"How I got my Cycle Back" w/ YHB's Holistic Health Coach, Jess Suchan
Hi, I’m Jess Suchan, YHB’s “in-house” Holistic Health Coach and founder. of Body Bliss By Jess (I also happen to be our founder Candace Burch’s daughter and our co-founder Rye Burch’s older sis)!
Our mom has been a Hormone Health Educator for almost as long as we’ve been alive, but our interest in the topic didn’t peak (in fact we found it ‘boooring’ as most teens do) until we started experiencing our own symptoms of imbalance!
LOSING MY PERIOD
From dry skin to stubborn weight gain, extreme fatigue, dizziness, anxiety and low libido, over the years I have experienced quite a few of the hallmark symptoms of hormone imbalance but the one that got me most concerned was the loss of my menstrual cycle. For those who don’t know, the technical term for a “missing period” (i.e. absence of menstrual bleeding for more than three months) is amenorrhea.
I can’t remember the exact year that my period went “buh-bye” but I do know that it was in my mid to late 20’s when I was at the height of my obsession with fad dieting. At this point I had been restricting my food for a good 5-8 years (as a desperate reaction to gaining a lot of weight my senior year in H.S. and wanting to “fit in” as I went off to college). Despite the fact that I had been raised by a health educator mother who introduced us to healthy eating from a young age (whole grains, organic produce, healthy fats and responsibly sourced meat), I wanted to be thin and would do whatever it took to make it happen...including eating pre-packaged diet foods and drinking TONS of diet soda. I also decided to go on the synthetic birth control pill to avoid getting pregnant and rebelled against my mom’s advice to try more natural alternatives. Flash forward to today and after 4 + years of ZERO flow, I finally have a regular cycle with very few symptoms of PMS!
In my opinion (and with the guidance of my expert mama), I finally came to the conclusion that my period went missing as a result of restrictive dieting, nutrient deficiencies and bouncing between different types of hormonal birth control pills from the time I was about 18 until 30, over 10 years!
THE HORMONAL CONNECTION TO AMENORRHEA
Estrogen is the all-important hormone that grows the uterine lining we shed as a period every month, but if we don’t have enough of it, or we have too little progesterone to signal the uterine lining to shed, this can lead to skipped menstrual cycles.
So, what can trigger the hormone imbalances that lead to ‘amenorrhea’ and how did they play into my missing period?
-Chronic stress (I definitely experienced this in my 20’s as a result of demanding jobs and an emotionally abusive relationship)
-Constant exercise/overtraining (I was so obsessed with losing weight that I would force myself into high intensity workouts that I dreaded 5 x per week)
-Low body fat - less than 21 percent of total body mass)/being underweight
-Yo-yo dieting (I tried every diet under the sun for over 10 years)
-Restrictive diets low in protein and/or good fats (I was always restricting entire food groups & definitely missing out on key nutrients)
-Anorexia, bulimia, disordered eating (in my case extreme calorie deprivation)
- Gluten intolerance (I’ve experienced mild symptoms like bloating & fatigue)
-PCOS see our recent blog HERE on the hormone / PCOS connection)
-Hormonal Birth Control - synthetic hormones that stop ovulation (I was on multiple forms of the synthetic birth control pill for 10+ years of my life!
As you can see from the above, I checked over half the boxes for the associated triggers/root causes for amenorrhea, so it makes a lot of sense that my period went missing for as long as it did! As I got older and finally decided I wanted to break free from yo-yo dieting & cure the debilitating migraine headaches I had developed, I decided that it was time to channel the advice my mom had given me for years and transition off the birth control pill and find a healthier balance with food and my body.
A few things to keep in mind:
-Our menstrual cycles are a window into our bodies and can tell us a lot about our overall health. If we don’t have a regular cycle or it’s gone all together, chances are we are experiencing other frustrating symptoms of imbalance too! By addressing the irregular or missing cycle, we can also address these other symptoms.
-Healthy Cycle= Fertility! Irregular periods and menstrual disorders disrupt a woman’s normal menstrual rhythms which plays a key role in fertility. If you’re planning on having children in the near OR distant future, a healthy cycle is key.
Here are some of the steps I took to bring my period back:
Eat a balanced diet filled with nutrient-dense REAL, unpackaged foods. Restricting entire foods groups (carbs, fats, proteins, etc) and/or not eating ENOUGH, can create nutrient deficiencies and a chronic stress response in the body which can throw your hormones out of whack and your period along with it. In order to restore my cycle, I had to add back more nutrient-rich carbs and healthy fats & increase the number of calories I was eating each day.
- Protein is crucial for ovulation so include small amounts at every meal (grass-fed meat, wild-caught fish, pasture-raised eggs, sprouted tempeh, legumes, etc) - Read about my experience going vegan for six months here!
- Prioritize healthy carbs - steel-cut oats, whole grain bread (sprouted like Ezekial when possible), organic brown rice like Lundberg Farms, sweet potato & starchy veggies like butternut squash & jicama.
