Hospitals, Health, and Healing – My New Life!

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If you’ve read my previous posts, you know that the past few weeks have been a wild ride, health-wise. However, they have been a blessing in disguise because I have truly redefined what ‘living’ means to me.

Pituitary Update

As some of you know from my previous post, I was working with doctors to determine whether I have a pituitary dysfunction that is causing my amenorrhea. The last few weeks involved an MRI scare – they found a little formation on my pituitary gland, the exact classification of which was TBD – followed by several blood and urine tests (delightful, I know).

The doctors were trying to determine whether I had a pituitary adenoma – a collection of cells that form a benign (non-cancerous) tumor, which often secretes some sort of hormone – or a Rathke’s Cleft cyst. A Rathke’s Cleft cyst is also a benign condition, but unlike a pituitary adenoma it does NOT secrete anything – it is likely something I was born with and is completely harmless, unless it grows in size (and affects my vision by putting pressure on the optic nerve), which is extremely unlikely. According to my doctor 1 in 5 people have this condition and it goes un-diagnosed; people with the cyst live completely normal and healthy lives, and it is often only discovered in an autopsy.

Now let’s come back to pituitary adenoma’s and how blood / urine tests are used to diagnose an adenoma vs. a cyst. There are 4 types of pituitary adenomas:

1. Prolactinoma – secretes prolactin (hormone that produces breast milk)
2. Growth hormone-secreting (IGF) pituitary adenoma
3. Cushing’s Disease (ACTH-secreting pituitary adenoma) – ACTH produces cortisol (the stress hormone)
4. Thyrotropinoma (TSH-secreting pituitary adenoma) – TSH is a thyroid hormone

The Results 

AMAZING NEWS – turns out I don’t have a pituitary adenoma:

1. NOT a Prolactinoma – normal prolactin levels
2. NOT a Growth Hormone-Secreting pituitary adenoma – normal IGF levels
3. NOT Cushing’s Disease (non ACTH-secreting pituitary adenoma) – normal ACTH and urine cortisol levels
4. NOT a Thyrotropinoma (TSH-secreting pituitary adenoma) – normal TSH

So the diagnosis is a cyst – it is benign and, thank GOD, will not affect me at all! I feel so INCREDIBLY blessed and grateful!

AND EVEN MORE GOOD NEWS – my estrogen and FSH levels are up, which means that I am making significant progress on the amenorrhea front too, and hope to get my period back soon!

My Life Forward

I have now learned to take a step back and put things into perspective. About a week ago, I weighed myself after a VERY long family vacation and no exercise. I was still eating between 1800 – 2000 calories per day, but had more variations – for example, I had one day of 2600, and another of 1450. I was pretty happy, because I take that this is what normal eaters do – intuitive eating with the occasional indulgence and no guilt.

However, the guilt came – I weighed myself and the scale showed 131.5 (I am about 5’6 and 3/4). Now granted (and I know this is TMI), but I have been a tad bit constipated, and fly weekly for work, so this number could have reflected water retention, but obviously I was upset. I had been maintaining at 127 for a while, and then saw a jump to 129 prior to my vacation, which I had made peace with. I did not take the 131.5 well!

That’s when I took a step back and replayed the past few weeks through my head – I had just experienced the scariest, potentially life-threatening, medical finding of my life. I had to be grateful for my normal pituitary results, and for the fact that I had made progress on the female hormone front. Sure, I’ve gained weight, but y’know what, I am NOT fat. Some people’s bodies just CANNOT handle low weights – we’re all so, so different! So I am happy; happy, grateful, and rejuvenated with positivism.

Lessons on Eating

I think I can finally say *knock on wood* that I am transitioning to becoming a ‘normal’ eater – I have days where I eat close to 2200, and others where I eat about 1600. I am LISTENING to my body and eating intuitively, without depriving myself. I am conscious of satisfying cravings when they hit, and luckily I never crave junk – my excess calories are usually from a Kit’s Organic Bar, 85% raw cacao dark chocolate, Greek yogurt, or nuts!

