Periods, PCOS, and Putting On Weight…
So, I’m a woman…hopefully that’s obvious…and as a woman there are certain decisions that I have to make about my body on a day to day basis which revolve uniquely around being female. One of these is birth control, and unfortunately for me I’m not one of the lucky people who has it easy when it comes to what hormones I put in my body.
I have, for as long as I can remember, struggled with hormonal problems, and it has been a contributing factor in my problems with weight since the start of my very first period at the tender age of 11. And yes, I know that 11 is very early to start your period, and that was the first sign that this was not going to be an easy ride for me…not by a long shot. Good old Mother Nature…
Why am I writing about this you ask? Well I think it’s important, because not only has it informed my weight gain and weight loss over the years, something which many of the people who read this blog on a daily basis can relate to, but it’s informed my development as a person very deeply, making it an essential consideration whenever I think about how I will continue to develop as a human being for the rest of my life. Yes, I know this primarily is a food blog, but it’s also a lifestyle blog, and a weight loss blog… but if you’re on this article looking for a recipe then I’d head over elsewhere on my blog now, this is probably not for you!
Periods (not a dirty word by the way!) are also something which many people still struggle to talk about, and girls often find embarrassing when they shouldn’t. The vast majority of us girls have them, and many people think they’re odd or alone when there’s a problem, trust me it can be lonely! Talking about my issues when it comes to periods, hormones and contraception in a public forum will hopefully help shed light on someone else’s issues down the road, and that’s invaluable!
So with all that said and done, here goes…
Like I said, I started my period at the age of 11, and it sucked! When I say ‘sucked’, I mean above and beyond normal levels of suckiness, so off I went to the doctor where I was swiftly put on the combined contraceptive pill (one with a mix of oestrogen and progesterone) to try and level them out and help stop me needing to spend days every month lying in the sick bay clutching a hot water bottle like my life depended on it. It didn’t work, not really, and as the years went on not only did I develop astronomically heavy periods, but they started to happen more and more often…not a helpful once a month like the rest of my friends!
As the years went on I started to gain more and more weight because of these problems. My hormones were all over the place and what with trying different pills, feeling down about my body, an unwillingness to do sport because I was ALWAYS on my period, and generally becoming a particularly moody teenager, there didn’t seem much hope for things getting better. It didn’t help that it was a problem that I was to embarrassed to talk about to anyone, even my doctor, and so it just carried on. I dreamed of a day where someone would come along and tell me there was a magic cure to my period problems, and that they could make them go away entirely. The pill wasn’t working, although obviously as a contraceptive it was invaluable as I got a bit older, but frankly life was pretty crap as far as my uterus was concerned… and don’t even get me started on basically PMSing all the time!
Then the magic day arrived… THE IMPLANT! The nurse confidently told me that this would solve all of my problems…I wouldn’t have a period for the entire time I had the implant. I swear to god I cried.
Obviously it didn’t work out that way…I’m not that lucky! The Implant was a big fat fail, fat being the operative word. I put on even more weight in the time that I had it in…and I was genuinely on my period the entire time! I’d say that in the three or so years I had that implant in I was period free for about 20% of the time. Crap right?
In that time though I went to see a gynaecological specialist, on Harley Street no less, who listened to my symptoms (now branching out from period problems to highly inconvenient excess hair…gross!), and she told me that to her it sounded like I had PCOS…Poly Cystic Ovarian Syndrome. I can hear any other PCOS sufferer out there sounding a bit miffed at this point though…surely PCOS means you don’t have periods right? Well in about 80% of cases yes. I’m not going into it too much, this post is already quite long, but if you want to read more take a look at this website. In the majority of cases though PCOS does mean that the sufferer’s periods can often be months apart, one reason that many people with the condition struggle to get pregnant, but in some cases (like me) you can have the opposite problem where your periods are frequent and heavy (the hair growth is part of this too by the way).
These are some of the common symptoms of PCOS though, so if you do have any of these then it might be a good idea to see your doctor for some tests.
Anyway, I had scans on my ovaries which were inconclusive (possibly due to the fact I’d had the implant in) but my blood tests at the time indicated that PCOS was a pretty spot on diagnosis when combined with my physical symptoms. One of the treatments for PCOS is weight loss, but it took me a while to get around to that! By this point I was probably about 17, my periods were as sucky as ever and I was trying new versions of the pill every six months or so to try and manage my PCOS.
Fast forward a few years though, and things really weren’t really any better. I started Slimming World, lost some weight, started a new pill which seemed to make things better for a time, but still everything was pretty off. Losing weight with PCOS is hard, and whilst my symptoms may not be as severe as many other women out there, it slows the process down somewhat. By this point in my life though, I had learned to function with the problems I had, but I was still looking for a magical cure. So back to the doctor I went, begging for a new solution.
