“Fitness” Made Me Infertile

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I’ve contemplated for many months if I should publish this or not. It’s a story I’m not necessarily proud of, but at the same time, I am proud because it’s my journey and I’ve come a long way. Besides, if my experience can help just one soul out there, it’s worth the vulnerability of exposing this to the world.

So here goes nothing. Put your seatbelt on, because this one is quite the ride.

For the past ten years, I’ve been slowly killing myself.

Weapon of choice? Kale and running shoes. No, really. This is true. The ironic part? I thought I was the healthiest human in the world. I was toned, I had a six pack, I never skipped my 5-mile daily run, and I did crunches and push ups every night before I went to bed. I ate heaping piles of “lean protein” and vegetables and devoured berries, bananas and apples daily.
People told me I was skinny, and complimented me on my ripped arms and quick WOD times in crossfit. I could beat the guys at pull-up contests and I could hold a plank for 6 minutes straight. I was known as the fitness girl, and I was unstoppable.
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Occasionally I would wonder if I was pushing myself too hard. That maybe when I had a sinus infection or a pulled muscle I should skip my morning workout routine, but I was addicted. I was addicted to the rush of pushing myself physically and mentally, and I liked how I looked. I was comfortable with the number on the scale and I secretly felt proud of myself when I turned down a piece of cake because that meant I was healthy.

My mind was sick.

And so was my body.

I hadn’t had a natural period since I was 14, but I’d been on birth control for years, so I figured everything was fine.

I began to have horrible digestion issues and was diagnosed with IBS and SIBO. Of course I didn’t correlate this with my low weight and malnourished body. Instead I restricted further, cutting out gluten, dairy, sugar, all processed foods, believing that these were the culprits behind my gut distress. Things only got worse.

When I went off birth control and didn’t have a period, I got my hormone levels tested. My blood work came back reflecting the levels of a post-menopausal woman. I was 22. I was advised to get a DEXA scan to test for weakened bones because of the lack of estrogen in my body. That’s when I learned that I had osteopenia. If I didn’t do something to improve my bone strength, I would have osteoporosis at the ripe old age of 30. I was devastated and scared. I heard that weight-bearing exercise helped strengthen bones, so I increased my exercise, jogging the track while carrying 20 pound plates. I truly believed I was helping myself to heal.

I was able to sustain my rigid lifestyle for those 9 or 10 years, but then, at 23 years old, my body hit a wall. I started to have chest pain, weird heart palpitations. I wasn’t sleeping well, my hair was thinning, I was anxious, stressed out and very unhappy.

And I wanted a baby.

But turns out you can’t make a baby when you’re infertile. “Fitness” had robbed me of my fertility. Instead of a baby I had six-pack abs, osteopenia and hypothyroidism.

I was broken.
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After some Web MD-ing (I’ve gotten too familiar with that website) I diagnosed myself with hypothalamic amenorrhea (HA) and started researching. HA occurs when your hypothalamus (a region of your brain) senses that your body doesn’t have enough resources to keep living. This can come from overexercise, under-eating, mental stress, or a combination of the three. In order to help you survive, your hypothalamus shuts off your reproductive organs, slows down your thyroid and down-regulates your metabolism. That way your brain and heart have enough energy to keep you alive.

Our bodies are so smart.

In my research, I learned that in order to reverse HA, I needed to make my body trust me again. I needed to gain weight and stop exercising. I needed to let my body have what it had been craving for years…food and rest. And lots of it.

I’m a very determined person, so I told myself I could do this. I sat on my bum and ate ice cream for two months. I cut all exercise besides walking and yoga. I gained 20 lbs. It was hard.

But I started to feel good. I had energy. My heart palpitations started to disappear. I felt a freedom I hadn’t felt in years because I was no longer a slave to my morning workout routine. I no longer planned my day around my workouts, instead I did yoga if I wanted to and if I didn’t feel like it, I’d skip that day.

It was hard to watch my body change. Good bye abs, hello cellulite. My clothes didn’t fit anymore, and I felt huge. But occasionally I would get a glimpse of my now slightly curvier body and think “hmm, this is how a woman is supposed to look.”


