Period Recovery when Fertility isn’t a Goal

Apr 27, 2023 | Recovery Stories

period recovery

Layla is a legal marketing professional who lives in San Diego, CA, with her husband and dog. Her issues with food and exercise began at a young age when she was put on countless diets starting around age 9. Her issues got worse when she started law school when she started restricting food and exercising obsessively as she struggled to cope with the stress of school. These issues were compounded when she received constant praise from others for these unhealthy behaviors. After struggling with body dysmorphia and battling an eating disorder, she has now found body acceptance and food freedom.

In this Episode:

  • How your childhood can impact your relationship with food
  • How to stop the diet/binge eating cycle
  • Why losing weight doesn’t improve your body image
  • Advocating for yourself when doctors push back
  • Finding recovery motivation when getting pregnant isn’t your goal


Lindsey Lusson  00:00

Welcome to the food freedom 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 ha woman, Lindsey Lusson. Hi, hi. Welcome back to another episode of the food freedom fertility podcast ha recovery and beyond. I am interviewing one of my past clients today, Layla.  Layla is a legal marketing professional who lives in San Diego, California with her husband and her dog. Her issues with food and exercise began at a young age when she was put on countless diets starting around age nine. Her issue got worse when she started law school when she started restricting food and exercising obsessively as she struggled to cope with the stress of school. These issues were compounded when she received countless praise from other unhealthy behaviors.  After struggling with body dysmorphia, and battling an eating disorder. She has now found body acceptance and food freedom. Welcome, Layla.

Layla  01:17

Lindsey, I’m so excited to be here.

Lindsey Lusson  01:19

I love just reading your bio. And it’s funny because I have worked with a handful of lawyers. So I think that HA can really manifest in individuals who are very high performing very type A, and very successful right in other areas of their lives. And so I think that it’s interesting, I’m sure that it’s not easy to like, open up and like talk about this, because you’re probably used to excelling in all areas of your life.  Here, we are kind of talking about maybe an area that, you know, we didn’t totally excel in. So I just appreciate you like being able to come on and be vulnerable, because I think a lot of people are going to be able to relate to this.

Layla  01:59

Yeah, I think it’s so common in the HA space for women to be super driven, super motivated, to be, you know, to not just do something well, but to be the best at it or to do it, you know, exceptionally so to feel kind of like there’s something so out of your control in a way like you’re not getting a period and to feel like what can I do to fix this? And when the solution is to rest more, eat more? It’s kind of like, Huh, no, I don’t think so what can I be doing more like I need to be doing more and more and more.  So it was definitely a wake up call for me to realize that the things that I have seen is so healthy, and gotten so much praise for doing those were really the things holding me back and that my body needed to catch up. And that was just something very foreign to me, given that I was, you know, always in school are always you know, trying to do the next big thing and be really good at it. But to really have to pump the brakes and take a break because my body was, you know, really needed that.

Lindsey Lusson  02:54

I think those two things that you said, can hit home for a lot of people the idea that we need to be doing less, not more, especially when it comes to movement and the way that we’re pushing ourselves and the fact that it’s not some, it’s something you’re gonna kind of have to wait around on. Like, we don’t have the magic eight ball that tells us okay, you know, Layla is gonna get her period back in, you know, eight weeks.  We know that for a fact. Because as Type A women, we like the books and the facts and the numbers and the statistics, we want to know, we want to know what’s coming. And so yes, recovery can be very, very challenging, I think for those parts of our brain, but let’s get a little bit into your personal story.  So you shared in your bio already, you started dieting at a pretty young age. I mean, I think that that might, you know, shock a lot of people, um, what made you feel like you needed to go on that diet initially.

Layla  03:44

So growing up, I grew up my mom, my dad, my sister, and I, it was kind of you know, it was always the four of us. My mom was always in a larger body. She actually when I was in around middle school had weight loss surgery. And so she, you know, really struggled throughout my entire life with her weight. I definitely inherited my mom’s body type. And my sister inherited my dad’s side of the family body type. My dad’s side of the family is very thin, athletic looking. My mom’s side of the family, we’re a little bit larger, we have larger thighs and softer bellies.  So my mom saw a lot of her own body type in me from a really young age. And I don’t blame my mom, I think a lot of the kind of 90s medical advice was to put your children on diets because God forbid your child be overweight, it’s better to put the kid on a diet and then you know, somehow magically the lose weight at age nine or 10 or whatever. So it became sort of a a bonding thing for me and my mom.  The first one I remember doing with her was Atkins. So you know, I was able to do the little Atkins bars and then I was encouraged to have a slim pass for lunch. Slim pass was a big one. We went on to Jenny Craig Jenny Craig was a big one that we did for years Nutrisystem South Beach diet.  It just went on and on. And it was sort of a thing that my mom and I did together. And I didn’t realize how how bad that was at the time. Obviously being so young, 9-10 years old, I just kind of wanted, it was a fun way to bond with my mom. And I didn’t realize kind of the lasting repercussions it would have.  This just kind of started a downward spiral of not trusting my body and kind of thinking that those 100 Calorie packs like that was supposed to be my snack that would fill me up for the night. And it just wasn’t you have these rye crackers that piece off and they’re supposed to be Oreos, or Cheez Its, or whatever. And they just kind of taste like a cardboard version of the things you’re craving. So from a really young age, it was kind of instilled in me that I don’t know my own body, I don’t know my hunger cues, I have to listen to whatever Jenny Craig has told me isn’t appropriate dinner.  I remember being young, maybe 12. and being like, I’m not full from this dinner, there’s something wrong with me and really looking inward and thinking that there’s something wrong with me because I’m not full from this very low calorie meal instead of, hey, maybe there’s something wrong with them packaging these meals that have you know, there’s very little substance to these meals, they’re really low protein or really low fat also in the 90s was all about the low fat craze. And then 10 of just to add into that had anaphylactic allergies to dairy. 

