Saturday, April 22, 2017

Not Waiting For Life To Happen

Started my period today. It's that one day of the month that kinda sucks and I don't just mean the cramping. Although, I could have told you five days ago I wasn't pregnant and was going to start my period soon. I just know my body too well.

Is it crazy to say I'm cool with it? Yea of course I'm confused, I don't like not having answers, I don't like not getting results, blah blah, but I've let go. Literally not overthinking it nor trying to investigate it at this point. That shit was just making me a hot mess.

I made a shift in my attitude and approach to this baby-making stuff about 8-plus weeks ago (that long already?!) and I know for sure it was the best thing for me—and for John lol. We still tried (or should I say we weren't trying to prevent it) and in all actuality it's ok that I haven't become pregnant in that time, and it's even ok that the changes I made weren't "the trick" to conceiving. I'm happy with where we're at either way.

We're living life not waiting for life to happen.

In fact, I'm hitting the reset button. Go back to how it was before we started trying. We've decided to plan a few trips this year, and with a couple of the plans we have for this summer it's making me think that I'd rather hold off on getting pregnant until after that. Seriously! I'm dead serious that we're probably going to take a break for a month or two. And not that we were trying oh-so hard recently (it's been super casual) but now I'm even more ok with having patience.

~~~

First, I signed up for a stand-up paddleboard (SUP) race—yes RACE!—on June 3 in one of my favorite places ever: the Russian River in Sonoma County, Northern Calif. If you're wondering, yup, that would be the (old) Vineman swim course! This race will actually ends at Johnson's Beach where the Vineman swim start/finish was, and will start 8 miles up the river from there.

I've always wanted to stay in Guernville but never did (fell in love after all those years racing Vineman), and we finally get to! We found a cute house rental tucked in the forest (there are dozens out there from which to choose). After that we're heading over to Napa for a few days—just like we used to after racing Vineman. Ah memories. This is also serving as special getaway for our first anniversary, so we even splurged on a dinner res at French Laundry (OMG!). All in all, I suppose I'd rather be sipping wine for a few days than having to abstain* ;)

Then we're talking about potentially some more summer travel as well, but nothing official yet. When we plan and talk about these things, it makes me realize that I want to soak up more time with John and do things we haven't done together before we bring a human into the world. So maybe it's a good thing that I haven't gotten pregnant yet. I mean, don't get me wrong, I'm so ready if it were to happen, duh, but maybe the extra time as a family of three is what we need (Finley = No. 3).

~~~

Ok, how about me signing up for a freakin race?! Um, yea! I've made it no secret that I've fallen in love with SUP more than ever this year, and am starting to feel pretty fit on the board. But I'm not "fit fit," and certainly nowhere near the old me as, nor would I want to be putting in that kind of effort into training these days, it's just does not appeal to me at all. But for SUP, I'm fit enough to get in some decent miles and feel strong on the board. I have a very reasonable goal of wanting to go sub-2 hours for the 8-mile race. To put that in perspective, right now when I SUP in the open ocean I'm doing 12:00 to 15:00 minute miles—and that can be anything from an aerobic/MAF effort to tempo effort depending on conditions. Anything sub-13 pace is basically a hard effort! I have no idea what girls who are actually good are doing but that's not what this is about. I could be dead last for all I care. My fitness and satisfaction with this is all internal and for me. Plus, this race I signed up for seems super mellow and nothing too serious, so we'll see. It was mostly the location that got me to sign up for it. I have done one SUP race before in 2015 and it KICKED MY ASS, so I have no idea what I'm getting myself into, and I love that.

