In this episode titled “7 Healthy Habits That Can Lead to Period Loss,” we delve into the seemingly positive habits promoted by diet culture that can have detrimental effects on our menstrual cycle and overall well-being. We explore how these habits, when taken to extremes, can lead to hypothalamic amenorrhea and negatively impact our relationship with food, exercise, and body image.
Firstly, we discuss the practice of training on an empty stomach and its potential consequences for hormonal balance. We explain why providing our bodies with adequate fuel before workouts is essential for maintaining a healthy menstrual cycle.
Next, we explore the trend of significantly reducing carbohydrates or replacing them with extra vegetables. While these dietary choices may seem beneficial, we highlight how they can contribute to hypothalamic amenorrhea and the importance of finding a balanced approach to macronutrient intake.
We also address the potential dangers of obsessively tracking kilojoules and the negative impact it can have on our mental and physical health. We emphasise the importance of intuitive eating and listening to our body’s natural hunger and fullness cues.
Additionally, we shed light on the notion of eating “clean” and avoiding all processed foods. While nourishing our bodies with whole, nutrient-dense foods is crucial, we discuss the potential pitfalls of strict dietary rules and the importance of embracing a balanced approach to eating.
Furthermore, we explore the tendency to choose the lowest kilojoule/calorie option under the assumption that it is the healthiest choice. We unpack how this mindset can lead to inadequate energy intake and nutrient deficiencies, ultimately affecting our hormonal balance and menstrual health.
We also delve into society’s relentless hustle culture and its impact on our overall well-being, including our menstrual cycle. We discuss the need for balance, rest, and self-care to support hormonal health.
Lastly, we address the habit of prioritising exercise above all else and the potential consequences it can have on our menstrual cycle. We emphasise the importance of incorporating rest days, listening to our bodies, and finding a healthy balance between exercise and other aspects of our lives.
Throughout the episode, we provide insights, personal stories, and expert advice on how to navigate these habits in a more balanced and sustainable way. By challenging societal norms and embracing a holistic approach to health, we can cultivate a positive relationship with food, exercise, and our bodies while supporting our menstrual cycle and overall well-being.
Tune in to this enlightening episode as we uncover the truth behind these seemingly healthy habits and provide actionable steps to find a healthier and more sustainable approach to self-care.
Hello and welcome back to Holistic Health Radio, I’m your host Sarah Liz King. I’m an exercise physiologist and health coach empowering women to find their healthy balance with food, fitness and their bodies.
Through my 1:1 and group coaching programs both myself and my team help women regain their periods, find food freedom and have a healthier relationship with exercise all while gaining body confidence.
Today on the podcast I’m going to be discussing several healthy habits that can lead to period loss. So let’s get straight into it!
Training fasted, or exercising without consuming food beforehand, is a practice that has gained popularity in certain fitness circles. Proponents of fasted training suggest that it can enhance fat burning, improve insulin sensitivity, and optimise hormone levels. However, it is important to note that the effects of fasted training can vary from person to person, and for some individuals, it may lead to negative health consequences such as hypothalamic amenorrhea or eating disorders.
Hypothalamic amenorrhea is a condition characterised by the absence of menstruation due to dysfunction of the hypothalamus, which is a part of the brain that regulates reproductive hormone production. It can be caused by a variety of factors, including excessive exercise, low body weight, and nutritional deficiencies. Fasted training, particularly when combined with restrictive eating patterns or caloric deficits, may contribute to the development of hypothalamic amenorrhea in susceptible individuals.
Fasted training can potentially disrupt the delicate balance of hormones in the body. When you exercise without consuming food beforehand, your body relies on stored glycogen (carbohydrate stores) and fat as energy sources. This can lead to increased stress on the body, triggering a stress response and the release of cortisol, a stress hormone. Elevated cortisol levels can suppress the production of gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) in the hypothalamus, which in turn affects the release of luteinizing hormone (LH) and follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) from the pituitary gland. The disruption of this hormonal cascade can disrupt the menstrual cycle and result in amenorrhea.
Furthermore, fasted training combined with restrictive eating patterns can create a calorie deficit, where energy intake is insufficient to meet the body’s needs. This can lead to low energy availability, which is a major contributing factor to hypothalamic amenorrhea. The body perceives low energy availability as a threat to survival and responds by conserving energy. In this state, the body prioritises essential functions over reproductive functions, leading to hormonal dysregulation and amenorrhea.
