I got my first Period at age 11. It was class picture day and I remember being both frightened and pissed off. I couldn’t believe this was happening to me! As far as I knew, I was the first girl to start developing breasts (we had to change in a communal locker room for P.E.), wear bras and now get my period in my class. I have fortunately never had any cramps, headaches or other associated PMS symptoms and instead, to this day, have felt that this whole menstruation thing is just terribly inconvenient with side of slight bloating. I also don’t like talking about my period or anything my vagina does. I’ve had several friends have babies and tell me WAY MORE than I need to know about fertility and mucus, cracked nipples and other things that make me want to stick my fingers in my ears and go “LALALALALA” until they stop talking. So while I don’t want to talk about my uterus AT ALL let alone to all my pole sisters, this is a really important issue and I suspect it is affecting more polers than anyone cares to admit.
My periods have been light and getting progressively lighter for several years since I started pole dancing. This change can also be correlated with additional concern and education about my diet as well as regularly increasing the amount of time I was active—once a week class turned into it’s tough to take a rest day. About a year ago, my period just sorta stopped showing up all together. I’m on the pill and every fourth week of the month I was prepared for the annoying (yet fortunately not painful or restricting) visit from “Aunt Flow.” First, I thought I was pregnant but swiftly and easily disproved that notion (thank you CVS for easy to read tests!). Then I did what any sane woman does when faced with strange menstruation issues. I asked my trainer for advice. I had heard whispers and snippets somewhere along my Internet travels that if you exercised “too much” your period could stop – which sounded like the best thing ever! My trainer confirmed it and said she hadn’t had a regular period in years and that it happened a lot with female athletes but no one really talked about it. She also gave me its official name—exercise amenorrhea.
Since then, I notice that when I’m preparing for competition and training up to an additional 3 hours per week on top of my usual 7-9 hours, my periods are gone. Or just some very, very light spotting shows up typically on the week I’m not supposed to have my periods (according to my pills). If I slack a little bit and eat beyond my meal plan (like Thanksgiving… hmmm pie) then perhaps I get to actual spotting (instead of very, very light) but nothing approaching what my periods used to look like pre-pole dancing.
The dreaded scale.
I am 5’6, ~150lb and around 18% Body fat although last I checked my weight and body fat was about a year ago so there’s likely a slight decrease in those numbers now. I wear a size 2 in pants and have some muscle definition but still have a tummy pooch, an annoying amount of cellulite and definitely am nowhere near as ripped as the beautiful Sparkle and Shimmy sisters. How the hell is this happening to me? And what does it really mean for my long-term health?
I don’t want to terrify anyone but I do want to share my experience and my research because this is a potentially serious long-term health issue. If you are concerned about your own body because you have stopped getting your period PLEASE go see your doctor. Everyone’s body is different and exercise amenorrhea is hard to diagnose and not getting your period may be a symptom of another issue.
A study published in 2010 claims that up to half of all women who exercise have “menstrual disturbances.” Younger athletes, particularly in sports where exercise amenorrhea is prevalent (running, ballet, figure skating, gymnastics), can have delayed onsite of their first period and other elements of puberty until their twenties. This is known as primary amenorrhea. Not having your period after you’ve gotten it before is secondary amenorrhea. Not having your period is one part of what has been dubbed the “female athlete triad” (of suckage) of low caloric intake, menstrual dysfunction and low bone density. Female athletes, more so than their male counterparts may have increased emotional and social stressors to be thin which compound the mental and neurologic stressors making this triad just as much a mental issue as a physical one to deal with and to treat. Your body goes into a starvation state (which also happens during anorexia) and begins to shut down your organs to protect the vital systems of your body. Not having your period means your body is not regularly preparing your womb for pregnancy. In essence your body has decided now is not the right climate to carry a baby and has shut the factory down.
While not having your period sounds like the best thing ever, there are serious long-term issues including osteoporosis, which doesn’t sound scary in your 30s but as you get older is going to be a big deal. There are also short term issues that can cause a decrease in fertility and impact everyone: vaginal and breast atrophy. This is a fancy way of saying that the tissue in your lady bits gets thinner which increases vaginal dryness which can make sex uncomfortable. So yes, I’m saying there is a direct link to exercising a whole bunch and looking hot, feeling great because of all the exercise endorphins (which may actually contribute to screwing up your regular hormones—how fair is that??) and actually wanting or at least enjoying sex less. Sigh.
It’s worth noting that “too much” (I can’t find any sort of definition on what that might constitute) exercise is not the only thing that can cause amenorrhea. Other than a serious medical condition such as cancer in your uterus or a thyroid disorder, several other potentially temporary situations can also can cause it such as: being overweight, having a poor diet, excessive stress, recreational (or sometimes prescribed) drug use, anorexia, smoking, depression or anxiety.
It is difficult to completely diagnose exercise amenorrhea and the first course of treatment is often unappealing for those affected—increase calories (increase calories? I still have a pooch! Why should I increase calories??). There are estrogen treatments that can often be done through standard birth control pills or if you’re already on pills, changing them up or adding estrogen supplements (pills or creams) and your period should eventually come back. My research didn’t turn up any recommended, holistic medicine treatments—please share if you know any! If you are concerned about fertility, address that separately with a fertility specialist who is likely to recommend gaining weight as the first treatment and will also look for other issues with you and/or your partner that might be contributing factors.
I broke a toe the day before competing at PSO APC
Me? Well, I’ve got all the symptoms—I don’t want to have sex as much with my beautiful husband and when I do it’s painful because of dryness (hurray for KY!). I suffered a break in my big toe earlier this year coming down funny from a pole split straight into the wood floor. Freak accident or symptomatic of early osteoporosis? I’m not sure however I am monitoring my body and its changes closely. I follow a meal plan and eat way more than I ever did before, in more regular intervals and in healthier/cleaner ways. I can’t skip a meal because I simply won’t have the energy to teach if I do! I also look the best I have ever looked and fit into a smaller pants size than when I was anorexic in high school. I don’t always feel great and do attribute a lot of that to stress; starting and closing a few businesses in the past year have absolutely contributed to the increase in stress levels.
Will your story be the same as mine? Maybe. We polers are a diverse but also extreme bunch and we like to be in the studio as much as possible whether it’s for fun or for competition prep. It’s important we talk, share and continue to educate ourselves. Pole is still a new industry and a lot of the positives and negative health issues that affect other sports are just starting to show up in ours. As all of us age, including all the kids getting involved on the serious competitive level, we will have more information on how pole affects the body and contributes to positive and also negative health outcomes. Let’s all stay healthy and happy together!
We’d love to hear your comments and stories. Please share and let us know if amenorrhea has effected you or other pole dancers you know.
This post first appeared on Bad Kitty Blog | Pole Dancing Fitness Lifestyle Ne, please read the originial post: here