So we didn’t keep a lot of dairy around the house. So cheese milk, that sort of thing was kind of seen as bad. So I know Lindsey, I work with you in the program a lot with overcoming my dairy allergy, which I would have sworn up and down I had, you could not convince me that I didn’t have a dairy allergy. And, you know, it was part of that was growing up without dairy and kind of seeing it quite literally as the enemy at least for my sister, and then just my parents out of, you know, an abundance of caution kept away from me as well so that we didn’t cross contaminate, and I didn’t get really sick.  So you know, it was growing up. If I wanted a snack, it was half an apple, but there was no like cheese to pair with that to keep me full for longer. And then if I had the apple and was hungry 20 minutes later there again, it was like well, why are you hungry? You just ate. So I’m dieting definitely did did not help me. It caused me to kind of question the hunger and fullness to question how much I was eating. And you know, when you do that at a young age, it really impacts how you’re able to do that as an adult.  So it’s been I kind of felt like I was learning things that a child would learn at one point how to eat I mean, you learn how to eat as a as a toddler, more or less.

Lindsey Lusson  07:31

Yeah, yeah. I mean, I think the biggest thing that makes me sad hearing your story and your story not being unique to that time, like you you’re talking about like like early 90s. I had a lot of friends that did diets with their moms at relatively young ages, who like grew up dieting.  So I’ve seen this play out. And I’ve seen this play out in other people’s relationships with food, but also how this is not that different, then medical advice still being thrown at children who are genetically in larger bodies and, and doctors and maybe not even necessarily doctors, right, because it’s coming from boards and things over them that are pushing these recommendations, but to put children on diets and to encourage weight loss surgery for teens.  There’s some really really, really sad stuff that’s come out from the AAP recently, it’s pretty disturbing, especially considering we have the history of seeing that these things number one don’t work number to really impact the individual’s relationship with food and push away the Body Trust and the ability to really tune in your body and so you’ve shared that’s a big repercussion is it had an impact on your relationship with food? What other repercussions Do you feel like dieting as a child have had in just your life in general?

Layla  09:00

Gosh, it’s kind of hard because I don’t I didn’t live a life without the dieting. So it’s sort of hard for me to say what did or didn’t happen. sort of interesting though, because my sister didn’t get any of that kind of dieting stuff. Um, her being really like skinny and lanky as a kid it was always encouraged to eat eat eat and then to me it was like oh no, but not for you.  So it’s kind of that conundrum again, I know a lot of people struggle with this have clear your plate but don’t get too big. You know, so I was kind of encouraged to pair my plate but then it would be like well, how did you eat all of that? No, no, your sister needs the extra but it was just it was a very funny kind of it just comparing the two of us so it has not only affected you know me into my adulthood knowing hunger and fullness, but feeling like I need to finish my plate but then feeling really guilty for finishing my plate.  I know for a fact my mom was a binge eater to the extreme. I remember her taking me back one time my dad my sister were gone doing something and it was just two of us and she ordered like large pizza and breadsticks and chicken wings added in the desert and was like, alright, nobody’s home. So this is what we do and basically taught me how to binge eat when no one was home.  Yeah, so she would be dealing in the daytime, especially after her bariatric surgery would be doing just the shakes all day. And then at night, it was just a free for all. It was cartons of ice cream, and whipped cream and pizza, and basically anything she could get our hands on.

