Recovering my Period, my Body, and my Life: A Story of Recovery from Orthorexia

Today I am honored to feature a guest voice on my blog!  Ritta Shikwana is a Holistic Health Coach who helps people going through something she herself has recovered from — orthorexia.

Have you heard of orthorexia before?  While not officially included in the DSM-V, it is a condition that is running rampant in our society today and has serious health effects.  It is described as “an unhealthy obsession with healthy or ‘pure’ foods” that begins to get out of control, and takes over one’s life.  Eventually food choices become so restrictive, in both variety and calories, that health suffers – an ironic twist for a person so completely dedicated to healthy eating.

Read on to hear about Ritta’s desire to get pregnant and have a family, and what she has learned about the way eating disorders can threaten the things we value the most.

 

Recovering my Period, my Body and my Life: A Story of Recovery from Orthorexia

Have you lost your period? Do you want to get pregnant and have a healthy pregnancy? Not long ago I used to desperately search the internet on how to get my period back. I had lost my period due to excessive exercise and struggling with orthorexia (click here to take a self test to see if you might have some of these behaviors too).

Not feeling womanly, not having a period and not being able to get pregnant caused me to have so much more stress than I needed.

Focusing on numbers like calories, macros, body fat percentage, BMI, what time of day I was allowed to eat etc, was driving me crazy. I quickly realized that my addiction to exercise and being orthorexic came from me not feeling like I was in control over my life. I realized it was really never about food, but mostly about control.

I thought that by controlling those numbers, I’d feel in control of my life. But it was really just an illusion. You never have control over your life when you’re controlling the food you’re eating. You’re actually letting exercise and food control and run your life instead. It’s a false sense of control that you gain from doing this.

Perfectionism and Control

At that time I was trying to be a perfectionist and also had a lot of masculine energy in me. It’s very IMPORTANT to have masculine energy, but when you’re trying to get your period back, do you see how important it is to have a feminine approach to it?

Consider asking yourself the following questions:

-Where in your life do you have an unhealthy or unbalanced relationship with control?

-In what area(s) can you allow yourself to begin letting go of control? Maybe it’s going to a restaurant without studying the menu a million times before you go? Maybe it’s by going for a nice walk instead of going to the gym? Or maybe it’s as simple as getting on your knees and praying to God?

I wanted to share this part with you because I never found this kind of information when I was trying to get my period back. Every article out there gave me general information, such as eat more, exercise less.

But I needed something deeper.

Something that told me that my eating disorder, my exercise addiction and my amenorrhea (loss of period) really had nothing to do with food, but with not being nourished in other areas of my life. It wasn’t until I understood this and put it into practice that I actually got my period back.

At the time I was trying to get my period back, it wasn’t because I wanted to get pregnant. But the idea of not being able to have kids sure stressed me out because I did want kids one day! Once I got my first period back I did everything I could to maintain it, but NOT in a controlling way.

I will say that I’m actually happy that I went through this. I’m glad I lost my period, because firstly it showed me how smart my body is (it wasn’t trusting me to feed it, so it shut off my reproductive system) and I would’ve never learned so much about myself and my body otherwise. Sometimes we have to go through rough and tough times, get a kind slap in the face in order to wake up and get out of our heads.

Once I regained my period I knew that it also meant that my body was starting to trust me again. It was trusting me to even get pregnant which I am today!

Along the way, I had to make some physical and mental gains. I had to work a lot on eating more, exercising less, managing stress, meditating, eliminating caffeine, sleeping more, gaining weight, and accepting my new and natural body size. I knew that having a six pack wasn’t going to help me get pregnant, so letting my belly grow and gain some extra fat was important in order for a healthy baby to grow in there.

Improving my Sleep Hygiene

Sleeping more has made a huge difference in my health. I went from 5-6 hours of poor quality sleep every night to about 7 hours of quality sleep. It wasn’t an easy process. Having a very low body fat percentage, an eating disorder and exercise addiction affected my sleep.

Gaining weight has helped me greatly in getting better sleep. But I also put other things into practice to help me sleep better. I created a sleep sheet that contains my favorite teas for relaxation, favorite bed time yoga routine and a couple of affirmations. You can download that here if sleep is something you struggle with. You can also watch this video where I share the best tips on how to get better sleep. 

 

Feeding Ourselves Outside of the Plate

In order for us to regain our health to get pregnant, we can’t just focus on eating healthy.

We need to focus on feeding ourselves outside the plate. You can eat all the kale and broccoli in the world, but if you’re dissatisfied in other areas of your life you’ll find yourself relapsing and never feeling fulfilled. Mental health is just as important if not more important to work on than physical health.

One of the most important things I can tell you in order to regain your health is that no one in the world is smarter than your own body. You are your own best doctor. No one can tell you exactly what to eat, not eat, or how much you should work out.

