Period Loss as a Runner, Unpacking Fatphobia, and Holiday Eating tips w/Abbie Attwood 

Dec 1, 2023 | Let's Hear From The Experts

Abbie Attwood is an anti-diet, weight-inclusive nutritionist with a masters of science in nutrition. She is also a body image coach, business owner, obsessed dog-mom, and lover of the outdoors. 

Abbie worked in healthcare policy and at start-ups for a decade before returning to graduate school. The decision to change careers was a result of her own battle with disordered eating, a slew of injuries, and several autoimmune disease diagnoses. She is passionate about helping others heal from disordered eating and body shame so that they can live their most authentic, meaningful life. 

Abbie lives in the Bay Area with her husband and two dogs, where she runs a virtual nutrition and coaching practice. Her work is rooted in supporting her clients to rebuild a relationship with food and their body that is compassionate, respectful, liberating, and peaceful.

In this Episode:

  • Understanding the Anti Diet movement
  • Why period loss is often overlooked in runners
  • Unpacking body image and questions to ask when you’re struggling
  • The ambiguity of food intolerances when you’re under eating 
  • Getting to the bottom of period loss when you’ve been on the pill for 10+ years
  • Digging deep on your “why” when kids aren’t a motivator 
  • Holiday tips to support healing from disordered eating

Connect with Abbie:

Full Plate Podcast

Instagram: @abbieattwoodwellness

www.abbieattwoodwellness.com

Podcast Transcript

Abbie Attwood  00:00

I want to be so honest about that, because I think that’s a real feeling when we’re in it. And at that time, I was getting deeper into restrictive eating and more like compulsively exercising as a competitive athlete, I did not care. I thought that my lost period was a sign of more progression in my sport. I was associating my success in running to my body size. I was associating the fact that my period was gone with the fact that I was doing the right things, right. Like I thought that was just a product of me training really hard, just like coaches reinforced, just like it’s normalized. I mean, so many women on the team that I was on at the time, like they didn’t have theirs either. Like it wasn’t something that made me concerned.

Lindsey Luaaon  00:41

Welcome to the Period Recovery and Fertility Podcast, the podcast that provides you with the information and inspiration you need to get your period back, heal your relationship with food and take charge of your fertility. If you’re a listener, and you are on a healing journey from Hypothalamic Amenorrhea, I want you to mark your calendars for November 24 on the relaunch of my online course The Period Recovery Academy. This self paced course provides you with a clear cut plan to get your period back by following my proven food freedom fertility method that has allowed over 250 women to recover their period and restore fertility naturally. To get the insight info and details on the course plus $100 off for Black Friday, be sure to subscribe to my email list linked in the show notes of this episode. I hope to see you later this month inside the academy but for now, let’s get into this week’s episode.

Lindsey Lusson  01:33

All right, everybody, welcome to the Period Recovery and Fertility Podcast. I have already been giggling with this week’s guest and we have so much to talk about so I can’t wait to get started. So Abbie Attwood is an anti-diet, weight-inclusive nutritionist with a masters of science in nutrition. She is also a body image coach, business owner, obsessed dog-mom, and lover of the outdoors. Abbie worked in healthcare policy and at start-ups for a decade before returning to graduate school. The decision to change careers was a result of her own battle with disordered eating, a slew of injuries, and several autoimmune disease diagnoses. She is passionate about helping others heal from disordered eating and body shame so that they can live their most authentic, meaningful life. Abbie lives in the Bay Area with her husband and two dogs, where she runs a virtual nutrition and coaching practice. Her work is rooted in supporting her clients to rebuild a relationship with food and their body that is compassionate, respectful, liberating, and peaceful. Welcome, Abbie. 

Abbie Attwood  02:30

Hello.

Lindsey Lusson  02:35

And we are already having such fun conversations. I am just a little fan girl of yours. And I found you on social media and then heard you on the What The Actual Fork Podcast and I was like, I think we need Abbie to come on. And so here we are.

Abbie Attwood  02:54

I’m so happy to be here. 

Lindsey Luaaon  02:56

I can’t wait to get into your story. But maybe, you know, I am definitely in the intuitive eating anti-diet space. But I’m not actually sure a ton of our listeners are 100% familiar with that term. Can you share a little bit about just kind of how you got here? What anti-diet means, what an anti-diet nutritionist is, and maybe we’ll just start with that.

Abbie Attwood  03:21

Okay, so how I got here and part two, like, why and what is an anti diet? It’s a big question. I feel like maybe I’ll just kind of talk about kind of give an overview because I know we’ll dive into probably particular topics within my story, I think. But um, like my bio kind of said, I didn’t actually start out in this career. It’s not actually anything I ever wanted to do. I went to school originally for economics, and then got into health policy. I started getting into food a little bit after college. So I studied economics. And then I ended up going to London to study what ended up being food economics and food policy, which got me into food a little bit, but then moved back worked in like policy in DC for a long time around health. So during all that time, I was also running very competitively. So I grew up in athletes. That’s a big part of my story, my story with food and my body. And so is like a lot of digestive issues that I had growing up definitely played a role this kind of like winding kind of thing that kind of kept coming in and out of my my relationship with food. College was where things started to getting disordered for me, and I can like kind of come back to that later. But running also added this layer of kind of health-ism on top of like food and body, right, just the pressure to have a certain body the pressure to eat for a “performance” and then kind of this is where this really intersects with what you do, which is like that’s the time at which like, I lost my period for a really, really long time. And it’s really normalized, especially in the running In space, that’s like not seen as like a bad thing. It’s seen as like, “Oh, you’re probably just training really hard”. Almost, it’s almost seen as a badge of honor and a lot of ways, right? For female athletes, which is so gross and upsetting, but it’s true and real. So you don’t, it’s just normalized.