So I didn’t really grow up thinking that that was super weird. Yeah, that was just something that kind of was taught to me, maybe not as formally everything.  But um, that was just kind of how I you know, you as a kid, you pick up on how your parents eat, and my dad being kind of that thin side of the family would always brag about how he had, you know, a piece of fruit for lunch, and he was so full. And then my mom would have her just weight loss sheet kind of for lunch. And that was it. And I would be kind of stranded at like lunch. Especially we all have a dinner as a family. But breakfast and lunch. I don’t think either my parents really eat breakfast lunch was as little as possible.  And as a little kid, I was like, I’m hungry. So it was definitely hard to kind of create those cues for myself, and then really try to figure out what does this mean for me. So before I went through your program, and I still am in therapy, I think that’s been really, really helpful for me. And anyone who’s struggling through this, I highly recommend if you can see a mental health professional, because that really helped me break down a lot of these things, and helped me come to the conclusion that maybe that wasn’t with me, that wasn’t the best choice. And you know, I can make my own choices.  Now as an adult and relearning hunger relearning, fullness, relearning, what makes me feel good, maybe what doesn’t all of those things that, you know, two, three year olds do, I got to learn how to do as an almost 30 year old, but that’s okay. I’d rather start now than be 80 years old, and still be worrying about the calories in my morning oatmeal or in that coffee drink that I’m really excited to drink. But I just can’t because it’s too simple. I don’t know.  So I just it to me, it felt like I really had to go down a little bit. I had to like be taken down and was really, really rough for a while to just shoot upwards and then all of a sudden realize that I’m my own person with my own hunger and fullness and, and all that good stuff. So yeah, dieting at a young age doesn’t benefit anyone. I don’t care what you know, medical board is saying it’s supposed to help kids. It was just so damaging for me. And, and I know for many others as well.

Lindsey Lusson  12:33

Yeah. Yeah. I mean, I think it’s hard even you’re describing about like eating a meal that is designed for somebody to eat and restrict and try to lose weight given to a child who is still growing, who of course is going to feel hungry, and then feel the you know, the guilt and the shame, because that didn’t fill you up yet. wasn’t supposed to. So that’s really hard.  But what you just described of having to relearn how to eat and how to go back to the basics, like you talked about with toddlers and learning to trust your body and learning to cue into the hunger and fullness cues once you get those back. Right. Because after years and years of dieting, those are really died down. I think everybody has to do that to a certain degree. And your your story is probably a little more extreme example.  I think that a lot of people grow up in homes where disordered eating was was taught to you not in the sense that somebody was like, Hey, here’s how to have an eating disorder. But a lot of women have disordered eating habits. And we see them as normal. And when we grew up in homes where, you know, the almond mom trend has gotten really familiar.  And all almond mom is a mom who really thrives off very little food. And this was kind of cultural that like we talked about in the 90s and maybe even early 2000s of moms, everything being very calorie focused, everything was low fat, everything was 100 Calorie packs, and just moms not eating enough and believing that that’s healthy and believing that thing is the end all be all.  And so I think that parents have a huge impact on their kids relationship with food. And so we’ve talked about how dieting has impacted your relationship with food and how it has taken years with professional support through therapy as well to get where you are with your relationship with food. How do you feel like dieting at a young age impacted your body image I know a lot of times the lie that is told to us is that oh you feel bad about your body go on a diet and lose weight and you’ll feel better. Was that your experience at all?

Layla  14:42

Oh my gosh, not at all. It was this dangerous cyclical pattern of I feel crummy about my body diet feel worse about my body so I have to go either further into the diet or go on to another diet and then I just feel even worse about my body so it would it just kind of snowballed. And I guess my story is a little bit unique in that my body image issues didn’t really start in middle school or high school. I know a lot of women, that’s really where they develop.  But for me, it was it was later in life. It was once I started feeling sort of out of control in law school. It felt like controlling my body was one thing I could do. And you know, people praise me for it, it was oh, my gosh, girl, you look so good. I remember one girl came up to me once and said, Ooh, skinny Mini. And that comment has stuck with me because it was such an appearance based comment that had nothing to do with who I am as a person, I could gain a bunch of weight or lose a bunch of weight.  And it just felt like as long as I lose weight, people will like me, and I’ll get compliments dieting never really led to that it was it never led to what I wanted it to be, I guess, it led to this obsession and this unhappiness, and no matter how thin I was, was never thin enough. So that was hard for me, just to kind of it was a hard pill to swallow. My body is not a tiny, thin body. My body is a beautiful mid sized body.  I was trying so hard to get to that point when I was running every single day. I remember having a calendar in college where I crossed off every day worked out. And my goal was to have the entire month crossed out by the end of the month. And I would do there were certain months where I did that. And it was like a point of pride where I was like, Yes, I’m working on so much, I’m not going to gain that freshman 15 I don’t know what these people are doing wrong, not me.  So there’s this idea that you know that diet culture as well, like don’t gain the freshman 15 Here’s how to dress for your body type. And then it was just like all thin bodies that maybe had a little bit bigger hips or a little bit bigger bust and it was like, Well, I don’t look like any of these bodies. And then there’s kind of a plus sized one that’s like off in the corner. And I’m like, It’s not personally even plus sized. So it destroyed how I felt about myself because I felt like I needed to look like these photoshopped after photos. Even in college, I remember calling myself a before photo because that’s how I felt I felt like in those diet ads, there’s the before photo person who’s all frumpy and looks unhappy and you know, doesn’t have makeup or hair done. And then after and they have professional blowout and their makeup professionally done and wearing really flattering clothing. And it’s like, I just felt like I was always the before photo. And I got to a point where I was like, oh, I’ll just never be an after photo. I guess I’m just stuck in this like Ugly Duckling phase forever.  And it just it’s so sad to me in retrospect, because I realized that I was a victim of this. And it was just you know, when society is blasting that you should look a certain way everyone should be a certain body type, and you don’t fit into that kind of cookie cutter. Look, it just makes you feel crummy about yourself. And you’ll do anything to try to get there. Even if it means making yourself miserable and really impacting your health.

