To be quite honest, I really don’t know why I’m writing this. I think, more than anything, it’s because I want to document my life/fitness/wellness journey as much as I can to not only help me keep track of things, but also to hopefully serve as a resource to anyone else who goes through something similar to me.
To everyone who read my last blog post, and to those of you who left such encouraging comments, thank you. I have been overwhelmed with support from my community, and please never think that it goes unnoticed or under appreciated. It’s a few weeks later, and I figured I would give you all an update on how things are going.
Let’s just dive in.
(Once again, I would like to preface this blog post by clarifying that I am not a doctor, OB-GYN, etc, and am simply sharing my own experiences. If you are having medical issues, please go see a licensed practitioner with the necessary qualifications/credentials to help you)
Hormones and birth control
I was prescribed a low-dose birth control (referred to from here on out as BC in the context of this blog) by my reproductive endocrinologist (RE) – specifically, Junel FE (a combination estrogen/progesterone pill). I took it for a little over two weeks. My moods were a bit all over the place and things just felt off – similarly to how they felt the last time I tried to take birth control for my skin. Long story short, I said, Screw this, I’m sticking to my gut feeling. and stopped taking it. However, that was enough time to have the hormones in my body to induce a withdrawal bleed. I’m going to take this as an overall good sign, since my RE mentioned that I may not even bleed with this BC. I was like, Why in the world would I take this pill that’s supposed to give me a monthly cycle but actually might not give me a monthly cycle? No? I digress. I had a withdrawal bleed cycle and it honestly hit me like a ton of bricks. Sick to my stomach (actually threw up one night… not sure if that’s normal or if I just happened to have an upset stomach at the same time), some cramping (nothing too heinous there, but I never got intense cramps to begin with), and a slightly longer cycle than usual. My natural cycles tended to be between 3-4 days, and this one lasted a full five. And just because I need to vent a liiiiittle bit, remembering to buy and bring tampons with you everywhere? Yeah, didn’t miss that.
So, I stopped taking the birth control and instead starting going about things naturally via diet and supplementation (a bit more on that later). It’s about 2.5 weeks since the end of the BC induced cycle, and I’m starting to see some rays of hope/potential signs of improvement Things are about to get realllllll personal, so if you aren’t down for that, I suggest you click out of this post now.
If you are a female, especially one who is trying to pay close attention to her reproductive health/function, you know what cervical fluid is. Over the past week and a half I’d say, I’ve noticed a) the mere presence of it (before I was completely dry as a bone, which is common with hormonal problems, anovulation, being underweight for your body, and/or over exercising), and b) changes in its consistency/texture as would happen during a normal menstrual cycle. For those of you who don’t know, the appearance/texture of cervical mucus changes throughout the various phases of a woman’s menstrual cycle (read more of that in the linked article). I was actually elated to see what’s known as egg white cervical mucus (EWCM) yesterday and the day prior. So I think there’s hope for me yet! It’s better than nothing. At least I know my reproductive system is still alive and doing something! I also have learned that women who struggle with PCOS sometimes experience EWCM, which is normally a signal of ovulation (or the body’s attempt to ovulate), when they’re ovulating and when they’re about to start their menstrual cycle. So it’s something I’m monitoring and trying to be in tune with.
That’s about all I have as far as my update on where things currently are. I did schedule another appointment with my RE to run more bloodwork and also do an ultrasound. I personally am not satisfied with only having three hormones tested (my testosterone, LH, and FSH were tested). I want to know everything I can possibly know, so also taking a look at things like estradiol, DHEAS, FSH, LH, testosterone, TSH, TS, T4, Reverse T3, TPO, vitamin D, cortisol, and so on (thank you to @amandatclegg on Instagram for giving me some more insight on things I should have tested). I want more concrete confirmation and a deeper look at things.
Ladies, please take charge of your hormonal health. Be your own advocate. I have talked to so many women this past month who have gone through similar issues, whether it’s PCOS, HA, fibroids, infertility, or anything in between, and one common denominator was the fear of even talking about these issues. And believe me, I was scared to open up about it, too! I was also shocked with the amount of women who were similar to me in that they’ve had countless medical professionals just brush off their symptoms. Pardon my French, but that is complete and utter bullshit. We need to stand up for ourselves and our health. It’s our right to do so.