(Note: these are the two and ONLY mirror selfies I will ever publish to the internet, so…ya. Don’t judge.)

I almost gave up, multiple times. When it had been 6 months and still no period, I started to slip back into my old exercise routine, figuring it was too late for me to get my fertility back. I had ruined my body and now I had to pay the consequences for my decisions.

But just as I was giving up for good, I stumbled on a book called “No Period, Now What.” It was just the push of motivation that I needed. With the incredible support of the online HA community and the knowledge and motivation the book offered, I decided to go “all-in” for a few more months and see what happened.

I took a deep breath, and settled in for the long haul. No exercise. Minimum of 2,500 calories a day.

Rinse and repeat.

I’ve been facing this fight for 9 months now and my battle is not yet over. I still have to wake up every. single. day. with the determination to eat ALL THE THINGS and don’t stop till I’ve won. I know my body is waiting for me to get to its “happy weight”…the weight where it finally trusts me again. Only then will it give me my fertility back.

That day might come tomorrow, or it may come with another 20 lbs of weight gain. Only God knows my plan, so for now, I just wake up and try to face each new day with faith and a big bowl of ice cream. It’s so hard to be patient. It’s hard to trust the process and be ok with the weight gain. But I know it will all work out how it’s supposed to.

Looking back, sometimes I feel angry at myself for letting this happen in the first place. But then I remember it was all done in innocence. I never meant to harm my body. I had just compared myself to my “skinny” friends and saw photos of “fit” people on Instagram and told myself I wanted that. I truly believed I was living a healthy lifestyle. Oh how wrong I was.

True “health” and beauty are so much more than having 6-pack abs and wearing size 2 jeans. Who ever decided that was beautiful anyways? Just because society has put a stamp of approval on restrictive diets and skinny girls taking gym bathroom mirror selfies doesn’t mean that’s something we should strive for. I did strive for that and guess where it landed me? In the doctor’s office with weak bones, infertility and a disordered mindset of what’s healthy and beautiful.

Now I am the heaviest I’ve ever been in my life. I kissed my six-pack abs goodbye months ago. I had to throw out my entire wardrobe and I canceled my gym membership. (For now at least).

But I am happier than I’ve ever been in my life, because now I am free. I no longer base my worth on how many calories I did or didn’t eat, how many miles I did or didn’t run or how my skinny jeans do or don’t fit. Now I value myself because I am a daughter of God and a wife to an incredible husband. I am meant to be a mom someday and that’s what really matters. I value and respect my strong body that is so, so forgiving and resilient. And I’m sorta thankful for the extra fat on my body because it means I am healthy, happy and full of life.

I’m not saying I’m done with “fitness.” Oh, heavens no! I will always love being active. Once my body is healed, I will continue to hike, run, lift heavy weights and rock climb. But now I have a much more balanced idea of what “fitness” looks like. It doesn’t control me like it used to. Now I see fitness as a luxury that I get to enjoy when my body is rested and properly fueled. Everything has changed for me. And for those girls out there who are struggling with a toxic mindset of what “fit” and “healthy” is, I pray things can change for you too.

I hope you can stop comparing yourself to photoshopped models and Instagram fitness accounts. UNFOLLOW THEM. Get them out of your phone, out of your head, out of your life. We need to stop forcing our bodies to conform to our idea of what beauty looks like. Instead, honor what your body wants. If it needs ice cream, eat the dang ice cream and don’t look back. If it needs a day, a month, a year away from the gym, honor that.


Throw your scale away and eat food. Lots of it. And please, by all means, don’t go down the road I did. I learned the hard way so you don’t have to. You are more than the size of your body! You are YOU, so love that, flaunt that and live the life God intends you to live, which I can promise you, is not one full of celery and treadmills.

