Today I want to share a yarn that holistic nutritionist Kate Callaghan recently shared on her blog. Kate is a loved member of the I Quit Sugar family and worked in the office for some time before moving to New Zealand. She gets it. She lives it.
She also has a few things in common with me. We both eat low carb, we have a history of over-exercising and we both have had hypothalamic amenorrhea. I’m going to get Kate to explain what this is all about and how all the factors interconnect. And also about how her journey to heal herself pivoted around, yes, learning to eat more and coming to terms with putting on weight.
Kate’s journey started a year ago. I remember sitting at the I Quit Sugar kitchen table and chatting to her about it. Her lunch reflected her mission…but I’ll let her tell you more about this. In an upcoming post I’ll also share where my own (similar) journey has wound up. I’m not ready yet. Soon.
Over to Kate….
“Who knows when my body image issues started?! Until recently, I have never really considered them as “issues”.
I have always had a very athletic physique. I started competitive gymnastics at a very young age. In primary school I had shoulders wider than most boys my age. I could beat my teenage brother in a push up competition. And I had a six-pack.
Throughout high school and until now, I have always been more active than most. At times in my life I have taught up to 16 hours of group fitness each week. This is not normal. I have maintained my flat, six-pack abs throughout my life (aside from a brief 6 month beer-drinking stint in college). To some, I have the nick-name “abs”.
Before you think I’m an absolute wanker, let me get to my point. I have worked hard to get these results….at a significant cost…..
A year ago, aged 29, I was diagnosed with hypothalamic amenorrhea.
Hypothalamic amenorrhea basically means your brain stops communicating to your lady garden. Female hormone production slows and menstruation ceases. My period stopped two years ago. Some of you may be thinking this sounds fantastic not to have a period each month. Trust me – it’s not. Especially when you are considering baby making.
What causes amenorrhea?
The research has suggested a few factors:
- Too much stress
- Oral contraceptives (the pill)
Tick, tick, tick, tick. Yep, for the amount of exercise I did (way above what anyone should do), I’d not been eating enough food, despite eating quite sizeable, regular meals each day with plenty of fat and protein. I have always been an over-stressor. And prior to 2011, I had been on The Pill for 10 years.
Why was it so vital that I fix this problem ASAP? Well there are two complications that can arise as a result of this condition:
- Permanent infertility
Shitballs. Not something you want to be faced with before the age of 30!
How does this all relate to having a six-pack? Well – the treatment for this is simple, or so it would seem. Eat more. Exercise less. Stress less. Get off the pill. Over time, I’ve been covering each of these off. I went off the pill in 2011. I now exercise less. I meditate every day to control my stress.
But to the eating…now that’s something recent and is really the key to treatment. The research suggests, in most cases, this condition can be resolved by adding on a few kilos.
What diet changes did I make?
- I ate more in general. Previously, while my diet was a healthy, nutrient-dense paleo diet, it was too low in calories – around 1400 on some days, which was the amount of energy I needed to lie in bed all day, not do the strenuous exercise I was. I now try to get 2000 calories per day, more if I exercise
- I ate more carbs. Many people assume the paleo diet is low carb. I certainly made this mistake. The trouble is, during times of stress or if you’re exercising a lot, some carbs such as sweet potato and quinoa help to keep our blood sugar levels stable and help us to replenish glycogen stores. When no carbs come in through the diet, the body is forced to release cortisol to breakdown protein in order to make glucose during these stressful times. The trouble here is that cortisol will be produced at the expense of sex hormones. Ergo low carb can go hand-in-hand with low sex hormones, infertility and amenorrhea. Going low carb also caused my thyroid to blow out, and I am now on medication (thyroid extract) to kick it back into gear. Fun times. Now I eat a smoothie made with ½ cup blueberries, a few spoons of yoghurt, a tablespoon of coconut oil, a scoop of vanilla protein powder, mixed with either coconut water or milk as a snack.
My lunch/dinner plate looks like this: ¼ animal protein, ¼ starchy vegetables (e.g. sweet potato, white potato, parsnip), ½ green and colourful veggies (e.g. broccoli, kale, capsicum, mushrooms). If it is lean protein, I will add a good dob of butter to my veggies to help absorb the fat soluble vitamins.
- I ate more regularly. Again, due to my stressed-out state, my adrenals were shot. As were my hypothalamus and pituitary (major hormonal control centres in the brain). I needed to give my adrenals some love and minimise my reliance on cortisol to keep my blood sugars stable. I did this by beginning to eat about every 3 hours, whereas I might have eaten every 5-6, even 7, hours previously, because that is what paleo man apparently did…
- I continued to eat plenty of fat and protein, as these are essential for hormone production, and I still followed a general Paleo diet template, as I wholeheartedly believe that is can be an incredibly healthy way to eat…when it is done right.
So did it work?
Cut to now. I just turned 30. It has been an interesting journey of progressing from someone who was constantly trying to change her body to meet some unrealistic ideal, to someone who actually loves the skin she is in. And I am not just saying that. For the first time in my life, I actually really love my body.
