Talking Body: Part II: Amenorrhea and Food Obsession

I noticed my period stopped around March or May 2017 but I decided to ignore it because it’s convenient. I need to travel for 2 months abroad so I will take care of it once I am back. All cool.

I did start reading and researching about what caused it. Learned about the term for it: amenorrhea. Found a couple of articles linking it to intermitent fasting, overtraining, nothing very conclusive in terms of how to recover from it (in hindsight I should have checked Youtube because apparently there are a LOT of women sharing their recovery experiences and advices there; only realised this Feb 2020).

I’m not going to go into too much details about amenorrhea here but basically it’s a self defense mechanism where your body shuts down your reproductive system because it senses you are not safe (lack food, physical and mental stress).

I visited an ob gyn in January 2018. She prescribed some birth control pill (I think). I took 5 of them for 5 days and it did trigger a period. But it never became regular. I tried triggering 3 more periods that year, thinking I could “jumpstart” it like a car. Of course it never became regular either.

Then I moved on with life. Got busy, rolled with the convenience, dismissed the importance. Work was crazy from July, then October another trip, and life keep on happening and I was cruising along with the condition.

And it was fine — heck it’s more than fine, it’s super convenient to not get periods.

Of course I “know” that losing period will affect:

  • bone density
  • cholesterol level (impacted by cortisol)
  • estrogen -> collagen -> skin elasticity or shininess or something
  • reproductive, have babies

But yo, I feel fine, I have other stuff to work on and take care of. Trying to keep up at work, showing up and doing great work while recovering from burnout, errands, family stuff, exploring ideas of creating extra income streams, maintaining relationships, juggling social responsibilities, yadda yadda.

So I kept on downplaying the importance. Having kids is probably #38 on my list of priority. And “osteoporosis can wait”. Jeebus. It’s interesting how irrational I can be, as a self-confessed logic and intelligence worshipper.

I felt fine physically. Well, aside from the amenorrhea, which is a very clear signal from my body that it is not fine. But it never registers.

What did register and I did notice is that I am not healthy mentally.

Very early on, eating started becoming this sacred rewarding activity after working out and after fasting. The dopamine hit from the workout is followed by the dopamine hit from the food. Pain amplifies the pleasure.

I started becoming obsessed with food. Food and eating became the main activity and topic in my life. I used to be one of those people who “eat to live” people but now I am full-on “live to eat”.

I spun and spent endless mental cycle to decide what to eat, when to eat, how much, exerting willpower, Coming up with all the logical dialogue trying to control the emotional actions.

Fasting is inherently about scarcity, resisting. And what you resist persist.

I would start to binge eat, feeling like I can afford to do so with the muscles (metabolic asset) I have developed, compensate with a fast, then train more to make use of the extra energy and maintain the body composition. I started calories tracking (fixating on numbers is type A’s favorite game), had unspoken resentment towards and triggered by family members keeping snacks around the house, played games of portion control, the food coma, and all the shebang.

Change is the only constant, they say. And obviously I wasn’t able to keep my perfect shape forever. Life happens, and I was slipping away from the maintenance mode. The calories intake fluctuate, the workout intensity fluctuates. This fuels the obsession further.

Luckily (or not?) I tend to binge on food that are still somewhat low in calories, so it never manifested ina significant way. I never went “over the line” to reach a “wake up call”, if that makes sense.

I know I needed help but it is not that bad.

I know I am not fat. I am just fatter than where I had once been. And I am just obsessing over getting back there. One of the main thing that kept me going is knowing I am only a comfortable distance away from “that body composition”. But then life happens, and of course I further and further drift away from that state. I then get into the loop of being anxious about falling out of maintenance mode and trying to accept / make peace with my “new body”.

To be clear, I know and am 350% sure no one notices these subtle change in body fat that only I touch and pinch. Heck the craziest of all, I don’t even meet any human being, 80% of the time. I work remotely ffs. I don’t rely on my looks (I still don’t wear make up for conference calls and I wear just casual yet presentable clothes when I’m out) and I don’t have any specific person whom I crave validation from.

The craziest could be even right now after 7 days of eating more, deliberately increasing my calories intake, my belly flab is still less than a third than that of Tara Basro’s.

My BMI is 17.8. That is classified as underweight. I don’t look underweight though, thanks to my muscular arms and square jawed skull, lol.

I am completely crazy. I know.

Hi there! This is the second part out of 5-part series on my experience with eating disorder and amenorrhea. Hopefully this can help someone out there going through the same experience.

