Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Ditching Hormonal Birth Control: Month One

It's so crazy how much my thoughts & knowledge have changed regarding female hormones in the recent months. I'm almost ... protective of them now - motherly, maternal even. They're a part of me and I want to celebrate them. I want my female hormones to work for me, not against me. Understanding how your hormones can work for you AND against you is so empowering. It feels good to embrace what makes us female. Not fight against it. Women, we need to stop being at war with our bodies.


For years, I was lead to believe that being a woman sucked. Women complain about PMS and use this as a hall pass to be a total bitch. They call-in from work because their bloating and cramping is so severe. They eat whatever they want because CRAVINGS, yo. They invest hundreds of dollars in makeup and skin care regimens because acne flare ups are terrible.

It seemed to me like women became almost possessed by this alien life-form for a week or two - this alien life form being hormones. These hormones literally running amok inside of women like a pissed-off two year old after mom stopped playing Baby Shark.

So of course, as soon as I got my period and I was old enough to make my own decision - the ripe age of 16, I went on hormonal birth control - the pill. I didn't want to deal with ANY of that stuff, so before I even really had a chance to see my what hormones were like - I simply turned them off. Instead, I took synthetic hormones that were worse, but I didn't know it. I could straight-cycle my pills (there's no need to bleed when taking the pill) so I could go months without a period. To me that meant I was "escaping" the woes of being a woman.

I thought I was happy.

Flash forward almost 10 years later. I've since tried several different types of pill. I stick to the pill because I want something easy to take and inexpensive. I take it because I don't want to deal with a period, and because my dermatologist told me it would help with my acne. (I used to have terrible, cystic acne).

While still taking the pill - I get blood work done and food-sensitivity testing done. Turns out my body is highly-reactive to A LOT of foods that I was eating A LOT OF. Gluten, wheat, all cows milk products, yeast, malt, etc. On top of that, I'm moderately reactive to even more foods that I eat a lot of - eggs, coffee, etc. I cut out most of these foods and eat a few in moderation. My gut feels so much better. In turn, I think cutting out a lot of this systemic inflammation internally helped me recover faster, sleep better, and aided in less acne. For the first time since I could remember, I didn't need to go to bed with a heating pad on my belly.

I'd been suffering from pretty bad social anxiety though, and eliminating these foods didn't seem to help. I just assumed it was how I was wired. My sister complained of it, too, so I assumed it was genetic. I didn't even think to assume I was actually peri-menopausal thanks to these freaking birth control pills. It's not normal to have debiltiating heat flashes at 30, guys.

I also suffered from a super low-libido. I told myself this was because I was training really hard the last several years to make it to Regionals, that I ran several businesses, because I wasn't 20 anymore, etc. I made a lot of excuses. I was tired a lot. Uninterested.

When Travis and I began talking about starting a family - I imagined coming off of the pill. Initially, I was terrified. Oh no! I'd have to have a period. And my acne would be terrible. I figured the best time to come off of it and learn how to deal with it, would be as soon as he went overseas. A 9 month deployment is a good time to figure shit out.

I started doing a ton of research on hormonal birth control, women's hormones, and it turns out, I was in the absolute dark prior to this. I didn't know how important and beneficial production of my own progesterone was, the negative side affects of taking the pill, and that not all women have terrible PMS, in fact, your period should be pretty easy to navigate ... if you're healthy.

Did you know that women over the age of 30 who have been on the pill for 10+ years are at a much greater risk for developing breast cancer?

When I read that, I pretty much knew I needed to get off the pill ASAP. Before coming off of the pill though, there were things I needed to do to ensure a smooth transition to encourage regular ovulation - aka healthy, normal periods.

1. Eliminate stress. Under stress, your hypothalamus reduces signals to your pituitary, which in turn, reduces production of FSH and LH - the two hormones that promote ovulation. Stress also increases cortisol - and long-term cortisol is not beneficial. When it's high day to day, it steals protein from your muscles and reduces your sensitivity to insulin. It also impedes your immune system and impedes ovulation + ovarian steroid production. This is what we call HPA-Axis Dysfunction or Adrenal Fatigue.

