She explained how women's bodies cyclical in nature, rising and falling hormone levels depending on each phase of our cycle. When our body is working in harmony, that's when we feel our best. She drove home the notion that our menstrual health is directly correlated with our overall health. Mind blown.
I never cared about my menstrual health before. In fact, I loved the fact that I hadn't had a period since I went on the pill when I was 15 (my doctor said that was normal because I was also an athlete + sometimes the pill does that). Good riddens, right?! Wrong.
The topic that stuck with us the most was about the effects of synthetic birth control on women's bodies (info that the three of us have NEVER been told by our doctors). We learned that the problem when you're on the pill is that you're essentially shutting down your body's natural reproductive cycle (and the hormone production that comes along with it). In it's place, you are ingesting a steady level of progestin and estrogen (synthetic "fake" hormones), and thereby not allowing our bodies to complete it's natural ying/yang patterns and processes. This is when significant problems can arise...
Here's a few more reasons why:
Synthetic Birth Control depletes you of essential micronutrients, vitamins, that are required in a healthy monthly cycle. (As I'll mention later, I was depleted in B12 during and after I was on the pill, which is crucial to my health overall)
It works as an antibiotic would on your gut microbiome. Destroying the balance of your gut flora messes with your hormonal health, mood, digestion, immune function, and much more!
It shuts down our natural menstrual cycle completely (a super power women have had since the DAWN OF TIME - to have babies!). Years later, many women sadly struggle with their body being unable to start everything back up again.
It masks underlying hormonal/reproductive issues like a bandaid, instead of addressing the root cause in the first place. When you come off SBC years later, chances are your hormonal imbalance will still be there waiting for you... and sometimes in a worse off state than it was before.
So after learning all of this, here I am thinking to myself...
Hey, I’ve been on synthetic birth control since I was 15...why hasn’t my doctor told me any of these potential side effects and risks...
I haven't had my period in YEARS, so what does that say about my overall health?
Oh and did you know that the bleeding phase on the pill is just withdrawal bleeding and not a REAL PERIOD?! This is because we don't ovulate when on the pill. Ladies, this means an entire phase of our cycle is just completely skipped. Actually, as mentioned above, ALL FOUR menstrual phases of our cycles are completely halted on birth control.
To us, this was unnatural and not the way we want to go about our lives as holistic health coaches. I wanted to feel good in my skin again and to live in partnership with my hormone flow. I did not want my body and emotional state to be dictated by a pill I popped everyday. Learning this, Alaina and I got excited. Maybe too excited. With our doctors permission, we quit the pill immediately.
(DISCLAIMER: DO NOT QUIT BIRTH CONTROL COLD TURKEY like we did. If so, it's possible that you will struggle with POST BIRTH CONTROL SYNDROME. Please learn from our mistakes. There are lots of things you should to prepare your body before making the change. Keep reading.)
At the time we decided to come off the pill, we did not know about POST BIRTH CONTROL SYNDROME (PBCS). This syndrome is a constellation of symptoms women often experience when they quit the pill. And these symptoms can range from hormonal irregularities like loss of period, infertility, pill induced PCOS, thyroid issues, gut dysfunction, irrational anxiety, depression, weight gain and autoimmune symptoms. The list goes on.
And let me tell you...the PBCS symptoms came..and they came with a vengeance. Overwhelmed at first, Alaina and I felt like our world was crumbling from underneath us. To our relief we had shared a lot of the same symptoms (misery loves company, amiright?!), but also experienced a few that differed.
For me personally, Post Birth Control Syndrome looked a little like this..
Secondary amenorrhea, aka missing a period for 6 or more months. Not ok. While on the pill, I had no bleeding at all because my estrogen levels were so low. This continued to happen a whole year after I quit the pill. *This is not normal ladies*
Although I ate plenty of B-vitamin rich foods, I was still deficient in B12
No libido, no motivation
Inability to gain muscle mass
Depression. Don’t let Instagram fool you. I didn’t socialize or see friends because of how sad I felt all of the time.
Irrational fear..like I was afraid of cars when crossing streets of Manhattan. My fear of flying came back harder than before.
Hot flashes..poor Billy. All of those cold nights with the windows open or AC blasting. He usually had 2 sweatshirts on and I basically slept naked.
Crying for no reason..a dog commercial would have me bawling like I was at a funeral.