Work-wise I've made some peace with things too. I've picked the momentum back up in the last couple weeks and am feeling that spark again. Taking breaks work people—it doesn't make you a lazy failure! I also have plans to finally pursue some backburner projects that I've always wanted to do but haven't "had time" to pull the trigger and excuses follow. The way I see it these days, THE TIME IS NOW. And that goes for everything. Don't sit on something, some idea, some goal, and just hope it can happen someday. Make it happen. Live your life on your terms. Do cool shit.

~~~

So to sum it up:

We all go through lows in life, we all have shit going on, we all get curveballs thrown our way. Guess what: We have a choice. A choice over our attitude, our mindset, and a choice to make the most of even a shitty situation. 

And that fucking rocks. What a gift.

And hey, that doesn't mean you have to suck it up and always put on a smile or have happy thoughts every second of the day. I don't think that's possible! We will still have shitty days and shitty moments. We are still allowed to feel sorry for ourselves every now and then and let it out in the form of tears or whatever your thing is. But my point is, over the long term we have a choice to choose a good attitude and make it a good life; we don't have to be stuck in a living hell.

Good example of those moments when you just feel shitty: You can watch/hear me talk about a recent hiccup I went through over body image and feeling negative/insecure over at lifepostcollective.com, we're doing this video series called "Women's Corner" and you can literally hear me talk about my deepest darkest feelings and how I overcome those negative moments to choose positivity, health and happiness in any shape or form. Not just me, either, I have an amazing co-host who's willing to talk about her life shit too. (PS Sign up for 30 days free with code lpc4me.)

xo

*I got a TON of super nice messages and emails after my last post on the struggles of TTC, so thank you to all who took the time to write and share words of wisdom, love, etc. Interestingly, many of you who shared stories of struggling to get pregnant pretty much said that when you drank and vacationed more, that's when it happened. Yet, the "research" says to abstain from alcohol. What's one to think? That is still a legit question I have. In the meantime, cheers ;)

Thursday, March 30, 2017

The Year Of Babies, But Not For Us (At Least, Yet)


Writing is like therapy for me, it helps when I need it, so here it goes.

These past six-plus months have been straight up emotional, challenging and personally transformative. In many ways, the old adage holds true: “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”

So let me back up.


Ready To Try
When we were in Hawaii this past October (2016) John and I had a lot of good times, enjoyed the big race, went on scuba dives, hikes, and had our share of date nights and cocktails, but in particular one thing came from the trip that would potentially change our lives forever. We decided we wanted to start trying to get pregnant! Even though we’re still newlyweds, we’ve been together for a long time and we’re at a point in our lives where we’re just ready. When you know you know.

So me being me, I got all ready for this baby-making process by becoming an expert on it and following concepts of the Fertility Awareness Method (FAM). Actually, I had already been measuring BBT and tracking cycles on Kindara so that was nothing new. But I started doing everything else from OPKs (to watch for the LH surge) to timing our sex—all new territory for sure. I also did a lot of other little things that I felt would help make my body baby-ready—got acupuncture, gained a little weight (which I’ve discussed here; the changes took some getting used to but now I really enjoy my body), kept exercise to moderation, ditched intensity (most the time), ate more carbs*, weaned off coffee, abstained from alcohol for a month, ramped up the supplements, etc.

*In fall 2016 I logged on MyFitnessPal for a week just to see what I was eating intuitively these days, and I was averaging 90-130 grams of carbs most days, and on exercise days usually eating anywhere from 150 to over 250 grams of carbs a day. I figured that now trying to conceive I shouldn’t be going chronically less than 130 grams a day even if that was working fine for maintaining a regular monthly menstrual cycle and normal bodyweight/BMI, hence the increase. 

That first month of trying, October, totally messed with my head. I was obsessed over it… I was excited… I was nervous… I was tripping out over the idea of getting pregnant… I wanted it really bad… I was over-thinking every little thing. Looking back I went totally over board and let that ol' control freak take over.

Worst of all, I expected it to happen just like that. A lot of my friends shared their stories of getting pregnant on the first try and said "watch out what you wish for!" Then I look and John and I and think, “I’m the healthiest I’ve ever been, John’s a very healthy dude, we take care of ourselves, we’re not too uptight or stressed, I’m an expert on healthy living… not to mention, I’m no longer too lean, not training too hard, and all my tests show that my hormones and biomarkers kick ass so I should be 100% ready to build a baby!” (PS studies show that there’s no reason to believe a woman who had amenorrhea in the past will face infertility as long as her hormones and cycles are back to normal, which mine have been for years now, thus this has never been a concern for me).


The First Negative
That first month we did not get pregnant—and it’s not surprising looking back. I was pretty sad the afternoon I started my period, and there were tears, but also something else happened: I immediately felt myself relax and loosen up. Right then I learned a couple huge lessons. 1) I had been so worked up over how to do everything perfectly for trying to conceive (TTC) that I forgot the most important thing to just relax and let nature take its course. I knew I’d never get pregnant if I kept up like this. And of all people, I should have known better than being in a state of stress like that does not usually lead to desirable outcomes. And 2) the negative result was also humbling. You can be the healthiest in the world, but that doesn’t guarantee anything with getting pregnant, apparently. The more I learn the more I realize pregnancy is a giant mystery in many ways.

November and December continued to be active months of trying, but I was working on changing my attitude and approach. December I especially let go of trying so hard, and poured myself some wine over the holidays. All the while I was still tracking and timing “stuff” (because at the end of the day things like timing sex do matter), but I was truly making an effort to be more relaxed and less obsessed about it. I wasn’t perfect, but I was managing it better. Here’s the thing: When I set my mind on a new goal it’s hard for me to just to be casual about it, and if I’m not reaching the goal, I tend to get even more intense about the effort I put in. But in this case that had to change, and that’s been part of my transformation…


Finley The Vizsla
Thankfully on Dec. 9 a new little member to our family arrived to our home, the fur baby kind. We had committed to getting a vizsla puppy (my dream dog for the past decade) way back in summer—even before the decision to TTC—so I had been eagerly waiting his arrival and the timing was absolutely ideal. I had no idea how quickly I’d fall in love with our boy, Finley, and also had no idea I’d need this little guy in my life so badly during this time. Finley’s filled our hearts with so much love and happiness, and no matter what he is and always will be our first baby. Lucky for him, since he’s our only child as of now, he has one hell of a good life with a mom and dad who both work from home and give him lots of love, attention, walks and treats.

As far as TTC goes…

More disappointing outcomes for us in the final months of 2016.


The Baby Boom
Meanwhile, a handful of my girlfriends and best friends from various circles in my personal life were announcing their pregnancies, had recently become pregnant or about to pop. It was crazy. Apparently everyone else was trying too. I’m sure my age has something to do with it, but still, the pregnancies seemed way more than normal. In February alone I went to three freakin' baby showers ha!

I started seeing the same thing happen in the triathlon/endurance world and everywhere else I looked—it felt like every damn day for months someone else was announcing a pregnancy. There are people even claiming it’s the “year of babies.” It was a bit overwhelming for me to stomach…

I never expected I’d react this way, but the flood of announcements started breaking me down emotionally and really fucking with my head. I wasn’t jealous of anyone, but the situation just made me really sad and confused. I couldn’t help but compare and wonder—why them and why not us? Of all times for this to happen, why the hell does this pregnancy boom have to happen now—right when it’s become a very sensitive subject in my life?! These mom- and dads-to-be are feeling the most happiness ever while I’m over here crying at the start of my period and feeling like a failure.

Pity party. I know. I’m not saying I’m proud of it… I’m just telling the truth. I'm sure many women can relate.

Thankfully I got over that shit with time; it was making me bitter, anti-social and even more resentful at social media, which I didn’t like. Meanwhile, the baby boom is still going strong. No matter where I look it’s “baby this,” “baby that.” Baby bumps galore. To this day I’m seeing new announcements once a week or more on average. But now, I react with laughter. Literally. Whenever I see or hear of a new gal who’s knocked up, I laugh to myself and say, “Of course she’s pregnant!” (And then I remind myself that I have a pretty good life and the freedom to do lots of things pregnant women can’t do.)

Let me also say, I am certainly not ignorant to the fact that there are, no doubt, plenty of women like me out there right now who so badly want to get pregnant but aren’t, month after month, and these women probably also have a hard time hearing about all the baby talk from their friends and social connections… We’re more of a silent group; when you’re going through it it’s harder to talk about it publically. Personally, I never knew it would be so hard to talk openly about trying to get pregnant. I consider myself an open book these days, but this is tough stuff and it even took me months to build the courage to write this blog post. So to all you women TTC and having a hard time, my heart is right there with you.


Now Into 2017
January… February… March…

Half a year of trying.

Not pregnant.

Gradually, it’s gotten back to life as usual, I definitely think about it less, and am doing way less. I’m not so emotional about it. When I look at my friends and acquaintances who are pregnant I don’t get a lump in my throat anymore. At some point you realize you just have to live your life, be in the moment each day, be grateful for what you DO have, don’t fret over the things you DON’T have, and not be obsessed over that which you cannot control. Oh, and let go of all expectations.

And, hey, after all it's only been six rounds so far. It certainly feels like forever, but in reality it's not that long to be trying!

However, the one time of month that sucks no matter what is when I start my period. Aunt Flow (AF) now comes with a different type of emotional response (i.e. not PMS)—and it’s when I get all choked up. I can tell when AF is coming days before, and for those few days, it’s just a hard time of month for me.

I’ve also let up on how much I was doing to TTC. I’m not trying to be perfect during the two-week wait anymore (if I workout a bit harder or have some wine, so be it). I'm not trying to "hack" this one. Less is more. Keep it real. Until I see a positive pregnancy test with my own two eyes I have to live life normally, not cautiously thinking “what if.” I still keep up with a few things I find valuable—mostly things I’d be going even if we weren’t TTC—such as acupuncture, taking certain supplements, using Kindara, clean eating, etc.

Meanwhile, I’ve gradually been putting in more effort on myself in other ways and have searched for underlying stress that could be plaguing me (more on that below). The transformation has been real!


What About My Guy?
We did get John’s sperm tested because every expert with whom I speak always says, “Keep in mind it’s 50% the guy when it comes to getting pregnant, not just the girl.”

The results show his “stuff” was about average and/or potentially borderline low in one or two areas depending on whom you ask (the standards for what constitutes good, healthy sperm are somewhat vague and inconsistent in what we researched and resources we were given). So what we know is that John’s stuff could be better, but it’s certainly not problematic at a clinical level and nowhere near infertile. (PS - John gave me permission to disclose this tidbit).

Given his results, we built out a plan to aid in his fertility and he was very willing and open-minded to it despite not being the type of guy who likes supplements and health plans (go figure). It’s funny because we've each had to take a somewhat opposite approach in this: I relax more; he puts in a bit more effort. I’m very proud of the man he is, the efforts he’s making and most of all how he’s been incredibly relaxed about the whole process. He sets a good example around here.

So at the end of the day, thankfully there’s zero reason at this point to believe that he or I are infertile in any way, which means we’ll just keep on trying and this a practice in patience. If I find the need or desire to do more testing and investigating down the line, then we’ll discuss it, but again, it still has only been six months of trying, which is not that long all things considered!


Love & Life
Meanwhile, all this has brought John and I closer together (not just talking all the sex we get to have, which of course is another big bonus lol). We’re taking more time as a couple, having fun date nights and little adventures (Finley’s always included too) and we’re in a great groove. I’ve never felt so in love with my man.

A good friend and mentor told me about her efforts on trying to get pregnant (it’s not been easy for her either), “Truly, I live an amazing life, and am wanting for nothing. So I give thanks for that daily, and trust that the rest will fall into place for reasons that I may never understand the details of!”

This spoke to me. I couldn’t ask for a better life with John. Wanting a baby is just that: Want. It’s not about needing one. We don’t need a baby. Once you understand that it really puts things in perspective and I’ve learned to not let myself take for granted the good things that are happening right now.


Uncovering and Eliminating More Underlying Stress
I knew I was stressed in the beginning, but over time I know in my heart of hearts I’m not like that about it anymore! It really is life as usual for the most part. I really don't feel stressed. HRV is fine (if I get around to measuring). My body feels healthy and robust. I feel like I've learned to handle this pretty well. So I've despised it and still despise it every time someone says, “Oh you just need to relax and it’ll happen.” I’ll admit to having stress when it’s clear I have stress—I’m not ashamed—so how could there be stress and lack of relaxation if I really truly don’t think that’s the case? Even John is amazed at how chill I've become—a lot of it thanks to him and his naturally chill demeanor.

But maybe there was something I was missing? I was willing to dig deep and figure it out. And actually, I discovered something…

My work. Being self-employed.

Therein lies the hidden underlying stress.

So I had the chance to do something about it, and long story short: I’ve temporarily and purposefully cut back on work despite that being a terrifying concept in my world. Turns out this is something I’ve needed for a while but was too scared to ever do. Thank goodness I have the support of my amazing husband in this.

The longer version:
For a while I’ve been having some feeling like work was taking a bigger toll on me and that perhaps I was starting to experience burnout, but then I’d have a bunch of shit to do so I’d have to ignore it. I was also confused because I love what I do so damn much—how could I be burnt out?

What it comes down to is being self-employed and fearing a plateau or decline. When you’re self-employed it can be intense and stressful in different ways than a traditional job. I put a ton of pressure on myself that I always need to be growing, building, expanding, making more money, figuring out new ways to stay fresh and relevant, and that each month and each year needs to be better than the last. Granted, it’s not so bad that I’m back to being frazzled and dealing with work-stress insomnia like I have year’s past. These days I certainly take better take care of myself, I know when to say NO, and I don’t get completely overwhelmed at my workload (getting organized has helped a ton). But even if I’m mindful of my wellbeing and time management, I’m always of the mindset that as a small business owner I need to do better each year, make enough money to cover all my costs and still have enough save, invest in my future, pay for health insurance, be on top of my game as an expert in the field (thus find extra time to do research and continuing education), and so on—while god-forbid I stay status quo, plateau or experience a decrease in business; that would make this Type A gal an anxious mess. I discovered that this mindset has been a huge source of underlying stress.

So I pondered, “What if I challenged myself to cut back on work, live a bit more simply, be a bit more of a hermit, and see what happens?” The timing seemed right given the main subject of this blog post you're reading. The idea of a sabbatical also floated around for a bit, but the more I thought about that the more it didn’t seem realistic, desirable or necessary for several reasons. So instead, we decided (John of course has been very much involved in this) that I’d cut back on work for a month or so. Of course, I’d keep all my current full-time coaching clients and the regular work I do for them, but not take on anyone new, and cut back in other areas, e.g. podcast once a week instead of twice, scheduling fewer consults per day, blocking off certain days of the week as “personal development” days and so on. Last year I decided to do more consulting and less full-time coaching (thus I scaled back on how many full-timers I accepted) so that actually made this shift in workload easy.

Once I pulled the trigger I immediately felt the difference. Holy shit did I need this extra room to unwind a bit, reconnect with my whole self and feel the work pressure lift away. For once it’s ok that I’m not striving for more or worrying about how much money is in my accounts. I can’t emphasize enough that this would not have been possible without my John, he’s simply incredible and couldn’t be more supportive.

By now, you probably know as well as I do that I can be a serious put-your-head-down-and-do-the-work kind of person and have unwavering commitment to my schedule, work and goals; I take things like health, wellness, performance very seriously—my own and that of my clients—all to the point where sometimes I get so wrapped up in the work and chasing optimal, that I forget to lighten up and realize I’m just human; we’re all just human. So this transition/break has allowed me the opportunity to be more of the carefree person that lives within me (thankfully she's alive and well); to spend my days moving at a slower pace and take more of a ultra-chill happy-go-lucky approach; to laugh off shit that happens rather than turn on the “flight or fight” mode. 

This little self-discovery project has also taught me to truly live in the moment and not get worked up over what the future may hold; to find some space and just be comfortable with “what is;” to be more process oriented than outcome oriented. I’m good at that mindset when I’m on vacation or out backpacking, but I’ve had to learn how to be this way at home during regular day-to-day life.

“When we practice ‘being here’ during less stressful times, we'll be more equipped to respond mindfully when dealing with strong obsessions.” – Tara Brach


So That’s Where TTC Has Led Me…
It’s funny how this journey has taken me down paths that I never expected. I’ve realized that in life, no matter what it’s been, nothing has ever come easy to me; I feel like I’ve always had to work a bit harder, go through some shit and overcome tough times, and go a step further to peel back layers and discover more. If I had gotten pregnant the first try none of these good things would have happened, and I wouldn’t have learned these lessons or have taken the time to explore more on how I want to live my life. So maybe we didn’t “get lucky” and conceive on the first or second try like so many I know, but in a way I feel just as lucky if not luckier on this journey because it’s making me a better person, making my husband a better person, it’s making our relationship and love for each other better than ever … and it’s making me more compassionate to all those out there who face tough times—whatever their definition of “tough times” may be; it doesn’t matter, it’s all relative.

So that’s it for now! I wish I could say this post was ending on a happier note and something like, “Surprise, we’re finally pregnant,” but I’m not. We’re not pregnant. Who knows what’ll happen. 

Someone asked me if I’m worried about that yet, i.e. what will happen, and the honest truth is no, I’m not worried about it. I’m really not. Have I worried about different variables as it relates to getting pregnant? Yes. But I’ve let go of that. Overall I have no worries about the future. There is only the now to focus on—and enjoy the hell out of my little family and this life we have built.