Lindsey Lusson  17:51

Right, and developing an eating disorder. I think that a lot of people develop eating disorders because of body dissatisfaction. And so it’s interesting that you feel like the body of image didn’t suffer so much as you started dieting as a young child. But it did start to come into play in the in the later years. And I feel like culture has gotten a couple of degrees better.  But a lot of work we’ve spent a lot of work to do because I think that there are young women today feeling very similar things in a repackaged message that people call wellness, wellness culture. So I we still have a lot of work to do there.  But let’s talk about more of like the physical ramifications of you dieting, you taking exercise to extremes. Where did that start to show up in your cycle? When did you lose your period? Walk us through that a little bit more?

Layla  18:47

Yeah, so um, once I hit puberty at a totally normal age, I did kind of slimmed down a little bit and went from kind of chunky little kid to a little bit of a thinner like preteen had normal periods all throughout middle school, high school, they were very consistent. It was like every 30 days, five days of bleeding, nothing, it didn’t make me think twice at all.  Once I got into college, and I was able to you know, I was able to eat whatever I wanted, which was usually just a salad with really low fat dressing or something like that. And I was exercising a ton like I just said, crossing off the days on the calendar, that’s when I noticed that my periods started to get kind of wonky. I was still bleeding but it was really really long and really late.  So I remember it being like 10 days of really, really light bleeding and I was like, this is weird. So I went into the school doctor on campus kind of Medical Center. And you know, the doctor there said, I’ll take your blood on do a blood test, everything looks fine on the blood test. And she said I’ll put you on the pill and at the time it was kind of this golden, you know, fix all it’s just going to tell right? And and especially, you know as my freshman or maybe sophomore year of college, as you’re starting to become actually active and I definitely wasn’t looking to get pregnant at that time. So I was like, Oh, this thing will not only regulate my period, or so it was told, but it will also prevent me from getting pregnant. This is perfect.  So I went on the pill, I was on the pill for about 10 years and didn’t realize anything was wrong until so my husband and I got married in 2020, kind of during COVID. And then we had a wedding the year after. And so I wanted to, you know, look really good for the wedding, right? And I’m gonna be completely honest, I went off the pill, because I’d heard the pill can make you gain weight. And I was like, Well, maybe if I get off the pill, I can lose weight for the wedding.

Lindsey Lusson  20:37

Yeah, I remember to and I think that there’s, I think there’s hints of truth to that, depending upon the person. But I remember around my wedding, getting on the pill, and then taking myself off the pill because I thought it was making me gain weight. So you’re not alone in that.  And if anybody’s listening. Yeah, it’s a thing. And it is an unhealthy thing. If your pregnancy, if that’s your goal, you’re trying to prevent pregnancy birth control doesn’t have to be this horrible bad thing. But yeah, the fact that we were more concerned with the way that our bodies loved then protecting against an unwanted pregnancy is a little a little.