Lindsey Luaaon  05:17

…so many runner clients, so like, on Episode 45, we have someone who shares about how the coaches and the people that she worked with mostly male coaches just really glazed over it and did almost praise it as “Well, you’re working so hard, like congratulations.”  It so like archaic in my mind, because I’m like, Well, yeah, like, you know, in the early 2000s, extremely fat phobic just completely lost in what we thought was held at the time. That kind of verbiage makes sense, but the fact that here we are 2023, and like some of the same shifts being found, it’s like, why is going on?

Lindsey Luaaon  06:05

So much overlap with both of them much overlap. A lot of times there are maybe not a dual diagnosis, but definitely like leaning towards with an eating disorder and vice versa. 

Abbie Attwood  06:05

Yeah, it’s really upsetting. And it’s disappointing, you know, because it’s another way in which female athletes are disenfranchised and disembodied by like sexism and patriarchy, right? Because male coaches don’t understand that they’re not equipped to have those conversations and a lot of ways. And that’s not to say it’s not coming from female coaches, too, it is. But the problem is that we associate weighed with performance and we associate the loss of a menstrual cycle with someone’s weight dropping, which can often you know, co-occur, right, like, of course, like hormone production, as we know is impacted by malnutrition and under eating, but it can happen in anyone at any body size, if they’re not nourishing their body properly, or they might have another condition happening at the same time. So it’s never a good thing. And it’s always something that needs to be investigated further. Right. And right, for me, it wasn’t. And so this was kind of going on at the same time that I was working in policy and then I started getting just like injury after injury running competitively at that time, and concurrently started like basically collecting autoimmune diseases, as I like to say, like I was diagnosed with so many different conditions, hypothyroidism, asthma, I was hospitalized for a really long time for something called Guillain-Barre, which is a neurological autoimmune disorder. I was diagnosed with celiac disease, which I actually  later found out only a few years ago was a misdiagnosis by the way. Yeah, that yeah, that was really frustrating because that messed with my relationship with food, of course. And then later, which I can talk about later because it involves a lot more details was it was six years ago was diagnosed with a pituitary tumor and Lymphocytic Hypophysitis, which is an autoimmune disease of the pituitary gland, which impacted my hormones, which is really relevant to like everything you do, right. So all of this is to say that during that time, I realized how disordered my relationship with food got it did get really, really bad was definitely fueled by anxiety and OCD. And it’s actually hard to parse out what was eating disorder and what was OCD.

Abbie Attwood  08:29

A 100%. Yeah, yeah. And for me, I actually think with a lot of, you know, therapy over the years, I think mine was more OCD than anything else. But all that’s to say that all this stuff got me both kind of obsessed with food and trying to fix a lot of my autoimmune diseases, which is rooted in a lot of misinformation in the wellness world, right, this idea that we can cure ourselves through food is bullshit and harmful, but I got steeped in it and that further disordered eating. Anyways, once I had recovered, I wanted to help other people. I wanted to help female it started with wanting to help female athletes, but then I started recognizing and understanding the social justice like intersection with nutrition and dietetics. And how how we can’t really prevent disordered eating, if we’re not talking about systems of oppression that inform all of it. And that’s where the anti-diet culture started to come in, which is to kind of go back to that second part of your question. I think a lot of people misunderstand it and think it’s like, oh, you’re just like, against keto, or you’re like against weightwatchers. Anyone who’s truly anti-diet is actually anti-diet culture, which means they should also. if they are anti diet, they should also be talking about fat positivity. They should also be talking about intersectionality anti-racism, like how ableism. sexism all of these things feed into the way that our society views bodies and views health, right. So this idea that there’s this like kind of body hierarchy in our society and that all of us suffer at the hands of this hierarchy, like no one, no one wins. And everyone’s just kind of on this hamster wheel trying to get as close in proximity as they can to the very top of that hierarchy, which ultimately doesn’t exist. But it harms the most marginalized people, right? The people and the most marginalized bodies.

Lindsey Luaaon  10:17

Thank you, because that’s exactly what I wanted you to unpack. Because I think so often, I almost feel like anti diet, I don’t know if you feel this way too Abbie. But I almost feel like it’s gotten kind of trendy where people are like, “Oh, yeah, like, you know, screw diet culture”. Like, it’s almost like a bad thing now, which is why I feel like so many people are like rebranding wellness culture, but it’s, I feel like it’s almost trendy. But like, the trend, like so many things, and something gets really popular, it gets like watered down and diluted. And so I think people, a lot of people miss the idea that it’s like inclusivity. And fat isn’t bad, and thinking about how you know, our whole system. And the things that we’ve been taught are actually harmful, especially for people in larger bodies. So I appreciate you kind of unpacking that for listeners who are, you know, maybe a little bit more unfamiliar with exactly what the term is and where it came from, and what it means.