~~~ BONUS ~~~


Helping My Hormones
Last tidbit because it's relevant and may also be helpful to other women out there if they’re experiencing something similar; it's when all the tracking and investigating pays off. Just please do me a favor and work with a practitioner when starting any new supplements or health plan.

Backing up a bit to those early months of trying (last fall)… I did discover that my hormones potentially could use some balancing. My cycles were regular but there were little things that were “off,” all of which I discovered thanks to the tracking I’ve done on Kindara dating back to 2015. Before we were TTC and even the first couple months of TTC, I saw that I had been ovulating relatively late in my cycle and having short-ish luteal phases, as well as inconsistent cycle lengths during a lot of last year (I’d cycle every month, but it’d bounce around a lot). I also have suffered from PMDD for over a year, which is not normal! (And yes, I’ve tried managing diet and carbs to alleviate the symptoms, which is another topic for another day.) I wondered if the short luteal phases were due to not enough progesterone sticking around and if this was causing a luteal phase defect that can have a negative effect on getting pregnant.

To fix things, I decided to start on vitex back in early December (specifically I’m taking Chastetree Berry Extract by Vitanica) and this had an immediate beneficial effect. Within a month, I started ovulating at a normal time (Day 14), luteal phases improved to 13-14 days and cycles stayed consistently 27-29 days. It’s been like that since.

Meanwhile, I consulted with my amazing functional practitioner/fertility expert, Brie, about my health, hormones and fertility in general, she eased a lot of worries and gave some great insight and thoughts. In particular, I asked about the idea of taking progesterone just to see if that would help and we decided it wasn’t absolutely necessary (my progesterone looked fine on my most recent DUTCH) but she also said it wouldn’t hurt trying it. So I’ve been on sublingual progesterone the past two cycles—haven’t really noticed a difference nor did it magically lead to a pregnancy; not that I was expecting that. (Note: do not start taking progesterone on your own, please only do so under the guidance of a qualified practitioner.)

