Runner Tina Muir explains how she healed from amenorrhea
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An elite runner who stopped exercising after missing her period for nine years has revealed how resting and gaining weight on purpose helped her restore her fertility so efficiently, she got pregnant in just 10 weeks—and on her first ovulation in almost a decade.
Tina Muir, 29, announced in April she was taking time off running in an attempt to heal from amenorrhea (lack of period). The British elite runner, who has lived in the US for 10 years and is now based in Kentucky, once ran a 2:36 marathon and was an Olympic hopeful.
But while her running career was thriving, Tina was suffering from a condition called hypothalamic amenorrhea, which can occur when someone does intense physical exercise, eats a restricted diet, and has low body fat.
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Worked a charm! Elite runner Tina Muir (pictured) stopped exercising after missing her period for nine years, and got pregnant after just 10 weeks of resting and gaining weight on purpose
Performance: The British runner (pictured), who has lived in the US for 10 years and is now based in Kentucky, once ran a 2:36 marathon and was an Olympic hopeful
In that situation, amenorrhea occurs because the body isn’t ovulating. Causes can include stress and low energy reserves.
Tina had long had the lingering suspicion that her training could be causing her lack of periods, but for a while pushed the problem aside and resolved to deal with it at a later date.
In early 2016, however, Tina’s sister had a baby, and Tina decided it was time to make her health a priority over her running performances.
‘That was the thing that made me see what I was missing out on, and what I was potentially throwing away,’ she told Daily Mail Online.
At that time, Tina had already try a few methods to get her body working again, including starting birth control, stopping it, relaxing more, and changing her diet. When none of these did the trick, she realized the running would have to go.
With time, Tina also understood that while her diet didn’t seem restrictive to her and her weight was technically normal, she might have still been under-eating and maintaining a lower weight than what her body needed to be fertile.
Condition: Tina was suffering from hypothalamic amenorrhea, which can occur when someone does intense physical exercise, eats a restricted diet, and has low body fat
‘Although I thought I was eating enough and my weight was within the normal range, for me personally it wasn’t high enough,’ she said. ‘With the level of intensity I was training at, I couldn’t put enough calories back in.’
Her husband, who is also her running coach, was in a ‘difficult position’, Tina said, because while he wanted her to succeed as a runner, he also wanted Tina to be in good health.
The pair had set the 2018 Commonwealth Games as their ‘deadline’ to decide whether Tina would continue running or whether they wanted to start a family, but Tina ended up starting her break in late March this year.
‘I think he knew that I had made my mind up and he needed to support me,’ Tina said of her husband.
‘He was ready whenever I was ready, but he didn’t want to push me to stop the running or make me give up on my dreams for the sake of starting a family.’
In order to get her period back, Tina took three months off running, going from running 90 miles a week to none at all. She stopped all exercise for a month, and after that added back two strength training sessions a week to tend to her functional health.
The athlete, who also manages an online community called Running For Real, also started allowing herself to relax and rest, instead of feeling compelled to be productive at all times.
Meanwhile, she relaxed her diet, and happily started eating all the foods she had craved over the years but had stayed away from, because she needed to eat the right diet in order to feel good during her runs.
Rest: In order to get her period back, Tina (pictured left before her break and right pregnant) took three months off running, going from running 90 miles a week to none at all
Duo: Her husband (right), who is also her running coach, was in a ‘difficult position’, Tina said, because while he wanted her to succeed as a runner, he also wanted Tina to be in good health
‘Then, I allowed my body to balance itself out and started working with a registered dietitian,’ Tina said. ‘She taught me how to eat intuitively, eat when you’re hungry, stop when you’re full.’
The runner gained 15 pounds in total, and realized she was beginning to feel better about herself as a person even as she put on weight.
‘I had identified as a runner primarily, and that was the thing I had to separate myself from everyone else,’ she said.
‘And I realized that what’s more important than running is the relationships and connections you have to others in the world. Removing the need to look a certain way allowed me to be myself.’
Gaining weight was difficult at times, but Tina knew it was worth it. When the going got tough, she relied on her athlete’s mentality.