Abbie Attwood  11:09

Yeah, it is really confusing. It’s funny, you said that, because I literally, I don’t know about you, but I get emails a lot, too, because I have a podcast too. And I’m sure as I do, you probably get emails from people pitching themselves for your podcast, and just this morning opened up one that was like, anti-diet doctor for your podcast. And I was like, “Okay, here we go”. Because I already can tell right with these things. And you open up the email, and it’s like Dr. So and so is a holistic, whatever, and doesn’t believe in diets, but he’s found the secret to lasting weight loss, like and it’s like, “okay, so this is not anti diet”. But it’s been co-opted, people are starting to think that it’s like, because it’s trendy now to say like diets don’t work, but people are co-opting that things like even Noom, Weight Watchers look at the trend with ozempic and weight loss medications. And you look at all these companies that are profiting now off of the idea that like, “Oh, yeah, like these really restrictive diets don’t work. But here’s a lifestyle plan that will work”, right. And it’s all the same shit. And I say it’s like shit is still shit when there’s glitter on it, right? Like, it’s just, it’s all the same, but to your point it’s watered down so that folks are missing the overall point, which is divesting from diet culture, and then actively dismantling diet culture requires you also understanding how it’s situated and upholds other systems of oppression in our society. And like that discrimination based on weight needs to be protected in the same way that like race and the other like ability, like other things that are and sex are protected under the law, but ironically, or not. So ironically, weight is not protected under the law.

Lindsey Luaaon  12:51

Don’t you feel like for every forward step we’ve made in dismantling racism and sexism that like fatphobia is just still there. And we’re, like, barely scratching the surface on doing anything about it? 

Abbie Attwood  13:05

Totally. 100%. 

Lindsey Lusson  13:06

Yeah. I mean, I was on a podcast yesterday, like not even a nutrition podcast, but we’re talking a lot about like, Zubik. And just that whole idea. And like, everyone’s like, “Oh, yeah, like, let’s be inclusive. But not fat people.” You know, like, it’s just, I feel like we’re missing the mark on. It’s like, almost worse there. And is definitely not helping,

Abbie Attwood  13:26

Not helping. Yeah, it’s almost this idea that like, I mean, I think it comes back to health-ism, a lot of the times, which is like you’ll hear people will try to err in this direction of like, “oh, yeah, it’s okay to be fat.” But it’s followed by “if your blood pressure is in a good place, if you eat healthy if, you exercise,” it’s like, no, no, it’s always okay to occupy any body, any body size, and you don’t have to prove your health to anybody in order to be in a larger body. But yeah, we’re like normalizing fatness with caveats and conditions, like it’s okay to be fat, as long as you’re trying to not be fat. Exactly. As long as you’re trying to pursue health and all of these really white, saturated ideas of what health means.

Lindsey Luaaon  14:11

Yeah, well, and to kind of segue a little bit to one of my questions for you was the kind of around body image and I personally feel that the way that I have been able to make the most improvements in my own body image journey is stuff  like learning about systems that have led us to believe that we need to feel certain ways about our body. Being a certain size is wrong, weight gain is bad, all the things and thinking. These messages are pushed to us because somebody makes a lot of money off of this. We are basically taught to not trust our bodies. And so I’m curious because body image comes up so often in this space of healing your relationship with food and for my clients, you know, working to get their periods back. How do you unpack that with people? What are kind of the things that you work on for the most part? Or like maybe even just like top three things that you start having conversations around or start encouraging your clients to get curious about as they’re working on improving their body image.

Abbie Attwood  15:13

Gosh, what a good question. I just want to highlight what you said about how understanding the systems that are profiting off of our body shame can fuel our own recovery and like our own liberation, right. I think a lot of times, if it’s so self focused, you can get kind of beat down by the minutiae of it all. And in understanding how this plays a larger role in really oppressing people and profiting off of our self-doubt, and body distrust and basically just distracting us and largely distracting women, because women are largely impacted by this, it can make you kind of angry, and no longer angry at yourself, but angry at the culture. And I think that’s a really good place to start with body image. Because what I find is that a lot of us know what body image is, but we also don’t. So like to someone listening right now, how would you define body image? Just kind of think about that for a moment? Because they think we know. We know, kind of what someone means when they say let’s improve body image, we know kind of were like, “okay, yeah, sure.” But I think it’s really important to understand what body image is truly, and what it touches. And that’s a really good place for everyone to start. 

Abbie Attwood  16:27

And body image is multifactorial, you know, like, it’s not just this, like, how do you picture yourself? Or how do you feel about your appearance, right? It’s so much more. It’s like, what thoughts do you have about your body? Like, how do you treat your body? How do you think other people perceive your body? Right? What beliefs do you hold about the worthiness of your body? Right? Like it’s perceptive, it’s behavioral, it’s cognitive, it’s emotional. And it’s also impacted by trauma. And it’s impacted by chronic illness. So my folks out there like myself, who have chronic illness, that impacts your body image, like feeling unsafe in your own body impacts your body image, and we have to start thinking about body image more about like, what it feels like to occupy your body? Like moving through this world, what is it like to be in your body?And just start to get closer to that and understanding that because the more that we can focus on what it feels like to be in our body, the less we’re focused on what our body looks like. Right. 

Lindsey Lusson  17:40

Yes. And I do think that that’s what most people think, when they think about it. It’s like, how do you feel about the way that your body looks?

Abbie Attwood  17:51

And unfortunately, where we land with that is, the way we feel about how our body looks, comes right back to all of the like, ideas we’ve been sold our whole life about what beauty is. And it comes back to that hierarchy of bodies that I mentioned earlier, which is like, the way you feel about your appearance is going to be based on all these lies you’ve been fed about the right way to have a body and what beautiful looks like and thinness and all of these ideas of what it means to be attractive to be desirable. And so you’re always going to land back at these thoughts and beliefs that aren’t actually yours. Like we didn’t come into this world, like we weren’t born just with this idea of what a good body looks like, right? Like when we were born, like, we appreciated just like the softness of our mom’s belly or the like, right? Like we like crawled around, and we just experienced the world in our body. But over time, we’re indoctrinated with these ideas of like, what’s right or wrong, and how we need to look. So I think that’s a really important place to start is to start thinking about the way you feel about your body separate from what you’ve been taught, is the way you need to look. And that’s really hard, because it’s painful, like there’s a lot of grief involved in that.

