Why we love this episode:
In this episode of The Period Podcast, Dr Clancy speaks to eating psychology coach Lu Uhrich. Following on from episode 14, they talk about nourishing yourself and how to get back your period. We often get asked about this so hopefully you find this episode useful! If you’ve not been following this series of podcasts with us then make sure you go and check it out on your favourite podcast app.
Listen & Learn:
A doctor was like, "Hey, usually we have people that come in here with hypothalamic amenorrhea are like super thin, like I'm talking ballerina thin. So, I don't think you have that. This is period podcast, episode 15. My name is Kate Clancy, and I'm a professor researching periods, how they affect our life and how our life affects them.
Now, last week we talked to Dr. Mary Jane De Sousa about the female athlete triad and the ways in which underfeeding your body can influence your menstrual cycle. In today's episode, I interview Lu Uhrich. Lu is an eating psychology coach, and body image mentor certified in mind body nutrition, and dynamic eating psychology. Lu also ascribes to principles of intuitive eating. Lu is going to share with us her own period story and how she learned to nourish her body. Where I wanted to start with is, when you interviewed me recently, you talked about the fact that you had your own personal experiences with amenorrhea. I mean, to whatever extent you're comfortable, would you be willing to talk about your experience with that?
Absolutely. And I'm pretty comfortable talking about anything. So, this should be as detailed as you want it. So, I had what I would describe as a pretty regular menstrual cycle for most of my life. I got my period when I was 11. I loved the idea you had told me that you were talking to young girls about like their first period stories and everything like that. And mine was super memorable. I got it with my dad right before we were going to an amusement park. So, it was just like he shook my hand and congratulated me for being a woman and it worked out really well.
But yeah, so I had my period ever since I was 11 years old, relatively regularly. And a couple of years in, I started having just more severe cramps and a little bit of longer cycles. And of course at the time, not knowing what I know now and what my preferences are now, having more lived experience, I guess you would say. I went to the gynaecologist and they're like, "Oh, here's this birth control pill that'll fix everything and you'll have a 'regular period.' And so, I was on the pill for several years and then just wanted to experiment with going off of it after college.
And I did that and felt really good without it, and had a regular period and so, was off of it with regular cycles for a long time. Ended up having three pregnancies, one live birth, my nine year old and adopting two children and and again just having really normal cycles and a really, I would say in our culture, maybe a normal relationship with my period in terms of, it was like it's just this thing, it comes when it comes, it goes when it goes, it's a nuisance. Like that's kind of the way I thought about it.
And my husband and I were done having birth children done in general, having children with our three. And so, I didn't really find it all that necessary to have my period, which made me kind of not think about it much at all. But, I did start thinking about it when after a series of pretty stressful events, which of course plays into why I suffered with amenorrhea in the first place. But my husband was going to Johns Hopkins regularly, in their pancreatic cancer clinic because he had a mass growing on his pancreas.
And this was when I was in my late 20s. So, they were suspecting that he had pancreatic cancer. He was a really rare case, because he was so young and it was a very stressful time. We had three kids. I'm assured in my mind that I'm going to be left a widow because pancreatic cancer is a relatively quick killer with not a lot of help so far. Not a lot of progress in terms of dealing with it. And so, this was the stage of life we were in. It was super stressful and we did get really good news. I mean, he still does have a chronic condition, but it was actually autoimmune pancreatitis that created masses in his pancreas, that mimicked cancer.
So they were encroaching on organs and all of this stuff. And of course, the doctors were really like, "Oh my gosh, this looks like cancer." And it took several biopsies and studies before they realized following the masses that they weren't cancer, which was a relief to us, even though it's still a chronic condition that my husband lives with today. But even though that was relieving, I think I still was in this state of stress and shock and what we had endured. And we were hearing different things about maybe my husband's blood pressure or getting in the best shape of his life, suggestions from the medical community.
And also, I think we just had had this kind of closer brush with death. We were with families all the time, people all the time who in that cancer clinic who were dying, and who were going through pancreatic cancer treatment and who were grieving their expected and the end of their family members lives. And so, it was something that really was impactful on us and stressful for us. And I think we were like, "Oh my gosh, what does it mean to be the healthy healthiest you can ever be and and live this 'best life' and make sure cancer never happens to us, which is impossible. Right?
But when you go through a situation like that, sometimes those sort of ideas can go through your head and for my husband and I were like, "Okay, we're going to do this workout program and we're going to change the way that we eat." And I will say before that I have had a totally normal relationship with food. I had never dyed it in my life. I'd never counted a calorie, I just ate what I wanted when I wanted to, and was totally free around food. And with exercise, I had a really normal relationship too and that I took it or left it based on how my body felt and what I really craved. I had run half marathons and like to do like weightlifting or kettlebells.
