‘You 100% have REDs’
This is what I was told when I visited a Sports Doctor recently and opened up about EVERYTHING. My training load, my diet, my mental health and my (lack of) menstrual cycle. Was it a shock? To be honest, no. But was it still scary? Absolutely.
I have known something wasn’t quite right for a while. Since May 2017 I have had a grand total of 3 natural period cycles. My periods returned for a short time last summer when I was injured but apart from one very light day in November, they have completely disappeared. Now don’t get me wrong, I totally get the idea of not having a period sounds great – no bloating, no pain, no feeling uncomfortable, but unfortunately for females, periods are so so so important, and without them you can really be putting your health at risk.
I am going to be sharing my recovery journey with you. As always I am going to be brutally honest. I have no doubt this is going to be tough, but I hope that in sharing my story it will not only raise awareness, but hopefully if any of you are going through this too, it will help you with your own recovery.
So, here’s to getting my periods back, to getting my body working normally again, to being happy & healthy, and to becoming the best athlete I can be.
In this post I am going to give an overview of what REDs is, my own experience & where you can seek help if you need it.
And just to confirm, I am not in any way qualified to diagnose or offer professional advice. If you are at all concerned about yourself, or a friend or family member please seek professional help by either making an appointment with your GP, a Sports Doctor or a dietician that specialises in working with Athletes.
For more information & resources you can also visit the fantastic Train Brave website by clicking here.
What is RED-S?
RED-S stands for ‘Relative Energy Deficiency Syndrome’ – This was previously known as the ‘Female Athlete Triad’
In really simple terms, it basically means you are not giving your body the calories it needs to function properly. But this doesn’t always mean you are starving yourself. I eat a lot of food, but compared to the amount of exercise I do, it is obviously not enough for the rest of my body to keep working properly.
The diagram below shows the various risks that can be associated with RED-S. But please remember, even if you don’t have every single one on the list, it doesn’t mean you don’t have the condition.
It is also important to note here that RED-S can affect both female AND male athletes, but it is somewhat easier to first diagnose in females as one of the biggest warning signs is a lack of periods.
I have taken these directly from the Train Brave website, again if you have any of these signs please do not ignore them & seek professional advice.
- Lack of three consecutive periods in females or a change to a previously regular menstrual cycle
- Decline in morning erectile function in male athletes
- Poor development of muscle mass
- Difficulties staying warm in the winter and cool in the summer months
- Downy growth of hair all over the body
- Constipation or feeling bloated
- Pre-occupation and constantly talking about food
- Poor sleep patterns
- Restricting or strict control of food intake
- Overtraining or difficulties taking rest days
- Irrational behaviour
- Fear of food and weight restoration
- Severe anxiety
- Becoming withdrawn and reclusive
- Poor recovery between training sessions
- Digestive issues –athletes often become constipated and bloated
- Recurrent injuries, including stress fractures
As I said, you do not need to have every single sign or symptom to be affected with this, I certainly don’t, but there are quite a few on the lists I can tick off, including;
- Lack of periods
- Difficulty in controlling body temperature
- Constipation & Bloating
- Poor Sleep patterns
- Restricting & control over food intake
- Fear of gaining weight
And here are some other fun ones that I can also add to the list which I am sure are down to hormonal imbalances (I’ll warn you, they aren’t pretty!)
- Irregular bowel movements (similar to IBS)
- Night sweats
- Binge Eating (due to restricting & guilt around food)
I feel very fortunate that up until this point, I have not suffered any serious injuries, but I know this if I continue down this road, I wont always be this lucky. As a runner, one of my biggest fears is getting a stress fracture, and this is one of the biggest risks if your body is not producing the hormones needed to keep your bones strong & healthy (so if you hadn’t realised, periods are SO much more than just about having babies!)
My diagnosis is technically unofficial, so the next steps for me is to get various blood & hormone tests to really get an understanding of what is going on inside my body.
We are very fortunate to have the NHS in the UK, and I have already got my follow up appointment booked to go through by blood results in two weeks time. And after that? I am not so sure. Depending on the results I may then be referred for a DEXA Scan (to check my bone health & density) which personally I am really going to try and push for.
In the mean time, I have been advised that I need to eat more. A lot more. Now I know this sounds like the dream, but it’s not as fun as it sounds. More food = more calories = gaining weight.
This is going to be a whole other step to my recovery, and something I am also going to be seeking professional help for. Don’t get me wrong, I have no problem with the actual eating side of things, I bloody love my food. But the guilt that comes after, and the idea of gaining weight and my body changing is something I don’t quite know how to accept yet. BUT I am determined that I am going to get better. I love running so much & I want it to be part of my life for as long as possible, and unless I start looking after myself properly, that is not going to happen.
So, there we go! I have no idea when my next update will be (or what it will be!) but heres hoping it will be a good one!