Here’s to being grateful for all that you have – you only have one body, so please love and respect it!

Happy healing!

Girl Guilt-Free

“Do Whatever Makes You Feel Good”

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Sometimes I catch myself feeling guilty about blogging – I should be using every free moment I have (when I am not working) to study for my GMAT, right? (Ah yes, forgot to throw in that little detail about myself, haha). But, you know what? To hell with saying “should” – it is not about what you “should do,” but what you “want” to do, and what makes you feel good.

Blogging is cathartic for me; blogging lifts a huge load off of my chest, and actually makes me feel as though I am making an impact in the community by spreading awareness and maybe helping someone else in the same situation. So that’s the though of the day folks – “do whatever makes you feel good,” and I firmly believe that you will see things fall in to place. 🙂

Stay happy, stay positive!

Happy healing,

Girl Guilt-Free

First Steps to Recovery

Today I received an email from a beautiful young girl who wanted some advice. I realized that the questions she asked are likely questions that a lot of other lovely ladies may have, so I wanted to share my response.

So, you think you have Hypothalamic Amenorrhea, and you have NOT been on the pill, so you don’t think this is the cause. What should you do?

First Things First

Congratulations on commencing your journey to recovery – acceptance is the first step. I recommend that you start by seeing your primary care provider and having blood tests done. The doctor will check your Estradiol, LH, and FSH levels. You may also want to ask to have your thyroid function checked via the blood tests to make sure that thyroid issues are not the root cause of the amenorrhea. Vitamin D levels would also be good to get checked. Vitamin D helps our bones absorb calcium. In women with amenorrhea, the low levels of estrogen can prevent our bones from absorbing adequate calcium, making us more susceptible to osteoporosis.

What’s The Cause?

It is important to know that Amenorrhea can be at 4 levels:

1. Hypothalamic

– This is where my amenorrhea is rooted. Excessive exercise and restrictive eating cause our hypothalamus (the part of our brain that regulates hormone function) to panic. It essentially enters ‘survival mode’ due to lack of nutrition, and shuts off all ‘unnecessary functions’ in order to make sure the body survivors. Unfortunately, reproduction is not a function that is essential to our survival, so my hypothalamus just told my body to stop producing Estradiol, LH and FSH.

2. Pituitary / Thyroid

3. Ovarian

4. Uterine
Start With Your Doctor – Blood Tests
Starting with a blood test will help your doctors confirm that your amenorrhea is rooted in the excessive exercise and restrictive eating. I don’t want to scare you at all, and just want you to be aware, so it’ important to get the blood tests done to make sure that nothing else is the root cause – does that make sense? Honestly, when I went in, my doctor just checked for everything:
– Vitamin D 25 Hydroxy
– Estradiol
– Follicle Stimulating Hormone
– Luteinizing Hormone
– CBC and Platelet Count
– Lipid Panel
– Prolactin
– DHEA Sulfate
– Testosterone Total Free
– Hemoglobin A1C
– TSH with Reflex FT4, FT3
– Comprehensive Metabolic Panel
If you’re scared of blood tests, don’t worry, all of these tests were conducted with one sample set i.e. I did NOT have to get my blood drawn multiple times.
What You Can Do
Nutrition
Caloric Intake
If you have been restricting caloric intake, I would start by slowly increasing. I know a lot of HA blogs say “increase to 2500+ per day,” and as someone who has been so conscious about their weight, I know that’s hard. For example, i am about 5’7, and weigh between 125 – 129 lb. I was restrictive at 1200 for the longest time. I started by increasing by 150 per day, every week, so that after about 4 weeks I got close to 1900. I now eat between 1800 – 2000 (I still log, because it makes me feel less stressed) and I try to LISTEN to my body and hunger levels.
Macro-Nutrients
It is really important to make sure you are getting at least 60g of healthy fats per day. Incorporate nut butters, avocados, and seeds in to your daily intake. I also started taking a few supplements, which you can find on my blog. 🙂 I did NOT take a calcium supplement, because some research indicates that these can increase your risk of heart-disease. Instead I increased my intake of greek yogurt and dairy, and tracked my calcium intake using My Fitness Pal.
Estrogen-Boosting Foods
I wrote a post on my blog about this, so feel free to reference that!
Your doctor will likely refer you to a nutritionist or nutritional therapist. The one my doctor referred me to was SUPER EXPENSIVE, and basically did not tell me anything I did not know – limit exercise; eat 1800-2000; increase fat intake. However, what she did tell me is that I DON’T have to worry about gaining weight – I just need to maintain. She has also helped me transition towards being a normal eater. I plan to share these insights on future blog posts because I don’t want other girls to have to worry about paying $160 / hour like I did.
Keep in mind, don’t scare yourself, or let anyone scare you in to thinking that you “HAVE TO GAIN WEIGHT.” Let’s not worry about the weight part for now – I certainly have not. Getting your period back is about showing your brain what ‘balance’ means, and so for now i am focusing on maintaining my weight, and incorporating healthy fats in to my diet, along with an increased caloric intake.
Exercise
I would suggest taking a few weeks off from exercise. If this is really hard – you mentioned just walking has been really hard – then limit exercise to 3 times a week. I have a post on my blog about what exercises I do as well. Definitely lay off high-intensity cardio.
This journey requires patience. I should also let you know that it is COMPLETELY normal to have emotional fluctuations and breakdowns – in fact, this can be a sign that your hormones are kicking in. Don’t let your emotions scare you – let them out!
Happy healing!Lots of love,

