Overcoming Orthorexia, Anxiety, and Digestive Issues

May 16, 2023 | Recovery Stories

Natalie lives in Winter Garden, Florida, where she works in marketing strategy for Disney. She also teaches barre3 classes at a local studio. Natalie spent her life as an athlete and had always struggled with body image as a tall, athletically built girl. After suffering a severe back injury, Natalie had to adopt a strict physical therapy regimen to keep pursuing her dream of playing college volleyball. This slowly spiraled into an obsession with exercise and “healthy” eating that caused severe weight loss and period loss. After coming off the pill, she knew something was wrong but struggled for years to accept that her exercise and food intake needed to change. Finally, after watching Lindsey on social media for almost a year, Natalie committed to going “all-in,” which allowed her to finally overcome orthorexia, improve anxiety, heal from digestive issues, and get her period back!

In this Episode:

  • Where to seek answers when you come off the pill and have no period
  • Pros and cons of working with a function medicine doctor
  • Working through recovery when fitness is part of your job
  • How to overcome anxiety around eating “bad” foods
  • Healing digestive issues through period recovery
  • Embracing food freedom after years of restriction and orthorexia

Resources Mentioned in the episode:

Connect with Lindsey: Instagram: @‌food.freedom.fertility
Website: www.foodfreedomandfertility.com/
Twitter: @lindseylusson
Tiktok: @foodfreedomfertility

Podcast Transcript

Lindsey Lusson  00:00

Hey guys. So you may or may not be noticing that we had a name change for the podcast. So we are no longer food freedom, fertility ha recovery and beyond, which is a little long to be honest, we are now the period recovery and fertility podcast. So you might be wondering, what’s the deal with the name change? Well, we wanted to be crystal clear about who we’re serving here, how we are helping women and ultimately being able to expand our reach and help more people. And so by renaming, we’re not rebranding, we’re renaming. And by doing this, we’re hoping to just create some clarity and to be able to bring our approach and our support and our information to more women that are struggling with this unique yet not so unique problem of period loss with hypothalamic amenorrhea. So we’re so glad you’re here. Thanks for joining us on this journey of renaming, not rebranding. Again, we’re going to still be talking about the same things, all things ha recovery, all things fertility related to period loss and irregular cycles based on over exercise and under eating. And we’re still going to continue to have on experts in the women’s health field talking about things like disordered eating, talking about things like over exercise, or how to properly fuel for an athlete. And we’re going to also of course, be hearing from past clients of mine and talking about their journey through ha recovery, finding food freedom and ultimately becoming moms. And so if you are loving the information, and the inspiration that you’ve been getting from the food freedom fertility podcast, not much is going to change around here we’ve got a new picture and a new name. And we’re excited to jump in with some new guests, some new clients, and also a couple of new solo episodes that I’m going to be recording to support you more on your recovery journey from Ha. So again, thanks for tuning in and listening. We’re so excited you’re here and we hope that you are loving the name change of the podcast.  Welcome to the period recovery and fertility podcast. Here we discuss the challenging, rewarding and life changing process of recovering your period and finding freedom with food and exercise. Whether you’re hoping to regain your cycle to get your health back on track or you’re ready to become a mama. This podcast is for you. While the recovery process isn’t always rainbows and butterflies, it’s my hope to bring you both information and inspiration during your own recovery journey. I’m your host registered dietitian and fellow at a woman Lindsey Lussson.  Hello everyone. Welcome to another episode of the period recovery and fertility podcast. I am super excited to bring on a past client of mine past and current client Natalie.  Natalie lives in winter garden Florida where she works in marketing strategy for Disney. She also teaches bar three classes at a local studio. Natalie spent her life as an athlete and always struggled with body image as a tall athletically built girl. After suffering a severe back injury Natalie had to adopt a strict physical therapy regimen to keep pursuing her dream of playing college volleyball. This slowly spiraled into an obsession with exercise and healthy eating that caused severe weight loss and period loss. After coming off the pill. She knew something was wrong, but struggled for years to accept that her exercise and food intake needed to change. After watching Lindsey on social media for almost a year, Natalie committed to going all in healed her relationship with food and exercise and got her period back. So we are so excited to dive in and hear more about your story. Welcome, Natalie,

Natalie  03:34

Thank you excited to be here.