Your body is the smartest bio computer, it knows exactly what it needs in order to feel its best. If you choose to listen to it, it’ll be the best thing you could do for your health. Just because a specific diet, a specific workout routine and a specific lifestyle works perfectly for someone else, it doesn’t mean it’ll work for you.

Listen to your body, make mistakes and through trial and error, and you’ll learn better lessons than any doctor/specialist can give you.

 

~~~

Ritta is a certified Holistic Health Coach from The Institute for Integrative Nutrition. Her mission is to help women develop a healthy relationship with food, their body and exercise. Because she overcame Orthorexia, Depression, Exercise Addiction and Amenorrhea, she now coaches women who are going through similar struggles. You can connect with Ritta on here website rawritta.com. And also connect on social media at YouTubeInstagramFacebook


“Why are you sad? – you have a healthy baby!” and other misconceptions of Post-partum depression

I attended a fascinating presentation earlier this week by established Denver therapist Dr. Jennifer Harned Adams about the “Psychological Aspects of Women’s Reproductive Health”.  Dr. Adams is a specialist in women’s issues relating to fertility, complicated pregnancy and childbirth, pregnancy and infant loss, and pregnancy and Post-partum Adjustment and she uses a Whole Woman Wellness Approach to consult, assess, and treat women (and their partners) who are going through these issues.

The entire presentation was full of great information and resources about pregnancy and related issues; I had no idea how complicated and complex these concerns can be and how many decisions need to be made that can affect emotional states and coping.  In the realm of fertility, there is so much to consider, whether you are fertile and want the child, or infertile and want to have children.  Dr. Adams referenced a recent New York Times article The Two-Minus-One Pregnancy, which focuses on the new trend of couples who have used in-vitro fertilization or another type of treatment to conceive, and find that they have multiple embryos growing when they had only planned for one — this may be due to financial or health reasons.  Some doctors are helping couples terminate unwanted embryos — can you imagine the debate and controversy that this invites?  I encourage you to read the article and the comments it produced.

Dr. Adams also touched on the sensitive and deep issue of pregnancy and infant loss.  She works with couples who have lost pregnancies and who are in mourning of this loss, and she described the common reactions that couples have to this trauma:  emotional numbing, fear, anger, having a sense of still being pregnant, guilt, and shame.  I was taken aback by the high statistics that she presented on this type of loss:  approximately 25% of all women will experience a pregnancy loss at some point in their lives.  “Many women,” Dr. Adams stated, “may not even know they were pregnant and lose the baby thinking they were having an abnormally heavy period.”  She also offered the statistic: “10-25% of all medically confirmed pregnancies will end in loss”.  That is shockingly high.  A point that stuck with me was how men are just as much victims of pregnancy losses as their partners are, and they are often overlooked or forgotten.  A loss such as this needs lots of attention and empathy for both partners, as each will cope in his or her own way.  Working with a professional such as Dr. Adams or another specialist can help couples define their feelings and come together in healing instead of shut each other off to their feelings.

The area where Dr. Adams focused and in which I was particularly interested was that of Post-partum Adjustment (which can include depression).  Post-partum depression is not talked about much in our society.  There is an expectation to be “happy and joyful” when you have a child (and of course, exhausted and adjusting).  What happens when a mother is depressed during or after her pregnancy?  She may be ostracized. She may hear quotes such as in the title: “why are you sad? you have a healthy baby!”.  This can be especially difficult for a depressed mother to hear if she has gone to extreme measures to conceive (such as in-vitro) and still feels down.  Many women may experience the birth of their child as traumatic in some way and the anxiety and stress from that event can carry forth into post-partum if not treated.

It is very common for new parents to experience the “baby blues” (up to 80% of new moms experience this).  What is the baby blues?  You may have trouble sleeping, eating too much or too little, feel tearful, overwhelmed, or have mood swings — typical new-parent adjustments.  Post-partum depression, however, is more severe and lasts longer.  Post-partum depression affects 1 in 8 new moms — the most common medical complication of childbirth!  It can be influenced by prior depression or a family history of depression, and usually peaks at 3-4 months post delivery.  It is a serious condition in that it can affect the new mom’s ability to bond with her child or provide it with the best care for its needs.  While we are often thinking of the baby and its health in the first few months of its life, we may forget to check up on how the new mom is doing.  Doctors should be giving mothers screenings at their six-week check-ups (which they may avoid if they are depressed) to see if the symptoms are present.  Most cases of Post-partum depression are not treated because they are not diagnosed or the mom (or dad, who can have PPD as well) do not disclose their feelings.

There is great need for intervention and treatment in the area of women’s reproductive health.  I am grateful that I met Dr. Adams and was given all of these wonderful resources so that I may use them to help my clients or give them appropriate referrals.  You can find out more about Dr. Adams at her website.

Further resources:

www.postpartumprogress.com

www.postpartum.net

www.postpartumdadsproject.com

www.coloradopregnancyloss.org

www.rowantreefoundation.org

www.asrm.org

www.resolve.org