*If you’ve recovered from HA and would be willing to take this survey, I would really appreciate it! The survey was created by the author of “No Period Now What?” to study the effects of exercise on recovery.
*Note: To read an update on my story, see this post!
*Note: Edited on 08/14/17 to add “lean protein” because of some comments I received. I wanted to clarify that I actually was eating animal protein before my weight gain, not just fruits and veggies.

154 thoughts on ““Fitness” Made Me Infertile

  1. Oh my goodness. This post is just what I needed to hear. I lost my period over a year ago (after going off of birth control) and have yet to get it back. At first I thought it was because of the pill, but I don’t think so any more. After getting tests done and seeing multiple doctors, nothing seems to be wrong with me on the outside. However, I workout 5-6 days a week, lifting weights and doing cardio. Although I’m muscle, My body fat percentage is on the lower end. I want my period back so badly.

    1. Hannah, I can completely relate. It’s such a frustrating process trying to figure out why your fertility is compromised when you feel like you’re doing everything “right.” But as I’ve learned the hard way, there is such a thing as being too “fit.” I would highly recommend reading Nicola Rinaldi’s book “No Period Now What.” And if you ever want to chat, ask me questions, etc. please reach out! I would love to help you through this process. And FYI, about two weeks after I published this post, I got my period back. So the recovery plan works! It really, really does. Trust the process, you’ll get there. 🙂

      1. Thank you so, so much for your kind words. It’s absolutely terrifying to think that I could be hurting my body in an irreversible way, all from living a lifestyle that I love… it’s such a painful situation to be in. I’m only 20, but I want more then anything to have a family one day, and I’m willing to try anything. I can’t wait to get my hands on that book. Thank you ❤

      2. I should add Sarah, that you can get the ‘Exercises’ from the 2 main books on the subject, plus from an app. Note: in case of injury in the area of the pelvis (physical or psychological), trauma history, high sensitivity…..etc, it is strongly advised to seek the help of a practitioner – details on the main website. Onto your google searches folks. You must ‘want’ it if it’s going to help you. And ease off the running pedal 🙂

  2. It’s beautiful to read you story of rediscovering who you are and that you are allowing yourself to come into partnership with your body. It’s your home and it’s always been here for you. It’s helped you through the hardest times and it will be fully healed to hold the future that is already in your heart and mind. You are a precious being and I am glad I read your story. I too know what it’s like to be fit and ill. It’s been a long road for me, and I am happy you are walking it in your own way, too. It is already so much better for you. So much better. Hug yourself tight tonight, and rest in the loving support of your close ones, love is like a warm blanket for the hypothalamus ❤

  3. This might be one of the greatest post I’ve ever read. “Balance in all things.” Thank you for putting your story out there.

  4. Such a great post! I definitely think there is a huge issue in the fitness industry where people aren’t getting the balance right, and their obsessiveness is destroying them. Both in mind and body. I pray that one day you you get your baby xxx

    1. Thank you! It’s so true…balance is SO important, and I think the scales are tipping a little too far to the extreme right now in the fitness industry. That’s honestly one reason why I decided to publish my experience…to shed some light on this issue. Thanks for your support and encouragement, it means a lot. XX

  5. i want to love this post because I do understand what you mean by challenging society’s pressures and deciding to be healthy rather than appear to be so, but please…


    Just because you’re not curvy doesn’t make you any less of a woman. Just because youre a size 2 in jeans doesn’t make you less beautiful.
    Thank you for focusing on a healthy mindset and habits, but keep the insensitive remarks about body image out of an article that’s supposed to help you feel better about yourself.

    1. Hun, I think you’ve misunderstood my intentions entirely. The whole purpose of this article is to help people learn to love their body at the size that is healthy FOR THEM, whether that be curves or no curves. For me, my body was not healthy at a BMI of 19. Some people’s are, and that’s great. I had to learn to accept some curves and a little more fat on my body, because that was what my body needs. Some women are stick-thin, at a BMI of 18 and are perfectly healthy, and they are beautiful women as well. I am in no way “skinny shaming.” It breaks my heart that this is what you got from reading this. I want more than anything for women to see how beautiful they are when their bodies are healthy, whether that be at a size 2 or a size 14. But I am happy that you’re sensitive to the fact that we need to love our bodies regardless of its size or shape. That’s exactly the message I’m trying to spread. XX

  6. Great post! Your prior relationship with diet and exercise was broken and that is one of the problems with the fitness world these days. It’s encouraging to find that you have found balance. Fitness should be a tool to maintain good health and sometimes we jeopardize our health when we shoot for aesthetics. Keep up the good work and good luck!