Check out the before and after shot above. On the left, you will see “Check out my 8-pack, I look healthy and fit , but my fertility is in the shitter” Kate. I showed this to a friend the other day and she said “Oh wow! What were you training for?”. Nothing. I was training for my elusive “dream body”. Pfft.
On the right, you will see “check out my boobs, I look healthy and feminine and my internal state reflects this” Kate. There are two things that I do not like about this pic – 1) My lack of tan (although I have that many layers on here in Wanaka that a tan would not even get noticed) and 2) The selfie pose. I hate bathroom-half-naked selfies. It makes you look like such a wanker. I apologise. I am doing this for reference purposes, not to show off or entice more Instagram followers.
OK, so aside from having boobs (seriously, I’m still obsessed with them), what is so great about my new body?
- My cycle is getting back on track. Thank God, because that’s the whole reason I headed down this road. It’s not perfect – about 40 day cycles, but compared to the nothingness of about six months ago, this is a pretty significant improvement.
- I have unbelievable energy. I used to have to take regular naps throughout the day, just to make it through. Now, I can soldier through, completely sans-caffeine. Funny what happens when you start to eat enough.
- The whites of my eyes are crystal clear. They used to be constantly bloodshot and my vision was blurry. I relied on ClearEyes and I wasn’t even getting stoned!
- My skin is clear and wrinkle free. Previously, it would look kind of dry and lackluster.
- My nails are thick and strong. For the first time in my life, my nails are not snapping off as soon as a little bit of white appears. I used to have vertical ridges (signs of adrenal fatigue) and horizontal ridges (signs of thyroid issues). These ridges are almost non-existent now.
- My gray hairs have disappeared. Now this one I find quite odd and did not think it possible. I used to have quite a few gray hairs, and my hairdresser can vouch for this – she kindly pointed out a patch of grays on my head that I would have otherwise been unaware of. Thanks Leigh. Those grays – all gone! Bizarre, right?
- I can do crazy yoga shit. Seriously – handstands and backbends and balances and all sorts of awesome stuff. I am loving it! I would never have gone down the yoga path if I wasn’t forced to sort out my stress and pull back on the chronic cardio that I was doing.
- I am so much more in tune with my body now. I listen to how it feels and I respond with understanding and respect, rather than saying “Harden up! It’ll be worth it”, because sometimes, it won’t be worth it.
- My hubby thinks I am sexy and tells me this all the time. I know what you are thinking – he has to say that. Maybe, but he could just say nothing at all. I asked him if he preferred me the way I used to be and he said “Honestly, you were almost too skinny for me”. Interesting. I find the male response to this whole thing very intriguing. Any males out there who want to chime in on this, please do – obviously not telling me I’m sexy (unless you want to), but just commenting on the whole female body thang.
- I am now in the position to be a positive role model for other females, both young and old. My previous body was unrealistic and unattainable for most. It took a lot of hard training and strict eating and wasn’t even healthy. I was practically a male! No boobs, no period, no hips. Sounds pretty masculine to me!
So how did I do it? How did I go from hating my body at 57kg (172cm tall) to loving it at around 62-64kg (not exactly sure what my weight is – I broke up with the scales a while ago)? Well, it wasn’t easy. I didn’t just suddenly wake up and go “Hurrah! I am woman, hear me roar!”. These are the things that were invaluable to complete body image backflip:
- Support. Lots and lots of it. From loved ones, and from you folks through the interwebs – thank you!
- The knowledge that I might be helping others in a similar situation – this was a massive driver! I truly hope I can help others, even if it is just one person.
- The realization that menstruation is a sign of fertility. Fertility is a sign of health. Body fat is needed for menstruation. Ergo body fat is healthy.
- Self-love. I know this sounds really woo-woo, but it truly helped me understand the underlying thoughts I had about my body and how to change them. Gabrielle Bernstein’s May Cause Miracles, and Louise Hay’s You Can Heal Your Life are invaluable resources. Get them both. NOW!
- Yoga. Yes, I am well and truly a hippy now. I even have crystals throughout my house. Candles too. But back to yoga. Aside from being able to bend and balance my way into poses that I was once in awe of, yoga taught me how to focus on my body’s ability, rather than it’s aesthetics.
This is my body. In your eyes, it may not be perfect. I have cellulite. I have stretch marks (in fact, I had cellulite and stretch marks before putting on weight). I don’t have abs. Or a thigh gap. But in my eyes, what I see and how I feel, for the first time in my life, I am completely and unashamedly happy. This is 100% me. I am not a replica of someone else, nor am I trying to be. I am confident and I am healthy, and I hope that I have sparked the desire in you to love, accept and appreciate your body exactly as it is.
Kate is a holistic nutritionist specialising in hormone healing based in Wanaka, New Zealand. If you have any questions for her (or me), post below and we’ll both endeavor to help!