- Reducing carbohydrate intake
Reducing carbohydrates or replacing them with extra vegetables is often touted as a healthy habit in popular diet culture. You’ve probably heard claims that it can help with weight loss, improve your health, or give you a better body. While cutting back on carbs or loading up on veggies can be a part of a balanced diet for many people, it’s important to be aware that extreme or restrictive approaches can have some downsides. In particular, they can potentially lead to hypothalamic amenorrhea or even eating disorders.
Carbohydrates are a key source of energy for our bodies, and they play a crucial role in various bodily processes. When you significantly limit your carbohydrate intake or replace them with excessive amounts of vegetables, you might not be getting enough energy overall. This low energy availability can set off hormonal changes in your body, such as a decrease in the production of certain hormones in the hypothalamus, like gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH). This disruption can then affect the release of luteinizing hormone (LH) and follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) from the pituitary gland, ultimately leading to hypothalamic amenorrhea, which means the absence of menstrual periods.
It’s important to note, even if you are consuming enough calories from other macronutrients (protein and fat), the insufficient intake of carbohydrates can still lead to hypothalamic amenorrhea. The stress response triggered by the lack of carbohydrates can override the sufficient calorie intake and disrupt the hormonal signalling required for menstruation.
Additionally, the threshold for carbohydrate intake needed to maintain regular menstrual function can vary from person to person. Some individuals may be more sensitive to low carbohydrate intake than others.
Moreover, the intense focus on reducing carbs or substituting them with tons of vegetables can also contribute to the development or worsening of eating disorders. Diet culture often promotes rigid ideas of what’s considered “healthy” or “ideal,” pushing people to adopt strict rules around eating or restrictive eating patterns. This can lead to an unhealthy obsession with food, a constant need to control and limit what you eat, and feelings of guilt or anxiety when you stray from those self-imposed rules. Over time, these patterns can spiral into disordered eating behaviours or even full-blown eating disorders, like orthorexia, anorexia nervosa, or bulimia nervosa.
On top of that, this emphasis on carbohydrate restriction or excessive vegetable consumption can reinforce a harmful mentality of categorising foods as “good” or “bad.” It can create a sense of shame or guilt when you indulge in foods that are deemed “unhealthy” or “fattening.” This mindset fuels even more restrictive eating habits, such as eliminating entire food groups, which can have negative impacts on your physical and mental health.
Remember, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to nutrition, and everyone’s needs and tolerances are different. While cutting back on carbs or adding more veggies to your plate can be part of a healthy lifestyle for some, it’s crucial to prioritise personalised nutrition, balance, and overall well-being. If you’re concerned about your eating habits, potential risks, or notice any signs of disordered eating or menstrual irregularities, seeking guidance from a registered dietitian or a healthcare professional can provide the support you need to develop a balanced approach to nutrition and wellness.
- Obsessively counting calories
So, here’s the thing: diet culture has a way of making us believe that meticulously counting calories is the key to achieving our health or weight goals. It’s often seen as a means to gain control over our bodies and our food choices. But what they don’t always tell you is that fixating on calorie tracking can sometimes do more harm than good.
First, let’s talk about hypothalamic amenorrhea. It can be caused by a variety of factors, and one of them is chronically low energy availability. When you’re obsessively counting calories, it’s easy to fall into a pattern of restricting your food intake, either consciously or unconsciously. This can lead to not getting enough energy from your diet to support your body’s needs. And guess what? Your reproductive system is one of the first things to suffer when your body senses an energy deficit. The hormonal signals that regulate your menstrual cycle, like gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH), luteinizing hormone (LH), and follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), can get disrupted, throwing your menstrual cycle out of whack.
But it’s not just hypothalamic amenorrhea that you need to watch out for. Obsessive calorie tracking can also pave the way for the development of eating disorders. When you’re hyper-focused on counting every single calorie that goes into your mouth, it can create an unhealthy relationship with food. Food starts to become numbers instead of nourishment, and you might find yourself feeling anxious, guilty, or even fearful when faced with food choices that don’t fit neatly into your calorie-counting plan. This obsession with tracking can spiral into disordered eating patterns or even full-blown eating disorders like anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa.
The truth is, our bodies are so much more complex than simple calorie maths. Counting calories may seem like a straightforward approach, but it doesn’t take into account the diverse nutritional needs of individuals or the psychological toll it can take. We’re not just numbers on a spreadsheet—we’re human beings with emotional, social, and physical needs.
