The Dietitian who Gained Weight and Stopped Running to Reclaim her Health
Updated: Jul 20, 2020
I lost my period in 2017. I was 21 years old.
I was a soccer player, dating a handsome man (later to be my husband) and simultaneously becoming obsessed with “Wellness Culture”.
My “Wellness Journey” was not completely conscious or intentional. Unfortunately, the cafeteria at my community college was tolerable at best. I started eating less and spending more time with my aforementioned boyfriend. I was still playing soccer and having regular, intense practices.
I began to substitute simple things. Things like almond milk for dairy milk and a “handful of nuts” as a snack because these were healthy foods, right?!
Slowly but surely, I started losing weight. I began receiving compliments*. Statements like, “wow, you’ve really ‘slimmed up’” and “did you lose weight? You look great!” began circulating (my boyfriend & now husband has always told me that I look beautiful, before my body changed, during my body changing, and now). I became labeled as the “thin one”, adding fuel to the fire of my over-exercise and restrictive eating habits.
My time playing soccer came to an end, and I swiftly diverted my competitive energy into endurance running. It became addicting. I loved it. Not only did it make me feel strong and accomplished, it slowly became my identity. It slowly became the key to my new and “improved” size. I was that small, runner girl and I ate. that. up.
My running career sweetly paired with the profession I was studying in school--Dietetics. I wanted to become a Dietitian, you see. I learned in school what foods were “bad” and which foods were “good”. I abstained (largely) from foods that were deemed “bad” and was told, “you have so much discipline!” I was the Dietetic student after all, right? “Health” was my jam.
The combination of chronic under-fueling, intense exercise and stress of a demanding school curriculum stopped my body from having regular cycles and I lost my period all together.
* I say compliments in this post because at the time that’s what it felt like to me. My current opinion of weight-centric comments is that no matter what your intentions, making a comment on another’s body is never ok and reinforces the idea that certain bodies are better than others.
WHAT LIFE WAS ACTUALLY LIKE BEHIND THE SCENES
I began to think constantly about food. What I was going to eat for lunch. What I was going to have as a snack. What I was going to eat for dinner. I would go out to restaurants, but I would scour that menu first to assess which item was the “healthiest” and with the handy-dandy calorie information--which foods were low calorie. I would get frustrated when my family would insist we go to a fast food restaurant, because there were no “healthy” options available. I would pout and whine because surely if I had one french fry--WHAM, Atherosclerosis.
Cold. I was cold all. the. time. The slightest wind chill would be enough to force me to grab any jacket/sweatshirt/blanket I could find. I would have mental breakdowns sometimes because I was just too cold.
And I was exhausted. I constantly had to get up in the middle of the night and urinate. I had a strict bedtime because I had to get up early in the morning and run or go to the gym. And don’t even get me started on my gut distress. Food rarely sat right with me. To avoid detail, I’ll leave it at this: I avoided passing gas around my husband until we were married in 2019, when he finally did get a whiff, he seriously questioned his decision and stated, “if only I had known…”
To be honest, I am not sure when the switch started happening in my brain. When I started loosening the reins and letting go of my rigid rules. Although I don’t know the date or the time, I do know it began when I started learning about Intuitive Eating, Health at Every Size and how my current “healthy lifestyle” was anything but“healthy”. I even heard a podcast about this condition called Hypothalamic Amenorrhea, where menstruation stops for several months or longer due to a problem involving the hypothalamus. This condition occurs (most often) in an environment of any combination of; chronic under-fueling, high stress from exercise, and/or high stress for emotional/mental reasons. I enveloped all three.
I also learned about the consequences of my body’s inability to produce a menstrual cycle; increased risk of Osteoporosis, Dementia, Cardiovascular irregularities, Low Libido, and increased rate of infertility.
In my soul, I knew that this was the underlying cause of my lack of a menstrual cycle. I did. But boy, did I fight it. I sat on this information for at least a year. I stewed on it. I continued to reason it away. I told myself “I’m fine right now. I’ll deal with this when I want to get pregnant.” I thought to myself--surely there is something else going on. Surely there is some other logical, reasonable explanation for this that could easily be solved by seeing an OBGYN. I could get whatever medication I needed and solve it! I was “healthy”, after all.
That’s definitely not what happened.
I did end up seeing an OBGYN. I was curious if my musings of a “different solution” was possible. So I saw the OBGYN. I told the doctor that I had not had my period in at least 2 years. You know what the doctor told me?
“Just gain X pounds and decrease your running.”