‘I definitely saw it as a challenge, and I think it’s a good thing for anyone in that situation to see it as something to beat,’ she said. ‘So rather than trying to beat a time or a new record, you’re trying to beat that amenorrhea.’
A hard part was going a few clothing sizes up and seeing cherished garments become too small. Tina ended up keeping some running clothes and giving away the rest, before setting herself another challenge: having fun picking it out new outfits.
While Tina approached her break from running as a long-term endeavor, and was prepared to give her body as much time as it needed to fix itself, she ended up seeing results much sooner than expected.
She purchased an ovulation kit, which enabled her to know whether she was ovulating or not. Tina, a self-described ‘data-driven person’, compared it to seeing her training logs as a runner.
Paying off: The runner gained 15 pounds in total, and realized she was beginning to feel better about herself as a person even as she put on weight
Slow and steady: Tina (pictured in an archive shot) approached her break from running as a long-term endeavor, and was prepared to give her body as much time as it needed to fix itself
Active: The runner has started exercising and running again, but she makes sure not to push herself too hard and to rest whenever she needs to
‘About three months after I stopped running, I happened to see a smiley face, which told me I was ovulating. My husband and I told each other there was no harm in trying,’ she said.
Tina ended up getting pregnant from that ovulation, the first her body had been through in nine years. She had gone into the experiment wanting to get her period back, but her pregnancy meant she didn’t get a bleed that time around either, albeit for different reasons.
‘It’s going to be, like, 11 years by the time I get it back,’ she said about her period. ‘I did manage to skip the bad part!’
Finding out she was pregnant after just 10 weeks of resting and gaining weight came as a surprise for Tina, and also reinforced the idea she had done what her body needed her to do.
‘It was pure joy to know I had done the right thing, that my body was healthy and functioning correctly,’ she said.
Tina, who is due in February 2018, is now running again throughout her pregnancy, but she does it for health and enjoyment rather than to try to meet rigid goals. She doesn’t hesitate to skip runs if she’s had a busy few days, which she said has made the practice much more enjoyable.
‘In the past, it was very intentional. Everything I did had a purpose,’ she recounted. ‘Now it’s a case of I aim for an hour, but if I don’t feel good I stop. Before, I’d say I’d run nine miles and I would, even if I had to crawl my way home.’
Passing it on: The runner (pictured in an archive snap) has found out she is expecting a daughter, and is determined to foster good body image in her home as a parent
Future Tina (pictured during her running break) has a gut feeling she’ll go back to professional running some day, but she is determined to make sure she’s tending to her health
The runner has since found out she is expecting a daughter, and is determined to foster good body image in her home as a parent.
‘Being a woman who had to go through this whole body change thing and realizing how much body dysmorphia I had, I definitely believe it happened for a reason that I’m having a girl,’ she said.
‘Now I have to talk the talk and walk the walk, because if I tell her she’s beautiful but she hears me saying to myself that I’m ugly, she’s not going to believe me.
‘I want to show her to be determined, that she can do whatever she wants to do, but to realize that at the end of the day it’s OK to step back and learn from the things you’ve done and things you’d like to do in the future.
‘I would like her to see there’s so much more to her than just the way she looks.’
Many women struggling with hypothalamic amenorrhea are afraid to stop exercising and to gain weight on purpose. Some of them are unsure it will help them heal, but Tina insisted learning how to rest is key, and sometimes the healthiest thing to do.
‘I know it’s absolutely terrifying, the idea of giving up running and exercise,’ she said.
‘You wonder if it’s going to be worth it, if it’s going to make a difference. I’d say try eating more first, try to gain some weight, if that doesn’t work, it’s time to do something more drastic.’
Most people who have tried giving up exercise in order to get their period back ended up sticking with it, Tina added.
In the near future, the athlete wants to make her baby girl her priority, and to make sure she enjoys her daughter’s first years as much as possible. She also intends to raise more awareness about hypothalamic amenorrhea, while helping women and men who struggle with body image.
On the running side, Tina has a gut feeling she’ll go back to professional running some day, but she is determined to make sure she’s fueling correctly and tending to her health.
‘If I lose my period again, it will be a signal to back off,’ she added. ‘I need to think of what’s best for my body.’