To prevent things like fatigue, anxiety, insomnia, low-blood pressure, brain fog, PMS, and irregular periods, you want to manage your stress.

I learned that synthetic progestins in birth control worsen adrenal fatigue. This is where my anxiety was coming from!

To manage my stress, I ensure I have ample time in my day to relax, I have plenty of systems in place to be productive at work without overworking, and that I enjoy my time in the gym. I also include regular yoga, massage and started to incorporate meditation. I also started eating more regular, balanced meals to regulate my blood sugar.

2. Supplement:

+ Magnesium: calms the nervous system
+ Zinc: improves hippocampus health
+ B-Vitamins: reduce stress, calm anxiety
+ Rhodiola: increases energy, decreases stress, improved depression
+ Vitamin D: regulator of hormone and immune function
+ NAC: restores regular ovulation and reduces anxiety
+ DIM: phytonutrient made from broccoli and cauliflower
+ Reishi Mushroom: blocks androgen receptors

I added these supplements to my daily routine 3 months before I was to come off of birth control and have continued with them since.

3. Get 8 hours of sleep a night. I talk about this all the time! But it's important to hormone and period health, too. I used to suffer from insomnia, so regulating my blue-light, dimming bright lights, supplementing with the above supplements, and sleeping in a cold, dark room, really helped. Sleep is more important than exercise for overall health. 

4. Exercise Regularly. Notice how this is below sleeping. Always prioritize sleep! Exercise is important to period health because it reduces cortisol and moderates your stress response, improves insulin sensitivity and reduces chronic inflammation.

5. Reduce inflammation. Chronic inflammation is more than just pain and redness or swelling. If you're inflamed - you have cytokines in your body. Cytokines are part of the inflammatory response, they're helpful because they help fight infection. But they also mess up the communication between your hormones and your hormone-sensitive tissues - they butt into the conversation and make a mess of it. They block receptors for good hormones - like progesterone and thyroid hormones and can over-stimulate bad hormones like estrogen and testosterone.

I reduced inflammation greatly by changing my diet and cutting out those foods my body did NOT like. Reducing alcohol intake and paying more attention to environmental toxins all help eliminate inflammation.

6. Incorporate more phytoestrogens. These bad boys bind to estrogen receptors acting as an anti-estrogen, which can be beneficial for symptoms of estrogen-dominance, like heavy periods. DIM is a supplement you can take for more phytoestrogens. I started taking this once daily.

I came off the pill and had no idea what to expect. I let most of you guys know on Instagram and got a ton of positive encouragement. I believe 100% the mind dictates our physical outcomes, so I stayed very positive and excited. Here's what happened:

Within 3 days, I noticed WAY less anxiety and almost zero heat flashes.
Within 5 days, I noticed this immense sex-drive that literally came WHOOSING back into my life.
At the 3 week mark, I got one pimple that was a little cystic. This could be period related, but could also have been due to a weekend of travel and poor eating choices (I let some gluten, wheat and dairy slip in).
At the 27 day mark, I got my period. I've never been so excited! I bled for exactly 5 days, it was normal to light the entire time and I only experienced bloating and cramping for the first 2-3 days.

It should also be noted, the week before my period, I was having a hard time recovering per my Whoop. I spent a lot of days in the 34-66% recovery range, which is abnormal for me. I'm learning more about how my hormones affect my training.

*A few days after coming off of the pill, I started supplementing with Vitex. This supplement helps restore natural periods.

I'm using the period app Flo to help me monitor my menstrual cycle. I paid for the premium version. Based on the tracker, I should be ovulating on the 15th! Let's hope I can get my body into a routine of regular periods, soon.

A lot of people have asked what I'll be using for birth control now with my husband. We're going to give FAM (fertility awareness method) a try. I've just ordered a DAYSY tracker to increase the FAM efficacy. This gives me several months to get into a routine of tracking on my own before we play between the sheets. We DO want to get on the baby-making train soon.