Changes to Diet and Supplementation
If you follow me on Instagram/YouTube, you know that I’ve been a long-term macro-tracker. I’ve followed flexible dieting via macro tracking for well over three and a half years (going on four). When I decided to really put my reproductive health at the forefront, I decided that it was time to transition away from tracking macros for a time in an effort to truly listen to my body, it’s hunger/satiety signals, and what it’s telling me it needs.
Believe me, I was definitely very nervous/scared about it at first. I know that there is no such thing as good foods or bad foods, but stepping away from something you’ve practiced for years (and seen success with) is hard. It takes breaking down a lot of mental barriers and mentalities you didn’t even know you had. I’ve seen it happen so many times – bodybuilding competitors switch from tracking macros to intuitive eating, and all of a sudden, they’re eating anything and everything because “macros don’t exist” (believe me, they still do), and then poof. Lots of weight gain. Please do not take this to mean that weight gain is an inherently bad thing – it’s not, and in many a case, it’s healthy! But gaining a lot of weight in a short period of time, especially due to binge eating, is not healthy. Shoot, my weight gain as a result of all of this isn’t what I would consider healthy weight gain – it’s a result of a hormonal imbalance that needs to be addressed in order for me to be a healthy, functioning female again. I didn’t want to gain more weight than I already have (to be honest, I stopped checking because it was stressing me out and I wasn’t able to be objective with it any more)… but I’m happy to report that eating intuitively has been going surprisingly well.
At first, I was somewhat hyper cognizant of carbohydrate intake – many women who struggle with PCOS struggle with insulin resistance, and therefore have to monitor their carb intake rather stringently. I was, dare I say it, almost afraid of eating carbs because I didn’t want to exacerbate my PCOS symptoms. I let go of that real quick, and while I do still practice awareness regarding carb intake, I’m not as high-strung about it either.
I did notice myself gravitating towards healthy fats (lots of nuts, avocados, healthy oils, etc) and simply making “healthier” decisions. I already was making fairly health conscious choices, but I began eating more vegetables/leafy greens, buying more organic produce (to reduce pesticide/hormone intake), consuming less caffeine, and overall truly listening to my body. I’ve also been really pleased with my ability to listen to hunger/satiety cues. I would catch myself nibbling out of boredom occasionally, so please don’t think I’ve been perfect in this! But when I’ve caught myself in those moments, or moments when I know I’m not physically hungry yet feel a compulsion to eat, I take a step back and ask myself why I think that’s happening. The same applies to when I experience hunger outside of my “usual” hungry times. I’m honoring my body and my hunger more than I ever have, and that in and of itself, feels really amazing. My friend Ali uses this amazing phrase, “Flow, don’t force,” and I’ve been attempting to apply that to every area of my life as of late.
As far as supplementation goes, I’ve implemented a couple of things that I want to mention in this blog, since the research seems pretty robust surrounding these two supplements. Again, please note that I am not a doctor. Do not take something just because someone wrote a blog and said it worked for them. Do your research, consult your doctor, be a smart content consumer, etc.
a) Berberine – A lot of women with PCOS are prescribed Metformin to help manage their blood sugar/insulin levels. Berberine is a natural supplement that has consistently shown promise in blood sugar management. Examine.com notes that:
“The usage of berberine in reducing blood glucose, according to the most recent meta-analysis, is comparable to the oral hypoglycemic drugs Metformin or Glibenclamide; this suggests berberine is one of the more effective supplements for blood glucose reductions.”
I have used berberine in the past to help improve my insulin sensitivity, and so when I looked further and saw this data, I decided it was going to be a staple that I implemented again.
b) Myo-inositol – This particular supplement has been shown to not only improve fertility in women with PCOS, but also improve testosterone levels and insulin resistance. In higher doses, it has also been shown to have neurological benefits such as anxiety and panic attack reduction.