All this work I’ve done to aid my fertility—from the acupuncture and herbs to vitex and lifestyle—has greatly relieved my PMDD symptoms, to the point where I don’t have to hide away that time of month, lol. So that’s a bonus!


Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Is Amenorrhea That Big of a Problem? Helping Those Silently Suffering

I had an email from a super nice Endurance Planet fan the other day that promoted this post. He was wondering if amenorrhea is really that big of a deal. He's noticed how I've been talking about it more these days, in particular this new episode on hypothalamic amenorrhea that just dropped, and also more candid discussions over at lifepostcollective.com, but from what he sees in the endurance scene, it doesn't seem like that big of a problem, especially, as he mentioned, "More often than not there is an overwhelming number of athletes who are too heavy [over-fat]."

~~~

I'm so glad he brought this up!

There's no doubt that athletes come in all shapes and sizes, even endurance athletes. And sadly, we're seeing an epidemic of a population that is over-fat, which certainly spills into the athletic community. Over-fat athletes are a real issue, and participating in sport alone isn't the "cure" for a healthier body composition (this is an issue we often discuss with Dr. Phil Maffetone on EP and have covered extensively in past episodes). So I'm totally on board with the need to help this population as well.

At the same time, though, there's another population of athletes who are silently suffering from hormonal dysfunction and hypothalamic amenorrhea, but you have NO IDEA because outwardly there are no obvious physical signs necessarily -- even body composition isn't enough to tell whether a female is menstruating are not (a woman can be a "normal" bodyweight but still have amenorrhea for other reasons, like too much stress). At the end of the day, hypothalamic amenorrhea (HA), the female athlete triad and/or RED-S syndrome are incredibly common issues in female athletes, in particular endurance athletes and any sport that values leanness, but we often let it go under the radar because it's a touchy subject that's often still "taboo" to talk about it.

"In women who participate in sports that emphasize aesthetics or leanness, such as ballet or running, the prevalence of secondary amenorrhea can be as high as 69%, compared with 2% to 5% in the general population" (1). 

Compared with the over-fat epidemic, having amenorrhea can be kept a secret and often women are ashamed, embarrassed and/or are scared to talk about it--as a result, many of us may have no idea that she is suffering inside. I was that woman for years. I was terrified to talk about my missed periods for fear I'd lose all respect and credibility; for fear that I'd be seen as an alien; for fear that I'd be labeled as tarnished and inadequate; for fear that is was unacceptable to even say the word "period" in public. Actually, there was a point where I built enough confidence to try and talk about it on this VERY blog! I wanted to be real. I wanted to talk about it--talking it out always makes me feel better. So I hit publish and the backlash started. I got NASTY hate comments on the post and people telling me things like, "What kind of role model are you is you don't even get a period?!"

I was too weak and scared at the time to stand up and fight it. So I deleted the post. This was likely 2008-09 ish.

Back then, I knew enough to know this wasn't healthy or normal (although, fairly unaware of long-term consequences*), so out of concern I talked to my doctor (a conventional PCP). Other than that only a few close family members and friends knew. As far as getting help from my doctor at the time? Honestly, she was a nice woman but she did nothing to truly help me; conventional medicine did absolutely nothing to truly me regain a healthy period--other doing a provera challenge, then telling me to go on birth control, eat more, exercise less and gain weight. Really? We know that eating more and exercising less (i.e. energy balance) and appropriate bodyweight are indeed ways to heal and regain menstruation, but this information was told to me in a very matter-of-fact way that didn't register with me whatsoever. It basically felt like they were saying, "Go eat some fatty burgers and ice cream, stop working out, retire to the couch and get fat." To which I wanted to say, "Fuck you." They had no idea who I was, they had no idea how my brain ticked, they had no idea I was a dedicated athlete who "had" to maintain fitness and my physique to perform in my sport. The Western doctors made me angry, so I gave up on seeking help from them. What I needed was an education and someone who could relate to me and be sympathetic. I didn't have that person. I felt alone.

Female hormonal imbalance and amenorrhea are about more than just "eat more - exercise less - gain weight." It's a sensitive psychological issue and must be handled with love, care, and sympathy for the female suffering. This is why I like the, "Relative Energy Deficit in Sport" (RED-S) Syndrome, which ties in the psychology of it, and also makes note that males can suffer form this as well!

"Psychological consequences can either precede RED-S or be the result of RED-S. The clinical phenomenon is not a 'triad' of three entities of energy availability, menstrual function, health and athletic performance" (2).

In other words, it's complex. It doesn't have to fit the tight definition of the female athlete triad to apply--it can be more, it can be less, it can manifest in different ways, but at the end of the day it's a problem when hormonal dysfunction occurs in athletes. Thankfully, there is a way to get the body back in balance and restore function, and to do so you have to address the mental and physical.

That's the beauty of HA, the recovery rate is undeniably high. After feeling like Western medicine failed me, I made a huge effort to self-educate to learn more for myself about amenorrhea; if I had to go it alone so be it. But then the catalyst for me was finding the right mentors in 2013-14 who talked to ME, listened to ME, and who weren't just reading out of a textbook on what "should" be done. I took the proper steps to heal and recover. Yea, I had to change a lot but the payoff was worth it. Low and behold I got my period back and it STUCK (took some time to normalize), and I was happy and comfortable with the process. I was still happy with food choices, exercise habits, and my body. Mentally I got cozy with everything and accepted my new ways. It required a mindshift and some soul searching, but it wasn't that scary after all!

I WANT TO HELP

I'm still angry that conventional medicine doesn't offer an education and proper tools to heal, so now that I know better I want to help! I've gained the confidence to speak up over the years, and I want to be a voice for many women who are silently suffering, confused, or perhaps don't even realize the depths of what amenorrhea really implies. I want to be someone they can turn to for help, with zero judgement just love. I want to inspire women how to regain normal functioning or simply treat their bodies better, with more compassion and love.

I am not medical doctor so there are certainly things I can and can't do to help women with their health, but as Nico and I discussed in this podcast, oftentimes you just need to find someone who can relate to you and the situation, and that'll be the ticket to success in regaining menstruation. As such, I love spending my days working directly with women on how to regain their menstrual cycle. And guess what, we don't talk too much about eating more and exercising less. They usually know those things so we touch base on them to make sure it's being executed smartly and without a lot of stress involved. From there, honestly the conversations are about so much deeper than food and exercise talk. These are living, breathing, feeling women who just need someone to bet here for them, listen and be the voice of reason so that they can get out of their own head. Sometimes there are harsh truths, like telling a girl, "Yea, maybe you have to give up training and racing for a while just to fully relax, but it doesn't have to be forever!!! You can of course get back to it, I did and kept a period (BQ 2015)!" It's better when that comes from me, a woman who's been there and gets it.

Anyway, a few closing thoughts:

1. Don't judge a book by its cover--there's a good chance you have NO IDEA what's going on inside.
2. Amenorrhea is as much psychological as it is a physical issue.
3. We need to be sympathetic to all sensitive health issues, not judge and offer support--whether it's helping someone who's over-fat or someone with amenorrhea.

~~~

Resources

1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3435916/
2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24620037

*I talk about some potential long-term consequences and much more on HA in athletes in particular over at lifepostcollective.com, where I recently launched a new women's health video series. Check it out for free with code "lpc4me" at sign up.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Journey to Body Positivity & Why I Quit Modeling

Hey-o! I'm still around, just quietly doing my thing, and enjoying more private time away from the scene. Between the podcast, my new inner-circle community Life Post Collective, and my clients, that's all the public time I need these days. But alas, I still like to share what I have going on because this is something I feel incredibly passionate about and a message I want to make more mainstream in light of all the unhealthy crap I see out there these days. Body positivity and bits and pieces of my journey that I haven't talked about ever before (i.e. the reality of my modeling days) are the name of the game... I tried to keep it short, but that didn't happen.