Girl Guilt-Free

How to Sit at Your Desk to Avoid Pain (INFOGRAPHIC)

I wanted to re-blog this wonderful post on preventing neck and back pain whilst working / studying.

I have been experiencing a stiff left shoulder, and some neck pain as a result of my long commutes in-flight, my work posture, and constantly studying at tables and on planes. I do yoga regularly, and got a massage yesterday. These things help, but I recommend you to consult a chiropractor for a diagnosis and natural corrective options (e.g. massage, exercises) if your pain persists.

Our health is rooted in our back, so don’t ignore your spinal health!

The Basic Life

James Cannon, the chair expert, created this comprehensive infographic illustrating the proper way to adjust your office chair to avoid fatigue and back pain. Getting the proper alignment is more complicated than you might think. Check your desk chair now and follow these steps to a pain-free and productive workday.

How to sit at your desk

How did you do? Share your experience below!

Visit the entire article at How To Adjust Your Office Chair | 6 Easy Steps | Comfy Office Chair | The Ultimate Guide to Best Office Chairs.

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“Mind over matter” isn’t so simple – my new-found perspective on mental health.

Many of you may have heard the story of Madison Holleran, the UPenn athlete who took her life earlier this year.

Reading Madison’s story gave me a new-found perspective – I need to take my emotions more seriously. Ever since I was diagnosed with Hypothalamic Amenorrhea, my emotions have been on a roller coaster ride of their own. I have opened up to a few close friends and family members about my condition, but for some reason (and this is no one’s fault at all) their reactions have just made me feel more empty; more alone. I am often met with “you’ll be fine” responses, or with anger from a friend who is concerned about why I did not take action any sooner.

So, why didn’t I take action any sooner? My period went MIA over a year ago, so the right thing to do would have been to see a doctor ASAP, right? Well, this is where my mental struggle began to play out. I was so obsessed with looking “perfect” and hitting that “perfect weight” that I did not want anything to stand in the way of me and my goal. After being teased for being overweight my entire life, there was no way I was going to go back to my old self, especially after everyone had noticed my tremendous weight loss. I wanted to continue to be noticed and congratulated, and I feared that a doctor would ask me to eat more. “They wouldn’t understand,” I remember thinking to myself – I thought that I knew my body the best, and that no one would understand that eating like a ‘normal person’ (1800-2000 calories / day) would make my body gain weight. “It’s not fair,” I remember thinking every day, but I told myself that my body was just ‘special’ and ‘different,’ and that my terrible metabolism would just make me fat again if I ate more.