I ran track when I was younger and it was something I enjoyed. I was also a dancer, but it wasn't anything I was addicted to or compelled to do to manipulate my body. But that all changed around this season when my husband and I started doing this fitness program. And I was totally committed and I think I just needed something to control because a lot of our life had been out of control with his health concerns up to that point. And so, I did. I controlled every calorie I ate, I controlled every workout. I was like obsessed with it. I had charts and formulas and algorithms of how this was all going to work, and what I wanted my body fat percentage to be in my measurements to be.
And I got really hyper focused and obsessed on manipulating my body and changing my diet. And I will say that in terms of like my weight and my body size, I definitely gained muscle. I definitely lost weight, but I had always been someone, I know you described yourself as like a little taller than average and strong, when you're on my podcast, Kate. And that's the same with me. I'm 5'9", I have a strong athletic build. And so, I would say like I'm not a huge fan of BMI to be honest. Actually, I'm not a fan at all. I'll just be clear.
But because that's what we often use when we're talking about sizes and weight. According to the medical community, I was in the normal weight range when I started obsessing about food and exercise, and I didn't go below it. I just dipped to the lower side of normal. So, it was a matter of a handful of pounds, but certainly changed, my body fat percentage and ultimately changed the way I viewed myself, and the way that I viewed food and fitness, it became this very like compulsive obsessing sort of behaviour for me.
And within a couple months of doing that, besides losing like weight and losing my ass and losing all these things, I lost my period. And so, at first I'm like, "Oh my gosh, I got pregnant." I thought we got a vasectomy for this. I don't understand what's happening, but no pregnancy tests were coming back negative. I realized something was probably wrong. Why wasn't I getting my period? But I didn't really worry because again, like I said in the beginning, like we weren't planning to have more children. I didn't understand that a period was necessary.
And I'm not even saying that a period itself is necessary, but it correlates with a lot of other things like your hormone function that are helpful for your sanity, and for feeling the best. And so, over time I started having a lot of symptoms that correlated to the loss of my period, not necessarily were caused by it. I think they both were the outcomes of what was happening internally, with my hormones and just being dysregulated because of the lack of nourishment and lack of nutrition that I was getting, plus the stress of a life that was stressful on top of exercise, which is a good stress, right?
But too much of it and for the wrong reasons can create a lot of internal internalized stress. And make those hormones go wacky. And so, that's kind of the place that I was and it took me maybe like eight months to actually go, "Okay, I think something's wrong here. I think that my loss of libido, I think that my joint pain, I think that my nights sweats and insomnia, might all be related also to this loss of my period. Maybe I should check it out." But it took a long time and it was very difficult for my doctors to discover and finally diagnosed me with hypothalamic amenorrhea, because many of them were looking at me and I even, this is not any doctors who are listening, this is not what you say to a disordered eater.
And you may not know they're a disordered eater by looking at them, but a doctor was like, "Hey usually we have, people that come in here with hypothalamic amenorrhea, super thin, like I'm talking ballerina thin. So, I don't think you have that.
Oh my goodness.
And that was the response that I got. I moved on from working with her. I did. But that was the response that I got, which in the mind of someone who has become obsessed with food, who was restricting, and then I did acquire a binge eating disorder as a result of the restriction. This was horrible because to me it said, I'm not thin enough. Like I'm not fit enough. I'm not healthy enough in these messed up terms I had in my head of what all of that meant. Based on our culture, the diet and fitness industry, marketing and media like that says what a body is 'supposed' to look like. I bought in like hook, line and sinker, which I'd have no shame around now, but people who know me are like, how did that ever happen to you?
You're like the most outspoken, confident, like you're a feminist. Like I don't understand. And it's like, well it did, it happened to me. There's no shame in it, that's just the place I was at based on my life circumstances. But it took a long time. All that to say I was denied a lot of proper medical counsel, and a understanding because I didn't fall into the too thin category on the BMI scale. I was on the low side of normal, but they just took my BMI and were like, "Oh, you're fine." And they just took one look at me and thought, "This must be something else." So, I did use progesterone to try to like get a withdrawal bleed.
And I did the progesterone challenge and that didn't work. And it took about a year and a half before I was finally diagnosed with hypothalamic amenorrhea, people realized that my oestrogen was very, very low and my testosterone was a little high. And I also had very low thyroid stimulating hormone. And all of those things were kind of going on to point to the fact that my pituitary gland and my hypothalamus were, they're trying because this is what bodies do, right? They were trying to regulate, but they were dysregulated, which was leading me to not have a period. And I suffered because the longer I went without a period, the more physical symptoms I had.