***

Embracing A Changing Body

It's been just over a year since I opened up publicly about my past eating disorder struggles, you can read that blog post here, and I have to say it's been one of the best years of my life since. Even though I didn't still have an "active" ED it was still having a lingering effect on me. No more though! I never thought I'd be so FREE from those inner demons and relaxed about all things food- and body-related. I'm all about intuitive eating in a way that works for me (not overthinking food choices, not getting wrapped up in diet dogma), and meanwhile embracing changes that are happening with my body, which I talked about more in this post. The short version of those changes: I no longer have a crazy skinny 12-year-old-boy-like frame (those were not child-bearing hips lol), and I finally have a butt, hips and some curves. (Hell, I even have some love handles that were never there before, more cellulite on my rear, bigger thighs -- all the things our society wants you to get rid off.) All this is not shocking considering I don't exercise like a maniac anymore and instead my goals have shifted to balancing hormones and health while maintaining a smart amount of exercise. Ladies, we need to have some body fat to function well, and they say the "threshold" is around 14% BF but I think that even 16-18% BF may not even be enough for some of us!

I'm sure most of you would not even notice much of a change in my body if you saw me up close, but I feel it, the scale confirms it (yes, I'm comfortable weighing myself), and I especially noticed it in how some clothes were getting too tight. So since that last post last, I chose to make an investment in me and buy some new clothes (bigger, that is) rather than turn this into a struggle where I risked getting down on myself trying to fit into clothes that were too small and made me look horrible. Some girls save their "skinny jeans" but I donated mine -- and some other clothing items -- gone for good. Truthfully, shopping for bigger sizes was something I resisted doing at first, for financial reasons and from a body-image perspective it was tough to get comfortable with this process. I did feel myself wanting to stress and freak out even though the logical side of me (and John) have long confirmed that this was a healthy, smart transformation and GOOD changes for me. John likes my body even more now -- and I find this to be the case with a lot of men when their women get a bit more curvy ;) At the end of the day I have embraced my changing body and have let the shopping be a fun process. No negativity allowed.

From a fertility perspective, my body has slowly become an even safer place for eventual baby-making. In fact, reading No Period Now What helped me understand that increasing my BMI was probably a good idea. The BMI I was at in recent years wasn't bad per se -- it was normal and thankfully allowed for normal menstruation and hormone functioning -- but it was still on the low end of normal. Considering my history of an ED and hypothalamic amenorrhea, plus how sensitive I still am to potential weight loss, hard exercise and/or energy deficits, the smartest thing I can do is have a little extra body fat and a super healthy high-normal BMI. It's not just about me, but also our future family.

Lastly, let me just say to all you girls out there: "Filling out" and/or gaining some weight is not automatically a bad shameful thing especially if you're doing the right things for your body. Let me tell you, it can be very empowering in fact! Fuck what society says we should be like, and just be true to you. Don't kill yourself (mentally, psychically) trying to fit in size 1, 3 or 5 if you're meant to be a size 8, 10 or 12! Meanwhile, don't buy into these women posting their near-naked selfies on social media of their overly lean and ripped bodies and how "happy" they claim to be or whatever "motivating" lines they spew out. That is not normal and does not equal health and happiness my friends! Sadly, I do understand how it goes, it's very easy for us women to get wrapped up in that world, obsess over body image, and strive for a sick level of fitness and diet that takes it too far. Trust me, run away and run away fast if you see yourself going down this path. I was there (as a model), and I got the fuck out as you'll learn below.

***

My Modeling Story & Why I Quit

There were many things back in the day that still caused my subtle/not-so-subtle ED behaviors and body-image issues to stick around for so long. I went to great, exhaustive extents to control my body size and shape even when I didn't consciously realize I was doing so (it had just become a reflex after so many years). A huge reason I was stuck on all this was wanting so badly to appear perfect to the rest of the world out there (of course, an underlying theme of insecurity there!). It didn't help that I became a relatively public person via sport, my work (coaching, podcast host) and FITNESS MODELING.

Modeling for me started innocently enough. It's not something I pursued; it found me. A friend recommended me to Zoot, I modeled for their Spring clothing line one year, and things just happened from there. Honestly, modeling was really fun for a while, otherwise I wouldn't have bothered. I especially loved that I wasn't an authentic athlete who was fitness modeling. It was cool to be a real triathlete who had this opportunity to be in photoshoots that represented our sport, and it even boosted my business, podcast and reputation. In this sense, modeling would be alluring to nearly anyone, right? So, I have good memories, met some cool people, and so on. I also can see why I was great at it and why photographers always liked me -- I was still super skinny, authentically athletic, toned, and most of all a work-a-holic who was willing and eager do anything to get the perfect shot. Oh, and I was ok with getting paid next to nothing (or usually just getting paid in gear instead of dollars, not so great long-term).

But modeling turned out to be very very bad for someone like me at that time in my life, and not so innocent after all. I still had a lot of personal shit to work out and the timing wasn't ideal. I started obsessing over all the things that I had no business obsessing over anymore -- let's just sum it up as body image stuff -- while allowing ED behaviors to sneak in more regularly. Modeling brought back and reinforced those unhealthy patterns to maintain a certain body type -- since now people were actually looking and probably judging me and wanting me to stay a certain size! Being a model made me work even harder to hold onto a lean muscular frame (and not in a healthy way) to try and prove I was "worthy."

Sadly, all the while, I didn't feel perfect whatsoever. I was super critical, and nit-picked over how my body could be "better," leaner, more ripped, etc. I questioned if I was pretty and sexy, and if my form in sport-specific shots was good enough. I was quick to point out a million flaws, and quite frankly felt chubby and ugly in many of the pictures I saw of myself. I compared myself to the other girls and that would get me down on myself. Ironically, I actually felt fairly comfortable once I was in front of the camera, but for the remainder of the time my mind was on negative overdrive and lots of self-bashing with very little self-love.

Let me just say as an aside: The sport of triathlon itself was great for me in many ways -- I built a better relationship with food, more self-confidence, got physically stronger, and felt like I could unleash the inner tomboy that was innate in me and not have to be all girly. Triathlon helped me to not give a fuck on many levels and just be authentically me. And, yes, my relationship with triathlon wasn't perfect, there were flaws and many mistakes I made, but it certainly had more positive themes than modeling did. Modeling was causing me to regress instead of progress.

Not to mention, modeling was fatiguing work! It'd be full days -- often multiple days -- on location, on my feet, running around (or biking, or swimming, or lifting or all of the above), looking "perfect." All the while, I was under-eating on shoots because I usually wasn't cool with the food that was available to us, or just wanting to eat less for fear of getting all bloated or looking "too big."

I would come home and crash for a day or two after I did modeling gigs. Oh but wait, I was still training for triathlon, in grad school at a certain point, working my real job(s), and all that other life stuff. Gah. Plus I did not know how to say "NO" in my 20s so I just kept getting more opportunities and more work piling up.

I knew it was a lot and wearing me down quite a bit, but people were now identifying me as a fitness model, so I dare not give up on it, right? It secretly felt special to have this title of model and that I was the "perfect" package of athlete - model - coach - podcast host. I had to hold on to the lean fit body people saw and dare not let it slip away. And performance-wise, I wanted to get better and better to keep my reputation as a top-age grouper!

