Its been three weeks since posting the blog on why I chose to tap out of the quest to stand on the IFBB Pro League stage which is all set to kick off in Perth this weekend - what a different frame of mind I would be in had I not made that decision, ignoring the mental and physical signs.
I had no idea how my post would be received. It’s a little daunting writing about something so personal and posting it on an extremely public forum for anyone in the world to see; open to critique and opinion but honestly, I really didn’t care. You can’t win everyones approval and if you choose to make yourself vulnerable online for recognition or ego then you’ve already set yourself up for a major fall. That aside, I was surprised with the overwhelming support I received and continue to receive… it has been humbling to know other women have also been in this position - whether it be competitors who can relate to the side affects of competing or non-competitors who have experienced similar symptoms due to PCOS. Three ladies made contact and subsequently booked in appointments with my doctor as they have had the feeling ‘something just isn’t right’ for a while yet had done nothing about it - awareness is everything and if I can help by making you feel like you’re not alone and what you’re experiencing is… I won’t say normal but at the same time, definitely not abnormal then I’ve done more than I thought possible.
I remember I was at a family wedding in Isernia (Italy) - it was a hot day and everyone was feeling it but for me, the heat was affecting me so much I felt my organs were overheating. I was sweating down my back, down my legs and I couldn’t hold a conversation purely due to how uncomfortable the heat was making me. I had suffered from this for years but it was this trip in 2015 when I thought enough is enough. Heat sensitivity was what prompted me to see a doctor which is when my PCOS was diagnosed and I started taking Metformin. This is a drug that treats type II diabetics and also women with PCOS due to our insulin resistance - my heat sensitivity is almost cured 4 years on however Metformin is to treat another symptom which affects nearly all PCOS sufferers - insulin resistance.
What does this insulin resistance mean? Insulin is a hormone and helps control the amount of sugar (glucose) in the blood. If you’re ‘insulin resistant’ - the receptors we have don’t work as they should. Our muscles and liver resist the action of insulin which is to use glucose up as an energy source. So what happens? Instead of the body using what we have, it produces more of it in order to meet it’s needs without realising it already has enough to use. This is why weight gain is a common issue for PCOS sufferers - cravings for carbohydrates and sugar is a real thing, the feeling of not being ‘satisfied’ is a very real thing - your body is literally not recognising when it’s had enough.
What’s best for insulin resistance? A healthy lifestyle, weight loss and regular exercise. Well… I would say my lifestyle is on the higher end of the healthy spectrum - I’ve never smoked and can count how many alcoholic drinks I’ve had in 2018 (not counting my 3 week stint in Europe), I'm at 16% body fat (now that I'm enjoying life's pleasures) and I believe I exercise quite regularly. What on earth was I doing wrong?
When I received my blood test results, sat with my doctor, all my levels came out bang on within the normal range - the only question marks were of my oestrogen and progesterone as they were both low - I write ‘only’ when really these are major hormones and can affect you in so many different ways. Lets break it down…
...is produced in the ovaries, and allows us ladies to maintain a pregnancy. It helps regulate our cycle and gets our uterus ready for pregnancy by thickening the uterus lining to hold a baby to term. If there is low or no progesterone, the body is not equipped to hold a pregnancy - simple as! This is also the hormone that contributes to effectively using fats as a source of energy - if our body doesn't use fat as energy, guess where it goes? Yep! Stored as fat wherever it chooses to reside.
Signs of low Progesterone are headaches/migraines, mood changes (anxiety/depression), low libido, hot flashes, irregular menstrual cycle, intense sugar cravings, weight gain, night sweats, endometriosis, thyroid dysfunction.
Have you ever had night sweats? They would happen quite often when I was in London - I would sometimes wake up in a pool of sweat… I use to put it down to all the partying I did over there or exercise... I rationalised that it was my body’s way of ‘detoxing’ - ahhh so wrong!
...is a hormone that assists with the development of reproductive organs and ensures all is in working order. It’s also important for the brain and function of neurotransmitters that affect sleep, mood, memory, libido and cognitive factors such as attention span and learning. I used to think my lack of being able to focus on a task or poor memory was due to all the alcohol I consumed over the years but it turns out my hormones are to blame (I still think alcohol has had a supporting role in my life's play). Other things Oestrogen helps us with are decreasing our perception of pain, preserving bone mass and increasing HDL (high density lipids) - the good cholesterol, preserving elasticity and moisture content of the skin, dilating blood vessels and preventing plaque forming on blood vessel walls. It’s basically responsible for keeping a lot of things in check for a healthy and well balanced body = balanced life.
The thing with oestrogen is that athletes often have low levels of it. Fat helps regulate Oestrogen, so if you have a low body fat percentage this is going to work against you. In 3 weeks, I’ve gained BF, taking me up to 16% which is still really low for a female however it comes with the pressure of still wanting to look lean. A lot of my clients (if not all) complain about the little bit of fat (tyre) around their mid section - PCOS suffers will get this in almost all cases and for me, my mid section is my only area of real concern for this reason. What combats it? A regular exercise regime with focus on bone strengthen exercises - also a good nutrition plan that is consistently adhered to. Have a look at the condition I got to on stage and the condition I was in post show for weeks… my body right now is still looking fairly lean and I contribute it to my strength work and consistent nutrition. Further to this… I’m not competing now and have decided to take a more relaxed approach to my eating which means socialising more which then funnels though to drinking wine - I will and cannot drink the same volume as I use to.. 1. My job simply will not allow it. 2. I don’t see any benefit in, what I now consider, abusing my body.
Getting back to the remedy for my low hormone levels - my doctor prescribed me progesterone compound troches which have a consistency similar to play dough, moulded into square, embossed into four smaller squares. I break one in half and half again, squishing two of the four down to a pancake, placing them under my top lip, above my two front teeth at night before bed. They dissolve whilst I sleep. My dose of Metformin has also gone up by 500mg to 1,500mg per day. Has it worked? I have zero idea and at the moment, I’m going through the motions in the hope that i’ll miraculously start to regulate my cycle and start to feel in control of my cravings for all things carbs and sugar. My hair is no longer falling out in troves and it's no longer concerning me. I am taking Apotecari's Mane Event which promotes healthy hair growth - the reviews for this product are next level so it may be a contributing factor. The other piece of advice was to reduce my exercise volume per week and gain body fat… I am not training as much as I was for comp prep and have gained some body fat. It’s a tough ask when you’re conditioned to look after yourself by exercising and building lean muscle - who knew it could have an adverse affect should you sway too much towards the good side… everything in moderation right? You gotta hit that sweet spot! I am the first person to put their hand up and say ‘yes, I want everything yesterday’ I probably hold the flag up for it but this is one area where no matter what I do, time is always going to be the deciding factor for when my body transitions to a healthy state, working as efficiently as it can so for now, I will do what needs to be done.