I now recognize that this obsession with perfection (which I would never reach by the way, because I kept lowering my weight goal) was completely unhealthy, and perhaps even indicative of a greater mental problem. A lot of this has to do with the way I was raised, and the perception that most of my close friends and family have of people who struggle with eating disorders or depression. Mental health issues were always an uncomfortable topic, so naturally it was hard for me to accept that perhaps I too, was struggling. I thought I was too intelligent and well-informed to have an eating disorder or a skewed perception of my body. I could not justify spending hundreds of dollars to see a therapist because I was convinced that sadness was a state of mind that I could easily talk myself out of by being rational.

When I read stories like Madison’s, I am scared. In this case fear may be a good thing though. According to my nutritional therapist, I do not have an eating disorder; I just had a series of disordered and obsessive eating habits. I, however, know that the extent to which I think about food, and worry about eating too much (every second, of every day) is NOT healthy. So here’s to taking my emotions more seriously, and continuing to seek professional help. I am sure my close friends / family mean well, but at this point I need more than a “you’ll be fine.” I need to take care of my brain and emotions before they spiral out of control and leave me feeling unhappier than ever before.

I must say a HUGE thank you to anyone who has read this post. This one was a long one, but I needed to let my thoughts out. 🙂

Lots of love,

Girl Guilt-Free

Fight the cold and flu, naturally!

Aye, cold and flu symptoms are no fun 😦

I am possibly the WORST sick person there is. Not that anyone’s really a good sick person, but y’know, not everyone is as dramatic as I can be lol. So whether it’s a cold or a little ache or pain, my mind decides it wants to be mega-unhappy when I’m sick. Now wallowing in self-pity and stressing myself out because of the sniffles and a sore throat is neither smart, nor ideal given I have bigger things to worry about (Hypothalamic Amenorrhea), which are only aggravated by stress.

That being said, I do prefer natural routes to recovery when possible. Recovering from HA is enough stress on my body, so I try to limit overdosing on symptom-suppressant medications.

Viruses – ODing on DayQuil or NyQuil isn’t curing you!
One thing to know – when you have a virus like the common cold, taking medications like DayQuil and NyQuil is only going to SUPPRESS your symptoms, and they are not going to ‘cure’ you. Your body is going to go through the full cycle of a virus, whether you like it or not. That’s why, I opt for natural symptom suppressants. 🙂

These are some of the herbal remedies I am using right now, and hope to be rid of this sore throat ASAP!

Note: I am not a medical professional, and am simply blogging about certain products that I have found beneficial. You should consult your primary care provider before starting any medicine or supplement.

1. Olive Leaf Spray – I use about 3-5 sprays (directly on my throat) about 4-5 times per day. Olive leaf spray is supposed to be an immune booster, and it works wonders on a sore throat! I got mine at Whole Foods.

Photo Source: http://images.iherb.com/l/BAR-70002-2.jpg

2. Umcka Cold+Flu – I chew 1 tablet, 4-5 times per day. I believe it is supposed to have the same effect as DayQuil, and it is actually kind of yummy, haha. Again, I purchased this at Whole Foods.

Photo Source: http://images.iherb.com/l/NWY-15161-4.jpg

3. Nin Jiom – this Chinese health supplement is PHENOMENAL. It seriously helps reduce all cold and flu symptoms. It is completely natural, so is also a great tonic to take on a regular basis. I dissolve 1 tbsp in hot water, which soothes my throat, and drink it twice a day. You can also drink 1 tbsp directly, without the hot water – it kind of tastes like cherry licorice. TIP: see if you can buy the sachets, it’ll prevent you having to measure out the liquid every time. You should be able to find this at an Asian super market, or online.