Lindsey Lusson  03:36

I love hearing your story. And it’s such a common narrative for athletes, I think to struggle with the training. And I think the competitive nature and the perfectionism I just think it’s such a common story for people struggling with period loss to have that athletic background. So I think a lot of people are going to connect to your story kind of where you’ve come from and hopefully like you know, your recovery story as well share a little background if you if you if you can for us, Natalie, like where do you feel like it sounds like we grew up an athlete. And then there was like maybe this turning point where things started to get a little more serious in terms of you know, you even in your bio, you kind of use like some air quotes with healthy eating. Where do you think it’s kind of started to turn disordered for you?

Natalie  04:25

Yeah, so like I said, in my bio, I grew up I’m a volleyball player. I was taller than all the other girls and I’m built like an athlete which served me really really well but I always had this awareness that I was built a little different than you know what was considered quote unquote pretty your perfect and whatnot. I was just bigger and not in an unhealthy way but I just really noticed it and started to really internalize it. And it didn’t affect my eating too too much or my exercise habits until I got to college.  I went to college to play division one volleyball and in my free first two weeks, I suffered really severe back injury that sent me down a road of kind of figuring out what was what was wrong and then rehabbing that. And so I was in physical therapy, I had to do physical therapy every day. And I was told that this is the rest of your life forever. And I also had a surgeon tell me, I just kind of look at me with the back and drain, he was like, well, you’re fine now. But just know that you can never gain weight, because that could really mess up your back. And I heard that deep in my soul. And so it was okay for a while I was managing. But then I started playing volleyball again, competitively. And being in the diet culture of college where we would all go do extra cardio before binge drinking, or run off our hangovers the next morning to try and burn things off. It just sort of spiraled I had that voice in my head of like, I can’t gain weight. And I have a perfectionist mentality. So it turned from okay, I do my physical therapy every day to Well, I could add cardio, and then well, what about the food that I eat, I could probably eat less. And once I do something, I really do something which is to my detriment in this respect. And it just sort of spiraled from there from being quote, unquote, the healthy friend who, like sounded and ate really healthy and exercised a lot to an obsession that was anything but healthy, and took me to a really dark place.

Lindsey Lusson  06:25

Yeah, it sounds like while there might have been these triggers all along, I hear this so often with people especially like in the kind of more athletic setting, and probably really, in any setting, honestly, is like, maybe there were these triggers that were placed all along, everybody has triggers, right. You mentioned you know, disordered eating that goes on among like college community, it is not healthy, to starve yourself over exercise, and then go binge drink, like, nobody’s going to argue that that’s the picture of health, that this is something that I think is kind of normalized in college culture.  So you’ve got that going on. And then you’ve also got, you know, people like high performing athletes setting people are always looking for the edge with their nutrition. But it sounds like the words from that surgeon were like the thing that really kind of made things turn into something not very healthy. At what point did you start to notice that your period went missing? Or were we on the pill and didn’t really know at that point?

Natalie  07:22

Yeah, so I had been on the pill since I was 16, because I was training as an elite athlete. And doctors essentially told me that elite athletes are on the pill, because you don’t want to have to deal with a period, which seems so silly now. But that was very much the culture. And my doctor even told me, you know, what, don’t take the placebo, we just just skip it all together, you don’t need to believe it’s totally fine. And it’ll help you be a better athlete. So I ate that up, and essentially just was on the pill, skipping Michael CUI week from age 16, to 23. So a really, really long time of sort of masking those symptoms. And it was through my entire disordered eating, and then kind of quasi recovery journey. I was on this pill. So I had no kind of gauge of if I went had a healthy cycle or not. And I didn’t really know that that was something I needed to be looking for until I got off the pill and expected it to come back. And it just didn’t.

Lindsey Lusson  08:21

So age 23, you come off the pill. And what’s next, like, where did you go for answers?