Layla  21:15

It absolutely is. So that’s like looking back, I almost feel, I just want to like smack myself on the forehead and what were you thinking here? But um, went off the pill and, and I actually went in and spoke to my doctor, I was like, so how long should it be before I get a period, I just had this gut feeling something inside me was like, something’s off. Something’s not right. And I felt that even in college, seeing that college doctor, and I just, again, was kind of dismissed. And I also think it’s important to point out at this point that I was in a smaller body, um, I wasn’t necessarily in a in a larger body. So doctors were like, You’re fine, you’re fine. You’re fine. You know, three months past four months past, I think five months past, I went into the doctor again. And he was like, Okay, well, I’ll give you some progesterone. And we’ll see if that works. And I was like, Okay, great. Again, it was like, Oh, perfect. Okay, I bled out for the progesterone End of story.   I just feel like it wasn’t properly educated on first of all on the pill, and that it produces, you know, sort of natural bleed. It’s a fourth bleed. Again, if the progesterone I wasn’t, I feel like I was led to believe that, Oh, yeah. If you take the progesterone, it’s a natural bleed. And it’s really not. So a few months after all of this just I feel like things kind of started crumbling down.  That’s when I realized that my eating patterns were not healthy. That’s when I started my eating disorder treatment, and really diving deep into what was going on. So after a few months of that, and still not getting a period, I was like, something is wrong. I started following Intuitive Eating dieticians and I came across your page. And everything you posted. I think there was one day I just deep dive into your page. And I was like, oh my god, this is me. Oh my gosh, this is me. This is meat. Like she’s talking to me. There are other women that deal with this too. No way. And it was just kind of unbelievable to me. Because I didn’t think that this happened to other women who weren’t elite athletes or Olympians, I’m just a normal person, I just like to run I just like to you know, lift things and that can’t can’t be me.  I’m you know, at this point, I started gaining a little bit more weight. I was like, this is only for ultra thin women who, you know, have no energy to spend on reproductive functions. Definitely not me. But um, that’s when I reached out to you. And things just from there kind of started making more sense. I went all in and within two weeks, I got a period like a fully normal, the ones I remember from high school. So it just kind of it took me realizing that things weren’t right. And that was a long process. It was a long process. It just was a process of putting different pieces together and realizing this isn’t right, this isn’t right, either. And then coming to this final conclusion that you know, what I’m doing isn’t healthy, and I need I need extra support?

Lindsey Lusson  24:01

Well, I think a lot of the you know, you definitely summed it up very, very concisely. But I think that the coming to terms with I’m not healthy can be a long process, like a very long process for some people. Yes. What I think is interesting, though, is I felt this to Layla that even when I was deep into disordered eating and exercise addiction, I still knew something was wrong. Like it still felt wrong to have to take birth control to get it period. It still felt wrong when I took myself off of birth control that my period was MIA.  And so I wonder what it would be like if we had more physicians educated that said, Oh, you exercise a lot and you know, your periods gone missing? Like even if it wasn’t like, this is what you have, even if it was more of a hey, let’s be away. hear that this happens that this happens to women in normal sized bodies, as well as larger bodies as well as smaller bodies. Like I think the type casted medical stereotype is really so far. I’m hopeful this is this will change so much over on getting this condition properly diagnosed. And so what was your experience with with doctors? I mean, you mentioned you know, the doctor you saw on campus that gave you birth control even to the progesterone. Did you ever run into a physician? Did you ever work with a physician who said that you might have hypothalamic? amenorrhea?

Layla  25:37

No, that was never something that was mentioned to me. Um, interestingly, actually, that college doctor as well as that initial doctor that prescribed me progesterone, um, neither of them mentioned, ha, PCOS or other issues they were really testing for, you know, do I have a tumor on my, on my thyroid? Do I have some sort of they were looking for sort of bigger issues first. And then once they didn’t find that it was very strange, it was just kind of like they dropped off the face of the planet. And it was like, well, just take pill.

Lindsey Lusson  26:09

Yeah, I think that’s I think that’s a lot of people’s experience. I know. That’s how he is diagnosed. That I think that’s a flaw in the medical system is it’s like, let’s rule out PCOS. Let’s rule out pituitary tumor, let’s rule out some rare genetic disease. And then if all those are not there, then then you maybe you have a J, I don’t know, you know, or maybe you have a J, or we don’t know, I just very rarely hear of people being like, yep, that’s what I have. And that that be something that comes up very quickly, it seems like lots of things have to get rolled out. And unfortunately, because of the way PCOS is diagnosed, you’re gonna meet two or three of the Rotterdam criteria for every person with ha Well, right, because you will probably have cysts on your ovaries, and you have missing irregular periods. And so whenever we have to go through not like, you know, ruling out PCOS to diagnose hj, there’s gonna be a lot of people who get caught and stuck right there. Did it ever come up for you that that might be what’s going on? Or not? Really? Yeah. So

Layla  27:11

those were the first two doctors I saw, I ended up going to, I guess the third. And at this point, this was, you know, sort of I had already been through your program. And I kind of knew at this point that he is what I was dealing with. So I went to this new doctor with with really high hopes that, you know, she would be able to listen to me, my previous gynecologist was a male. So it was like, maybe it’ll help see a female doctor, we’ll see what she says, I went into her office and described, you know, hey, I have a history of an eating disorder. I guess, in retrospect, mistakenly told her Yep, I’ve gained some weight since then I’ve regained disciple, but it’s not completely normal. It’s not, you know, really consistent. I’m hoping you can look at that. And she was like, Oh, how much weight have you gained? Didn’t listen to anything about the eating disorder just asked me how much weight I’ve gained. And I was like, I don’t know. I’m not weighing myself right now. I couldn’t tell you. It’s maybe x amount of pounds. I’m not really sure though. She was like, okay, so lose weight. That was immediately what she said to me. And I was like, Okay, well, I’m trying to rule out other issues right now.

