Reflecting on My Exercise…Again

Deep breath. This post is important.

I’ll start by saying this: I genuinely enjoy exercise. I have learned this past semester especially (through my anatomy course and just through lack of time to work out) that I truly love exercising because it is a blessing to be able to move, sweat, produce endorphins, and do something good for my body. I no longer see it (primarily) as a way to burn calories or “look good.”

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While my relationship with exercise has improved during my freshman year of college though, one thing has not. My period. (Sorry, TMI for the fellas.) This is straight-face talk, and it’s very similar to my talk on this blog about a year and a half ago. I haven’t had my cycle in nine months, and I’m sure that my amenorrhea (absence of menstruation for an unusually long period of time) is due to a combination of school stress and— unfortunately—exercise stress. My history with an eating disorder very likely contributes as well.

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Another big reason why I think exercise is causing my amenorrhea is because I got my cycle last summer after only walking and doing yoga and eating more for a couple months. However, I have a hunch that I jumped back into intense exercise way too quickly, and although I had this hunch all year during school, I was in denial.

Finally, after reading Emily’s post about amenorrhea and Julia’s post about how she gave up exercise, I realized that I’m definitely putting too much stress on my body. Those two ladies are incredible— humble, honest, and inspiring. Ashley, Sam, and Courtney also have experience with hypothalamic amenorrhea, and they have been amazing resources.

(If you’re wondering why I don’t just check with my doctors, it’s because I did that last year for this same reason. All of them say my bone density is fine, my thyroid is fine, my weight is fine. They say exercise is fine, but I know in the depths of my being that my current exercise regime is not fine. See this article for more information.)

Even though I view exercise in a healthy way currently, I’m eating plenty, and I feel 100% healthy, I’m not actually quite where I need to be. Honesty is the best policy here on Moves and Grooves, and honestly, there has been pride involved in all of this too. All my friends see me as a healthy and active person, so if I stop exercising intensely, I feel as though I will lose this “image” that they all have of me.

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But I must remember that ultimately, fitness is not about lifting myself up— it’s about taking care of my body in order to lift up glory to God. Fitness is not what makes a person beautiful, and I firmly believe that. I have to believe that about myself too.

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So what am I going to do?

  1. Eat more. Like, EEEEEAAAAAATTTTT.
  2. Decrease exercise and intensity. Only walking, yoga, low impact bodyweight strengthening (barre/pilates). No burpees.
  3. Gain weight (fat, not just muscle).
  4. Pray.

Yes, I’m bummed. Yes, I question whether this is even worth it. What woman wants a period anyway? But alas, it’s important, and I don’t want my lack of menstruation to have future repercussions on my health/fertility. I am beyond thankful that I still have the sheer ability to move.

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For a while, I was disappointed that I would lose my fitness progress that I had worked so hard for in the past couple years. I’ll be losing some stamina, endurance, and strength. However, I realized that I have come to love the journey of reaching fitness goals, not just the result. I have learned to appreciate and celebrate progress. So wherever my body is when I start increasing my exercise again, I will hopefully be less frustrated with my slow start.

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Thank YOU for your support, encouragement, inspiration, and prayers. If you ever need a friend to talk to about this issue, email me at dailymovesandgrooves@gmail.com.

Hope you all have an awesome day!

So tell me: Whatever you’d like. 🙂

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Evaluating My Workouts: Doing What’s Best For Me Right Now

This is a very lengthy, personal post, so brace yourselves (and perhaps grab a seat and a cup o’ tea).

In this past year, I’ve come to love fitness and just moving more and more as I’ve read awesome fitness blogs and met fitness goals that I never thought I could achieve. I’ve never been considered athletic. Yes, I dance, which definitely requires athleticism, but I had never really dabbled with sports or other forms of fitness until last year. I discovered things like tabatas, strength training, and circuit training. I started going from 15-minute elliptical workouts to 15-minute elliptical warm-ups. I added more weight training into my routine and discovered other equipment such as kettlebells and BOSU balls, and most importantly how to use them. Of course I started slow with a lot of my workouts, and I had to modify workouts to fit my level. As I persisted though, I became stronger and my stamina increased (something I had lost after quitting figure skating).

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You might be thinking, “Well, duh.” Yes, I understand that these things happen when you dedicate yourself to exercise, but to me, each improvement was an amazing achievement. This little girl actually has some strength in her! Without even running much (just lots of burpees and circuit training) I was able to run a mile in 7:30. That may be super slow for some people, but until then, I had never run a mile under 8 minutes. Squatting with weights on my back was something I thought only big men could do. I feel stronger in dance. Basically, I overcame my fear of failure in physical activities, and that has helped boost my confidence in and out of the gym. Now, I appreciate fitness more than ever and hope that everyone and anyone of any fitness level can experience the joy of movement and improvement.