Weight gain around 10-15 lbs that won’t come off
My mood swings were so strong that I lashed out at people I loved and didn’t even know why I felt that way.
Everyday I woke up with terrible thoughts. I hated my body and everything I wore. I didn’t want to wear shorts or expose my arms. I started wearing hats all of the time to hide my face. All of the confidence I once had in college was diminished.
My hair thinned, my nails brittled
It's safe to say that life was hard in 2018. I was internally and externally struggling and sadly still do to some extent. In the midst of it all, we threw ourselves into doing our own research, desperate to heal. Fortunately we found some amazing resources that guided us through this tough time. The good news is: if you are dealing with these symptoms too, you can absolutely do something about it!
The IIN course instructor, Alisa Vitti wrote a book called WomanCode that spoke further in detail about the ins and out of our hormones, and what we needed to focus on from a diet and lifestyle perspective to find balance. This was KEY in understanding how our hormones actually work together in a beautiful and delicate dance. When one hormone is off, the others will be too! If you are a woman, YOU SHOULD BE READING THIS BOOK. Period. (This is something that we wish we read BEFORE coming off the pill to avoid PBCS.) Taking it one step further, we also learned a lot from Alisa Vitti's free master classes, articles, FB lives, and featured podcasts about how to safely and naturally come off of synthetic hormones. She has tons on this topic.
Here are the FOOD and LIFESTYLE changes that I implemented:
No caffeine - Caffeine raised my cortisol levels which made me more stressed out, raised my anxiety and affected my sleep at night. Cortisol is not a hormone you want in excess because it easily throws off the delicate balance of the other hormones. (Literally, it will steal from the production of sex hormones!)
No Dairy or Gluten - Dairy and gluten are inflammatory and did not sit well with my stomach causing IBS symptoms. The goal was to heal my gut, so I steered clear of them.
No Soy - Soy in America is unfortunately very processed and genetically modified. It can also mimic estrogen in your body, so it's not recommended to consume if you have a hormone imbalance!
No Alcohol - One study showed that 1 glass of wine increased estrogen by 10%. I wanted to avoid anything that would affect my hormones levels. Plus it gets processed in your liver --where your hormones are also detoxed -- so I didn't want to over burden the liver!
Veggies, veggies, veggies (and fruits) - I jam-packed my diet with these in order to give my body its best shot in restoring nutrients it had been lacking for years
Added in more omega-3 rich foods like salmon and sardines to help support hormone production
Set a bedtime and got 8 hours of sleep. So much goodness happens when you sleep.
Supplemented with Prenatal Vitamin B complex, Probiotic, Vitamin D, Magnesium, Vitex and DIM.
Stopped over exercising- I went from working out 7 days a week to working out 3-4 days and walked the rest of the week. One of the reasons I had no period for so long was because I was over working out, causing low estrogen levels. My uterine lining was not thickening and therefore unable to shed [aka. NO PERIOD]. Working out hard is also a stressor on the body and can raise cortisol levels, and mess with your adrenals. I wanted to make sure my body knew I was "safe" and not in "danger".
Continued to educate myself on hormone health
10 months went by and still no sign of a period, nothing. I was ready to give up. I know that my body needed time to adjust and self regulate to my lifestyle and food changes..but I didn't know it would be this hard.
My doctor called and was worried that I had ovarian failure. Terrified, I went in for blood work and a sonogram and thankfully that was not the problem. Unfortunately, there were still some things off..
Low estrogen - My estrogen was so low which caused my uterine lining to be very thin and unable to build up and shed [menstruate]. This was due to my high stress/high active lifestyle at the time.
Low testosterone - This explains why I couldn't build muscle, I had zero libido and why my motivation for life was dismal. I basically burnt myself out.
Low progesterone - Progesterone is your "feel good" hormone and I had very little of it. This is why I was depressed and couldn't find a way to feel good again.
B12 Deficient- Being on birth control depletes certain nutrients in your body and b12 is a big one. This explains why my body couldn't absorb any of the B nutrients from my food!
Basically, my body's hormone production couldn't get itself going again!
My doctor immediately suggested that I should go back on the pill to bring my period back. Desperate, I toyed with the idea. But then I remembered all of the hard work that I had done thus far to detox the synthetic hormones (the problem in the first place!) that were circulating in it for the past 10 years. I couldn't give in yet and I'm glad I waited...