Lindsey Lusson  28:12

So she didn’t I just told you that I had an eating disorder like this. So

Layla  28:17

she Yeah, so that was first red flag. So she does the ultrasound on me. And is like, Okay, so see these cysts here. You got the pearl necklace, you have PCOS, but didn’t really show me the screen, which was also really odd. And I was at such an angle that I couldn’t really look up to see it. And she never fully showed me what I was looking at these ovarian cysts. And if you look at you know, I was reading after I got home I read the PCOS versus ha chapter a new period. Now what and the criteria for cysts, it’s I even wrote it down over here. It’s like 25 More than 25 says between two millimeters and nine millimeters. I only saw like seven or eight. In that glance, I got to the ultrasound. So she tells me to have PCOS and asked me if I have any questions. And I’m just kind of frozen because I haven’t done a lot of a lot of research at this point on PCOS. I kind of I knew it’s an issue. Anytime you look up like I’m not ovulating or missing periods, like PCOS is one of the things that comes up. So I didn’t really have any question. I was like, I don’t know. And she walked out of the room and her nurse gave me a printed three page like print out from WebMD about PCOS. And then they were like, oh, and then also the doctor told me to go see the Weight Loss Center upstairs. And I was holding back tears in this doctor’s office. And I looked her dead in the eyes and I said I’m not looking to lose weight right now. Can you look into other reasons this may be happening. And she kind of shrugged that off. And then that’s when the the nurse just handed me the packet on PCLs. And I was like I and I told her I think I may have hypothalamic amenorrhea. And she just was like, No, you have PCOS and like just completely disregarded what I said. I walked back to my car and I just started sobbing I like called my husband and he came home from work and he works in the kind of the biotech industry. And so he works with medical professionals a lot. He’s not a doctor, but he is in kind of the medical realm. He took that paper from the doctor and has ripped apart all the PCOS symptoms. He’s like, you don’t have this. You don’t have this. She doesn’t know what she’s talking about, um, actually took the rest of the day off work. I like told my boss I wasn’t feeling well. And I was just like, I just felt I’ve never felt so kind of looked over by a doctor. So that PCOS diagnosis was super lazy medicine. I don’t have any of the other PCOS symptoms besides the missing or irregular periods. And, you know, the cysts on the ovaries which I know you’ve posted about this a lot is also those are also symptoms of HA so I know I panic message to you. When I got my blood tests back after that third gynecologist. Nothing in there showed any sign of PCOS like androgens, we’re all super normal testosterone. I don’t have acne, I don’t have male pattern hair. I don’t have the dark patches of skin. I don’t have like, none of the symptoms of PCOS except for you know, the cysts and the missing periods and then potentially, the weight gain but I’ve read you know more than it’s unexplained weight gain. I can explain my weight game perfectly. I stopped exercising obsessively, and I started eating this isn’t you know, that’s that’s how bodies work. And my body. Truth be told, isn’t that different than how it was before because my body wants to be this size. It will bite me to be this size. And if I do not provide it with the food, it needs to be the size. It’ll make sure I get that amount of food so that PCOS misdiagnosis was a huge setback in my recovery. I know because it made me question everything that I was doing. It made me feel like I was doing everything wrong because the treatments for PCOS and ha can be really different. it stressed me out and I’m pretty sure it contributed to a much longer cycle, you know there and it just it was so disheartening to feel so overlooked by someone who’s a medical professional in a space was supposed to be a safe space, especially after confiding in her that, you know, I was struggling with an eating disorder and all this stuff. And just to be told go to our weight loss center upstairs. It just felt like one step forward three steps back.

Lindsey Lusson  32:20

Yeah, yeah, it is lazy medicine is exactly what you said. Because from a practitioners standpoint, they see PCOS more often than they see ha. And so they’re walking into a patient room and they’re seeing missing or irregular periods. It’s Grace cyst on her ovaries. They’re not really thinking outside the box here and there. But even more sad to me is there not this provider was not listening to you. I have an eating disorder. I gained weight and my period came back. That wouldn’t have happened with PCOS. I am not interested in losing weight do not push me to do something that I’m not comfortable with and is not supportive of my health at this point in time slash ever. I think that that I have a real problem with physicians using their white coat as a an in their credentials as a position of power and just completely belittling people. Whether it has to do with this diagnosis, whether it has to do with weight loss. I mean, of course that really bothers me because that one’s near and dear to my heart. But but really anything right? So you know, the good news is in America, we have the right to pursue other practitioners. And so did you find somebody that you mesh better with? Or have you had multiple experiences like that?