Lindsey Luaaon  19:08

Well, and like if you have thought and believed one thing about your body for 20 years of your life, like the relearning and undoing of what you know is going to take time. And I feel like that’s one of the more frustrating parts of improving body image too, is people are like, like, just want to feel better, especially like when they’re on a healing journey from HA and they’re gaining weight. They’re like, “You know, my

Lindsey Luaaon  19:32

body’s healed, but like, I still hate the way I look. Or I still miss my old body”. You know, having kind of been through a journey to get your period back too like, maybe could you share a little bit about what that stage of your life looked like in terms of figuring out how to get your period back and what recovery just kind of looked like for you?

Abbie Attwood  19:52

Yeah, mine was really it was it was strange because I want to say it was probably like 10 or 11 years that I went without a menstrual cycle. And, you know, Lindsey, I think what happened is, it’s funny when my eating started becoming more disordered, at the same time, I ended up going off the pill. And so I was probably,I don’t remember, it was probably early in college. So I was really struggling with panic attacks at the time and I’ve always had anxiety, but my anxiety and OCD was skyrocketing. And I was having panic attacks constantly. And at that time, people were just starting to talk about how birth control pills might be impacting people’s mental health. Right. So I was like, Well, I don’t want to take the risk that this is contributing to how much my mental health is deteriorating, like it was completely obliterating me, right? Like, it wasn’t just like, “Oh, I’m anxious.” It was like, I can’t function. So I ended up going off the pill. And what’s interesting, I imagine, you you talk about this too with clients is that the pill can mask that a period was not there in the first place. Right? So I went off the pill, and I never got a period back. Right. So I don’t know when my natural cycle disappeared. Because I’d been on the pill since I was really young. I was one of those girls that was like, I had a really heavy period when I first got itike when I was really little. And I developed early, like that was just my story. And my period was terrible as a kid, like it was so heavy, it would last forever. And the doctor put me on birth control when I was like, 12, you know, and so I have no idea when my cycle started getting messed up or started missing, right? Because all that time I was on a pill that was giving me a false bleed.

Lindsey Luaaon  21:39

Yes that’s a common story. And it’s hard if someone’s been on the pill for a decade to really pinpoint. Like, what happened? Like, what was the [inaudible] period go missing? Like, a lot of times, there’s a lot of kind of layers wrapped up. But so what happened from there? I mean, obviously, you’re already, thinking about mental health and how to support your mental health. And now we realize we have no period. So then what did we do?

Abbie Attwood  22:14

Yeah so this overlaps with that time that I mentioned earlier, where it was, like really normalized. That I didn’t worry about it for years. In fact, at that point in my life, I was young enough that even if someone had said to me, “Well, what if this impacts your fertility later?”, I would have said, “I don’t give a shit?” 

Lindsey Lusson  22:33

Well, and thank you for that. Because I do think that I’m sure we have a number of listeners. And I felt this way too, in my early 20s. It was it was almost just like, I am so far away from that stage of life. Like, I do not care. Like, it doesn’t matter to me at this point in time. Yeah. So I appreciate you bringing that in.

Abbie Attwood  22:53

Oh, yeah, I want to be so honest about that. Because I think that’s a real feeling like when we’re in it. And at that time, I was getting deeper into just like restrictive eating and more like compulsively exercising, rigt. As a competitive athlete, I did not care. I thought that my lost period was a sign of more progression in my sport. I was associating my success in running to my body size. And I was associating the fact that my period was gone with the fact that I was doing the right things, right. Like, I thought that was just a product of me training really hard, just like coaches reinforced, just like it’s normalized. I mean, so many women on the team that I was on at the time, like they didn’t have theirs either. Like it wasn’t something that made me concerned. And I also want to be honest, that being a mother was not at the top of my list ever, in terms of what I wanted for myself. So I didn’t go through life always wanting that natural kind of traditional trajectory. I didn’t know if I wanted that or not. So that has added another layer of complexity on it for me where I was like, I don’t care right now, you know. And that makes me so sad. But it was my truth. So from there, it went on for several years where I didn’t worry about it. But eventually, as I like really recovered from disordered eating, doctors started being like, “have you gotten your period back yet? Have you gotten your period back yet?”. Right? Because there’s a whole other tangent, we could go on about like, that’s an imperfect measure of recovery. Anyways, a lot of people can get their cycle back and still be deeply under eating, right? Because everybody’s so different. Our bodies are, I mean, I work with folks that have extremely restrictive eating disorders and never lost their period. I mean, everybody’s body is really different.

Lindsey Lusson  24:45

Yes, yes, someone can be struggling with a very severe eating disorder, a severe level of malnutrition and never lose their cycle. That same person, you know. And then there’s another faction of the population of people who can recover their periods at really low, unhealthy ways, most summers [inaudible] engaging in their eating disorder. And so it is a great marker of physical recovery in somebody who is working through things, you know, like it is a marker, but it is not the marker. And people can still struggle with disordered eating and full blown eating disorders and still have a period.