One month after... I finally got a real period, for the first time in a year [essentially in 10 years because I never had it on the pill]. I cried with happiness.
For instance, I got my first period August 2018.
The next 3 months, my period did not come.
The 5th month, it returned but was short.
Recently, my period has been coming every 21-24 days.
Ideally, I would like it to come habitually every 26-30 days. I have to keep working at it and give it time! Our body is incredibly wise and is tirelessly working so hard to get back on track. You just have to remember that it is doing all it can to help you. Trust in the process!
But even as health coaches, we’re not perfect with our practices.
I still have good and bad days and I’m noting that I’ve loosened the reigns too much since the return of my period.
I stopped taking supplements
Introduced too much alcohol
Consuming stress-inducing caffeine (why is coffee so damn good?!)
Adding in hard workouts back into my life too often
From there, I burnt my adrenals out so badly that I stopped working out consistently for 2 months..further adding to my weight gain from this past year.
I am extremely aware of my hormonal imbalances. I still deal with them and I vow continue doing my best to lessen the big pendulum swing. The ultimate goal? To live a life in partnership with my hormones.
I do not want to be an EXTREMIST sticking to strict plan item by item. That NEVER works. I want a sustainable healthy food and lifestyle that works for me at this point in time. So let's check out my current game plan.
MY 2019 HORMONE HEALTH GAME PLAN:
EAT A HORMONE BALANCING DIET- We're talking adding in all of the organic grass-fed proteins, healthy fats like omega-3 rich salmon, extra virgin olive oil, eggs, nuts and seeds, tons of greens and cruciferous veggies and sweet potatoes, sea veggies like nori and dulse. And of course, tons of water!
CROWD OUT INFLAMMATORY FOODS like dairy, soy, wheat, gluten, processed oils and sugar 80% of the time! [We still need balance, right?]
SUPPLEMENT DAILY with prenatal, vitamin d, magnesium, probiotic, DIM and Vitex.
STRENGTH TRAIN CONSISTENTLY [but not over exercise]- 2-3x a week to keep my testosterone levels in a healthy balance for good libido, motivation and muscle tone.
STRESS MANAGEMENT - meditation, yoga 1-2x a week, reading fun fictional books more, journal, walking
DRINK LESS - meaning maybe once a week with friends. The goal is to not binge drink because that puts a lot of stress on my liver where estrogen is metabolized. 1-2 drinks will do the job.
CYCLE SYNC WITH MY HORMONES- I want to listen to my body each phase of the month. Depending on which phase I am in, I want to move my body and nourish it with things that will support my hormones optimally during that time.
DO LESS WORK, HAVE MORE FUN - Being my own boss for two companies can leave me sleepless and stressed. I want to make sure I am making FUN and SOCIALIZING also a priority this year. To find that healthy balance between work and play is key to my mental health.
SEE A THERAPIST - Because everyone has their own sh*t they have to deal with. It's incredible to talk it out with a non-biased third party every once in a while.
Again, when I do all of the things above, I feel my absolute strongest self. I need to remind myself that when I implement these changes and work in partnership with my hormones, I am the happiest and healthiest I can be.
First and foremost, ALWAYS consult with your doctor before doing anything when it comes to your health. If you can relate to a number of things in this blog, we highly suggest you go and see a functional medicine practitioner or a naturopath to get your hormones tested because the results can vary greatly from those of a conventional doctor. We do not want to generalize (there are conventional doctors out there that do ONE HELL OF A JOB in helping their patients) but in our own personal experiences, naturopaths and functional medicine practitioners tend to find the ROOT CAUSE of why things are happening (meanwhile my conventional doctors usually suggest medication), and can give you suggestions on how to move forward to restore your hormone balance in a natural way...
If you had NO SYMPTOMS or hormone imbalances before going on birth control and you feel fine on the pill: no, it may not be necessary for you to come off! It all depends on your goals.
If you had symptoms like acne, period cramps, pain, depression, anxiety before the pill and/or your doctor prescribed the pill to subside symptoms, or was diagnosed with a hormonal issue such as PCOS, endometriosis, fibroids, etc. --> yes, you might want to consider quitting the pill to find the root cause of your hormonal imbalances.
If you are interested in learning more about coming off the pill, please visit your doctor and get your hormones tested. In the meantime, email firstname.lastname@example.org - we can help support your journey by providing you a TON of resources to educate yourself and health coaching programs to guide you on your post birth control journey.