  7. I have heard of this happening and it is so heartbreaking. Im sorry you have to go through such pain, but thank you for sharing your story, its real eye opening. I know I’m not to that extent, but its good to remember not to over do things. Good luck and I hope you’re doing well!

    1. Thanks for your support and encouragement Shay! Things have been so much better for me since going through the recovery process. It means a lot to have cheerleaders like yourself to help me through it, so thank you so much for reading my story and taking the time to comment. XX

  8. What a great post! Thank you for sharing as I completely understand how uncomfortable it is to admit you’re unable to conceive. I absolutely loved reading your story as I am going through something similar but opposite – trying to lose weight in hopes it will help me conceive.
    My husband and I have been trying for quite sometime and I’ve recently gained a lot of weight due to stress. I am focusing on getting myself back in shape so hopefully it can help us become successful.
    When it comes to being infertile, for some reason it is has a tone of “Taboo”. There is such a shame that I hear and feel personally when I talk to people about our issues when daily I come to realize this is more common.
    Again, thank you for sharing your story and know, there are people encouraging you!

    1. Haley, I’m so so sorry to hear you’re dealing with infertility. It truly is such a hard road. But there is always hope and joy in the journey! Hang in there, my prayers are with you. XX

  9. Thank you for being strong enough to share. I have only just started blogging about my own fitness journey and have also been through health struggles of my own and I don’t know if i will ever be brave to share everything but reading lots of different blogs and seeing other peoples real stories, goals and gains makes me confident that my blog can help me focus. Well done for all your progress and thank you again for your sharing. xxx

    1. Blogging can be such a good way to share your thoughts (even if it’s not all of them) and make connections with other people, so that’s exciting you’ve started a blog! I’m glad you enjoyed reading my story, and I hope everything you’re dealing with works out soon! Sending positive vibes your way!

  10. I love this post. So sorry you had to experience this, but I hope your story will inspire other women. I see a tremendous amount of body dysmorphia that has become a pathological epidemic. I also trained myself nearly to death. Kickboxing+BJJ+distance running+powerlifting+yoga. It actually took my wife a little while to get pregnant and after reading your post I think it was probably me. We can’t drive the car with the pedal to the floor all the time. You’re really on to something and I hope your message spreads.

  11. Thanks for sharing this!! I’ve been struggling with some of the same things and have wondered off and on if I push myself too hard. I’ve limited myself more on my cardio and am focusing more on weightlifting. Working on keeping a balanced approach to fitness as well.

    1. Balance is key right?! I’m happy to hear you’re trying to find more balance as well. Best of luck on your journey! Keep lifting weights and giving yourself PLENTY of rest days and adequate calories! Fitness is incredible if done “right.” 🙂

  12. Thanks for your open and honest post and sharing about your unique journey. I personally struggled with losing my periods and your right, when I was eating around 2500kcals per day, they actually come back. When I restrict, they go. Big lesson your post 🙂 Thanks Sarah 🙂 xxx

  13. This is a really powerful story, and so hard to tell. Thank you so much for sharing this. You are truly beautiful inside and out, and I’m so happy you’ve found your bliss and balance.