Natalie  08:27

So of course, I went to Dr. Google, I actually came off the pill kind of accidentally, I ran out of my hormonal birth control pill in March of 2020. And my OB was like, Well, I can’t see you. And I can’t read prescribe it without having a visit. So too bad. So sad. So I came off the pill accidentally, but I was like, you know, this is fine. I’ll just I’ll deal with it. You know, I didn’t have a boyfriend at the time. It was felt okay to me. And it just wasn’t there. So I went to Dr. Google. And I was like, how long does it take your period to come back? And Dr. Google’s like, it can take a couple months, like fine, so I just kind of ignored it. And then about six months down the road, I was like, Whoa, that’s more than a couple of months.  I called my OB, and they were like, well come into the office, and we’ll get you back on the pill and that’ll solve it. And at that point, something in my mind just said, that feels wrong. I again, in my kind of obsession with health had done a lot of reading about functional nutrition and functional medicine and had worked with other practitioners. And I was like, that just feels like not the answer to me something still has to be wrong.  And I had started to see some accounts like yours and other people. Dieticians who actually know what they’re talking about when it comes to food, saying, you know, people can lose their period from under eating and over exercising and because I was on my quasi recovery journey, but still undernourished and over exercising over stressing my body. I was like, That can’t be me, because I already recovered so it would have come back by now. So I just kind of sat with that for two years. And I did end up going to a functional medicine doctor, essentially with examples in hand like these dieticians on Instagram say that I need to eat like cupcakes and give up exercise to get my period back. That’s crazy, right? And a older male functional medicine doctor was like, yeah, that’s crazy. Your lab panels are fine.

Lindsey Lusson  10:24

To be fair, I think anytime you go into a clinical setting, and you show them something from someone on Instagram, they’re probably going to like poopoo it away, you know, because like, Who are you gonna listen to the medical expert or the person on Instagram. And in a lot of scenarios that might be valid. But I do think we’re getting to a place with social media now, where there are healthcare professionals on social media, you know, spreading awareness around real issues, and we are credentialed, we do have information, we do work with clients on a regular basis. And unfortunately, there is a very blurred line between who is a credentialed medical professional and who is not on social media.  One thing that I want to dig into real quick, though, is you mentioned you’re saying the information, you trusted the information. But you said that’s not me. Why do you think that is?

Natalie  12:02

Well, I think part one is because I was really working hard to convince myself that I was recovered. And while I was not as bad, I had gained a little bit of weight, but still was not where I had been at a kind of a set point in my previous life before I traveled with disordered eating, I was eating more. I could tolerate eating a cupcake. But it definitely meant I was doing a hard workout the next morning probably meant that I wasn’t eating before. So I had convinced myself that I was recovered. And this is just how people live their lives if they wanted to maintain a quote unquote healthy weight, which turns out was not a healthy weight for me at all.  I was just working so hard to convince myself that I had recovered that I was like, Well, it can’t be me because I’m great now and I have a perfectly healthy relationship with food despite the fact that I was restricting and then struggling with binging on peanut butter at night. And I have a perfectly healthy relationship with exercise despite the fact that I wasn’t resting ever. So I was kind of deluding myself into thinking I’m recovered. So it can’t be me. That’s for people who are actively struggling.

Lindsey Lusson  13:06

Yeah. And it’s so funny, like realizing those things in hindsight, right. But I know how real it can feel in the moment feeling like this can’t possibly be me, I don’t have a problem. And it sounds like you even found kind of a medical professional to validate that you were okay. And so do you want to share a little bit about kind of the rabbit hole of working with a functional medicine doctor? Were there some good things that came out of it? Or was it a backstep and just your recovery journey, tell us a little bit more about your experience.

Natalie  13:34

So I had worked with kind of functional medicine professionals in the past for other things as a part of my back healing journey, some like pain treatment, I’d done acupuncture and things like that. So I’m a big believer in kind of the non traditional medical path for the most part. But working with this doctor, we did a bunch of expensive blood tests. But knowing what I know now we are measuring hormones, without any context of a cycle. We are measuring vitamin levels, just kind of like randomly, and we did all these expensive tasks. And he was like, well, your cortisol is kind of high. So maybe just like relax. And as a type A person who has never been relaxed and her entire life, let alone when she was low key starving. I took that and I was like, Well, I guess I’m just fine. I’ll just switch from coffee to matcha. And I’ll get my period back. So I didn’t really come away with much that was helpful to me. It did. He gave me some helpful ideas on my sleep hygiene. I am a high stress, like my baseline is kind of high stress. So I didn’t sleep too well. gave me some helpful tips on trying to get my sleep under control, which was great. But then he was like, well, it’ll come back eventually just wait and see and gave me nothing from that perspective. And it also reaffirmed that I was okay because the lab panels didn’t say anything crazy. It just said that my cortisol was high which he said To just said, Yeah, you’re stressed, drink less coffee, get more sleep, maybe do some meditation, which are not inherently bad things, right, but really missed the mark on what was actually keeping me from moving forward.