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But there’s a problem for me now. 

As I increased the intensity and duration of my exercise last year, I also decreased the amount of food I ate. My eating habits became disordered and I also started becoming addicted to exercise. I would be cranky if I had to miss a workout. I would go to the gym even if I was so sore that I couldn’t walk. All the while, I wasn’t eating enough. Amanda’s recent post on rest days is good summation of my past experiences. Today, I embrace rest days, and realize that I actually have better workouts after I rest. Go figure, huh?

Despite taking more rest days, I’ve kept the intensity of my workouts pretty high. My favorite workouts are strength + cardio circuits (like this or this) that can be done in a half hour, more or less. My heart rate gets pumping really quickly and I feel the burn! Thus, these workouts require a ton of energy, which I’ve been giving my body a lot more of in the past half year. However, even with more food, my body is constantly under the stress of these intense workouts. Now, I’m certain that there are young girls out there that do much more intense exercise than me, but everyone is different. My body has a little bit of an issue…

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You see, I haven’t gotten my first period yet. I’m 17 years old, but I look like I’m 12 years old. I know that some people hit puberty very late (even at 18 years old), and perhaps I’m one of those people, but I’m still concerned. I’ve put my body through a lot in this past year with depriving it and losing weight, then gaining weight back and introducing intense exercise to it. I’ve talked to my doctor about it, and she told me that I can exercise as much as I’d like as long as I eat more. So I’ve done that, but things still haven’t changed. Even though I’ve eaten more, the amount of exercise I’ve been doing has still kept me very lean. I also got my thyroid and bone density checked out, and those are both a-okay. It seems that perhaps I’ve done enough damage in the past year and a half to cause my body to still be in a weary state; it doesn’t want to start anything that takes a good deal of energy just in case I deprive it again.

I’ve been thinking about my issue for a while, especially after reading so many bloggers’ experience with not having their periods or fertility (such as Ashley, Courtney, Linz, and Clare). Obviously, I’m not going to have a baby any time soon, but if God wants me to be a mother one day, I want to be able to have kids! All those lovely ladies made the courageous choice to cut back on fitness quite significantly, or even completely, AND increase food intake  in order to regain their cycles. Thanks be to God, it worked for all of them. Ashley and Courtney are both mothers of adorable boys, Linz is pregnant, and Clare has the ability to be a mother one day! After reading all their stories, I thought about my own situation for a long time, even before seeing the doctor and everything. I’ve concluded that I need to make some changes to my routine as well. 

Honestly, I’ve procrastinated this decision for so long, because I really do not want to give up the feelings of accomplishment, strength, and improvement from working out. Who really does want to slow down progress when he/she already has the momentum going? But I think my body has been dealing with both physical and mental stress long enough, and it’s time for me to respect it and give it rest. 

What will I do now? I’ll probably be focusing more on low-impact bodyweight exercises, yoga, Pilates, and dance for now. I’ll also make sure to keep eating a little more than I’d normally feel comfortable with on rest days. I already foresee that this is really going to be a test of humility and patience. Prayer, prayer, prayer. I am so blessed to have a wonderful family, friends, fellow bloggers, and readers to support me. Thank you. 🙂

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These words from Clare are definitely encouraging: “…this would only work if I stuck with the plan and let my body start to trust me again. It had to KNOW that I was going to give it enough fuel and not deplete it with exercise.”

Do I know if this plan will help me get my period or how long it will take? No. Do I think it’s a worth a shot? Yes. I don’t want to end up waiting until a few weeks before going off to college next year to figure out that I still haven’t gotten it yet. That would not be fun.

My uncle, a nutritionist and fitness enthusiast, gave me words of wisdom and encouragement this summer too. He said I probably have to be a little pudgier than I’d prefer right now. Although I may know what my body needs, I need to break away from the desire to look fit. My focus right now should be making sure my body is functioning properly, which includes a regular period. Then when I’m a mature adult, I can shift my focus back to reaching whatever fitness goals I have. But I am in the crucial time window to grow now, so I have to make sure I get it right.

I’ll still be moving and grooving, don’t worry 😉 Just less intensely. If getting my body to function properly means going up a couple pant sizes and putting on a little more cushioning, so be it. After all, health means more than just how the body looks.

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So tell me: Have you ever had a similar experience? How did you change your routine to make things work?