  14. Thank you SO much for this courageous and beautifully written article, Sarah! I’m going through the exact same thing right now and it’s so hard to stay on the path of recovery. Your faith helps mine, and this article made my day! xo

    1. Hi Samantha! I’m so sorry to hear that you’re struggling with this as well. It’s such a difficult journey. But THERE IS HOPE! I don’t know if you saw my most recent post “A Letter to my Doctor,” but I got my period back two weeks after publishing this article, and have had three periods since! YAY! You can totally recover from this. I would HIGHLY recommend reading “No Period Now What” (link in article) if you haven’t already…that saved my life. And if you ever want to chat about it, message me! I would LOVE to talk to you. XX

    2. Oh you bet I read the follow up! Ok, how did you not lose your mind being “all in” for 6 months?! I read NPNW last year and spent a year being “half-in” (eating all the things, but still doing an Ironman). I’ve been all in since September 12 now, so almost 3 months, and I thought I’d recover by now… but I just did the Provera challenge and nothing 😦 I’m so discouraged! I’ve gained tons of weight so my BMI is 21.5, I eat everything, and no exercise! The last is the worst. I miss triathlon training so much. How did you deal with missing your sports? We seem like kindred spirits, based on your photos 🙂 I’ve replaced exercise with lots of walking and hiking and yoga 3x a week (but not aerobic yoga, it’s some strength but nothing to jack up the heart rate). Maybe I’m walking too much? Did you monitor/limit walking? And if all this is too personal to post on a forum feel free to email me: samantha.e.morse@gmail.com

      Thanks for your words of wisdom and encouragement! It means the world xx

      1. Hi Samantha! It sounds like we need to chat 🙂 I’ll email you my phone number and we can talk over the phone. I’ve def got some thoughts that may help you! XX

  15. Hi Sarah! I came across your page in the NPNW support group and just want to thank you for posting this. I’ve gone through a similar journey and have been all in for about a month (just walking and yoga) and was half in for about a month or two before that. I’d love to chat with you in more detail about your journey if you feel comfortable! Feel free to shoot me an email 🙂

  16. I wish i had read this story 1,5 years ago…i ve been trying to cocneive for almost 2years now and after all these blood tests and infertllity doctors,i am now sure that it is the excessive exerscise that did all the damage…… I quit the gym since last December and still trying for this baby….and i am 37 and the time window is so narrow…..Thank you so much for this article…..so inspiring….

    1. Anthi, I’m so sorry to hear about your infertility 😦 it’s so hard. But there’s hope! I would HIGHLY recommend ordering “No Period Now What” and follow the recovery plan outlined in the book. If you do have HA, which is sounds like you do, YOU CAN HEAL YOURSELF! If I did it, you can do it too. Hang in there, we’re in this together. XX

  17. This is the biggest load of crap I have ever read, fitness made you infertile? God made you infertile? Who were you to decide you needed birth control since you were ONLY 14 you can’t. You might not be able to fathom it. But ask God for forgiveness, repent and ask God for the ability to carry a child. There are plenty of people out there who are fit healthy on strict diets who have children. Birth control at 14 and you think kale made you infertile what a laugh.

    1. Mak, I guess we’re all entitled to our own opinions. However, I’m sure glad I listened to my gut and read the scientific research behind hypothalamic amenorrhea. After cutting out high-intensity exercise for a few months and gaining some much-needed body fat, I was able to re-gain my cycles and get pregnant completely naturally. I now have a healthy 5-month old baby. I’ve introduced exercise back into my routine, and fitness is a huge part of my life again, but in a much more balanced way, and with a much healthier (and heavier) body. And as far as God’s forgiveness, I believe He forgave me the day I decided to stop beating myself up at the gym and actually honor what my body needed. For me, that was rest and more body fat. And once I honored that, what do ya know…God gave me a baby.

    2. Mak – different people have different genes and therefore respond differently to exercise and various diets. Yes, some women can be anorexic and retain menstrual cycles, others lose them with just a small change in diet. Some can run marathons with their periods, others lose their cycles as soon as they increase mileage. Our genetic variability is quite astounding (you may credit God with that if you feel so inclined.)

      There is a large body of research in the medical literature describing hypothalamic amenorrhea / female athlete triad / relative energy deficiency in sport / hypogoadotropic hypogonadism. It would be fantastic if you would read some of that so that you understand the topic better! There is also a lot of research that shows that birth control pills have little effect on long term fertility. I would be happy to provide you with some references to read if you would like me to.

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