Lindsey Lusson  15:15

I think that like when bad experience, right, like everything that you learned, and there is definitely value in functional medicine practitioners in taking more of a holistic approach, right, because when we talk about when somebody loses their period, there are multiple factors at play. It’s not just the amount that you’re eating, it’s not just the amount of exercise you’re doing. And it’s not just your weight, it is those factors, and they can trickle over into our sleep, they are stressing us out. But what we have to remember with Ha is that if you don’t have the foundation of the energy availability, you can do acupuncture, have the best sleep hygiene in the world, meditate for hours, and you’re still not going to get your period back. So yes, we missed the foundation with the functional medicine doctor sounds like it wasn’t a total wash, but definitely didn’t get where we needed to be. And it sounds like the maybe least helpful thing is that you were reaffirmed that there’s no problem with your eating and your exercise. And so where did you go from there?

Natalie  16:17

So from there, I kind of stayed in that stuck place for about another year, kind of in my personal life, I was switching jobs, I had started a new grad school program. And so I was just like, Oh, I’m too busy to deal with this. And I stayed in that state for like I said, kind of a full year until I had moved, I had settled into a new job. And I at the time was considering opening a bar three studio, owning my own studio. And I had just reached a critical point of if I don’t do something about this, now, when the heck am I going to do something about it. And I just sort of snapped and filled out your form to talk to you about your program at like 9pm on a Thursday, because I just decided that I had to do something. And even if it was crazy, now’s the time to try.

Lindsey Lusson  17:08

I think that it’s a good reminder for maybe anyone listening is that there isn’t necessarily going to be a perfect time to work on, you know, getting your health rides, working on your relationship with food and recovering your period. Like you may never feel 110 person ready, but recognizing that if you keep putting it off, you’re never really going to get where you want to be. And so we visited and you were ready to jump in, I’m sure there was some hesitation, but you committed to yourself and you committed to the program.  One of the things I remember Natalie, when we first started working together was it was really hard for you to eat more like we you know, we really struggled with some of the digestive issues initially. Can you share a little bit more about what that was like for you, and then maybe also how we were able to get over that hump and get to a place where we were able to fuel appropriately for getting your period back?

Natalie  18:00

Yeah, I remember it very clearly not too long ago, it felt crazy to try and eat that much. And in those the kind of right proportions that I needed to feel my body. I was like very indoctrinated in low carb life. And I hadn’t eaten like a real car portion in probably four years. So it felt absolutely insane to me to you know, add a bagel, have a sandwich, eat some pancakes, have some pasta. And so I think just starting out of the gate, those first couple of weeks, I was so anxious about eating the food, that I think that ended up having a pretty big impact on my digestive system as well, because I was so stressed about it freaking out about the idea of eating all these carbs, but eating all this food. And so I think that didn’t help. And it also just took my body some time to get used to a new kind of rhythm of eating, I was the type of person previously who wouldn’t eat till 11am. And then I would eat three meals a day with no snacks. And in this kind of like confined eight hour window, and I had to learn how to find a new rhythm. And I think I had to be almost ironically a little bit regimented to start of like, here are the meals and snacks that I’m eating today. Because if I don’t plan it out, I’m just my default is to not eat. So I had to start by thinking through and being really planful and intentional with what I was going to eat every day packing the right snacks for work, making sure that I had enough and getting over that hump of just accepting that this is what I’m doing right now. And once I decided that, like I said, once I do something, I’m really going to do it. So once I got over that hump, I decided I was really going to do it and got really focused on hitting those three meals and snacks. And it just got easier over time. I remember like a hump around like two and a half weeks in where I started feeling hungry. And it was just absolutely wild that I was eating this much and he still felt Hungry, and it didn’t feel like I was stuffing myself. It felt like I was responding to that hunger in a way that was appropriate and satisfying. So I think it was getting over that hump, getting comfortable with the food, getting over that food anxiety, and then just letting my body feel out what I’m actually supposed to be doing.

Lindsey Lusson  20:20

Yeah, I think you bring up some really good points. And we talk about this episode 14 on the podcast with Dr. Heather Finley, but about how when we’re having digestive issues in combination with under fueling and disordered eating, it’s almost like her analogy, is the chicken or the egg scenario? Are we having digestive issues because of the food we’re eating? Or are we having digestive issues because of the stress that we have around the the food and kind of like round and round and round we go and so what do you think helped you to get over the anxiety around eating the bagel, or the food that whatever you, you know, have classified as bad food and unhealthy food, whatever verbiage you use, like, how did you work through that anxiety?