And again, I'm not saying that getting my period is what relieved them or losing my period is what caused them. But there was, the hormone dysregulation kind of caused all the things. And the period was a really good indicator for me that if I got my period back, it would tell me that my hormones were beginning to regulate again.
So if you don't mind telling me what are some of the symptoms that you started to have the longer you went without a period?
The longer I went without a period, I just felt crappy. Joint pain and weakness. I had increased inflammation, so I was getting blood tests because I felt so bad. I'm like, "Do I have something else or I have some sort of disease?" And for anyone who's familiar with or has worked with or who themselves has been a disordered eater. And again, I'm not even talking about a clinical eating disorder. This of course is the case for people who have bulimia or anorexia, but I'm talking to disordered eater, meaning somebody who is controlling and moralizing their eating behaviours in order to manipulate their body.
So, disordered eating doesn't necessarily have to look like a diagnosed clinical eating disorder. It can look like yo-yo dieting and obsessing over macronutrients ratios and being really strict and regimented, depriving yourself of certain things in order to create the body or life that you think that you'll get on the other side of that. And there's tons of disordered eaters in this world. Men too, but mainly women or those identifying as women. It's running rampant. So, for me, I was at this point where I wasn't willing to look at the fact that maybe being a disordered eater, and not having the nutrition that I should and not taking the care of my body that I should and resting it and working through that was an issue.
I was going to doctors going like, "Okay, what's wrong with me? Do I have some sort of disease?" So, I was getting lots of blood tests and they showed that I had increased inflammation. I had increased inflammation, I was getting intermittent fevers and was tested for like a year and a half for lime, because this one doctor is just like, "I think you have it, you're getting intermittent fevers, and you're feeling these joint pain and you have this inflammatory markers and all this stuff." And I didn't. It's gone away since recovering my period and recovering from disordered eating. But, those symptoms, I had a lot of digestive symptoms.
I had no libido. Like I had said previously, like none. And had insomnia and also increased headaches. I do get optic migraines, but I can count, well, okay. I think I've had two, for the past however many years I've had my period back, several years that I have had my period back. I've had two optic migraines. I was getting them monthly, and sometimes more than monthly when I didn't have my period. No idea why. But those were the kinds of symptoms that I was experiencing.
So, I mean it certainly sounds like at least the doctors that you worked with were not really attuned to what the evidence says, which is that you don't have... like you said, you don't have to have a BMI like below 18. You don't have to be, you don't have to fall into an actual anorexic category for disordered eating to really affect your physiology. How did you eventually resume your cycle? How did you figure this out on your own?
Well, I didn't totally figure it out on my own. So, when I realized I wasn't getting the treatment that I needed from doctors, I used my privilege and ability to go seek out another practitioner. And I did that. And so, I went and I looked for other practitioners to get second and third opinions and I did so. And one doctor was like, "Look, I don't know what's going on because your case does feel really confusing to me. But I'm going to ask my college professors, and I'm going to ask my colleagues that I trust and the mentors that I had." Well, I was becoming an endocrinologist and so, he was amazing and he went and did a lot of research and got a lot of other people in on it and that he was the one who eventually diagnosed me.
But still did not have the, I don't know if he didn't have the knowledge, the desire or just wasn't in his realm of practice to help me recover my period. Right? It was just kind of this like, "Oh well we could put you on birth control or we could just wait and see what happens." But there wasn't a lot of talk around the underlying issue. There wasn't really a lot of investigation around the underlying issue. And to be honest, most disordered eaters and dieters aren't going to admit that what they're doing is a problem, because they want to be smaller, fitter, thinner, whatever the thing is that they want.
And so, I certainly wasn't like, "Well, I have disordered eating. So, what should we do?" I was just like, "I don't know, I didn't lose that much weight. Yes, I eat, into a disordered eater's mind is certainly someone who also struggles with binge eating." You always think that you're eating enough, you think you're eating more than enough. So, there was no way I was giving up any information to him that would lead him to even help me along that path. But, there wasn't any help in regaining my period as much as there was at least someone did diagnose me. I had an underlying intuitive sense that's what it was anyway. Like, yeah. I'm not supposed to Google our symptoms and research. But I did. And it was pretty clear to me-
I do it all the time and I have a PhD.
Yeah. I'm just never going to stop. I'm not going to stop. I don't let it freak me out. But I was pretty sure that I had hypothalamic amenorrhea. And so, he confirmed that for me. Yes. But the way that I recovered was from recovering from my disordered eating, and from my poor body image. And that's why I do the work that I do in the world now. Helping women towards recovery because that was my experience as well. I actually hired someone, a professional to walk me through recovering from disordered eating, to help me let go of these ideas and mindsets I had around how I should be, what my body should look like.