- Get in at least 1-2 servings of healthy fats per meal - raw nuts & seeds, avocado, extra virgin olive oil, grass fed butter, ghee, organic coconut etc.
- Increase intake of healthy carbs and proteins before and after heavy exercising! Not eating enough when exercising can lead to delayed or eliminated periods.
- Remove foods from forbidden categories! Listen to your body & fuel it with the nutrients it’s truly asking for! Our cravings are typically trying to tell us something and when we ignore them we often end up binging on unhealthy foods later on. Find healthier swaps for the not-so-healthy processed or sugary foods you crave (reach out to me at @bodyblissbyjess for ideas).
- Cinnamon can help manage insulin levels for more regularity so have fun sprinkling it on everything! With the holidays around the corner, this pumpkin spice latte by Natural Fit Foodie is the perfect hormone balancing treat!
- Calcium rich foods like organic yogurt & goats cheese in moderation, leafy greens, almonds, and sprouted tofu.
- Cook your vegetables in a fat (olive/coconut oil, ghee) to help with nutrient absorption (it tastes so much better too!)
- Enjoy teas with ginger root, stinging nettles, mugwort, lemon balm, tansy, raspberry leaf, chamomile, skullcap, Dong Quai, rose, hibiscus, or licorice root. An evening nightcap with 1-2 teaspoons of coconut oil, cinnamon and a little organic stevia or Monkfruit is a nice way to wind down in the evening and keeps your blood sugar levels balanced.
- Chasteberry can help balance prolactin and progesterone making cycles more regular (I started taking HUM’s Moody Bird to regulate my cycle) Use our code 165CB1 for $10 off your first order
- Multi B vitamin complex (depleted by hormonal BC)- helps reduce PMS symptoms
- Magnesium (also depleted by hormonal BC) to help with sleep as well as reduce PMS related anxiety (I have this CALM drink every night before bed)
- Vitamin D3 to regulate cycle and boost mood (this is major!)
- Maca root can help your body adapt to stress and support cycle regularity (I love adding a powder like this to my smoothies- here’s a GREAT hormone balancing smoothie recipe I came up with)
- Bio-identical progesterone cream to balance out hormone levels, reverse estrogen dominance and bring back a healthy cycle (this was one of the #1 helpers in my journey but we don’t recommend this step until you’ve had your hormone levels tested to be sure that it’s what your body needs).
EXERCISE / LIFESTYLE CHANGES
- Regular movement is great, but doing intense workouts several times a week can be a trigger for amenorrhea. On the days you do decide to do a higher intensity workout, aim to do it in the morning or early afternoon. (HERE is a great podcast episode on this topic!)
- Make it a point to only engage in exercise you love so as not to spike cortisol “stress” hormone levels and put you into “fight or flight” mode!
- Aim to go to bed and wake up at the same time everyday (this one was a game changer for me!)
- Reduce stress with meditation, yoga, aromatherapy (I ended up quitting my stressful job & taking long walks to clear my mind)
- Keep caffeine to one cup (or none) a day and consume it before noon. In balancing my hormones, I ended up trading my 4 cups of coffee per day for matcha latte’s or Four Sigmatic elixirs mixed with steamed almond milk, organic stevia & cinnamon! (Read our full blog post on Four Sigmatic Mushrooms HERE).
- Turn off your screens an hour before bedtime & journal, read a chapter from a book or just breathe.
- Turn the temperature down in your home at night for deeper sleep (get cozy under blankets!)
- Cognitive behavioral therapy or self discovery books/podcasts/coaches can help you work through underlying stressors and create healthy boundaries with the people in your life and implement self-care routines and rituals you look forward to!
- Consider coming off the hormonal birth control pill if you’re still taking it (read our blog post here for tips on a smoother transition!)
At the end of the day, there are many reasons that a healthy period is not only important but absolutely necessary! As women, our menstrual cycle sends different messages throughout the month that can help us feel more in alignment with our bodies and to make lifestyle choices (food, exercise, social, personal care etc) that will serve our mind-body best depending on the time of the month. Without a regular cycle it is normal to experience frustrating side effects and to feel disconnected from your own body!
But the good news is that as someone who had pretty much lost all hope that I’d get my period back, I am living proof that it’s 100% possible and within reach! What does it take? A commitment to yourself and a willingness to dig a little deeper and put in the lifestyle work it takes to experience meaningful change. I highly recommend starting by getting your hormones tested from the comfort of your own home & then taking the steps that we recommend to get back in balance all naturally!
Interested in testing your hormone levels and getting started on an all-natural rebalancing plan? Now is a good time to test your hormones from home! Our saliva test kits are mailed to you directly for convenient collection (including a postage-paid shipping envelope for returning your samples directly to our lab for analysis).
View our testing + consulting packages HERE.
Email us at email@example.com with any questions!