Natalie  21:03

I think the biggest thing was having group support having other women on a similar journey. And a lot of people had kind of similar food fears and things that they were working through. And so there were people to encourage me, you know, I wasn’t the only one who was scared of a bagel, like, it was something that other people were conquering alongside with me. And even if it wasn’t the same exact food, they knew what I was talking about. And so those first like six weeks, I really leaned in to the group and the support calls, and other women that were in community with me doing this, because it gives you that sense of you’re not alone, you’re not crazy. And at the same time seeing the women who are a little farther down the road, get their periods, and then be like, Yeah, I had to learn how to eat bagels, and you know, feed myself with carbs, and eat more than a quarter of an avocado. And now I have my period back, and it was all worth it. So being in that community, I think is what helped the most. And then the other thing is just practice. Like, you know, day one, it’s hard day two, it’s a little less hard. And it just, it goes from there. It’s that kind of like habituation that you get.

Lindsey Lusson  22:10

Yeah, absolutely. And I always like to describe it to and work similarly with exercise, even though it is a little bit of a different issue that we can talk about too. But the exposure therapy, right, so like the first time you have a bagel, it is terrifying, and it is hard and you might have a lot of anxiety or guilt. And then that you know that kind of the merry go round of digestive issues that could result from the guilt or potentially the food or we you know, we’re not really sure combination about but then you know, you do it again, it’s a little bit less scary, then you do it again and again. And again. And again. And so I think that I love hearing that feedback to about like the community making it that much easier to do, right. Just being in the environment where people are reassuring you that it’s okay, even though they know how hard it is for you. And you mentioned that like, you know, kind of two and a half week turning point where it went from I’m restricting, there’s no way I could eat more to recognizing that, hey, my body like that I need this food and more. Was it scary for you to give yourself permission once those hunger hormones kick back in? Or do you feel like it got easier once the hunger hormones kicked in a little bit?

Natalie  23:16

A little bit of both, I will say there was a huge scary moment of like, oh my god, it’s never gonna stop, I’m never going to be full, I’m never going to be able to tune in my body because I’m just going to be hungry for the rest of forever. And I’m just gonna keep getting weight forever and ever and ever. And that was really scary. And I remember crying on a coaching call, like, I don’t like that I’m eating three meals and three snacks and still feeling hunger. And what you coached me and what I learned that that was my body asking for more food while it was still healing, and it did settle down. But I also got into the practice of actually responding to my hunger. And now a little bit further down the road, it’s so clear to see how I needed so much food, I needed so much energy in that moment while my body was healing. And now I’m still pretty consistently eating three meals and three snacks. But I’m not scared if I’m extra hungry or less hungry on a day. And so I think it was scary at first. But it did make it easier once I decided that it was okay. And it will settle down and learning from again, other girls in the group learning from you and your professional experience of it will find its own happy medium, and you just have to lean into it for this moment.

Lindsey Lusson  24:27

Yeah. Which is so much easier said than done. Right? And so that’s why, you know, having that community and having that reassurance at each step right. So we’ve gone in your recovery journey so far as we’re looking back. We’ve gone from not admitting that we have a problem to admitting they have a problem, maybe getting some support, giving the wrong support to getting some good support and feeling ready to do things but we ran into this too much food I physically can’t eat more to hey, I could eat more but then running into the barrier This is scary, because am I ever going to not eat this much? Or how do I know that I’m not, you know, quote over eating, I feel like that term gets thrown a lot around a lot in the recovery spaces. And just like you said, the ultimate take home is like, you wouldn’t be feeling those hunger hormones if your body did not need that food for recovery. And so, once we leaned into that, do you remember how long it took until we saw a recovery period?

Natalie  25:26

I think it was like six and a half weeks. So I had just renewed for like another part of the group. And then my period, it was like, I made my commitment to do it. Like, I was like, I’m gonna keep going. And then the universe was like, okay, she really she means business, we can give her a period back, her body’s like, I trust you now you’re really ready to do the work. So I think it was like that six and a half, seven week mark. And it was a light period to start. But just that first moment of like, oh, my gosh, I really did this. This does work. And it worked for me.