Supplements are not the end-all be-all of healing, but I’ve seen how sports supplements can have ergogenic benefits when dosed properly, so I definitely believe that there is also some promise for supplements aiding in reproductive health as well (and the research seems to echo that).
Other changes, mindset shifts, and self-care
We talk all freakin’ day about how important self-care is. “Get your nails done, eat some chocolate, have a glass of wine, watch your favorite movie.” While I agree that those things can be great (and I definitely do all of those things from time to time), self-care goes far beyond such a superficial level. Self-care, to me, involves truly digging deep into your heart/soul/psych and working on yourself from the inside out.
First and foremost, I have always considered myself a high-stress individual. I have come to learn that this doesn’t aid my athletic endeavors, and various articles/books that I’ve read highlight the impact of stress on our reproductive health (your cycle can disappear just from being overly stressed – crazy, right?). Not to mention, too much stress negatively impacts just about every aspect of our health and well being. I finally put the hammer down on myself – NO MORE OF THIS. I used to be really regular with my meditation practice, and it genuinely helped me to be a calmer person. I made a commitment to get back into even just 5 minutes of daily mindfulness/meditation (I use the Calm app). I’ve also been getting back into some light yoga practice. I’m blessed enough to have a close friend who is a yogi (@kingcarnevale), and have been putting together flows at home using Jessica Olie’s Let’s Start Yoga ebook. Yoga, for me, is much like active/mobile meditation. Yoga and meditation both allow me to pause and truly set an intention for my day and my heart. Overall, I’m becoming more introspective instead of just trying to hide my feelings and be “tough.” Allowing myself to feel all of my feelings, cry when I need to, full belly laugh when I want to, be quiet when it feels appropriate, etc. “Flow, don’t force.”
Then, the last bit I want to touch on in this blog post. I saved this for last because I truly believe in the power of mentality. I take stock in the phrase, “The body follows the mind.” and I refuse to believe that I can accomplish positive change from a negative heartspace. As all of these hormonal issues began happening, and especially when my doctor told me about PCOS, I immediately felt trapped. I saw so many stories about other women who struggle and have yet to learn how to manage their symptoms. I truly believed, even if just for a moment, that any hope I had of being healthy, happy, and fully functioning again in the future were gone. And it made everything so much darker and scarier. After a few days of that, I snapped out of it. I reminded myself of my strength. I sat down and dug deep and remembered all that I’ve already overcome in my life – I am strong. I knew (and still know) that this would be an uphill battle that wouldn’t just disappear overnight, but if I came at it from a self-defeating mindset, it likely would never get better period (pun not intended). I decided to think of a mantra, and repeat it to myself over and over. That mantra is, I believe in my body’s ability to heal itself. I started with saying it 20 times in a row every day, and gradually increase the amount of times I say it from week to week. Especially when I get in my head, thinking I’ll never be healed, I stop myself and do a round of “mantra reps” to get my mind right.
I will not lie to you and say I’ve been the strongest throughout this whole thing. I’ve been scared, I’ve been negative at times, I’ve had doubts. But overall, I have been and will continue to be an optimist, who takes every day as it comes and is proactive in getting my body and I back on the same team. Sometimes I literally tell my body, I’m here for you. I will give you what you need. We are going to get through this. and it genuinely helps me.
I know I’ve said in the past that I never want children – and maybe I used that lack of maternal desire as an excuse to not take action sooner. But I’ve really come to realize that I very well may change my mind. I may meet the love of my life, and we may mutually not want to have children. Or, I could change, and meet the love of my life, and want nothing more than to have a family with him. I get emotional when I think about how much more special a potential child may be to me after going through all of this. If that’s the hand that God deals me, I know I will love you more than anything, little one. Or, if it’s simply me returning to my healthy, female state, fully in sync body-mind-spirit, that is more than enough. That’s worth the fight. I’m worth fighting for myself. And you are too. No matter what you’re dealing with, please never feel like you are alone in your struggle. Don’t give up. Operate from a place of love for yourself and your future. I believe in you, and me, and all of us <3.