There have been a few women and a few books that have been paramount in my journey to period health! I can't recommend The Period Repair Manual enough. I also love following Lara Briden on Instagram.

So, here we are, one month in! And lots of really good things to report! BUT, we are only one month in. And, I know at this point, that it really takes the body 3-6 months to express it's hormone health. There's still a lot that needs to be navigated.

But, I must say, taking my female health into my own hands and discovering the power of hormones has been incredibly liberating. Rather than masking my health conditions with synthetic hormones - I'm facing these battles head on, with education and preparation, and I want to share my journey to help inspire and encourage other women to do the same.

Cheers to being a woman. <3

Monday, November 5, 2018

Stop Telling Me to Stay Busy

I think if someone else tells me to "Stay busy" one more time because I talk about missing my husband, I'm going to punch them in the teeth. Maybe the boob. Depends who they are.

Telling a woman who runs and operates several businesses, owns a house, manages an almost-micro farm, several acres of property and lives alone - to stay busy - is SO ANNOYING.

I miss my husband, duh. But I'm not sitting around pining over him. Yes, I miss him curling up next to me at night, watching a movie with him, cooking dinner together, going grocery shopping, working out with each other - but I also miss him because he helped lessen my workload. He'd exercise Juno, mow the grass, take care of insects (I'm dealing with an invasion of cave crickets right now), blow snow, rake leaves, etc.

We kind of have an unwritten agreement - he handles the outside, I handle the inside: cooking, cleaning, dishes, laundry, organization, is my job. The outside stuff - the grass, gutters, lawn, home maintenance, he dives into.

But now it's all mine - on top of operating a nutrition business, a personal training business, and a food-prep biz, I have to take on all of "his" stuff.

So seriously, bro, if you tell me one more time to stay busy ... you're asking for a throat-punch.

Please don't tell an Army wife to stay busy. If you wanna help a sister out - ask how you can help. Recommend her your house cleaner. Your gutter guy. Mow her lawn. Offer to take her dog to the park or better yet - buy her a drink!


Thursday, October 11, 2018

Bye Bye Hormonal Birth Control

It's been a week now since I posted to Instagram that I was quitting the pill. I've been on the Pill since I was 16 years young. That means that for more than half of my life, I have been on some form of synthetic hormone. GROSS. For more than just preventing pregnancy - but for so many other reasons that my doctors assured me the pill would cure. I suffered from pretty gnarly acne, as well as started showing signs of PCOS. Rather than testing me for it, my doctor just put me on the pill. I didn't know know any better, and I thought straight cycling was pretty damn legit. Girls, I didn't have my period. And my doctor told me that as long as I was on the pill, I could skip the "placebo" weeks, you don't need a "period bleed" on the pill. Because it's actually not a real period, anyways.

Do you know how nice it is going months and months without a period?

I thought it was pretty nice. I thought I was living the dream. Clear skin. No periods. Heaven, right?

Now I am off of it and OH MY GOSH.

It's only been a week, friends. One week.

Let me tell you what happened so far:

No sign of a period. This could take a while - I'm not in a hurry.

Skin is fine. I'm noticing it's not quite as dry as it used to be. This could be sebum production picking back up, I'm going to continue to do my daily facial cleansing routine. Still feel great without makeup, no major breakouts.

Sex drive. I don't know how to type this without sounding like an actual pervert. But I think about it all. the. time. I can definitely tell you that the pill immensely suppressed my sexual appetite. I didn't even realize how "dormant" I was until these last few days. I feel like I'm 16 again. And my body is  humming with it. And no, this is NOT because I haven't seen my husband in a week. He used to be gone for weeks, months even, and I never felt like this. It feels good to feel like this again.

Anxiety. A lot of people don't know this, but I suffer from some pretty crippling social anxiety and panic attacks. To the point I would cancel doctors appointments because I couldn't deal with it. I get sweaty, nervous, and anxious whenever I have to make small talk, and absolutely hate talking about myself to new people. The last few days have been so oddly peaceful. I haven't had one bout of social anxiety, not one. There's been so many opportunities for it, and as I look back, I realize I was cool as cucumber.