Layla  33:39

I haven’t found someone new yet. This was only a few months ago. So I’m not really and then because I another part of my story is that I’m not looking to get pregnant. So I’m not that was the only thing she said she was like, Okay, we’ll come back when you want to get pregnant, we’ll put you on drugs. And I was like, and I had to again, I was like, Okay, I’ve already told you this, but I’ll go over it again. I’m not looking to get pregnant. Did you not listen to anything I told you here? And yeah, so I I haven’t yet I talked to my friends about it. And they recommended maybe looking into a trauma informed psychologist, they may be able to kind of be more compassionate, especially with sort of past struggles. So I do need to look into that more.

Lindsey Lusson  34:20

I mean, your experience isn’t unique, unfortunately. And, and there are great providers out there. And so if anybody listening has had a similar story, just go find somebody else. Like it sounds like anybody could be better than the experience that you had on the only way to go up is here. Um, I kind of have two last things that kind of want to cover with you, Leila. You know, the first one, you know, based off of this kind of last part of your story is what would you what would you say to somebody who finds himself in a similar situation I’ve worked with several several several several clients have been misdiagnosed with PCOS either initially and then they go down the rabbit hole trying to heal PCOS by doing not good things, or they recover. And then at some point in their recovery journey, they’re forced to question this. And I mean, it just makes you crazy. And so like, Do you have any tips on? You know, it sounds like, you know, in the moment, of course, you kind of like, froze. And I hate that because I have done that. I know other people have experienced that too. But what like, what advice would you give somebody who finds themselves in a similar situation where a doctor is pushing PCOS, but deep down, they’re like, this is not right.

Layla  35:30

I know, it’s been said before, but trust your gut, I have that gut feeling and college when my period started getting weird. I remember specifically asking the doctor, I don’t think I’m going to be able to have kids like, I don’t think I’m 30. But there’s something wrong with my fertility. And she was like, no, no, no, especially women’s intuition is so tuned in if you listen to it. Yeah, I think that there’s a lot that we know about our bodies that maybe we don’t consciously know. If you’re feeling like, you know, I’m exercising a lot. And Lindsey, you can kind of correct me here. But the definition of exercise is a lot. It’s much less stringent than you think. Right? You know, the hours a week, it’s like really low compared to a research study yesterday about HA, and they defined excessive exercise as part of how they would diagnose it, and they defined excessive exercise as greater than five hours per week, there we go. Could be an hour, five times a week, right?  I get that that can blow a lot of people’s minds. Because if you are into working out or fitness, or if you’re an athlete, that honestly sounds like nothing to you. Right? Exactly. I think I was hitting that in, you know, two days, three days, that five hour exercise, right. And that’s extremely common with women with HA and knowing that those walks that I was taking, by the way, the fasted walks in the morning with my dog, and then going straight into the gym, that’s exercise, that’s your body going into kind of starvation mode, like these things that I just consider to be healthy. And again, praise for getting up early. Good job, you’re so dedicated. Um, that all contributed to my ha. So if you’re sitting there listening to this podcast and thinking, Gosh, five hours a week, I can do that in three days. Right? Yeah. All right there. That’s that’s maybe kind of a I wouldn’t say a lie. But maybe reason to think maybe it’s not PCOS, if that’s what you’re looking at. And, you know, obviously, I’m not a doctor, but looking at my body and knowing what my body needs in high school when I was properly fueling and exercising and healthy ways. Normal period, you know, in law school where I was eating a granola bar and salad with no dressing or lemon, and, you know, hiking all up and down campus. No, period.  I guess I was on the pill. So I was getting a withdrawal bleed. But, you know, it’s just it made me question a lot about my exercise and kind of thinking about why am I doing this? Or what am I and I really had to start thinking like, okay, so what if I gain weight? That’s the worst fear, right? That’s worst case scenario. But so what what is the real downside here? And when you really dig into why you’re so afraid to gain weight? I think that’s where I had the most mental clarity, because I was like, truly, what am I afraid of? Is it really health because in two weeks going all in, I got a regular healthy period back. And that just doesn’t happen with PCOS. That’s just not. That’s just not going to happen with PCOS. And that’s like textbook, AJ. So I think once I really started digging into some internalized fat phobia that I had, and really, really digging deep into like, why is weight gain scary? Why is it scary to stop working out? Why is it scary to eat so much? I think that’s when my feeling really started blossoming, because I was able to, like, you know, just go dive in headfirst at that point.

Lindsey Lusson  39:02

I love the whys. I love I love going very, very deep on wise, because I think so often, whenever we ask ourselves, why why would you not commit to cutting back on exercise? Why are you scared to increase your food? We say well, because I’m scared to gain weight. And we stop right there. We’re like, here to gain weight. Like everyone’s scared of this. This is our society, our society is to blame. And yeah, they are to blame for parts of this. But what are you really afraid of with the weight gain? Are you afraid of what other people will think of you? Why are you afraid of your clothes not fitting why like going deeper and deeper and deeper because  I think more often than not, we’re not saying I’m afraid of weight gain. We’re afraid of say we’re afraid of being rejected unlovable accepted, you know, when and I think that I think that I think the deeper you can go on the whys, the more you can dig yourself out of that. That fear. Last thing I wanted to cover with you and I can’t believe it. I hate to ask you ahead of time. Time is you wanted to recover your period. And unlike a lot of my clients, you don’t have interest in having children. So what kept you motivated during the recovery journey? What keeps you motivated to stay recovered?