I got very involved in understanding body politics and understanding the way that, the truth is. And I heard this, I believe from Melissa Fabelo, who is the managing editor for Everyday Feminism, but she often talks about how the smaller the body ideal becomes, it’s like in exact proportion to women getting more rights. So, we are getting more rights, but the body ideal that we're to aspire to is getting smaller and smaller, making it harder and harder for us to attain. But everywhere we go, right, marketing, media, all the places, all the things tell us that we need to have this body and look this way before we can like go out and do our things in the world.
So, it's really another oppressive system to keep us down and keep us held back and keep us from really giving gifts to the world. And showing up fully is this idea that before we do that we have to look a certain way. And I realized that I had subconsciously bought into that. And so, it was understanding some of those things and those body politics and learning about fat activism and health at every size, that also helped me to gain my footing, to recover from disordered eating, and to begin eating like a 'normal person.' Not counting calories, not worrying about macronutrients, but really trusting my body and tapping back into that relationship with my body that is so valuable to me now.
And so, it was the process of doing that and then relieving stress and waiting and relaxing before I could actually recover my period.
So tell me, what are some of the cues... When you decided it was important to you, seems to be a bit of a turning point in terms of, like when you decided you really wanted to resume your period, deal with some of these symptoms you reached out to this, was it an eating coach, did you say or, I know that's your position now but.
Yeah, I mean it was another practitioner in terms of... and it was an intuitive eating coach. So, someone who helped me more tap into eating based on body cues and those signals instead of based on third party roles.
Right. And what were some of the helpful things that you gained from that?
Well, I think that what I gained from that was my autonomy again, which I had really lost. I had been this very independent, outspoken individual most of my life. And then, there was this season where I trusted outside resources like the diet industry and this blog and that blog and this skinny cookbook and this fitness program to tell me how I should live my life, how I should move my body, how I should show up in the world. And so, working with someone else, it's great. I love being a practitioner in this field and I really appreciated my own coach that I had because it helps you to just feel; one, you're not alone, two, like you're not crazy, and three like there are other alternatives to what you're doing.
Because when you're stuck in disordered eating, when you're stuck in obsessing over your body size and manipulating your body to look a certain way and pursuing the cleanest diet and the healthiest meal plan and the fittest body, you think that's all there is, and your mind and your life becomes very like one track, and you're not showing up other places. Like I felt detached from my husband. I felt I felt detached from my children and my friends. Like I felt very inside my head all the time. And so, working with a practitioner first of all helps you just to have someone else to confide in and to talk to about it.
But also someone who has knowledge and experience to help, to show you a different way of thinking and to kind of... What I would say is like help welcome you back home to yourself. I think for me that was what was really important. Welcoming me back home to myself, knowing that I could trust my body and it was this joy and this privilege to trust my body and to have body autonomy and to not have other people telling me what I should or shouldn't do with it. And seeing how that had crept in with diet culture.
In a way that I didn't even recognize. But that was still kind of creating the same thing. So I think working with her, working with a practitioner certainly helped me to just relax a little bit and to feel safe and not so alone in what I was experiencing. And that of course, probably helped me exponentially distress. But then also, she helped me to feel comfortable with eating and re-feeding my body and giving it what it needed and resting when I needed to rest. And those are the things that I now work with my clients on as well.
And you also had a pretty understandable trigger for a lot of this was the stress that you went through with your husband's pancreatic cancer scare. Were there also sort of stress reduction methods or anything that you did alongside that to also help you with the intuitive eating cues?
Yeah. And again, this is the stuff that I recommend to my clients as well. So it's all so familiar to me now, but at the time it felt really profound, but I had to inventory all of my life, and really look at what was working and what wasn't, and where was I just spinning my wheels and expending so much energy trying to be someone or do something ,or show up in a way that really wasn't me, that I really didn't jive with. It didn't feel compatible to who I was as a person, or what my goals were and priorities were at the time. And that meant changing some friendships, and relationships that I had.
That meant stepping down from some really important leadership roles that I was a part of. That meant using my voice and beginning to speak out about the things that I cared about that in my conservative community I had felt very scared, and not welcomed to do. So part of it was... Yeah, there was this whole other side of it, yes, I needed to feed myself. Yes, I needed to move slower and in a way that brought me joy. But the other side of it, most certainly that I could not have ever, I don't believe recovered without, was taking these other stressors out of my life, and really inventorying what could go and what needed to stay and what felt best to me.
Again, using that intuition. Intuition is not just about eating. It's not really even mainly about eating. So it was using that intuitive knowing within myself of what fit in my life, and what I wanted more of in my life and wanted to prioritize and what I wanted to let go of that help to relieve that stress for sure.