***

Some years went by, and modeling had become a regular thing in my life. I ended up signing with a sports modeling agency up in LA and almost went "big time," lol. But instead, it reached a boiling point that led to abruptly end of my modeling "career," by choice. At first, it was really exciting to feel like I was an official fitness model and that an agency in LA wanted me. But that excitement was short-lived and then I started realizing the reality of what I was doing, the nature of these people, and how this was not a good environment for me. Sitting in that LA agency off Sunset felt gross. All these girls trying SO hard to be perfect, and I was now one of them. And even though it was sports modeling, it was still all about makeup, unrealistically lean bodies, perfect skin, perfect done-up hair, perfect measurements, and just not feeling authentic. These girls, in my opinion, didn't accurately represent the amazing buff and hardcore bodies of real female athletes who come in all shapes and sizes complete with imperfections. Maybe some of these girls were athletes, I don't really know, but to me they just looked too skinny, too pretty, too cookie-cutter, and too ready for a beauty pageant. This was a wakeup call. I didn't want to be one of them, yet I was. Seeing them made me realize the bad patterns I had allowed in my own life. Most of all, seeing them made me realize it's just not realistic for all bodies to fit these standards, and I started realizing that deep down I was trying too hard to maintain a body type that wasn't realistic! But that's what it takes in this industry. And it does not help when you start having others (agents, etc.) scrutinizing your looks and body, picking out your flaws and whatnot, and/or putting you in a lineup and picking out the "best" girl(s) while discarding the rest. Ugh! It's a mindfuck and will wreck your body confidence if you can't take it (which I'll admit, I couldn't take it at the time -- I wasn't strong enough).

Plus, the agency people were about as douchey as you could imagine, and they clearly didn't really care about anyone but themselves, though they'd certainly never admit that. I never got a good read from any of them.

Despite all that, I figured I'd give it a chance (how dare I throw away this opportunity, right?) an it'd hopefully work out for the better. I went to a few casting calls, but wasn't getting gigs, and it was becoming more stressful, especially now commuting to LA regularly with no guarantee of getting the gig and essentially a lot of time and gas being wasted.

There is one story that sticks out in my head as one of those days that I'll never forget. It was a turning pint, and it highlighted that something had to change because I was becoming someone I didn't even recognize and someone I didn't want to be.

I got a last-minute entry to the San Diego Half-Marathon and since I was so into racing still, it didn't matter if it was planned out in my season or not -- the more I could race, the better (back then). And a half-marathon? To the old me, that was cake walk. I drove down and stayed with friends, planning to park in a "special spot" by the zoo in downtown SD the next morning. Randomly, I got an email Friday night saying I had a casting call up in LA tomorrow -- the same day as the HM. I was a little nervous about getting to the casting call on time but figured I could swing it. I'd just run fast, drive back to OC, then would have my parents drive me to the casting call so I could get ready during the drive up to LA. By the way, SD to LA is a bitch of a drive even on weekends. 

So Saturday morning comes and I drive to the planned parking place but suddenly realize if I parked there I'd be locked in, like all day, due to the marathon route and street closures. FUCK! I started panicking. I didn't know what to do! It was too late to find parking where I could bail right after the HM. So for whatever reason, I made the call to bail on the race and get out of there asap in order to not miss the casting call, and looking back I think that was because 1) I was getting sucked into the idea that I *could* make a lot of money if I got the modeling job, and 2) I was afraid of the agency and what would happen if I was a no-show. Lame.

I was getting ready to drive away and head north, but it was getting too late and street closures were starting to happen. It looked like I was about to get trapped or maybe I was already stuck?! I was now starting to have a full-blown anxiety attack in my car while trying to "escape" downtown San Diego. I was in the worst possible state of mind you can imagine and literally could not relax whatsoever. My blood was boiling, I was crying, screaming, and driving like a maniac trying to get out. Not good, and not safe for that matter! But I just didn't know how to relax and regain control back then, and I had no idea where this level of anxiety even came from so I certainly didn't know how to stop it. Fucking mess.

While I was in my car that day, I had an out-of-body moment where I was able to step outside myself, and take a look at this girl who was freaking out in her car. I couldn't believe who was I turning into. "Is this really me?" It wasn't pretty. It was scary. And it especially wasn't fun anymore. I thought I had it together -- I had overcome an ED by this point, I was a phenomenal athlete, and I was a model, etc., etc., but was I really doing ok? Hell no. I was just pushing myself too hard. And if I lost some level of control, like I did on this day, I would too easily lose it. That's not healthy! Something had to change.

So I am sure deep down I was also crying because how pathetic this all was. I was disappointed in myself, how I was reacting to this situation, and, ironically, how I felt trapped (I'm not talking about the street closures if you know what I mean). I knew this wasn't me. I'm not the person who gets crazy uncontrollable anxiety attacks, it's just not who I am! Who was this person?! Where was this coming from?? 

Somehow, I got it together, got out, and made it to the casting call that day, with the help of my parents who were sooo patient and helpful in the process. Guess what: I did not get the job and I hated every moment at that casting call. In fact, I hated that day. But I needed it to happen. That was the last casting call I ever attended. 

I was done with the stupid agency. And *almost* done with modeling completely -- I had one foot out the door.

***

That day, I hit a low point and it's not fun to share this story (it's embarrassing quite frankly!), but there was a silver lining, there always is. It led me to an epiphany: Fix my shit, quit this modeling business, and start taking care of me! I didn't do it all at once, but I got the ball rolling, and eventually I had it in me to phase out modeling for good and build more body positivity. In the process, I discovered self-love and how to relax, both of which had been non-existent. I had to start from scratch, and it is possible to do this and make changes no matter where you are in life.

These days, I never experience anxiety or panic attacks like that and am able to manage my stress much better. It made me understand that ANXIETY WILL TAKE OVER WHETHER YOU WANT IT TO OR NOT when you're too skinny, undernourished, overworked, frazzled and constantly in a fight-or-flight state, and it becomes nearly impossible to control that shit. But fix the underlying problems, and you fix your anxiety issues.

Of course, to this day, I haven't eliminated stress completely, but who has?! All I know is that I can keep my stress from spiraling out of control, I can relax and I am not so hard on myself.

People praise and reinforce these women who have unrealistically lean and muscular bodies, and I hate to say for a while that feels good to get that praise. But the sacrifices you have to make are just too extreme and not sustainable. We have to stop reinforcing the wrong message. And I even question "strong is the new skinny" because a lot of these "strong" bodies are a product of being undernourished, over-stressed, and too lean. Not to mention, being super skinny with low body fat and well-defined muscles is NOT the ticket to happiness and finding your best self. I've gone through it all, from losing a ton of weight to getting incredibly fit to now gaining a healthy amount of weight and becoming more average. I'll say first hand, the extremes and drive for perfection will take over and rule your life to a point where it's not fun and you're neither happy nor healthy, but you feel stuck because you're put yourself out there as this certain body type so you feel the need to hold onto it, and if you don't people will say you let yourself go. It's unfortunate, but find the courage to break away and do what's right for you. I never would have guessed that moderation and "average" would be the ticket to happiness and real confidence. But it is! These love handles and cellulite? They're not so bad, so I'll keep it this way, thank you.

Hey, and by the way, no matter what, NO REGRETS.



Monday, August 29, 2016

Womanly

So remember in my last post how I said I was in my follicular phase (first half of the menstrual cycle) when I did the MAF Test? Well, let's just say those were good times and I'm starting to really understand how much the luteal phase (second half of the cycle) can really suck. I've had normal menstruation for two years now (maybe more? gotta check), but I feel like I'm learning more and more every day--learning more about the female body in general and learning about how MY body fits into everything. In the process, I've let go of trying to hold myself at a certain weight and certain standards, and am just finding where my body naturally wants to be, i.e. my set point, regardless of what I think that should be or what the scale says. It's taken some getting used to--mentally and physically--to accept be more womanly but I wouldn't trade it for the world. I'm dialing it in and taking mental notes on all the signs and symptoms my body gives me--good, bad or in between.