Abbie Attwood  25:16

Yeah, it’s such an important thing to know. Because we know in eating disorders, specifically, like the brain is constantly trying to convince that person that they’re not sick enough. And if you don’t lose your period then you can kind of skirt by and keep trying to convince yourself that, or your brain will try to convince you that eating disorder voice will convince you, “See it’s not that bad. You haven’t lost your period.” And on the reverse, you could be working through recovery, get your period back and still have very disordered eating, but be like, “Oh, this is good enough now, because I got my period back.” So it’s just really nuanced in it. As you said. It is a really great sign for a lot of people, and an important marker of our body feeling safe enough to like, menstruate, but it’s imperfect. So I digress. So I was getting that question and I was still running. And I remember my doctors being like, “Well, you know, honestly, you’ll probably get it back when you know, you just aren’t training as hard.” And so people weren’t pushing on it. 

Abbie Attwood  26:17

So this is where everything gets really interesting for me, because eventually, I remember actually talking to my mom. So my parents were both physicians, they’re retired. But I remember talking to my mom one day, and I had really like, I was very much free of any type of disordered eating, any type of disordered exercising, like I was in a really good spot, finally, like years and years into this. And I remember just kind of casually coming up, I was no longer competing, coming up in conversation that I didn’t get my period anymore. And my mom was like, “What the hell Abbie, like, why aren’t you looking into this?” She’s like, “that’s just weird.” It feels like your body has physically recovered. It feels like you have mentally and emotionally recovered. What is the deal? Like, why is this not back? So I went to my primary care, and I had a really direct conversation with her about it. And she’s like, “Oh, she’s like, Yeah, well, okay, let’s look into it.” So they did some tests, and my hormone levels were like, absolutely bottomed out, like estrogen, progesterone, whatever. Yes, postmenopausal. That’s what they said, literally looks like that. So they sent me to, like reproductive endocrinologist and specialists, and they couldn’t figure out what was going on. So eventually, basically, there’s a lot of reasons why your body’s like not communicating properly, right? It could be signals from your hypothalamus. It could just be that you’re, you know, basically that you’re not ovulating, it could be a lot of things, right. So they did a brain MRI to make sure nothing was going on in my brain. And that’s when they found out that I had a pituitary tumor and I had Lymphocytic Hypophysitis. So all these years I had a tumor suppressing the production of my hormones. No one looked into essentially because of fat phobia, if you think about it, because they just assumed that it was just training and I was just a runner. So what I will never know, I guess, Lindsey, is I will never know how much was impacted by my eating disorder, how much was impacted by this tumor and this autoimmune disease of the pituitary. I also similarly will never know how much my eating disorder led to the autoimmune disease in my pituitary because of how we know stress on the system trigger that. 

Lindsey Lusson  28:36

And it’s interesting! I love that you’re bringing this up, I have worked with a handful, so not tons, but also not more than, not just one, I have worked with a handful of clients that actually have both a pituitary tumor and HA. So it’s just important that both are addressed, right. So if you are fully recovered, and you’re still not getting a cycle, there could be something else going on. On the flip side, I think the big question to ask is, if you’ve been through a healing journey from eating disorders, is there an extra five or 10% or 20% that’s still there that you know, you kind of need to work through. So what happened with the tumor? Did they remove it? Did you take medication? Like how did y’all address that?

Abbie Attwood  29:19

Yeah, so I’m on medication. I have yet to to go the surgical route with it, because they don’t know if taking it out will bring my cycle back. And I’ve had a lot of testing done and so regardless of that, the doctors have like determined that I won’t be able to have kids. And as a result, there’s a lot of grief, right? Like because I look back at that version of myself that didn’t care that I didn’t have a period and didn’t push on it, like 15 years ago, and I know that’s the case for a lot of people. I’m sure a lot of people you work with like it’s sad to think about your myself at that point and think about, “Gosh, I wish I had cared more. I wish I had thought about future me more.”

Lindsey Lusson  30:07

And you’re also not getting any sort of push from medical professionals. You know, like, I know it’s easy to take the self blame route, but like also most people didn’t choose that path. Right? Your every single appointment at your doctor, you’re getting high five for how low your resting heart rate is, and your blood pressure and all the things it’s very easy for you to convince yourself that a missing period isn’t that big of a deal.

Abbie Attwood  30:31

Exactly. Yeah, that’s exactly right. And it’s again, kind of circling back to what we talked about earlier, which is like pointing your finger at the system and not yourself, right, like the systems are set up to normalize this. So it’s been quite a journey. And I do think, you know, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this, studying it, working with other clients on it. And I do think a lot of it was HA and was from under fueling and over exercising for a long time. And I also had the very, you know, the the bone density issues that come with all that a lot of my injuries in running more stress fractures from like low hormones. So like early onset osteoporosis, all of that stuff. And so I’m on hormone replacement. And that’s helped. And actually, I think, like, in the coming probably months or a year, I’ll probably go off and see. 

Lindsey Lusson  31:25

Yeah, that would be really interesting to see.

Abbie Attwood  31:27

Yeah. It would be because it would help figure out where it’s coming from, like, is it the tumor? Or was it always HA? So yeah, it’s been quite a journey. And it’s something I’m passionate about. And I’m glad you’re speaking about it all the time, because women are done such a disservice in this area, and like, not understanding their own bodies in this way.