So then the journey that you went on figuring out how to resume your cycle, is something that also led you to becoming a certified eating coach. Can you tell me about that path?
Sure. So yes, I went through my own recovery, and I knew that the pivotal moment for me was having a guide and a partner to walk through it with, someone who could really identify with me, who like knew the lingo and knew what that inner critic inside my head was saying. Right? When I was like, "Well, I really want to eat this cookie," or "I'd really love to have another helping of pasta, but I shouldn't. But that's probably a lot of calories."
Whatever those little like words were in my head, those little voices in my head telling me I should be "good" or eating this food was bad, or I was on the wagon or off the wagon. Those were the sort of ideas that really got me into this disordered place in the first place. But having a practitioner to walk with me and be like, "Hey, I know that are probably thinking this, but what if we looked at it another way? Hey, like it's okay. Why not just listen to yourself instead of wherever this voice is coming from? What do you think influenced that voice?"
Having that practitioner, that partner to walk with me for a series of several months, and to really be that sounding board and that listening ear, but also someone who could provide wisdom and insight to things that I'd just been kind of swimming in for so long. I didn't even realize I was in it anymore, was super helpful in bringing me out. And when I realized that that was the pivotal moment for my life and I was at a place where, I had told you before this interview, that I was formerly a certified public accountant. So I was doing something totally different than what I'm doing now.
But I had resigned from my position for quite some time, while my children were young. And I was getting back into the workforce and thinking about what I actually wanted to do with my time. And again, using my intuition and tapping into what really felt important to me and exciting to me. I thought, I want to help other women not to become enslaved by diet, culture and media and marketing that says they're not okay as they are. That they have to give away their power and their self-awareness and their understanding to someone else, who basically wants to make money off of them, to tell them how to live, how to eat, how to move. I wanted to help women live their lives on their own terms, because that is what my coach had helped me do.
And that is what changed everything for me. Is being like, "Yes, I want to live my life on my own terms." And I wanted to do that for other women as well to help them love their bodies, become self-aware, have freedom with food. And so yeah, after I knew I wanted to do that, I began mentoring with practitioners. I also got certified at the Institute for the Psychology of Eating, and shortly thereafter opened up my practice and started working with clients to help them through their own disordered eating journeys and exercise obsession, body obsession. And many of those people came to me having a desire to get their periods back as well.
So then tell me a little bit more about the types of clients that you work with.
I work with amazing women who for one reason or another have sort of lost themselves. Who suddenly they're powerful, they're smart, they're wise. I have police officers, and nurse practitioners, and lawyers as my clients, speech pathologists, just a diverse array of amazing women who are doing amazing things in the world. But for one reason or another really just lost themselves somewhere in diet culture, in trying to "measure up" or down, I guess as is most of the case to be the certain type of woman. To look a certain way to feel like they owed it to everybody else, to show up in the world thin and fit. And eating a clean diet or what have you and doing things just right and being good.
I work with a lot of recovering good girls, who feel like they have to have it all right. A lot of recovering Type A personalities. So those are the clients I work with, and they come to me and this is very normal for those good girls and Type A personalities to stumble upon disordered eating. So they come to me saying, "Hey, like"... Either yo-yo dieting. A lot of them are losing this internal battle they have, to lose weight, or maintain a certain weight, or have a certain physique because they're doing it by force. And there's a lot of scientific theory around the weight set point, and how it's just really probably not going to... You know, 95% of diets fail for a reason. And that reason is, I would say physiological.
Our bodies are going to fight to keep us around that weight set point according to the weight set point theory. And so they're fighting that. They're battling that and being like, "Oh, well I'm doing all the things I was always doing when I was losing weight and now I'm gaining," or "Now I feel no energy," or "Now I have joint pain," or "Now I'm tired of doing this, and I have no mental capacity for anything else." And they really want to. I think when the women come to me, they're thinking that they'll figure something out, and then they'll just naturally lose weight or have the body they want or fix life and they leave going, "Oh, I actually know what I want personally. It doesn't have to look like what diet culture or our society standards are for women or for my life. I know what I want. I'm going to go get it." And that puts them in a really empowered place to have that autonomy and that intuition, not just around food and body, but around the life.
So I think they just come to me a little lost, a little tired, a little weary, but they have everything within themselves to get through this disordered eating pattern that they're in, and to get through their obsession with body size and wanting to look a certain way or be a certain way and thinking that that will give them a life. They absolutely are totally capable of doing that. I'm just there to cheer them on, to encourage them, to give them wisdom and insight and help to coach them through it.
