myself a bit, and in layman’s terms, this is what I have understood. A period occurs when the lining of the womb breaks down after an egg is not fertilised. In order for this to occur, your body has to be strong and healthy enough to raise another being. If you are underweight, underfuelling and overtraining (all, two or any of the three), your body is being put under enormous amounts of stress. It simply could not support a baby. Now, obviously lots of young athletes aren’t looking to have children – but the principle is the same. If your body is low on energy and high on stressors, it is not happy or healthy and you will not have your period. For a long time, this was me. I’m hoping it won’t be me again.

surrounding myself with inspiring women 😘
Eating more, training wiser

These are my two not-so-secret weapons that allowed me to get my period back. I worked with Jess Piasecki (from Run Science) to address this properly. She has been indispensable in helping me overcome my amenorrhea, and I 1000% recommend working with her or someone else if you are struggling. As I mentioned in last week’s post, I now snack three times a day. These form part of my training tools; just as I would go out and give a tempo session my best effort, I am snacking in the same way. Of course I’m not perfect, and sometimes will forget/ find myself slipping into a restrictive mindset, but this is occurring less and less.

big nourishing bowls powering me through work and training

Similarly, my training has changed (for the better!). Although, admittedly, I am not currently running due to a hip niggle, I am still training hard. Swimming, aqua-jogging, biking and gyming. These are all stressors on the body, but the difference is I am now a) fuelling myself properly, therefore am able to cope with them, and b) being more efficient with my training. This includes not spending 2 hours in the gym, but reducing strength sessions to short but sharp 45 minutes in length. Other than that, my training has stayed pretty similar, as I wasn’t overtraining to the same extent to which I was underfuelling myself.

How am I feeling now?

Honestly? Amazing. Mentally and physically, I feel strong and ready to tackle anything. Whether that be training or thought-related, I am equipped to take it on. Maybe it’s placebo, maybe it’s genuinely physiological, but I am feeling strong in the pool and on the bike. All I know is that getting my period back yesterday was such a relief and sense of achievement. It had been my goal since January, and four months later here I am. So you CAN do it. Yes you, reading this and probably not believing me.

my friends are too cute

Remember, though, no matter how many stories you read about overcoming amenorrhea, only you can actually overcome it for yourself. You have to put the effort in. You have to be prepared to restore your weight and face negative thoughts. No one else can do it for you, no one said it will be easy – but it is SO worth it. I know this probably seems preemptive, since I literally started yesterday. But in writing this, I’m also holding myself accountable. Now it’s out there, I know I’m going to have to keep working hard to maintain them and also not fall back into any old habits. This time, I think I’m strong enough to not run away from them (literally). And you are too.

I was quite nervous to write this post at first, but I feel so much better for it. I think I’d been bottling this all up for so long, not feeling like I could take about periods because I myself didn’t have them. So here it finally is, and I hope you found it insightful, even if only a tiny bit. My DMs are always open 💖

Emma ♥♥