The Mirena Coil was my last option, and is often prescribed for those with symptoms of PCOS…after long discussions at the doctor and watching plenty of YouTube videos, I decided that this might just be the magic I was looking for. I had been off the pill for about 6 months at this point (using condoms of course!) and the coil promised, once again, to fix everything! No more periods sounded amazing at this point, literally a dream come true. I read the horror stories online, I listened to advice, I’d taken a few opinions on board, but frankly it was my last hope and I went for it.
The Mirena Coil is a hormonal coil, but it releases localised hormones. This means that it was the first thing that I would try which wouldn’t flood my system with extra hormones. Instead it releases them locally to thin the lining of the womb, and therefore no more periods!
The day came, I’d had all the swobs and checks, and it was time to get my miracle coil fitted. I am not going into detail, but for anyone considering getting it done I will tell you now that you and your doctor may have slightly different definitions of a few things. For instance ‘mild cramping’ or ‘a little bit of blood’. That’s all I’m saying about the procedure of getting it in, but all in all it wasn’t too bad…for a few hours at least! Sorry if that grossed anyone out!
Once the pain relief wore off though, boy was I in pain. My body felt like it had gone into labour, I was cramping up so badly that I had to go home and lie down…once again clutching a hot water bottle like my life depended on it. Fortunately for most, this pain isn’t so intense and if it is it’s very short lived. Most people who get this coil fitted have no issues, and go about their lives for the next five years period and pain free. Like I’d be that lucky!
I got the coil fitted nine days ago, and I put up with the pain for seven of those. I was in agony, my body wouldn’t stop cramping up and it was like nothing I’ve ever experienced. I have had the worst period pains, been bedridden for days because of them, but this was beyond anything my body had ever felt before. I now know that this wasn’t normal, and I should have gone back to the doctor much sooner than I did. It wasn’t until I had to miss a day of work that I called the doctor to talk about it. She explained that whilst what I was experiencing wasn’t entirely abnormal, it was just very unlucky.
Effectively what my body had been doing for nine days was trying to ‘expel’ the coil (sorry that’s disgusting I know!), but when I say it felt like being in labour I was legitimately having contractions! I’m sure it was only a fraction of what I will experience when the time does come to have a baby, and let me tell you now that knowing that is contraception in itself! The doctor even told me that she was amazed I had held on so long, and that most people who experience this are back within a couple of days to get it out. I guess I was just so desperate to make it work that I was willing to continue in pain, with the hope that it would get better eventually.
So the decision was mine…keep it in and hope that it gets better soon (with stronger painkillers!)…or get it taken out there and then. I opted for the latter. I made the decision that if my body wanted it out that much, I should probably listen to it.
That was at lunch time today, getting it removed is so much easier and less painful than having it put in, but now I’m left without options. I could of course choose to go back onto one of the many pills out there, but from experience that would make me gain weight like nobody’s business. I’m not prepared to put my body through that again, I’ve come a long way with the help of Slimming World and it’s a clear choice for me. My only option, without effecting my long term health, is to take myself off all hormonal or internal contraceptives and go back to basics (I’m sure Durex will be thrilled!). It’s a really shite realisation, but one that I’m going to have to accept. It’s almost a relief to know that I’ve run out of options, I’ve tried everything available and my only choice now is to learn to manage my periods as and when they come. Hopefully as I continue my Slimming World journey and more and more weight comes off, they’ll settle down, until then though it’s time to call it quits and hope for the best.
I’m not writing about this to depress anyone, or put anyone off trying different methods of contraception. Quite the opposite in fact, I want to make sure that people try every option until they find the one that’s right for them. Don’t put up with something which makes you feel bad or effects your body in a bad way just because it’s embarrassing to talk about. Push for a solution if things aren’t normal, and if you’re lucky you’ll find one. This is my experience, yours won’t be the same. If, like me, things don’t turn out quite so well then remember that you’re not alone. There are so many of us struggling to different degrees with our hormones and periods, so there’s always someone to talk to about it! So many women have it a thousand times worse than me, and that’s awful. What’s equally awful is the number of women around the world who suffer in silence.
I can say though that Slimming World is the only thing that has ever helped me lose weight whilst experiencing these problems, so if weight gain is a side effect of your hormonal imbalances then try it out, it might just make a difference! I’ve lost almost three and a half stone to date, something I never thought would be possible, and for the first time I can imagine that I might be able to fix the problems with my hormones through diet.
On that note I’m going to end this rather long thought for the day. Hopefully at the very least I’ve made it clear that ‘normal’ isn’t that normal when it comes to periods, and we’re all in it together!