Turns out having a normal cycle and all the hormones to go along is obviously an amazing beautiful thing, but it really makes Stacy Sim's mantra hold true: WOMEN ARE NOT SMALL MEN.

After two years of normal menses the issues that come with a regular cycle are nothing new to me, but here's the difference: My autoimmune condition this year led to some further realizations that I still was tending to push myself too hard, and sometimes I'd ignore what my body was saying to some degree in order to instead get in my workout, finish a work project, or whatever demanding and often stressful thing it was. Plus I do believe in those 2 years, it's taken time to get "more normal" meaning that my cycle lengths were a bit all over the place for a while (now they're generally averaging 28 days minus some outliers that were more likely due to travel this year), and I can imagine the initial cycles after years of hypothalamic amenorrhea were probably anovulatory and I still had some hormonal imbalances/low hormones; overall my periods were rather "light." Nowadays, they are about as real as real can get. I feel more womanly than ever, in fact. Ha. So after recovering from the autoimmune ordeal--all symptoms still gone!--I am being kinder than ever to my body these days and doing my best to keep mind and body in sync. No bullshit faking it, my health and wellness come first, and let fitness fall into place from there. As such, I have pretty stable energy and moods and I haven't had a "crash" day in a while aka when I fall apart after pushing myself over the edge (that's another story, but I used to often push myself with work+training+life until I crashed). Patience is really being practiced!

On that note, I actually have new data that matches how I feel, with my hormones all booming this year, even better than last year. In late July I did another DUTCH hormone/adrenal stress test, plus the BioHealth full-month salivary hormonal panel with daily BBT monitoring from January. Progesterone and estrogen doing their thing at the high end of normal, ovulation taking place, DHEA and T looking fine and normal. There was one red-flag, high cortisol (ack!), but I'll get to that in a later post because I have a lot to say on the matter. For now, what a feeling coming from someone who had none of this for a decade. Btw, a PSA: don't rely on blood tests for your sex hormones if measuring these are of importance to you. A lot is "wrong" with testing hormones via blood and you're essentially losing out on valuable info--probably a post I should write to delve into more detail. The DUTCH, on the other hand, is where it's at, and you can even get this test through my services now if you want, just email me!

These are my acutal DUTCH results; urine samples taken July 29-30, 2016. I take zero hormonal supplements;
my approach to healthy hormones is all-natural. Things are looking much better, 
now I just have to work on that cortisol issue, dang (!),
but I already have my theories as to why it's problem and am planning solutions.

So that said, I got in a couple really great weeks of consistent exercise ("training") starting just after Day 1 of my cycle (when I did the MAF test) and was feeling so on top of the world and proud. But not getting greedy and going above and beyond by adding more than what I feel is healthy volume right now. Meanwhile, still keeping all my recovery things a priority like sauna, walking, ocean soaks, and bikram yoga! I've also stuck to pretty much no alcohol since coming off "the party phase" and that's been going well, helping me really feel things out without alcohol interfering (even 1 glass a night has an impact over time, IMO). On average, I'm drinking no more than 1 night a week (sometimes zero times a week), and those few times I've drank it's been just 1-2 glasses of red wine. Meanwhile, diet is on point including appropriate carbs and certainly not too low carb at all!

So a couple good weeks.

Then.... ovulation.... and it was gradually downhill from there. Ha.

Actually, that third week I, way in advance, planned it to be a "recovery" week to be proactive and make a conscious effort not to get greedy with volume and pushing too much too fast. I could have done more that week, I felt ok still, but held back thinking I'd keep things as 2 weeks on, 1 week off. However I'm getting second thoughts.

Week 4 hit and instead of being fresh and fired up, I was still blah, in fact worse. Why? It happened to be my (very) high-hormone luteal phase right before my period. PMS is real. And PMS doesn't just stand for bitchy, there's so much more that PMS entails, and for me it's feeling sluggish and gross and over it. I still worked out but had to be kind given the circumstances.

So, that all said, I think I'll stick to a 3-week on, 1-week off schedule from here on, with my recovery "off" week being that 4th week going into my period i.e. the premenstrual phase in the later half of the luteal phase. I highly advise that women who have normal menstruation consider something similar and/or at the very least be kind to yourself and don't get too frustrated on that 4th week if things are looking and feeling crappy. If you have to race, that's one thing, we can often dig into our toolbox to overcome and still perform, but generally why fight nature during this time?! We're just simply not going to be able to tap into our peak performance levels.

Don't let your period shy you away from training, this is when you're likely at your peak performance potential!

But you know when we are at our peak? We women are actually our best on Day 1 when we start our period (menses), and that whole week or two of the follicular phase before ovulation (generally Days 1-14) is the time to get at it. Even though we are bleeding for several days, this is actually when we're most like dudes being that our sex hormones are lower and our performance potential is at its best. So if you are going to have your period when you race, consider it a GOOD thing! And if you have cramps upon and after you start, you're better off getting out there anyway to take advantage of this timeframe, and cramps usually can be mitigated with exercise too (I know this is the case for me--I feel so much better exercising than laying around when I get cramps those first couple days; and I also don't take any drugs/pain-relief meds for cramping so I can say that exercise is a great all-natural pain relief). I alluded to all this in my honeymoon backpacking post and podcast edition--where I felt shitty before I started and like a new woman who could build an empire after I started.

~~~

All this got me to thinking to old times, i.e. me in 2003-'13 when I was mostly depleted of hormones for those 10 years and hadn't put in the real effort yet to truly regain my health. Back then, in that state, I was A WOMAN WHO WAS LIKE A SMALL MAN. Back then I didn't deal with any sex hormone fluctuations or menstrual cycle issues. My sex hormones--progesterone, estrogens, LH, FSH, DHEA, prolactin, etc--were bottomed out and I didn't deal with any womanly issues outside of being more emotional than most men, ha.

On one hand, I hate to even say this, that made training and racing easier. I never had to worry about hormones or my cycle getting in the way of performance or what was on tap on the triathlon schedule. I didn't even have curvy hips or boobs to deal with, and I can even recall joking that my body was like a 12-year-old boy's. It's true, though, I was probably much like a dude on the inside. Argue that this was great for endurance sport performance (for a while, it was), but was it a great way to live and good for me? Hell no. Way too many negative side effects and risks, and as the story goes, all that caught up eventually to where I was not well off even in my performances. Women can't live in a state of stress like that and expect to thrive, and even if it doesn't catch up to you now in the moment it can and very likely will in your future--whether that's infertility, osteoporosis or some other condition. So don't try this at home, gals. And if you're in a position where you currently feel "less than womanly" so to speak, it's in your best interest to action to put an end to it. I hate even writing that the state of my body made training/racing "easier" because it was just so unhealthy and I would never recommend this strategy to any woman. We can still operate just fine and achieve our peak performances with a healthy cycle, healthy hormones and a bit o' curve on the body. Go read Roar by Stacy Sims for some how-to inspiration.

Granted, at that top level I know many female athletes are making health sacrifices for the sake of elite performance. They are looking lean and mean and many are without a cycle, but that's choice and hopefully they only let it be temporary. Chrissie Wellington comes to mind as a good example; she turned it around and now has a healthy baby. She still looks pretty dang fit too--it's not like you have to let yourself go lol ;)

Speaking of weight, hips, curves and boobs. Starting in 2015, I actually started to "fill in" getting a bit more hippy and whatnot. At first it scared me and trigged some old ED thoughts, I could feel part of me wanting to put a stop to it, and for a while in 2015 I reached a lower weight again for a few months and--wouldn't ya know--I had period issues. (So sensitive!) But then I said "F that" and I embraced my body, embraced the changes and embraced healthy womanhood. I think for so long I expected and needed to be at a certain weight (just an arbitrary number I came up with), but in fact that weight was probably not the healthiest for me nor my natural weight, and I was lacking basic energy availability* to thus operate like a healthy woman. So fuck the weight on the scale. How about just letting your body find it's set point, and getting comfortable with whatever that weight ends up being? It took me a while to gain acceptance of my "new weight" but I think I'm there. In fact, I love how I've filled in. The other night I had a rare moment looking in the mirror where I was 100% happy and in love with what I saw--the added curves, extra muscle, and event the extra bit of body fat. All of it.

I'm not sure what my body fat percentage is, but I'm certain it's increased by at least 5% or more (it was still low at 15.7% in 2014, the last time I measured). Body fat below 17% is just red-flag territory, and 14% or below is straight-up dangerous, and while these ranges may (to some) look "hot" in pictures and on social media, and/or portray the message that you're fitter, work harder, and more of a badass than your "softer" counterparts, I think that's just bullshit and a dumb way to assess things. I hate that social media has made it practically a contest on who can be the leanest and have the most muscles and veins popping out. In fact, tangent, but this is one reason I stopped fitness modeling--it was not healthy for me, and I was quite frankly disgusted with things I started seeing the more deep I got into it--that world has issues that I didn't need in my life. I think there can be healthy fitness models, so I am not entirely bashing it, but anyway....

Back to sport and leanness: I know power-to-weight ratio is a real thing and that the leaner endurance athletes generally perform better, but this reaches a point of diminishing returns (especially for your health and often your performance). Not to mention I think if you're at your natural healthy weight (i.e. find your set point regardless of what you want it to be or what the scale says) you can still do some major damage in racing--you'll have the extra lean body mass to carry you there, and the right amount of body fat--not too much not too little--to be healthy, high-performing and still looking ripped. To be honest I think I look much better than my very skinny self did. And I just feel much better this way too, even mentally I feel stronger and more empowered; meanwhile, the skinnier me was always weaker (mentally speaking) and lacking confidence.