Lindsey Lusson  31:50

And what I find a lot of times, it’s great that like your parents, you know, being medical professionals were able to kind of advocate for you to advocate for yourself. But I have found that that’s a really important part of this recovery journey, too, is like, you have to play detective, you have to come to your doctor and ask the right questions. You have to volunteer the right information to get the test to go in the right direction. So I’m glad that you’re here. But I do hate that, like the burden seems to be on the patient a lot here. 

Abbie Attwood  32:20

I agree. Do you see that a lot, too? Do you feel like that’s? Yeah, yeah. 

Lindsey Lusson  32:24

It’s almost like you have to go into your doctor and prove to them that you have HA. Like, they’re basically oftentimes dismissing it unless somebody… There often a lot of times they’re dismissing it, in my opinion, because so many people with HA are normal PMIs. They’re almost like, kind of leave with this message of well, you’re not good enough to lose your period.

Abbie Attwood  32:48

Okay, so I’m glad you brought that up. Because I remember very vividly a doctor’s appointment that I had, I went to see a really prominent endocrinologist at Stanford, and because they were really trying to figure out what the hell was going on, because they looked at I mean, I was like, extensively studied. I mean, this was like, very invasive, like lots of stuff for a long time, because they literally could not figure out why I still didn’t have it, because I had totally ceased exercising for for a long time. Like I had done everything to be like, okay, like, let’s just see what’s going on. So at this point, they’re like, very, I mean, I would say that they’re like, 99.9%, it’s the tumor. Because on top of that, the Lymphocytic Hypophysitis means that it’s suppressed as well. But I remember being at this appointment, and I remember him saying, okay, so I was like, Is this HA, you know, is it possible that all these years later, this is still going on like that my body just never kind of got the message to restart, you know, which is very real, you know, and I remember him saying, “Can you stand up for me, Abbie?” And I was like, Okay, and so I stood up and he was like, can you just like lift your shirt, and I know your face. That was my face. So wrong, and it’s so uncomfortable, even think about and I was like, okay, so I lift my shirt. And he like, just looks at me and kind of looks at my abdomen and looks at my body. He goes, “You’re right. You have plenty of fat. Your BMI is actually in the like, overweight category”, told me. And so now there’s no way. So that was the impetus for looking into what else was going on? Because like you said…

Lindsey Lusson  34:21

Yeah, you had enough body fat. 

Abbie Attwood  34:24

Yeah. Unbelievable, right? Because I’m someone who walks through this world with like, straight size privilege. And exactly right. And so it’s interesting to have been to have that. It’s like I have all these privileges and still, so you imagine how is somebody in a larger body impacted by this same medical fatphobia? Right. 

Lindsey Lusson  34:44

And I feel like we haven’t even scratched the surface there on that one because a lot of the clients that I work with are normal BMI. I have had a handful that are in the overweight category. And when we talk about history, their relationship with food how how much they’re exercising, there is no doubt in my mind that even someone in a higher BMI still have HA. And I’m wondering though, how many of those people are there out in society doing diet after diet in the gym all the time, but because they’re in a larger body, nobody’s thinking about that. And I think about that in the fertility space a lot because the road is slow, you know, larger women need higher doses of fertility treatment drugs, and I’m like, Well, that might be true, just based off of like body size and dosing of medication. However, I also wonder if someone’s presenting with low hormones, if they have a ton going on, and nobody’s paying attention, because they’re too fat to lose their period.

Abbie Attwood  35:40

Oh, my God, this makes me so angry. Because you know, what else I see is that they get a diagnosis of PCOS. If they’re in a larger body, right? And it’s, it’s so fucked up. Because it’s like they couldn’t possibly have HA, which is like, no, no, we know that malnourishment, restriction, dieting eating disorders, impacts the body the same no matter what size you are. Like, you can lose your period in any body size. So it’s so, it’s so infuriating. 

Lindsey Lusson  36:10

Well, it’s hard enough to get a diagnosis in a normal body, or in a straight sized body to your better language there. And yeah, I can’t, I can’t imagine and I feel for the clients I have had that have had to advocate that much harder, because they don’t look like they are struggling with that issue. 

Lindsey Lusson  36:32

Well, before we wrap for today, let’s get a little bit into your digestive issue and kind of gut healing journey. And at one point, you were diagnosed with celiac, only to learn that that was a misdiagnosis which is so interesting, because I always assumed that like, celiac, you have celiac, right, like, so. When did all the digestive stuff start? And what kind of rabbit holes did we go down on trying to heal our gut?

Abbie Attwood  37:00

The digestive stuff started when I was a little kid. So like, I can remember as far back as I can even like is even my my memory goes, like, I feel like I was struggling with my digestive system. And I really think that most of it was due to anxiety. Like I think that most of my digestive distress as a kid was a product of like, undiagnosed anxiety and OCD. And just feeling so and just my body being so stressed out all the time. And my you know, how that impacted my digestion. I remember mealtimes being really stressful for me, too, you know, that might have been a time where there was like a lot of fighting or whatever. And like, I think we under, under emphasize that like how kind of you know, maybe even small tea traumatic that can be if when even big tea like that you have a lot of stress around family meals and how that impacts your digestive system. But actually, in high school, I ended up finding out that I had eight gall stones, I had my gallbladder removed when I was in high school, which is really rare. That’s usually something that when you’re older, will happen. So that was really weird. So I had that. But actually the celiac thing. So I wouldn’t say I was really protected from disordered eating in high school and as a kid, like, I didn’t think I literally never thought about what I ate until college until I was exposed to like a lot of disordered eating in my like roommates and other people in college. Right. And so that’s when I started going in, like starting to tinker with things. I started tinkering with, like dairy and gluten and all that stuff, thinking that it helped my digestive system. And I genuinely don’t think that that was disordered at the time. But we know that it like kind of snowballs into… I definitely remember like going to Dr. Google and like, asked, trying to figure out my symptoms, right? Like, what can I do, and it would be like, “oh, you should stop eating dairy. And here are the list of like anti inflammatory foods” and you know, all of that crap that is pushed on us. And then the gluten message got into me, and that I carried into when my eating, my eating disorder really took hold. And at the time, I was in London, studying like food economics and food policy, and I was hospitalized there. And there were for a long time for like the disordered eating. And that’s when they did a lot of testing and found like such high inflammation markers in my body. And that’s when I got diagnosed with celiac. And what I think is that they I don’t know that they used the like, evidence based criteria for celiac disease. I think they were looking at inflammatory markers in my digestive system and made some assumptions. 

