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Periods, stress, health, unsupportive family

Discussion in 'Support' started by Angeliki, Aug 10, 2018 at 1:40 PM.

  1. Angeliki

    Angeliki New Member

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    I impulsively became a member of this forum, because this is the 3rd time I am giving veganism a try and this time I want to do it right. Take it slow, but steady. I need your help.

    Sooo, where do I begin...
    I tried veganism 2 years ago (I was already 1 year vegetarian) while I was a postgraduate Masters student and I had a very stressful daily routine. I used to wake up at 6 in the morning, did Ashtanga yoga for 1.5 hours (3 times a week, very athletic type of yoga), go to the lab, do experiments (not eat anything, apart from some dates with almonds) and come back home at 6 PM. Then I would begin to eat my breakfast, lunch, dinner all at once and go to sleep by 8 PM. As you can imagine, my physical and mental health went out of whack. I lost my period (which was irregular in the first place), lost 3 kg (I was already on the lower BMI for my height/age) and I felt constantly lethargic, miserable and tense. My parents (I was 24 then) got very worried and they blamed it all on the vegan diet. My blood results showed that I had (surprise surprise!) low iron and below normal cholesterol levels, which partly explained why I had lost my period. Adding my stressful daily routine, it was obvious that my physical health would deteriorate as well.
    I decided to go back to being vegetarian for 6 months and my period came back, although it coincided with the fact that I was doing less lab work and more studying at home, so a lot of that stress was gone. My gynaecologist is also against plant-based diets for women and supports the idea that it caused my missed periods.
    However, some months later, I still felt guilty eating dairy and eggs, knowing that many animals had suffered in order for me to get my period back (which, again, I am not sure it was only caused by my diet). I decided to try veganism again and this time it coincided with me starting my PhD. This time, since I was in my first year, I didn't have as much lab work, I stopped doing Asthanga yoga every morning and decided to take it easy on the physical stress. Again, my period stopped. Again, though, I was put under a lot of stress because of the new lab environment, administrative requirements, getting along with my new colleagues etc. After 3 months I decided to go back to being vegetarian once more, because I didn't want to go through all this worrying with my period, while I needed to focus on my PhD. Plus I put on some weight and brought my BMI in the middle range. This time, though, my period did not come back immediately, it came after some months and again it was very irregular. I was not surprised however, because I was suffering from depression at the time and I felt unhappy and stressed at my new lab.
    Some months ago, I reached a breaking point in my life: I left a long-term relationship that made me unhappy and I quit my PhD which left me emotionally drained. Under all this emotional stress, I ate meat for 1 month (after 3 years of never having touched it) and I came back home to live with my family, during which time my period came back and now it seems normalised. I have stopped eating meat of course, because the guilt and shame I felt during that time was unbearable and now that I am not in a mental haze and a dark place, I can make better decisions. I was not myself back then.

    So, now that I feel stronger emotionally and physically, I want to give veganism another go. But this time, I want to do it right. I am very afraid of losing my period again. I don't want to face again a dilemma.. I have read every possible thing there is on nutrition for women and fertility, I try to follow the vegan plate by Virginia Messina and I try to take the advice from Bonzai Aphrodite's post on 'failing health as a vegan', whose experience with menstrual cycles is very similar to my own. I will also join the vegan society in my country and attend its festivals, I joined this forum and I have in mind to maybe go to a vegan nutritionist in the future.

    I need your help, guys. Have any of you had similar menstruation problems related to veganism and stress? How have you dealt with them?
    Also, how have you dealt with unsupportive family? My family gets very worried every time I cut out animal products from my diet and I can't handle both my own emotional world and theirs at the same time (If you don't know me yet, I stress very easily :p).
     
  2. Emma JC
    Joyful

    Emma JC Active Member

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    hi Angeliki

    Welcome to the forum.

    Eating a whole food plant-based diet should not cause stress or nutritional problems or menstruation problems.

    There is a possibility that you are not eating enough calories or enough starches. Cronometer and Dr Greger's Daily Dozen may be helpful to you. When you do your research be sure to read/watch a variety of people. Dr McDougall, Dr Greger, Dr Neil Barnard, Dr Esselstyn, and so many others.

    Enjoy your whole grains, breads, beans, potatoes, rice, greens, bananas, berries, apples, citrus, carrots, etc. If you have the occasional processed vegan food, so be it, but try to stay away from the junk (many chips and oreos are vegan and not healthy) and keep it simple so you don't get discouraged.

    Good luck to you and I hope that third time's a charm. Many of us have started and reverted and started again so don't feel guilty, just understand it is part of your journey and you are doing the best that you can do, right now, and the past is past!

    Emma JC
     
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  3. Angeliki

    Angeliki New Member

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    Hello Emma,

    Thank you very much for your reply and your support! It is very exhilarating being told that what I'm going through with going back to being vegetarian is normal until I find the right time for veganism in my life. From what I came to know, veganism is not supposed to be hard, you just have to make smarter choices to meet your nutritional demands.

    The thing is, I was eating a variety of plant-based whole foods and I did meet my caloric demands. However, I begin to think that what I was missing was fat (due to the abnormally low cholesterol levels on my blood test) and since women need more fat in their diets and have a higher body fat percentage, that is why I lost my period (cholesterol is the precursor of other hormones and is essential for your body to function normally).