Lindsey Lusson  26:00

And do you feel like that built back a little bit of trust in the recovery process?

Natalie  26:04

Yeah, for sure. I think I remember the week before I got my period. Again, I cried on a coaching call. I’m a crier, but I cried, and I was like, I, I’m just not sure that this is going to work. I don’t know that this is going to happen for me. I’ve seen other girls get their period back faster. And it just feels like I’m gaining weight and nothing’s ever gonna happen. And you said on that call, she was like, I bet you get it next week. And you’re right on the money. Just having a little bit of like, PMS emotion about it. Right, what it felt like the like darkest time this is never gonna work. It turned around, I was like, Okay, this works. And then I sort of had to, again, hit another wall and acknowledge that I still had to work to do because like one recovery period doesn’t mean that you’re free and clear for the rest of your life. Amen forever. So I think that was kind of another point where we had to check in and be like, Okay, we keep going.

Lindsey Lusson  27:00

It’s a milestone, right. So like, we had gone from year, you know, multiple years of not having a cycle to seeing some sort of bleed and recognizing, hey, like, there’s, there’s some rhyme and reason to this, eating more and exercising less, and six weeks. Like, it’s funny, because when you’re in it, right, it feels like an eternity. But then whenever you look back, you’re like, that was six and a half weeks, that was not six and a half months, or six and a half years. So prospective, hindsight is always 2020. Dr is a little bit about exercise, right? Because you mentioned in your bio, that you are barkery. Instructor. And I’ve worked with a number of clients that, you know, fitness is part of their job. And I think that there is a level of complexity that comes with being a trainer or being a group fitness instructor that makes it really challenging, right? Because you can’t necessarily quit your job for recovery. Although it sounds like this was more of like a side gig for you kind of the teaching. Yeah.  Can you can you speak a little bit to kind of the pressures though, especially in the group exercise environment, because I know a lot of times, people tend to think like, oh, I want to take her class, because I’m gonna look like her, which is the silliest, most backwards way about thinking about exercise anyways, but it does go on, can you talk a little bit about like the pressures that you felt like you felt and other people maybe might feel in the fitness space as they’re working on recovery, and maybe seeing their bodies change?

Natalie  28:27

Yeah, I think that was something that was really challenging. So I had become a group fitness instructor while I was in quote, unquote, quasi recovery. And I was teaching at a bar three studio. And I will say that bar three was really good for me for where I was at, because it was the most body positive role modification, low impact exercise that I had ever taken part in. So it was a good stepping stone for me. And I still love the brand. I’m still an instructor today. But I was not, I was still not in a good place with my own body, my own exercise habits, and I was still underweight. And people. Again, like you said, there were some people who came up to me and they’re like, I want to look like you. I want your body. Do you really just do this exercise? And in the back of my mind, I’m like, Yeah, but I also like, then go on an exercise bike, and then I also kind of restrict my food. And so that started to not sit right with me. I ended up being able to take a break from teaching when I was going through recovery. I just moved in. So I hadn’t started a new studio yet. So the timing did work out in that respect, but it was still really hard to take a break from exercise. As I mentioned, I suffered a back injury and my physical therapist said you’re doing physical therapy for the rest of your life every single day. And physical therapy did not have to be intense at all. And I had learned through the recovery process, how to tamp it down to what I needed to do to keep my back stable, but Over the years for me, it had morphed into you need to exercise every day. And so it was really hard to break that habit and that need to sweat and burn calories every single day. And I had heard that messaging of I want to look like you when I was teaching. And I had that voice in my head that said, you have to exercise every day. So it was really hard to pull back. And I think it took me like not, again, like a solid two weeks to actually figure out what pulling back really felt like I thought, well, you know, as long as I’m doing low impact thing, and my heart rate isn’t getting like that high, I can get away with it. And then I realized, what is that doing for me? Right, I had been on this exercise journey, competing from an athlete perspective where everything was supposed to be for performance, and moved into this other sphere of being a group fitness instructor and preaching about how exercise is supposed to serve your body and make you feel good. And I had to look in the mirror and say, This isn’t serving me right now. And I can take a break and come back to this later.