If you relate with any of these or have any question, feel free to hit me up on Twitter. Happy to chat.

Also published on Medium.

5 Replies to “Talking Body: Part II: Amenorrhea and Food Obsession”

  1. In 2016 I started doing body weight exercises, intermittent fasting, and picked up strength training.
    I was fully immersed in it for a couple of years the way any Type A person would have. I did my research, set the direction, set up a process, and showed up consistently — perhaps a bit obsessively.
    I felt I had reasonable goal and was progressing at a sustainable rate. I still listened to my body and incorporated rest days (from exercising, fasting, or calories restricting) when I feel I needed it.
    I felt and looked great. I managed to show up, eat well, and exercise even on days when I didn’t “feel like it“.
    I found that the trick is to start small, build the habit, and eliminate as many friction as possible to getting started. Then every day just show up and get into it.
    It also became easier once I accepted that it could be slow and painful in the beginning. It’s normal.
    On the good days I would dash into it, all wired. On the bad days it will only take 5 minutes or half a set for my body to get into the zone. And I always, always feel great after breaking a sweat.
    It’s easier to maintain the momentum than breaking the inertia again. I “turned pro” on my Resistance.
    I then grew attached to the resulting body composition. I developed unhealthy relationship with food and exercise trying to maintain it.
    I tolerated, misinterpreted, even celebrated the occasional hunger (“that means you are in caloric deficit“), fatigue (“great session, always be in recovery!“), and sleeping disruptions (“gym highs“). I normalised my missing period for three years, and now trying to get my period back.
    Exactly one year ago I shared that I found myself in my 3rd burnout in 8 years. It took me 8 months to realise I am back in the same cycle in this day job thanks to elaborate coping mechanisms masked as productivity tactics. These tactics prevented me from realising that I have normalised something that is inherently broken. That I need to stop and fix the root cause instead of numbing and adapting to the symptoms.
    It’s the same pattern over and over again: treating work as the main (and later, only) source of joy and accomplishments in life. I felt fulfilled and accomplished after a productive day. I liked the feeling of being needed, recognised, and respected. I was addicted to the external validation.
    It sounds like I need to “get a life* but I truly enjoyed building my life around the work. Work was my play. Work gives me energy. That’s why I didn’t really notice it when it started becoming unhealthy.
    Like frogs in slowly boiling water.
    I knew I could get over the occasional dread by “making the jump”: just log into Slack and start checking the pipeline. Once I get into reactive mode, the anxiety will melt away no matter how blue and down I felt before. I can ride the wave and move on with planning and execution from there.
    I was running on fumes but managed to power through. I “turned pro” on my Resistance.
    I am almost recovered now after 20 months charging my leaking battery — two steps forward one step backwards. Holding the fort while tending to the fatigue, fighting off bits of compounding guilt, resentments, and toxic irrational thoughts caused by unchallenged assumptions are quite a mental roller coaster
    It’s still an ongoing marathon but my relationship with work has shifted internally into a pretty comfortable place now — a strange cocktail of a bit of apathy, a bit of optimism, and a bit of gratitude. I am beginning to see my day job as a feature and not a bug.
    But this is not the first time I “gained perspective”, so I doubt this is going to be my last burnout.
    Despite sometimes “not feeling it” I am able to show up and execute the fitness practices. It seems to pay off. I felt the fittest I have ever been. But it masked my amenorrhea. I managed the “ugh” and wound up with halted reproduction system.
    Despite being burned out, I still managed to show up and get shit done in my day job. It seems to pay off. But it masked my burnout. I coped, I normalised it, I worked around the “ugh” and ran myself to the ground.
    I didn’t know when the “ugh” became a “listen up”.
    I expected some “ugh” and thought I need to “keep on going”. I thought I had an accurate view of the boundary.
    I couldn’t see the signals from the noise. Or rather, I dismissed these signals as noise.
    I didn’t notice when the pain of discomfort flips into pain of danger.
    I didn’t notice I tipped over from turning pro into self sabotage.
    Pros don’t ignore the pain. They see pain accurately.
    How to be a real Pro:

    Part 1: Pros don’t play hurt.

    Part 2: What is The Resistance and why we can overcome it by Turning Pro

    Part 3: How I managed to self-sabotage in the process of managing my self-sabotaging self

    Part 4: How to see pain accurately? How to tell the signals from the noise?
    Part 5: What if there is a better way to overcome The Resistance?

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