    I am familiar with the doctors you mentioned and the diets they promote, however I am very sceptical of their practices. They often exaggerate the benefits of a vegan diet and base their claims on problematic studies or misinterpret data (my scientist side kicks in, haha). I don't want to start a debate, truly. I just don't agree with many things they promote or some of their claims. Another topic for discussion for another time.

    However, you are right. Our best bet is to see what's out there regarding vegan nutrition, properly educate ourselves and find what works for our body. And also, support each other. :)

    Thank you, Emma! Your 'it's ok' attitude really helped me.
     
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  4. Emma JC
    Joyful

    Emma JC Active Member

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    You're welcome and I am not interested in a debate either and yet have some of the same concerns, that you have with the doctors I mentioned, about Virginia Messina, so we will just have to agree to disagree completely on that.

    So as with most things in life it is always good to learn from a variety of sources and sometimes we learn the most from the people we think we disagree with the most. I have never seen any evidence that they misinterpret data (please don't send me any) :) and it is true that we read/watch the info that matches our current beliefs.

    I have found that 15-20% fat is fine for me.

    All the best with your journey.

    Emma JC
     
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  5. Forest Nymph
    Jaded

    Forest Nymph Active Member

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    I'm very sorry to hear this experience. The first time I tried to go vegan I didn't eat enough and never took B12 so I developed anxiety. It took a while to educate myself enough to be a very healthy vegan. It's part of the reason I'm so passionate about education, cooking and nutrition.

    I never lost my period but I can assure you I've been vegan for over three years and my periods are just as dark and heavy as they were when I ate dairy every day....But far less painful. I used to have terrible breast pain and cramps that suggested endometriosis, cramps that literally kept me in bed, which only came back once....because I ate cheese, I swear, it's the hormones in dairy.

    I would recommend that you eat bigger meals, explore vegan cooking and perhaps take a vitamin supplement until you adjust.

    Ashtanga is hard, lady. I used to do Vinyasa 3-6 days a week before I went back to college. Maybe go a bit easier on yourself. Torturing yourself isn't yoga, it's very Western actually to turn fitness into pain. It's meaningless suffering. You are loved exactly as you are, you are more than your body weight.
     
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  6. Lou
    Cowabunga

    Lou Active Member

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    Actually what you described is probably amenorrhea, a fairly common condition in females who exercise a lot and have a low body fat %. amenorrhea is one of the legs of what is called the female athlete triad. The Female Athlete Triad syndrome is pretty serious and can have lifelong consequences. I'm a little disappointed that your doctors didn't bring this up. Maybe they thought your BMI wasn't low enough or your yoga wasn't strenuous enough. but the loss of period is a pretty big clue.

    The only thing that it has to do with diet is that a lot of women who get this have an eating disorder. But women who eat a ton of calories but also train a lot get this. I first heard about from a pair of runners. One of them was very frustrated that every time she got to a certain level in her training she would lose her period and then have to slow down.

    Up until recently the only cure was "exercise less and eat more". But now researchers think its way more complicated. Low leptin levels definitely have something to do with it. From your experience, maybe stress, too.


    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Female_athlete_triad
    http://breakingmuscle.com/fitness/what-really-causes-irregular-menstrual-cycles-in-female-athletes
     
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  7. Angeliki

    Angeliki New Member

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    Actually yes, my doctor said it was hypothalamic amenorrhea, that was caused by stress, exercise and the change in my diet which was evidently less fatty. I also took multivitamins for 2 months (+B12 of course), but it didn't work. Which leads me to agree with you and think that it was primarily the stress and exercise. I came from a background of not exercising for most of my life, so suddenly exercising at 23 must have been a shock to my system, let alone doing something so strenuous.

    However, even when I stopped exercising so much and put on weight, I still didn't get my period while vegan. I put on weight, had my supplements, everything.. I get it that the body needs to adjust to all the changes, good or bad... But it seemed that everytime I ate dairy or eggs, it would come back after a while. It might have been a coincidence, though.

    So, again, I think the major factors that didn't work for me was the immense stress with Uni and the fact that I didn't eat so much fat. It seems that my body works better with a bit more fat and I feel more satisfied as well. I really want to make it right and not develop any nutritional deficiencies again. :( Now that I am not under so much stress, I think it will be easier for me to watch what I'm eating!
     
  8. Lou
    Cowabunga

    Lou Active Member

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    ^
    Very good. You didn't mention changes to your body weight. According to the author of the second article, increasing your body weight, not just your body fat is the most important issue.

    The other important thing is that you consume more calories a day than you expend. So you don't necessarily need to "exercise less". But if you don't, you do need to "eat more". Getting extra calories from fat is the easiest way to do that. And dairy and eggs do have a lot of fat.

    There are lots of plant foods that also have a lot of fat. (and even more than milk and eggs) And are way more healthy and ethical. You could add way more fat to your diet by just increasing your consumption of nuts.

    Just for fun, I plugged 2 glasses of milk and 2 eggs into cronometer. Four tbsp of peanut butter has the same calories and more fat.

    But I bet you don't need a high-fat diet. I think you just need to eat healthy and enough calories.

    Good luck.
     
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  9. Angeliki

    Angeliki New Member

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    Yes, I agree! Already I have started weaning off of dairy and eggs (haha, like a baby.. oh, the irony!) slowly and increased my intake of fat from nuts and seeds, especially peanut butter and tahini. Yum!

    I hope all goes well this time and I am considering seeing a vegan nutritionist, just to make things easier for me with a pre-planned meal plan catered to my needs.

    Thank you guys for all your support! You helped me loads! <3
     
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