Image Sources: http://www.yinhealth.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/Nin-Jiom.jpg; http://www.watsons.com.sg/medias/sys_master/back/zoom/8806528417822.jpg

4. Indian “Golden” Milk – turmeric is such a fabulous health tonic, and it also really helps sore throats and coughs. When I’m feeling lazy, I just add 1/2 tsp to 1 cup almond milk (the original Indian recipe calls for regular milk, but I find that can thicken phlegm), and microwave it for about 1.5 minutes (watch it closely to make sure it doesn’t overflow – turmeric will stain!). I usually throw in a couple of cardamom pods, cinnamon sticks, cloves, and some star anise. Fresh mint may be a nice addition too! In browsing the web for a pretty photo of turmeric milk, I found this delicious recipe on The View from Great Island‘s blog:turmeric tea recipe

Nourishing My Soul – Supplement Series!

More on the Hypothalamic Amenorrhea (HA) healing diet. The following is a list of supplements I take in order to keep my lovely lady hormones happy. 🙂

Supplementing Happy Hormones

1. Multivitamin – I love this brand because it is made from organic whole foods, and is rich in probiotics, vitamins, and minerals that boost hormone health, immunity, and help reduce stress. I take 2 every morning (empty stomach is fine).

Image Source: http://g-ecx.images-amazon.com/images/G/01/hpc/detail-page/B003DH7S20_everywoman_multi_main.jpg

2. Fish Oil – I love that this brand is all-natural, and is lemon-flavored which prevents the fishy aftertaste / fish-breath – Yay! I take 2 (1,280 mg total) every morning, with breakfast.

Image Source: http://www.vitacost.com/Images/Products/1000/Nordic-Naturals/Nordic-Naturals-Ultimate-Omega-Lemon-768990037900.jpg

3. Biotin – as I explained, when your body is under a lot of stress, it cuts back on functions that it deems ‘not essential.’ Believe it or not, thick, healthy hair and nails are ‘not essential’ to your survival my friends. A lot of women with HA, may experience thinning hair or brittle nails. Luckily (*knock on wood*), I didn’t experience huge changes in my hair or nails, but I did notice a slight thinning of my hair. My doctor suggested that I could try a biotin supplement. I take 1 (5 mg / 5,000 mcg) every morning, with breakfast.

Image Source: http://images.iherb.com/l/CLF-06506-14.jpg

4. Yogi Woman’s Moon Cycle Tea – I try to drink at least 1-2 cups a day, but I must admit that I am not very regular about it.

YT14-WomansMoonCycle-NewDesign-V1-3DLeft-300DPI-RGB

Image Source: https://www.yogiproducts.com/teas/womans-moon-cycle/

5. Traditional Medicine Healthy Cycle Tea – I like the taste of this one much more than the Woman’s Moon Cycle, and try to drink it 1-2 times a day. Again though, I am not very regular about this – whoops!

Image Source: http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/71CRbgQXy1L._SY550SX411_SY550_CR,0,0,411,550_PIbundle-6,TopRight,0,0_SX411_SY550_CR,0,0,411,550_SH20_.jpg

What about Calcium?

What I have not started taking is a calcium supplement, as several recent studies have associated calcium supplements with increased risk of heart disease. A lot of this seems to be due to the calcium carbonate used in these supplements. I therefore try to get my calcium from natural food sources (more on that later).

What about Vitamin D?

A lot of women with HA recommend taking a Vitamin D supplement. Per my blood tests, my Vitamin D levels were level (yay – thank goodness). If your Vitamin D levels are low, I would have a conversation with your primary care provider or nutritionist. Note that Magnesium is important to enable your body to absorb Vitamin D, so you may be asked to take a magnesium supplement along with your Vitamin D supplement. In my case, I try to get enough sun, and incorporate magnesium-rich food sources like in to my diet like bananas, dark chocolate, dried fruit, nuts, whole grains, and dark leafy vegetables.

As you may have guessed, I am kind of an ‘all-natural nerd.’ If any of you are on the same path to recovery from HA and have tried anything other dietary supplements, please feel free to share your story. Please remember that this blog is an open forum, aimed at providing a support system for women around the world. 🙂

Happy healing!

Lots of love,

Girl Guilt-Free