Lindsey Lusson  31:11

That’s beautiful. And then think that none of these things are like bad in and of themselves. So just like the example that you gave of somebody coming up to you and saying that I want to look like you and almost in disbelief that this is all you do. And then you knowing in the back of your mind. No, this isn’t all that I do. And having to even think that your body was actually a reflection of disordered eating, not health, you know, knowing I’m not getting my period, knowing that all of the exercise that you were doing on top of the bar classes to achieve that, look, knowing all the restriction you were doing, I think that there are some really great things about exercise and even certain studios, I personally have taken a handful of Barre3 classes and think it’s actually a really healthy and great environment for exercise. But for someone who is healing from disordered eating and exercise addiction, you do most people have to kind of get to this place where you get to make you get to make that decision. But I think it’s a really important question to ask even just those words that you use. Is this serving me right now? And how right like even going along a level deeper like is the exercise serving you in the sense that it is a way to just move your body and kind of celebrate that movement? Or has it turned into this must burn calories must compulsively move my body, I’m uncomfortable in my body. So exercises, the way that I cope with that is really digging into kind of his intentions behind the movement. And so it was very hard for you to step away and take that break. But you did. And so what would you say were the benefits from that, like what have been some of the best takeaways that you’ve had from recovery thus far into your recovery journey?

Natalie  33:00

Yeah, I would say first and foremost, it’s that that sense of freedom from both food and exercise, I was so controlled in kind of those years before, of what am I going to eat? When am I going to eat? Am I going to have something that I want to eat that feels safe to eat? You know, it’s someone gonna pressure me to eat something that I don’t want to eat? And also, when am I getting my workout? And how am I getting my workout in? Was that enough? Did I move enough today? Did I burn enough calories and just having that mental peace, I freed up a lot of mental space. You don’t realize how much mental space it’s taking up until it’s not in your head, like, holy cow. I could you know, I can solve anything now because I have the mental space and capacity that used to be taken, taken up by obsessive behaviors. So I think that was the absolute biggest thing is just that mental space.  The other thing I will say, and again, this is a personal experience, but I always been an anxious kid going to school, I was always anxious. I was anxious throughout my whole life. And it got worse and worse and worse, as I was restricting and in these bad patterns. And I woke up one day in recovery, you know, kind of after I’d had a couple periods, and I was like, wow, I haven’t had a panic attack in a long time. And I realized, wow, you know, when your brain is like, properly fueled and you have that mental space, maybe not the case for everyone who has different levels of anxiety, but for me, my anxiety just absolutely plummeted. And I felt like a new person who was able to enjoy life again, without that constant sense of anxiety that was probably partially that I was just under fueled and my brain was starving. I mean, that would make me anxious.

Lindsey Lusson  34:53

Yeah. And we talked about like how blood sugar can be really tied to anxiety. So if somebody’s experiencing have low blood sugar all day long or they’re going through highs and lows, those depths, it’s just like, it’s compounding the anxiety that’s there. And it’s interesting, right? Because I do know a lot of people end up using, I think that things like exercise can be healthy tools for anxiety, but it is a fine line to where I’m using exercise to cope with my anxiety, versus my exercise is now fueling my anxiety. Just like you mentioned, when am I going to get a workout in? Did I burn enough calories today? Can I move enough? Like those types of things? So I love you talking about this issue and about how recovery has helped you to get to a place where you’re feeling a lot better, essentially not as anxious. Is that correct?

Natalie  35:41

Yeah, that is 100%. Correct. And I again, it took me a while to think it through. But I just realized one day, I was like, Wow, I feel so much different in the levels of anxiety, I feel not just around food and exercise just in my general life around work things, you know, I can process things more commonly when my body is in this kind of heightened fight or flight state because I’m starving and running on cortisol all day. So it was absolutely incredible. And I’ll say that was the other kind of thing that happened in recovery is I became really in tune with my body in a way that I hadn’t been before. So I started to notice things like, Hey, I’m feeling like kind of anxious and jittery. Now what’s going on. And you know, Oh, I haven’t eaten in four hours. That there it is, I started to notice kind of how my mood that my desire to go out and be social change throughout the month. And honoring that I started to notice when I was more tired, and then could actually step back and take rest. And I really got to know what my body is supposed to feel like when it’s well fed, well rested and well taken care of. And that allowed me to start to notice the differences. So that was something that happened a little bit further in recovery. But I think that’s one of the most important things.