Yeah. So interesting. So much of what you're saying I can relate to personally, not as a person who has fallen into the anorexic range in terms of weight. So similar to your personal experience with at least some disordered eating patterns. But the thing that's been really interesting to me has been in the last couple of years, I've done some macro counting. And when I'm really good about macro counting, I lose weight. And I always see it as a temporary thing, because it seems like something you should never do for life. But the second I stop doing it, I gain weight.
So I've actually gained... I actually think I weigh more now. Well, I mean I'm pregnant now, but I mean leading up to this pregnancy, I think I was pretty much at my heaviest. And in part because I have a lot of muscle mass. But in part because I think that rigidity around not eating when I wanted to eat but eating what I thought I was supposed to eat, made it so that when I was relaxing that, and not doing it anymore, suddenly I just didn't know what I was supposed to be eating. And I couldn't really sort of follow generally the macros unless I was actually counting really rigidly.
That's totally common. What you're experiencing is totally common. And again I'm not the scientist here, but what I know of my own self, my own experience and then the experience of many of my clients as well as if you're familiar with the weight set point theory, it's this idea that your body through a series of metabolic responses attempts to keep you within the same general range, five to 10 pounds. It tries very hard to keep you there. And will fight back against outside intervention, our own personal interventions like dieting, and macro counting and things like that. To keep us at this stabilized place where everything is working optimally, metabolically, hormonally.
And so that is actually really common. And there's research that says that you can increase your weight set point the more you diet. And this is just evolutionary because our bodies are always trying to take care of us, always trying to keep us thriving, always trying to conserve energy and give us the energy we need to live and survive and procreate and do all the things. And so essentially a body can't tell the difference as far as the understanding that I have, often between a perceived threat and a real threat. So what's to say if you're going through a famine where you can't find food or you're just deciding that you're not supposed to have that bagel, you know?
And so what happens over time is the more that we diet, and the more we deprive certain macronutrients or micronutrients or calories in general is when the body does have opportunity to seek those out again, when we do finally like either throw in the towel or we're just so weary of it, or we go... I hate this term, but if we're like, "I'm going to have a cheat day or whatever." The body's like, "Yay, let's take in all the things and let's not increase metabolism to burn the more energy that's coming in. Let's slow it down so that we can conserve energy by putting it places on the body that we can tap into later, the next time this lady tries to starve us."
It's like this whole evolutionary process really of keeping us alive, it's love, I always say. The body loves us. It wants to keep us here. Whatever this thing is carrying us around, knows what it's doing, and is trying to do it and we're trying to intervene, you know? And so it's really common to find that once you do something like macro counting, or dieting, or cutting out a certain number of calories, or a certain number of nutrients that yeah, as soon as you stop doing that behaviour, you'll have weight shifts. Whereas if you eat "normally and intuitively" really tapping into your body wisdom, it doesn't matter how differently you eat from day-to-day, your body will generally stay the same.
So tell me a little bit more about the clients you work with who have missed periods. Do you find that more or less the same thing works with them, or do you have to sort of use a variety of approaches to help them?
Yeah, well we're all so different. So no two women that I work with are like. Most all of them come to me though, and it's like they have this functional amenorrhea, they got themselves there. Diet culture got them there, over exercising got them there, wanting a thinner smaller, fitter body got them to that point. So they all come generally with that same reason for having amenorrhea. And then of course I want them to work with a medical practitioner as well. I am not a licensed doctor and I never claim to be.
So I'm always like, "Hey, if you're going to the doctor, why don't you think about asking about this? Or what did they say about that? Or how are these hormones?" And they will share their records with me if there's anything pertinent that I would need to know to kind of give me an idea. But again, I'm more working on the mindsets and the behaviour side of getting their period back. I don't need to work on the medical side of getting their period back. So for most of my clients who come to me, some of them want to get pregnant, and one of them is about to have a baby in like one week. So I'm super excited. Because when she came to me, she had no period, and then she got a period, got pregnant and now she is on her way to having a baby. So that's really exciting for her. Because that was her goal.
It was like, "Oh my gosh, I've done this thing. I've been over exercising, and under eating for so long I don't have my period." And she really wanted to get pregnant. So I'm excited for her. But yeah, in general they come, maybe some of them wanting to get pregnant, others of them having those correlating symptoms of joint pain, or lost libido and knowing that regaining a period would be an indicator of increasing their energy in their body. And increasing the hormone regulation or improving the hormone regulation in their body.
They know that periods would be indicative of that. And so that's why they're desiring them. Others of them just feel like really safe having a regular monthly period and are very clear that not having it to them means that there's something off or something they want to work towards. So there's a variety of reasons, but many of them want to get their period back as an indicator of overall health and recovery from their disordered eating. From their over exercise and things like that.
