We’ve been told that regular exercise and healthy eating is the "right" way to live life, but I found out the hard way that those two things were actually preventing me from getting pregnant as a working fitness professional.
It was about two years ago when my hubs and I decided we were ready to start a family. At the time, I was as a group fitness instructor and personal trainer living in San Francisco, doing multiple workouts a day and walking more than five miles to get all over the city. I was also eating pretty darn clean (think salads, oatmeal, and smoothies) and riding the meal-prep train as well. However, when I stopped taking my hormonal birth control pills and prepared myself to conceive, my period didn't return.
Over the course of a year, I went to countless doctors and specialists and finally got the diagnosis of hypothalamic amenorrhea—a condition where the brain tells the body to stop having a period because the environment isn’t right to reproduce. This can be caused by too much exercise, too much stress, or too little food, and mine was most definitely based on overexercising. My low body fat—a side effect of staying in shape for my job—didn't help.
Here’s how I got my period back and ultimately got pregnant naturally (Spoiler alert: my first baby boy is due in October!)
1. I upped the fat—both body and dietary.
Even though I ate clean, a lot of times, my meals were missing healthy fats. I added at least one full avocado a day to my diet, whole eggs (give me all the yolks), veggies coated in coconut oil, nut butter, salmon, and the occasional grass-fed organic steak. I also upped my food intake by eating a few more healthy snacks and supporting an overall weight gain. I increased my body fat by at least a few percentage points in the process—but I did it with healthy food.
2. I cut back on high-intensity sweat sessions.
I knew I didn’t want to stop working out, especially because fitness is my job and passion, so I just gradually reduced my high-intensity workouts—in the end, I had cut down by half. I did all the barre, yoga, walking, and light weight-lifting that I wanted (no more than one workout a day anymore, of course), but I only did HIIT or tough one-hour circuit classes (like Orangetheory Fitness, where I was a coach at the time, or Les Mills BODYPUMP) no more than twice a week. I also took one or two full rest days a week.
3. I got acupuncture (even though I was skeptical).
I was totally skeptical of acupuncture, but finally made an appointment a few months into my struggles and never looked back. At first, I went weekly, then dropped back to bi-weekly sessions. My acupuncturist addressed my stress (both physical and mental) with special points to promote healing of my liver system and reproductive hormones. She also prescribed a dose of supplements to help me, including specialized herbs and over-the-counter chaste tree berry vitex and royal jelly. I still go to acupuncture and love the way it makes me feel!
4. I improved my shut-eye.
We all know that sleep is perhaps one of the most important components to healthy living, and it’s even more important when you have a hormone imbalance keeping your body from having a period, like I did. Using tips from Shawn Stevenson, creator of The Model Health podcast and a friend of mine, I began creating a better sleep environment by keeping my room colder, wearing a slumber mask, and powering down electronics at least 30 minutes before bed. Sleep is my savior and helped my body heal from the inside out.
Over the course of the year, my period came back. And while continuing with these lifestyle changes, during the next year, I conceived, having prepared my body properly for one of its biggest fitness events of my life—carrying and birthing a child.
I feel compelled to tell this story because when I looked for advice online about how to get my period back, most of the sources said to give up workouts except for walking, and gain a lot of weight by eating everything in sight. I knew I didn’t want to go that route, so I paved my own healthier path, and it ended up being successful. I kept working as a group fitness instructor and was able to get pregnant totally naturally after initially being told by a doctor that I couldn’t.
If you want to know more about my fertility journey, I've written extensively about it. No matter what you do, make sure you monitor your cycle to know that it’s coming regularly on its own accord and not just induced by hormonal birth control.