If you find yourself caught up in the calorie-counting trap and it’s affecting your well-being, it’s important to reach out for support. Speak with a healthcare professional or coach who specializes in eating disorders. They can help you develop a healthier relationship with food and guide you towards a more balanced approach to nutrition and overall well-being.
- Eating “Clean”/avoiding all processed foods
You may have heard people talking about eating “clean” or avoiding all processed foods as a way to be healthy. It’s a popular trend promoted by diet culture, but it’s important to understand that it’s not always a one-size-fits-all approach. For some people, this intense focus on eating only “clean” foods can actually have negative consequences, such as hypothalamic amenorrhea or even eating disorders like orthorexia.
Let’s break it down. Eating “clean” typically means avoiding processed foods and opting for whole, unprocessed foods instead. The idea behind it is to prioritise nutrient-dense foods and eliminate those that are often high in added sugars, unhealthy fats, or artificial ingredients. Sounds good, right? Well, for many people, it can be a healthy way to eat. However, it can become problematic when taken to extremes or accompanied by strict rules and restrictions.
When you start labelling certain foods as “clean” and others as “dirty” or “bad,” it can lead to an unhealthy relationship with food. You may start feeling guilty or anxious when you eat foods that don’t fit into the “clean” category. This mindset can easily spiral into disordered eating behaviours or even full-blown eating disorders, like orthorexia, which is an obsession with eating only foods considered “pure” or “healthy.”
Moreover, this strict approach can also create an imbalance in your overall diet and energy intake. Processed foods, while often demonised, can still provide essential nutrients and contribute to a balanced diet. When you completely eliminate processed foods without careful planning, you might inadvertently miss out on important nutrients or even struggle to consume enough calories. This can result in low energy availability, which can disrupt your hormonal balance and lead to hypothalamic amenorrhea, where your menstrual periods stop.
Remember, a healthy diet is not about completely avoiding certain foods or following strict rules. It’s about finding a balance that works for you and nourishing your body with a variety of foods that provide the necessary nutrients. Eating whole, unprocessed foods is great, but it’s equally important to have flexibility and allow yourself to enjoy a wide range of foods, including those that might be considered “processed” or less “clean.”
- Choosing the lowest calorie option because you think it’s the healthiest option
We often hear that picking the lowest calorie option is the way to go if we want to be healthy or manage our weight. It’s a common belief perpetuated by diet culture that equates low calories with being virtuous or in control. While being mindful of calorie intake can be part of a balanced approach to nutrition, it’s important to understand how extreme or rigid calorie restriction can lead to negative outcomes.
When we consistently choose the lowest calorie option, we may unknowingly put ourselves at risk for hypothalamic amenorrhea. This condition refers to the absence of menstrual periods due to disruptions in the hormonal regulation of the menstrual cycle. Our bodies are smart and require a certain amount of energy to function optimally, including maintaining regular menstrual cycles. Severe calorie restriction can send signals to the hypothalamus in our brain that there’s not enough energy available. This can trigger a stress response and lead to a decrease in the production of hormones necessary for menstruation, such as gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH), luteinizing hormone (LH), and follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH). As a result, the menstrual cycle can be disrupted or even stop altogether.
On top of that, the obsession with choosing the lowest calorie option can contribute to the development of eating disorders. When we constantly prioritise calories over other important aspects of nutrition, we can become fixated on strict rules and restrictions. This obsession can lead to disordered eating patterns, such as severe calorie counting, constant food monitoring, or labelling foods as “good” or “bad.” Over time, these behaviours can escalate into full-blown eating disorders like anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa. The focus on calories can warp our relationship with food, leading to anxiety, guilt, and shame around eating.
It’s important to approach nutrition with a broader perspective that considers overall balance, nourishment, and individual needs. Our bodies require a diverse range of nutrients to thrive, including carbohydrates, proteins, fats, vitamins, and minerals. Focusing solely on calories often overlooks the nutritional quality of foods and neglects important aspects of our well-being.
If you find yourself caught up in the “lowest calorie” mindset or notice changes in your menstrual cycle or eating behaviours, it’s essential to seek support from healthcare professionals, such as registered dietitians or therapists specialising in eating disorders. They can help you develop a healthier relationship with food, body, and overall well-being.
