In the past nine months I’ve put on a few kilos. In the past nine months I also got my period back, after six years of nada. The cause of this not-great condition is my autoimmune disease (Hashimotos). What got me back on track? Changing my diet, backing off on exercise and… consciously putting on weight. Kate Callaghan (who’s sharing today’s post) and I met shortly before this when she was working with me as a much-loved member of the I Quit Sugar Team. We discussed this idea – putting on weight to get our menstrual cycles back. And doing so by eating more carbs than what we’d normally choose to. (Previously, she’s shared the changes she made to reverse her infertility and coming to terms with putting on weight.)
Anyway, I’ll be discussing this a bit more here and over at I Quit Sugar in the next little while. But for now, I’ve asked Kate, a dietician, personal trainer and lifestyle coach, to explain how the eating more carbs thing played out. The below is taken from her new ebook, Healing Hypothalamic Amenorrhea, which you can buy here. Got questions for either of us? Post below and we’ll endeavour to answer. Over to you Kate…
When it comes to hormonal health, most people will tell you that proteins and fats are essential as they are the building blocks of hormones. They’re right – these ARE essential, but when your period goes missing in action, you might need to look at upping your carb intake too. Here’s why:
1. To calm your adrenal glands.
Your body is pretty smart when it comes to maintaining homeostasis (science speak for “balance”). If your blood sugar levels rise, your body releases insulin to push that sugar into your cells where it can either be used for energy or stored. If your blood sugar levels drop (for example – between meals, or from inadequate carbohydrate intake), your body will either pull glucose from storage in the liver and muscles (glycogenolysis) or produce new glucose from proteins (gluconeogenesis) by releasing cortisol (a stress hormone) from your adrenal glands. This may be all good and well if you’re hormonally balanced and chilled out with a low intensity lifestyle. However, if your period is MIA due to inadequate sex hormone production, the last thing you want to do is unnecessarily amp up your adrenals.
When stress hormones are released from your adrenal glands, sex hormone production will simultaneously decrease via two mechanisms:
- 1) In your adrenal glands, stress hormones and sex hormones are made from the same starting material (pregnenalone). If stress hormone production increases, it will “steal” away this precursor from sex hormone production. This is known as “The Pregnenalone Steal”; and
- 2) When your stress hormones are increased, they have a suppressive action on the release of hormones from your brain which are responsible for signaling to your ovaries to produce sex hormones and a healthy, ovulatory menstrual cycle. Essentially, your brain receives the message to be in “fight or flight” mode as opposed to “rest, digest and reproduce” mode.
Keeping adequate carbs in your diet will take some pressure of your adrenal glands, encourage sex hormone production and promote restoration of your period.
2. To nourish your thyroid.
Your thyroid gland is a butterfly-shaped gland in your neck, which can have an impact on pretty much every aspect of your health, including menstruation and fertility. You want this bad boy to be working well.
When you eat carbohydrates, you release insulin. This is not something you want to do consistently and/or in large amounts (that’s when we see issues with insulin resistance and diabetes), but small amounts of insulin are necessary to help with the conversion of thyroxine (also known as T4), our inactive thyroid hormone, into triiodothyronine (also known as T3), our active thyroid hormone, which is the form your body utilises for optimal function. No carbs = too little insulin = suppressed thyroid = suppressed fertility.
3. To feed your good bugs.
Did you know that you are 90% bacteria and only 10% human? Freaky, right? These little critters can impact a range of functions in your body from skin health, to mood, to hormone balance.
If we do not feed our beneficial bacteria (they like to munch on carbs), they may decrease in number, resulting in issues with gut function. If your digestive system is not in an optimal state, then chances are you won’t be absorbing all of the nutrients required for optimal health, and you may (in the case of constipation) be reabsorbing hormones that were supposed to be excreted, leading to hormonal imbalance.
4. To help you eat more.
You read that right – I said eat MORE, not less. This one specifically pertains to those with hypothalamic amenorrhea, which is often a result of inadequate energy availability (eating too little and/or exercising too much).
A high fat diet is wonderful for weight loss and maintenance as it is very satiating. However, when you need to ramp up your calories to provide your brain with the message that there is sufficient energy for reproduction, too much fat may suppress your appetite and make this a difficult, and perhaps uncomfortable, task.
Increasing your carb intake can help to improve your appetite and make increasing your overall food intake a little easier which, in turn, will help with the restoration of your period.
Which carbs are best?
As there are likely to be some nutrient deficiencies involved in your period going MIA, it is best to look at high-quality, nutrient-dense sources of carbs. I’m talking about those that are jam-packed with vitamins, minerals and fibre, such as:
- Starchy veggies (sweet potato, potato, parsnip)
- High-fibre fruit
- Legumes (if tolerated)
There is no need to go crazy and carb-load. Start with around ½ cup of starchy veggies/rice/quinoa at each main meal and a piece of fruit teamed with protein and/or fat (such as cheese or nut butter) for your snacks and see how you go.
If you’re interested in taking a holistic approach to an MIA period, Kate’s ebook, is a great place to start.
Anyone else finding they actually need to eat more? Interested in your thoughts on this.