Lindsey Lusson  36:57

I love that. And that’s what I kind of like to describe. It’s like the snowball effect of recovery, right is like you might start your recovery journey being like, I just want a period back or for anyone listening who is wanting to get pregnant, I just want a baby. But as you get into it, you’re getting more in tune with your body, your anxiety is decreasing, you’re recognizing that there are parts of life that you’ve been missing out on. And you’re starting to physically feel better when we’re stuck in this loop of running on cortisol, like you talked about Natalie and feeling the pressure to do the workout even though maybe we don’t feel like it, it’s kind of hard to like see beyond like, people don’t not wait, like not everybody feels like this, like not everybody like drags themselves out of bed at 4am every day to get that workout in. Like, I don’t have to do that. And I think that you do have to get to a place in recovery where you are adequately fueled. And you’re working through some of these real fears and anxieties. But I do think that there is a place like I said, as recovery starts to snowball, where you can really just get like fully on the other side. Any other things that you feel like have been really big takeaways for you personally, and maybe like favorite things about recovery that you wanted to share.

Natalie  38:07

I think the only other thing is my relationship with my body and body image. I think that’s an important piece of it, I gained weight and way more than I ever have in my life. Unfortunately, I went to a doctor who printed my weight in big bold letters on paper. So I know because I don’t weigh myself other than that. But it’s given me perspective. And it’s been hard to buy all new clothes, and learn what feels good on my body in its current state. And to go back into exercise, adjusting to a new body with a little more weight to it that hadn’t been doing cardio for you know, two plus months, it was hard to adjust to all those things. But it gave me perspective and being a part of this group gave me tools to deal with that in a way that I had never done before. Because the thing is, even at my smallest, I was never happy with my body. And being smaller. Being that size, or that weight that a model or a celebrity was, it didn’t make me happier. It just made me hungrier and more anxious. So that journey to where my body now, there are still days where I look at it and it feels unfamiliar. And it feels a little bit off feels different because it’s bigger. I have the tools now to deal with that and recognize how much fuller my life is. So it’s really changed my perspective on my body image and that relationship, which is still very much a work in progress. But going on this journey has given me tools that I didn’t have and things that I couldn’t solve by just being smaller.

Lindsey Lusson  39:48

Yeah, no, that’s that’s a really, really beautiful reflection. I think something that probably everyone needs to hear regardless of what stage you’re at in recovery is just you know, it’s not that you’re not going to have the temptation And or the things that come up, perhaps Miss, you know, the way that it looked. But then I think it’s very easy for us to glamorize the look without remembering the toll that it took on our mental health, our physical health, our relationships, just a general well being. And I don’t think it’s something that we can fully grasp until we’re not trapped in that cycle. You know, like, it’s almost like we have to break free of the cycle. And I also think that it can be very freeing to not feel the pressure to be tied to that right to like, get to this place of my body is naturally designed to be a size that is not that size that it was, and that’s okay. Right. Like, that is how God designed me. And I think that there’s something really beautiful and getting to that point, but you have to do the work to get there. And I think you’ve had some really, really wonderful reflections, Natalie, anything you would want to leave listeners with? Who were maybe maybe in that denial phase, or maybe in that, you know, thinking this can’t possibly be me, what would you say to that person today? Now, knowing what you’ve been through,

Natalie  41:10

I would say if you are looking at Lindsey, social media, and you feel in the depths of your soul, like you’re being called out, don’t deny that feeling. Because I felt so called out I was like, that sounds like me. But it can’t be me because I’m recovered. If you look at things like that, and you feel like the smallest hint of Ooh, that feels like me lean into that and ask the questions, because it’s, it’s worth it. And it’s not worth that wasted time spent in quasi recovery because there’s so much more on the other side of the hard thing of actually recovering.

Lindsey Lusson  41:47

Thanks so much, Natalie. That’s super helpful. Thanks again for your time. Thanks for coming on. And I’m excited to share your story with other people. I know this is going to be relatable and encouraging. So thanks again so much.

Natalie  41:58

Yeah, thank you for having me on.

Lindsey Lusson  42:01

Thank you so much for tuning in and listening if you found this episode to be inspiring or helpful, please share on social media and tag me at Food dot freedom dot fertility. Also don’t forget to leave a rating and a review!

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I’m a fertility nutritionist and registered dietitian who specializes in hypothalamic amenorrhea. My passion is helping women trying to conceive find freedom with food and exercise, so they can recover their period, and get pregnant naturally.

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Jan 19, 2022

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