~~~

Anyway, this last month has been very eye-opening and exciting. It's nice to by in better sync with the body. I still have a longs way to go! But at least I'm not getting pissed off or frustrated with myself, nor trying to "punish" myself with harder workouts and restrictive behaviors.

Meanwhile, lately I've been spending so much of my free time immersed in the research again, digging into the science on females, and female athletes in particular. Even though I've figured out a lot for myself, I want to keep learning, and I realize I can't guide others just based on my n=1 life experience. So the more knowledge I can attain, from reliable sources aka science not just random person on internet, the more of an expert I'll become to help this population of ladies who needs guidance! Last year I felt like it was all about researching eating disorders, and this year it's all about female health and hormones, the menstrual cycle, issues with female athletes, nutrition and dietary needs, and especially menstrual dysregulation in female athletes plus scientifically proven ways to recover the menses. I'm finding out the answers for myself instead of trusting anyone else at this point. And I can't get enough of all the good info I'm uncovering.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Starting From Scratch

This was a good experience. I not only wanted to test a bit of the physical but also the mental today, i.e. the new me.

On the agenda was a MAF Test! I'm not starting to train for anything in particular at all, but I've been wanting to get back to a running/workout routine and with my data-oriented n=1 brain, I feel it's only appropriate to measure my current baseline and then see what I can do with it. This is also something I want to keep very public so people can follow along with me. I've had a couple weeks back at some running, and by this I mean ~3 runs a week of ~3-4 miles with walking to control effort. Last weekend was a "big day" of 7 slow miles. Crosstraining too (bikram yoga, SUP, surf, walking).

I was actually really excited to get the baseline data with where I'm at. When I started true MAF training last time I already had a pretty good fitness base right out of the gates so I had decent MAF results right away (mile pace in the high 7's / low 8's). But now? My endurance conditioning is complete crap, I'm really not exaggerating. I don't remember the last time I felt this out of sport-specific shape. BUT I don't mind whatsoever, in fact that's what makes this so fun. The past is the past. This is now. I'm starting from scratch and get to see how I progress following the MAF Method the way it's supposed to be done. I'm starting from scratch like so many people who take on MAF for the first time and are humbled by what they see. Well, I guess in my case I knew my numbers were going to be a far cry from the old me, and I was fully prepared, excited and ready to face reality....

John was out of town so that made it really easy to have an incredibly mellow and healthy Friday night with the test planned for Saturday morning. Was in bed and asleep by 9:30 p.m. Whenever I feel this awesome I tend to wake up early and am ready to charge, so I was up by 5 a.m. Hung out for a while, did a little work, had ~4 oz cold brew and a Primal Kitchens Dark Chocolate Almond Bar; didn't feel the need/desire to eat any more than that, nor did I want to run fasted. I'm in the first part of my cycle (follicular phase), which is when I tend to feel my best so at least that was working in my favor (if it had been pre-menstruation, no way, I'm junk).

Got the the track and started my warmup at 7:15 a.m. From there, here's what went down:

Test Date08-06-16
19:50
29:58
39:59
49:53
510:01
Average Pace9:57
Average HR150 (each mile)
Peak HR156
Test Time49:46
Test miles5
Warmup Laps2
WU Time21:38
Average Pace10:47
Average HR137


Actually, better than I expected! Remember: This is the present, not the past.

It was overcast and cooler than it's been lately, but still really humid so I was sweating like a boss by about halfway in. I drank a total of 16 oz water, most of it post-test (wasn't thirsty during and didn't have any during). I weighed pre and post (for test purposes!) and only lost 1 pound, so not even a full 1% loss of body mass. Speaking of weight, I am a teeny bit heavier right now than my past weights and I don't care because I'm very healthy and happy, but I'm sure the little extra weight factors in. I am not looking to lose weight at all for the record.

Interestingly this is about 20 seconds slower than my Boston pace this year, so I guess my fitness is still about the same from then despite having done nothing lately? As Maffetone says, your marathon pace ideally is about 10-20 seconds faster than MAF pace (15 seconds faster on average). So this lines up. With the health things I've overcome & beat this year, shutting down training even before Boston took place, then of course recently "letting loose" and partying, I guess I'm impressed? Who knows, I'm not reading into it. I was thinking this test was going to be easily 10:30-11:00+ miles AND painful due to lack of miles in my legs, neither of which were the case. So that's a win in my book. That's also why I love MAF, even with low mileage coming into this, running 7 miles didn't feel overly aggressive and was super gentle and comfortable.

On that 4th mile being faster: I think it was because I was playing around with technique--I adopted more of a forward lean and it was clicking. By mile 5 though, I think the lack of overall fitness especially muscular strength/endurance was starting to set in, and my body was starting to say, "we're wrapping up for the day." Ha.

The peak HR was high, but anytime it crept to 153-156 I'd catch it right away and appropriately walk/jog until it was 147-150 again--wouldn't take long, just seconds, for it to drop. Overall, it was very easy to control HR at 150 and a higher HR was never sustained; each split was a 150 average. And yes I am 31, but 150 is a nicer number than 149 to follow ;)

The best was afterwards when the track coach stopped me to ask a million questions on what the heck I was doing. He could tell I was in the zone, but really, who runs 7 "slow" miles on the track at a steady rate? (Meanwhile the weekend crew doing crazy sprints and all the tracky workouts.) So I explained, and I think he was impressed. Hehe.

The only issue--next time I need to plan a better playlist going into it instead of jacking around with my phone to find good tunes ;)

Fun times!