And so yeah, I mean what I recommend to all of my clients is to eat more, and to slow down, and to choose joy. So what that looks like eating more is just like calorically eating more and eating all of the things. So neutralizing all foods, meaning that kale and cookies can have the same positive role in your eating experience, and all the other foods in between. So neutralizing them, demoralizing food behaviours, and just allowing eating experiences to be really natural, and pleasurable and enjoyable.
I have them tune in to taste and texture and truly be with their food and acknowledge that they're eating it and take those calories and feed themselves more. Many of them are not eating fat, or they're not eating carbs, or they're cutting out whole macronutrients, which is creating a nutritional deficiency in them, which isn't going to be helpful for their hormones. Or for rebound, like binge-eating and overeating and things like that. Because if you're binge-eating, if you're overeating to the point of feeling uncomfortable and feeling crazy around food, there's likely always some element of restriction or control that's happened first.
So we have to work through all of that, and then also slowing down. I don't always ask my clients to stop exercising. There are certain clients that I'll ask to stop exercising if they're so... For a period of time, not forever, but for a period of time I will ask them to let it go, so that they realize that they can, and the sky won't fall, and the world won't be over, and they won't die. Your health isn't all of a sudden... It actually probably will improve if you're over-exercising. And if you're stressing about the exercise that you are doing, but your health isn't suddenly going to take a nosedive because you don't exercise for a week or two weeks or a month.
It might actually improve if your mindset around exercise and movement improves. So I'll have most of my clients just slow down. If they've been doing a lot of high impact, and they've been really pushing it and they've been working out seven days a week because they think they have to, to have this certain body, or because they think that they're lazy if they don't. We will slow down, we will decrease maybe the days that they move, and we will change the impact of the way they move. So maybe I'm recommending more walking and getting out in nature or doing slow sort of movement versus this high impact achievement mentality.
And again, it's not necessarily because of... Exercise is a stressor, right? But it's a good stressor on the body in the right context. So exercise in and of itself is not bad. But when it is a stressor, and you don't have the calories and the energy input to help deal with that stressor and help recover from that stressor. Plus you're adding the stress of feeling like you have to do the exercise, and you're adding the stress of poor body image, and not accepting yourself on top of all of that. And feeling like you have to measure up and always striving and scrambling to be this other thing that you're currently not. It puts so much stress into your system. It just becomes an overload.
So slowing down is really important. And again, some of my clients who are very obsessed, I will even have them stop just for a period of time, to realize that they can and to help alleviate the stress of feeling they must move in order to live. Because maybe that's true in some capacity. For disordered eaters and exercisers, that's not the main thing we're trying to teach right now. So the slowing down and then the choosing joy, which again, it plays into food, it plays into movement. But it plays into those other aspects of life, like I talked to you about with my own personal journey.
Which is, "Okay, what is your motivation for doing the things you're doing? Eating the things you're eating? Having the activity your having?" So Kate, I know you love roller derby. And so for a client of mine who loves roller derby to get out there, and do roller derby, yes, it's movement. Yes, it's exercise. Yes, it's a way to be functionally fit and move your body, but it's not this stressful, self-hating, self-loathing sort of activity. It's fun, and it's enjoyable and it's actually going to change the hormonal functions in your body based on it, right?
If you went into it, hating it and stressing about it, there's going to be different levels of cortisol and other nervous system responses in your body, than if you're doing something you actually enjoy doing. And the pleasure is where the healing is. I've found with my clients and myself. So I have my clients do things that light them up. If you don't like running five miles every morning, then why don't you sign up for a dance class? Or try yoga? Or take a walk? Or maybe you want to do a team sport where you're with other people. Having them do that. Same with food.
If you don't like eating carrots, there's actually scientific evidence, in the fact that you're going to absorb less nutrients from the carrots than if you loved carrots and were eating them in a pleasurable state of mind, because you wanted to and because you enjoyed them and desired them instead of because you felt like you had to. So I have them choose pleasure and all things. Food and movement, but also in life. Again, like I said with myself, inventorying what's working, what's not, what you want, what you don't, and how you go get that and working through those aspects that might have nothing to do with food and body but help to distress them and give them that ease.
And then of course, besides that, they just have to wait. And so some of my clients will get their periods back in like two months, three months from working together. And some of them it might take six months or they're calling me up, a year after we've worked together and been like, "I just kept believing in relaxing into it and I finally got my period back because I wasn't stressing." So it depends, not everyone gets it back in the same time. There's no magic formula. There's no one size fits all for this. But the approach is generally the same, which is eat more, slow down, choose joy.