So major takeaways? Immense sex drive and way less anxiety.

I did a lot of things leading up to coming off the of the pill that I hoped would make this transition easier, including totally changing my diet and also adding some new supplements. Time will tell. If it's effective, I'll let you guys know what I did in hopes that it can help you.

So now you spill the beans - have you been on Hormonal Birth Control? Did you quit it? How's it affected you?

Monday, October 8, 2018

Busy

I survived the day! I was on my feet from 8am to 8pm, but I did it all. Allow me a moment to toot my productivity horn:

Grocery shopped
Meal Prepped
Laundry
Unpacked (finally)
Mowed the Lawn
Cleaned the out-garage
In-processed new Nutrition Clients
Started reviewing weekly check-ins
Programmed for Remote Clients

I had to fill the mower with gas for the first time. I think I poured more gas on myself than I got in the tractor, but oh well. Is anyone else terrified that spilling even an ounce of gasoline is going to cause them to blow up? Like in the movies? I always expect a random spark of fire to come out of nowhere and just POOF. I'm gone. 

PS: Gasoline is a REALLY hard smell to get off your skin, by the way. I ended up using a pumice soap to help scour it off of me last night in the shower. Ugh.

I love mowing though. I think more than I love cooking. Maybe they just lend themselves to each other perfectly? After being inside, around the smells of foods (guys, I made GOOD stuff this week!),  it's so refreshing to go outside, get fresh air, see wildlife, watch the sun go down ... (I got a pretty late start on mowing, it's a good thing that bad boy has great headlights). 

Think Travis will let me keep that chore when he comes home? He can do the inside chores - the laundry, vacuuming, mopping, cleaning the bathrooms ... HAH.




More than anything, I'm super grateful for being incredibly busy. It means I don't have time to sit around and miss him. Because it's at home when I miss him the most. At home is when I'm surrounded by all of his things. This home is the culmination of our lives together. When he's not here, it's like sitting in chair missing a leg. Something isn't right.

Speaking of busy, I have a German Shepherd begging for some serious attention. Time to go play ball.

Have a great week, ya'll!

Sunday, October 7, 2018

When Things Don't Go To Plan

One of the hardest lessons I'm learning in life is that sometimes - things just don't go to plan. As an Army wife to a deployed servicemen, there's an attitude shift that has to happen to survive.

Bend - don't break. Things will not go to plan. You can always have the best intentions, but some days are just not going to be in your favor.

Give yourself permission to cry. I still haven't had the time yet to slow down and really process what the next year is going to look like with Travis gone, I allow myself a little tear here or there and a sad moment, and then I have to get up and move along. Because #adulting. The show must go on.

When in doubt - put the "important" things off for family time. I'm in a weird position in that I don't work a 9-5 Monday-Friday. I can't take a Sick Day or a Personal Day. And my weekends are actually my busiest. Because my weekends are so full of work, it means I don't have a lot of time to spend with friends and family. I'm doing my best to slowly re-arrange my schedule to allow for some weekend downtime.

I didn't donate blood yesterday, because I couldn't get myself out of my pajamas and into the gym. Waterworks were in full effect. But I HAD to get myself up and out of the house to at least get DH's first care package out in the mail before the Post Office closed. And I did make it into the gym after the fact, to get at least a few things done (totally not in the mood), when my mother in law text me and said they were meeting at a local winery for food and drink.

I was looking at my long to-do list - grocery shopping for Athleat Kitchen, in-process new clients, programming for remote clients, and on and on - when I just said "Not today." I needed them. I needed good company, and friendship, and family. My husband's family is amazing, and they always make my heart so full.

So what started out as the worst day yet of the deployment (not even a week in, guys), turned into one of the better ones. I didn't get ANYTHING done that I needed to, but my head and my heart are in a better place to get to work today.

Most people will be enjoying their Sunday, watching football, having breakfast in bed, NetFlix and chill. Meanwhile, my to-do list is growing. Mowing our 2-acre yard needs to get tackled sometime in the next 8 hours.

You win some, you lose some.

Have a great Sunday, ya'll!