Lindsey Lusson  37:09

I don’t actually know how gluten intolerance is diagnosed. I should probably look into that a little bit more. But I wonder if that’s why so many people are like, “Oh, I don’t tolerate gluten well”, and it’s like, well, that’s interesting. If you know your entire body is inflamed due to stress. 

Abbie Attwood  39:49

Well, what’s interesting actually, is we can’t diagnose. Gluten intolerance isn’t something you can diagnose like, it’s actually it’s a self diagnosis. And it’s something that some more doctors are just starting to be like, Sure, maybe it’s gluten to people. They’re like, literally get them out of their office like, you know.

Lindsey Lusson  40:06

I’m like, if you don’t feel good eating gluten, don’t eat gluten. But like if you’re missing your period, and you’re gluten free, and you know, we got to figure out how to get you more food, whether it’s gluten or not. 

Abbie Attwood  40:17

Well, you just hit on something that I think is is fundamental here, which is like, my kind of rule of thumb is like, don’t blame a food until you’re eating enough food overall. Like, because most of what we’re taught is like, some problem with a specific food we’re eating is actually a problem associated with under eating in general, because we know under eating, by far has one of the most impactful like effects on our digestive system, right? And so if we’re having a lot of symptoms, and we’re not eating enough food, the first step should not be to point a finger at another food, the first step should be how do we eat more? How do we eat, like more consistently throughout the day? How do we make sure we’re not restricting carbohydrates, which is probably drastically affecting our digestion, right, like, so I think, unfortunately, gluten intolerance is just become like a wellness culture, darling. And most people are fine. If you don’t have celiac disease, you’re probably fine. A lot of it is unfortunately, like stressful messaging from the diet industry and wellness industry that makes us fear these foods and then have real symptoms as a result, because like I mentioned earlier, stress causes digestive symptoms. 

Lindsey Lusson  41:35

Well, and I think what you just said a second ago about like having digestive issues as a kid and the environment that you were in sitting down to enjoy a meal, I think that that’s something people don’t talk about enough. It’s it’s almost a self fulfilling prophecy. You have a ton of food rules and a really horrible relationship with food, and you sit down to eat pasta, and you’re thinking, “oh my gosh, oh my gosh, this…

Lindsey Lusson  42:00

pasta is gonna kill me, I’m gonna get fat”, like, you are setting yourself up for a recipe of disaster of digestive issues, right? Just because of your mental state, your nervous system, this the state that you’re in, when you’re sitting down to eat. And I don’t think people think about that. I think people just say, “Oh, well, it’s pasta. I can’t eat carbs.”

Abbie Attwood  42:19

And I think what’s unfortunate is like, a lot of times people hear this message like they might hear. So if you’re, if someone’s listening, and they hear this conversation between us, they might feel like invalidated. And like, oh, it’s all in their head. And what I want people to know is like, No, it’s not in your head at all. Stress produces real digestive symptoms, like the symptoms you’re feeling are very real, like it’s not in your head. And what if it’s not the food? What if it’s the way you feel about the food? Right? And wouldn’t that be such a beautiful answer, and it is for most people, because then you get to have a more pleasurable, joyful relationship with food rather than one that’s based in fear, right. And so I think we really do have to get to the root of the problem. Before we start blaming specific foods, we need to make sure when we’re nourished overall, and and that we’ve healed our relationship with food, because then we can more neutrally examine whether something is causing us a digestive problem. Like, we can then say, oh, let’s say it is dairy, like you’re not, then then you can make that choice from a place of self compassion, rather, rather than from a place of like fear and restriction. 

Lindsey Lusson  43:31

And you can go into meal times with curiosity, I’m going to sit here and enjoy the pasta, or I’m going to try to enjoy the pasta. And I’m going to, I’m going to see how I feel. And then get to be a more informed detective, rather than coming into the meal with a lot of emotions and stress and ideas, preconceived notions about how the food is going to make you feel.

Abbie Attwood  43:56

Exactly I think it really does come down to self compassion and curiosity and being able to be on your own team and not not so influenced by messaging, and be able to really sit down and say, “How does this feel in my body?” Rather than is this being informed by beliefs and ideas that I have inherited from like, the whole 30? Or whoever it is, right? Because I can cause a lot of damage psychologically, that translates into real physical symptoms, and we don’t deserve that, like, we deserve to have as many foods in our life is possible. Right. And so I think it’s important to understand that overlap.