So tell me how can people find you if they wanted to work with you? Do you work just with local clients or do you also have an online place where people can interact with you?
No, actually the majority of my work is online. So we will use Skype, or phone calls to have our coaching sessions. And people can work with me from anywhere around the world. And I've had clients in Africa and clients in Italy, and different places around New Zealand. So anywhere is fair game. I don't just work locally. I only have two local clients right now actually. So most of mine are around the world, and certainly around the U.S. so people can work with me by going to lueats.com, and when you go there, you're going to find out everything about me and the work that I do.
And I'm really clear in my copy on my website about the sort of women, the sort of mindset that those women have that I'm working with. So it'll be like, "Do you think this in your head? I'm a food and fitness freak show. If that's you, we're probably going to be great together. Or feel like you don't know yourself and feel like your body isn't your own. Your feel like a stranger in your body." Those are just some of the types of women that I work with, but it's really clear on my website. And then what I do, the thing I love to do is work one-on-one with women in particular.
I'm happy to work with men too, but mainly I work with women who we will have a six-month coaching relationship. So it's six months, 13 sessions, we work together. They have unlimited access to me through text and email as they continue to try to recover from disordered eating, yo-yo dieting, binge-eating, want their periods back, want to just ease more into life and distress and relax and change their mindsets about who they are and how they show up in the world. And so yeah, that's my unrestricted mentorship program, and it's one-on-one. It's really personal. It's not a canned program. So it's very individual to the person who comes to me and calls me.
Is there anything else you would like to say that... You know, like things I haven't thought to ask you, or just any points you really want to bring home about your experience or about the work that you do?
I mean my work and my desire for women and for your listeners or anyone who has amenorrhea, and stumbles upon this podcast is just to know that there is... If they want to regain their periods, there's certainly hope. And if they're having correlating symptoms to not having a period, certainly if they're working through disordered eating, an eating disorder, over exercising, yo-yo dieting and things like that, there is a way out, it's not always going to be the way it is now.
I know that's something I wanted to hear when I was in the place that I was. Is that it's not always going to be like this, because it sure as hell feels like it's always going to be like that.
And so, it's good to hear from the other side.
That's wonderful. Lou, thank you so much. This has been a really inspiring and wonderful conversation. I appreciate your honesty and willing to talk about your experience, but also the really transformative work that you're doing with your clients. It's awesome.
If you're interested in learning more about Lou's coaching practice check out lueats.com, L-U-E-A-T-S.com. Lou has a few mentoring spots left in her practice for 2017. She is also about to release a Q&A podcast episode just to her newsletter subscribers. Season one of Lou's podcast Untamed is complete and available on iTunes or at untamedpodcast.com. She will be launching season two in March of 2018. I was a guest on season 1 episode 13 of Untamed, and I'm so glad Lou returned the favour by coming and talking to me. That's it for this week's period podcast.
Excerpt: Eating Psychology Coach Lu Uhrich teaches me a thing or two about body image, nourishing yourself, and how to get back your period.
Summary: Last week, Dr. De Souza shared a clinical perspective on the effect of under nourishing your body. This week, I talk to Lu Uhrich, a Certified Eating Psychology Coach, Body Image Mentor, and Life Coach who helps women to grow in self-awareness, find food freedom and practice body love. Lu talks to us about how her restrictive eating patterns once led to losing her period, and how she got it, and a lot of other great things, back.
This episode was an important one for me. As an anthropologist, I tend not to see the loss of the period as bad the way clinicians and clinical scientists can. It’s a symptom of not enough available energy, but not inherently all bad. Talking to Lu really widened my perspective on this. For many women, the period is a sign of health, a symbol of femininity, or just a way of feeling normal. So while I may not worry physiologically about missing the occasional period, I feel a lot more compassion towards those who are dismayed by its loss. I also think Lu’s personal experience can teach us a lot about how we can turn our attempts at “healthy” or “clean” eating into something that is restrictive.
Here’s a little more about Lu Uhrich: Lu is the host of the Untamed Podcast, featuring women who are living beyond limits and helping others to do the same. Lu specializes in guiding her clients to overcome struggles with yo-yo dieting, food restriction, binge eating, loss of periods, shame, body hate and other unwanted symptoms, mindsets or behaviours. Through her one-on-one coaching program and online courses, she teaches participants to end the exhausting hustle for food and body perfection by finding out who they really are, what they truly want, and how to finally get it. For more information check out Lu’s website at www.lueats.com.
Lu has a few more spots left for her one-on-one coaching, and if you get her newsletter you’ll get an exclusive Q&A podcast where she answers client and listener questions. I’m also the guest of episode 13 of her first season, so I hope you’ll check it out!
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