I could probably have referenced that title a little more gracefully, and I changed it a few times but I wanted to really dig deep into this issue that I'm asked about constantly.
I'm going to share some facts with you, but I'm also going to shed the harsh truth that not every single piece of the puzzle has been figured out in research yet. As someone in the health and fitness industry, many girls are amenorrheic (they don't have their monthly cycle) or they are irregular. Some may have a cycle every 28 days and some may have one every 34 days and some every 40 days. You might think that you have an irregular period if you are having it every 40 days but this just might be your cycle, so don't be too alarmed if this is you.
However, if you aren't having your period then of course, that leads you to wonder a lot of different things? The most common answer that you are going to be told is that a) your body fat percentage is too low b) you don't weigh enough c) you are exercising too much?
However, there are plenty of women that do not have a low body fat percentage that are not getting their periods...... and there are plenty of women that have a low body fat percentage that are getting their periods, so what gives?
What we do know is that there is normally a set point for each woman and a certain body fat that she must carry in order for her body to produce a period. Fat cells produce estrogen therefore if your fat cells are low then you are not going to produce estrogen which is needed for ovulation. When we ovulate, but we don't get pregnant, we shed the inner lining and we have our periods. This can look VERY different for every single person, so you may feel that you have increased your body fat percentage enough to produce a period and you aren't having it. There could be other reasons, or it could be that your body needs more fat.
We also know that excess exercise causes irregular or lack of periods. This is where it gets a little confusing because is it the exercise or the low body fat because normally those go hand in hand. A perfect storm is obviously both, but there are many professional athletes that will lower their workouts but their body fat percentage doesn't change, and they get their periods. There is a link to cortisol and estrogen release, and obviously if you are an athlete then you could be producing a lot of cortisol.
I'm not saying I know everything, and I certainly don't but I also want to defend this. I think that many times, people are like "okay you don't have your period... stop all exercise and eat more and gain a bunch of weight" While that's all fine and dandy and yes, you should take care of yourself, I think that we need to make sure that we are looking at things from all angles especially for athletes in which their performance is very important to them.
Many doctors will put their patients on birth control which is definitely something that I don't agree with! This is only giving you false hormones, and just masking the problem. The second that you remove the birth control, the issue is still going to be there, and it's even longer now that you've been dealing with it. You should definitely go to your physician and make sure that all of your anatomy is correct. This is most likely not going to be the issue but it is important to rule out these things so that you aren't gaining all this weight, wondering why in the world you aren't having a period and it could be something else.
Not having a period for a long time can lead to a lot of complications and most notably bone density. However, if you haven't had a period for like 2 months because you are training for a marathon, then don't think that your world is ending, you will never have babies, and that you are going to get osteoporosis. I think, as always, we need to be realistic about things. Hypothalamic amenorrhea is a reversible condition. It's very very important that you are concerned about having a period, so please don't mistake me saying that it's okay but I just want everyone to not panic.
Can you get pregnant without a period? Yes you can, but don't count on it. Your period indicates that you are ovulating, but some can be ovulating without their period. You can chart your daily temperatures to get a better idea if you feel like you have crossed off every other option.
The last thing that I will say helps with just about anything is consistent eating. This was at least a game changer for me, and I honestly think that just comes down to stress. If you have a normal body fat percentage and you are working out but not excess amounts, but you are a crazy eater. Let's say you eat 1000 calories most days then have a binge day...that creates HAVOC to your body. It doesn't know what to do with all of that, and so you aren't losing weight even though you are making yourself miserable and you are stressing your body out, adding excess cortisol, and therefore you aren't having a period. Our hormones are very finicky and you want to make sure you are taking care of yourself! I also feel that I haven't even graced this topic, and there are many more questions that you may have, so please feel free to ask below and I'll try to answer them to the best of my knowledge!
However, I do want to be the voice of reason not to panic. I think that so many activists want to shout at girls that they MUST GAIN, MUST EAT, MUST STOP EXERCISING OR THEY WILL DIE OF BONE DISEASE AND NEVER GET PREGNANT. Let's all just relax a little and take valiant efforts to get those cycles right!!!!