Lindsey Lusson  44:35

Yeah. Well, I think that’s actually a pretty good segue to the kind of the last thing I want to talk to you about. Because when this when this podcast airs, it’s going to be into the holiday season. And yes, you know, as you know, it’s somebody who has struggled with food in the past, like holidays can be really stressful for people who don’t have a great relationship with food or maybe you’re on a healing journey with your relationship with food. And this might be, you know, one of the first holiday seasons where you’re trying to eat with Freedom, but all of your lived experience is stress around food and the holidays. Do you have any tips, Abbie, that you could kind of share with listeners as they’re approaching holiday season holiday eating to maybe kind of lower some of that stress or come into these situations feeling kind of armed and prepared?

Abbie Attwood  45:16

Yeah, such a good question. But having so many of these conversations lately with clients, you know. I think one of the most important things to do is to think about what boundaries you need to set with family members and people you’re going to be around because I think as as we’re working on healing our own relationship with food and our own relationship with our body, that healing process can be really disrupted by other people who are still very much in the diet mentality who are restricting food, who are speaking negatively, maybe about their body or negatively about food, you know, maybe they’re gonna go to a you know, holiday dinner and they’re like, just talking about how they, you know, starve themselves all day so they could eat this meal, right? Or like, how they’re gonna go to the gym to quote unquote, burn it off in the morning and or, “Oh, my God, I’m being so bad and eating the mashed potatoes”, right? Like, are talking about their New Year’s diet plan that they’re gonna go on after they quote unquote, binge during the holidays, you know? So I think it’s, it’s thinking about who are you going to be around? Who do you want to surround yourself with? What conversations do you want to try to stay away from, what people do you want to maybe not sit next to at the holiday dinner? Literally, like, truly trying to protect your peace and trying to think about how can you create some like, it’s almost like putting on some like diet culture armor, when you go out into the world and just thinking about how do I protect all the healing that I’ve done, so that I can go into these experiences, for the joy, for the community, for the connection for the love, because that’s what this is all about. And instead, we’re made to, like, make these experiences about fear about our food, how foods going to affect our body. 

Abbie Attwood  46:55

And I also want to remind folks like, so separate from the like, set some boundaries with folks in your life and protect yourself, like kind of, in terms of events you’re going to, but also just like, normalize, that this is part of the holiday experience is like enjoying all these foods and to like, remember that, like your body is always going to change forever and ever. And so like if your body changes during the holiday season, like, can you try to work through some neutrality with that and know that like, that’s okay, body’s changing is okay. And, and no matter what happens, like that could happen anytime, right? But I think we tend to develop a lot of fear in the holidays about that. But all that does is fuel that like, punitive, restrictive mentality in the new year. And so just the more that we can develop a peaceful relationship with food, the less likely we are to engage in behaviors that are detrimental to our body and to ourselves, right, like, we can just peacefully enjoy food, rather than what we see. And I know you see this to Lindsey, is like, people are more likely to eat to discomfort and to feel out of control around food when they’re restricting it. So don’t go into those holiday meals trying to quote unquote, save up, right, like. Eat regularly, do it throughout the day, so that you can feel calm around food, when you’re at events, you know, you don’t want to restrict leading up to these events, you also don’t want to think you have to repent the day after and just protect yourself in that way. 

Lindsey Lusson  48:21

Well, and to build on that to like, you know, even like this whole idea, oh, I’m going to I’m going to I’m going to get on track and the new year, “I’m going to, I’m going to finally lose the weight or you know, I’m being I’m being bluntness during the holidays, but I’ll correct it come January one”. Even that thinking can drive you to eat more than what your body is telling you that it wants. It’s just kind of this whole, like, oh, well, this is the Last Supper. So I think that, you know, doing the work now and approaching the holiday season, like these are fun foods, I’m going to enjoy them, I can have them, you know, as much as I want, whenever I want and not limiting them to a specific season can be a really helpful tool and just finding out you know, what is the right amount of food for your body.

Abbie Attwood  49:06

I love that. And you and I are recording the day after Halloween right now. So this is something that I recommend, like with candy too, which is like, of course you’re gonna feel out of control around candy at Halloween if you don’t keep candy in your house all year round, like, so make these foods accessible and abundant all the time, right? Like don’t just save certain foods for the holidays, because then your natural response is going to be to kind of feel chaotic around them and fearful. Like, we need to normalize these foods, that they’re not going anywhere so that we can feel peaceful around them. 

Lindsey Lusson  49:38

Yes. 100%. Well, I love that and we’re gonna have to make sure that this episode airs before so that people have all of these nuggets of wisdom and Abbie, if anybody wants to connect with you more, I mean, you have so much wonderful content and sure do you have a podcast so maybe just share with listeners how they can hear more from Abbie.

Abbie Attwood  49:56

Oh, yeah. So yeah, I do have a podcast so I’m assuming if you’re listening to this then you like podcasts. It’s called it’s called the Full Plate Podcast. And then Instagram is mainly where I hang out. I can only handle one type of social media. Basically. Yeah, I’m on threads just because it like automatically hooked up from Instagram but that’s @abbieattwoodwellness and my website is also abbieattwoodwellness.com, and that’s where you can like just learn about I run group programs usually like four times a year I have a group membership and I do 1:1 counseling but the there’s a waitlist right now. So you know, those are good places to find me. Website has everything.

Lindsey Lusson  50:40

Perfect and we’ll link all those in the show notes so you guys can access that and thanks so much for joining us today, Abbie.

Abbie Attwood  50:45

Thank you, Lindsey. It was so nice to meet you.

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MEET THE HOST
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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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EPISODE 1: MY RECOVERY STORY

Jan 19, 2022

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