Layla  40:14

Yeah, that’s, I think that’s probably the trickiest question for me, is that why? You know why? Why is just for my personal health. That’s not to say maybe in the future, I’ll want kids, but I want the option, I want to know that my body can have children or not, however, I decide. And I’m just, I don’t know how to explain it. But so deep down, I knew that I wasn’t healthy, and that having a period wasn’t healthy. And, you know, my doctor is like, oh, yeah, every three months? Sure, that’s fine. You know, as long as you’re bleeding somehow, then like, but that’s not for as long as human history has happened, you know, women have had these cycles, and like, why am I not getting this it felt like, and like, if use this metaphor, this is maybe kind of gross, but how I explained it to my husband is I was like, what if you didn’t poop for three days, or, you know, something is wrong.  And even if you Google it, and it says, oh, yeah, you have a bowel movement, every three days, you’re healthy. But like, you know, that you have that more frequently, like, you know, something is wrong. So that like, was the only way I can really think to describe it to maybe someone who doesn’t have a period or like, isn’t concerned about not having a regular cycle. And I think actually having regular cycles before in life for years, you know, and then all of a sudden, it being off kind of right when this food and exercise, then begins.

My motivation was just for my own health to break free from this diet cycle that I know my mom was such a victim of my grandma was such a victim of, you know, their parents could have been victims of as well.  And just knowing that I can feel my body and I can rest it and move it and do these things to help it be as healthy as self and I don’t want to rely on drugs for that I want to feel my best. And you know, there’s that book and it gets split, the fifth vital sign that you know, your period is an indicator of that, and I just knew that I was getting that check engine light was flashing or is bright red, and I was just ignoring it and just kept on driving. And anyone who owns a car knows that’s not what you’re supposed to do. So even though pregnancy is not my goal, right now, maybe not ever, I just knew that for my own health. And then for recovering fully from my eating disorder, this is something that I needed to do.

Lindsey Lusson  42:26

It’s definitely a marker of of recovery from an eating disorder. And I hear that from a lot of people too, who are coming to me because they are that 80 to 90% recovered and still aren’t seeing a period. So it’s like we do know something’s up right. And I’ll link that book in show notes for anyone following along. fifth vital sign is, is really eye opening, because I think that one thing that’s still pretty lacking in women’s health is just education on our cycle, right? So like, complete three times a year, okay? It’s not about the bleed, it’s about the cycle of hormones and how that impacts all body systems, in particular, our moods. And why you know, that, you know, women of reproductive years like that is something that’s supposed to be occurring.  So I think these are really, really, really good reminders, Layla, anything, anything else, you would just want to leave our listeners with the sense of talking point or, again, you know, speaking to maybe even somebody younger listening, thinking, like, why would I want my period back? Like, I don’t want to be a mom right? Now, I may not ever want to be a mom, like, this isn’t important to me, like, what would you say to that person?

Layla  43:36

There’s so much beyond just pregnancy that your period tells you and gives you and I know it can be kind of hard because it’s sort of a taboo subject still. But that’s why I think your group was so beneficial. It was such an open place to share fears and concerns and to have a community of other people who are going through this as well. So you know, pregnancy is not the only reason to recover. There are so many other reasons for bone health for heart health, or eating disorder recovery, and I just for me, I know I was really nervous when I first joined your group. I was like, oh, gosh, this for me, like I don’t know if I want to have kids like, all these girls like it seems like they want to have kids but what if I don’t? Am I Am I do I fit in here?  And I absolutely did. I felt like I found such a community of women who who are going through the same thing and you know, it can be hard to talk about with with husbands or boyfriends or even friends who’ve never really struggled with a missing period. So absolutely. 100% recommend finding a space that helps you recover for reasons beyond pregnancy, your health, you deserve that. And that was one thing. It was also really hard for me to accept and like I deserve to heal, I deserve to you know, be in this space. And that’s something that kind of comes along with those body image issues. But there’s so many things that you know, your group helped me heal that I didn’t even realize I needed to heal so you know, recover having your period is great. And that’s one step of it. But there’s so much more that goes along with it.

Lindsey Lusson  45:04

Yeah, absolutely. There’s always kind of like hidden gems in recovery that you don’t even realize you’re missing out on it. Yes, you get there. So step one is to get started. So I’ll link a couple things in the show notes about how to join food freedom, fertility society. But Layla , thanks so much for joining today. Thanks for sharing your story being vulnerable, creating a space for hopefully others to connect. And thanks again so much for your time.

Layla  45:26

You’re welcome.

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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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