I gawked. Doctor say what?! No. Absolutely not. I will not be doing that, thank you very much! After a couple minutes of, “but running is my life-in fact, I am running a race with my husband in a couple months!” I had convinced him that my exercise was not the problem, so instead the recommendation became I just needed to “add X amount of calories each day” and BAM I would be cured. He dismissed me, saying that I am just fine and when I am ready to have kids there will “be options for me when that time comes.”
But in my heart, I knew I was not just fine--that if I wanted to fully live my life, eventually get pregnant, and run long-term without constant injury I needed to make a change. It took me another 6 months after this doctor visit to finally accept that I was not just fine, that I needed to stop (literally and figuratively) running from this problem. I needed to make a change. I had also wrestled with the desire to run this Private Practice that is founded in weight-neutral care. I make posts and *preach* size diversity, promoting a healthy body image, and Intuitive Eating. I thought to myself, “how can I continue to post, preach, and help others believe these principles if I can’t even accept the fact that one of the key factors in my recovery involved my need to gain weight?”, “how can I help people accept themselves for who they are and fuel their unique body if I can’t even do that myself?”
So on May 30th, 2020 I went “All in”. I decided enough was enough. It was time to reclaim my health.
MY ALL IN JOURNEY & RECLAIMING MY HEALTH
“All in” is a term coined by Nicola J. Rinaldini, the author of; “No Period, Now What?”. This book is a comprehensive guide to recovering from Hypothalamic Amenorrhea. “All in” means;
- Eating a minimum of 2500 calories each day (with no maximum).
- Stopping all high-intensity exercise (i.e. no running).
I cut any exercise out completely cold turkey. I dramatically increased my intake. And yes, I grieved. Yes, I shook my fist at God. I prayed, “Lord, how come so many other women can run all the time, be thin and still get their period? It’s not fair.” Now, after a month and a half of being “all in” I can see that losing my period was one of the most amazing acts of mercy and kindness that the Lord has extended to me thus far.
Stopping all running and any high intensity activity allowed me to truly reflect on why I ran. I was able to do this with complete and total honesty. I discovered that while the majority of my intentions with running was because I loved it, I knew there was still a part of me that clung to using it as a way to maintain my weight.
I used get anxious if I was unable to exercise after X amount of days. I found I was scheduling my life around exercise, instead of the other way around. I realized how I had given up precious moments with dear friends and family for the sake of running or avoiding "extra calories" to my day. This reflection always brings me to tears.
I realized that in my worst days, I was extremely restricting my intake. Not only in terms of “serving sizes” I had thought were “appropriate”, but also what foods I had allowed myself. Even though for the past year or so I had really relaxed the restrictions I had placed on myself, I realized that for the amount of exercising I was participating in I needed to be eating more for my body to function correctly. Much, much more.
I have slowly released my food rules. I am able to truly enjoy a random ice cream night with my husband (regardless of what exercise I had done that day or eaten). I am able to have pizza as leftovers. And most importantly, I am learning to sit with fullness (and sometimes extreme fullness) and be OK with it, instead of fearful.
Have I gained weight? Sure have. My clothes are fitting differently, I am throwing away many articles of clothing that no longer fit. I am getting used to a new body again. Even though it may not be the weight society (or my own mind) may see as the “epitome of health”, I do know that I can trust my body. I can trust that it knows where my body needs to be to be truly nourished. While my head knows that I can trust my body, my heart still struggles. Some days are really, really hard to accept this new, changing body. Other days are easier.
The Lord is showing me in a new and wonderful way just how much He loves me regardless of my body size. He is showing me that I had made exercise and nutrition an idol.
He is showing me that I cannot love Him and love others while imprisoned by exercise and food. That when my time comes to see Him in person; how much I exercised, what I ate, and what my body looked like will not be what matters.
I am sharing my story so that I can shed light on the disorder disguised as the “Wellness Culture" we live in today, and to encourage others to express concerns to your friends or family in a similar situation. I am sharing my story so that I can bring light to behaviors that are actually disordered and not healthy. I am sharing my story to encourage those going through this exact situation so that I can walk alongside them.
I got my first recovery period on July 17th, 2020. While this is an amazing win on my journey, I know I still have a while to go before I can pick up running again. And that’s ok, because I know that one day I will be able to pursue my big dreams, like completing a marathon and a half-ironman. I know when that time comes, when I walk up to that start line--I will be truly nourished, body and soul.
And as always, thanks for being here.
Maddi Osburn RDN LD
Interested in working with me to regain your period and reclaim your health? Click here to inquire.
References: No Period Now What? By Nicola J. Rinaldini.