- Society’s hustle hard/never stop culture
There’s a prevailing belief that we need to constantly be on the go, hustling and pushing ourselves to the limit. This culture places a high value on productivity, achievement, and being perceived as successful. We’re bombarded with messages that tell us that working harder, longer, and never taking a break is the key to being better or more accomplished than others.
While ambition and striving for goals are important, it’s crucial to recognize that this constant hustle mentality can take a toll on our physical and mental health. One way this can manifest is through hypothalamic amenorrhea, which refers to the absence of menstrual periods due to disruptions in hormonal balance. When we’re always on the go, pushing ourselves to our limits, and neglecting self-care, our bodies can interpret this as chronic stress. This chronic stress can trigger a hormonal response that affects the hypothalamus, leading to irregular or absent menstrual cycles. It’s important to remember that our bodies need rest and balance to maintain optimal functioning, including a healthy menstrual cycle.
Furthermore, the hustle culture can also contribute to the development of eating disorders. The pressure to constantly achieve, be productive, and meet high standards can spill over into our relationship with food and our bodies. We may develop a perfectionist mindset where we feel the need to control every aspect of our lives, including our eating habits and body appearance. This can lead to restrictive eating patterns, an unhealthy obsession with food and exercise, or distorted body image. Over time, these behaviours can escalate into eating disorders, causing severe physical and psychological harm.
It’s important to challenge the idea that constantly pushing ourselves without rest is the only path to success. True well-being encompasses both physical and mental health. It’s about finding a balance that allows us to pursue our goals while also prioritising self-care, rest, and relaxation. Taking breaks, setting boundaries, and listening to our bodies are all crucial for maintaining a healthy relationship with work, food, and ourselves.
If you find yourself caught up in the hustle culture and notice signs of physical or emotional distress, it’s essential to seek support from healthcare professionals, therapists, or counsellors who specialise in these areas. They can help you navigate the pressures of society and develop a healthier approach to success and well-being.
Remember, your worth is not solely defined by your productivity or accomplishments. Taking care of yourself, both physically and mentally, is a valuable and necessary part of living a truly fulfilling life.
- Prioritising exercise over everything else
We often hear the message that exercise should be a top priority in our lives. The idea of making it non-negotiable and always finding a way to fit it in can seem like a great motivator. Exercise has numerous benefits for our physical and mental well-being, so it’s no wonder that it’s often promoted as a healthy habit. However, it’s crucial to recognize that extreme dedication to exercise at the expense of other important aspects of our lives can have negative effects.
When we prioritise exercise above everything else, including rest, recovery, and adequate nutrition, we can put ourselves at risk for hypothalamic amenorrhea. This condition occurs when the hypothalamus, a part of our brain responsible for regulating hormonal functions, becomes disrupted. The stress from intense exercise, coupled with inadequate energy availability, can trigger a hormonal imbalance. This imbalance can lead to a decrease in the production of hormones necessary for menstruation, like gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH), luteinizing hormone (LH), and follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH). As a result, menstrual cycles can become irregular or stop altogether.
Moreover, the mentality of prioritising exercise above all else can contribute to the development of eating disorders. When we adopt the mindset that exercise is the most important thing and we must always find a way to do it, we may start engaging in excessive exercise behaviours. This can manifest as pushing ourselves beyond our limits, exercising despite injury or exhaustion, or feeling guilty or anxious when we miss a workout. These behaviours can be fueled by a fear of losing control or gaining weight, and they can gradually develop into disordered eating patterns or full-blown eating disorders. We may start restricting our food intake or using exercise as a means to “burn off” calories, which can have severe physical and psychological consequences.
It’s essential to approach exercise with a balanced perspective that considers rest, recovery, and overall well-being. Exercise should enhance our lives, not dominate them. It’s about finding a sustainable routine that supports our physical health, mental well-being, and allows us to enjoy other aspects of life. Rest days, proper nutrition, and listening to our bodies’ signals are all important components of a well-rounded approach to exercise.
If you notice that your dedication to exercise is taking priority over other areas of your life, or if you experience changes in your menstrual cycle or develop disordered eating thoughts or behaviours, it’s crucial to seek support from healthcare professionals.
Remember, health is a holistic concept that encompasses various dimensions of our lives. It’s about finding balance, listening to our bodies, and prioritising self-care in all aspects, including exercise, nutrition, rest, and mental well-being.
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