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Does Exercise Affect Fertility?

Can You Be Too Fit to Be Fertile? One Fitness Instructor’s Story of Discovery and Healing

Ashley Pitt is a Bay-Area based group fitness instructor, personal trainer, and the writer of A Lady Goes West healthy lifestyle blog and her first ebook, "Fit and Fertile."

I'd always been told I was superfit and healthy. And that's because I was lean, I exercised a ton, taught group fitness classes, and loved to eat clean. However, a couple of years ago, I found out that even though I appeared to be very healthy on the outside, something wasn't quite right on the inside. It was my hormones. And ultimately, my fertility.

I was, in fact, too fit to be fertile, and as I started to uncover what was going on with my body, I discovered that my condition, called hypothalamic amenorrhea, is a problem that's a lot more common among woman in the fitness industry than we'd like to think. But nobody is talking about it, and it's not very easy to find answers. Here's my story.

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Just about two years ago, my hubby and I decided we were ready to start a family. At that time, I was working as a group fitness instructor and personal trainer living in San Francisco and doing multiple workouts a day and walking miles upon miles to get from gym to gym. I was also eating really clean, focusing on salads, smoothies, sushi, and small portioned-out meal-prepped tupperwares — the epitome of prepared.

I had good muscle tone, I felt fine and from the outside, was the model of good health. However, when I decided to stop taking my hormonal birth control pills, which I had been on for years and which had kept my cycle regular, I was shocked and confused to find that my period never reappeared on its own.

Over the course of a year, I went to multiple doctors and specialists and finally got the diagnosis of hypothalamic amenorrhea — a condition in which the brain tells the body to stop having a period because the environment is too dangerous to reproduce. This can be caused by too much exercise, too much stress, or too little food. Mine was most definitely based on the overexercising element, with low body fat from being really lean, too. Basically, my insides had shut down, because I was expending so much energy on tough workouts day in and day out.

I took to the internet to find help, and I came up short. My own doctor didn't know what to do and told me I had no chance of getting pregnant naturally. And every blogger's tale or website I read said to eat a bunch of junk to gain weight and quit exercising altogether, which would mean I would have to leave the fitness industry entirely. But I knew that wasn't the path for me, so I paved my own way, and I was able to get my period back and ultimately get pregnant by making a few lifestyle changes. Here's what I did.

Reduced my high-intensity workouts by half.

I knew I wasn't going to stop working out entirely, especially because fitness was my job and passion, so I slowly reduced my high-intensity workouts by half. I did all the barre, yoga, walking, and light weightlifting that I wanted (no more than one workout a day), but I never did HIIT or tougher one-hour classes (like Orangetheory Fitness, where I was a coach at the time, or Les Mills BODYPUMP) more than twice a week. I also took one to two full rest days each week.

Increased my body fat and my dietary fat intake.

I had been eating very healthy, however, I discovered that much of the time, my meals were missing dietary fat. I added at least one full avocado a day to my diet, whole eggs (all the yolks), veggies coated in coconut oil, lots of nut butter, salmon, and even weekly dinners of grass-fed organic steak. I also upped my overall intake of food each day by eating a few more healthy snacks and supporting an overall weight gain. In the process, I gained a few percentage points of body fat, but I did it with healthy food.

Became a believer in Eastern Medicine.

At first, I was totally skeptical of acupuncture, but I finally made an appointment a few months into my struggles, and I've never looked back. My acupuncturist was able to address my body's physical and even mental stress by using special points to heal my liver system and reproductive hormones. She also created special herbal supplements for me and advised me on other supplements to take to improve my fertility.

Over the course of a year of keeping up with these lifestyle changes, my natural period came back to me. And even though sometimes I got down about missing tough workouts and growing out of my size 0 workout capris, I knew that it was worth the effort. In fact, during the next year after beating hypothalamic amenorrhea, I was able to naturally conceive, having taken so much care to prepare and heal my body the right way.

All the while, I continued to teach a few group fitness classes a week and write about fitness on my healthy lifestyle blog, "A Lady Goes West," ultimately keeping my place in the industry.

My story is unique, because I didn't have to give up fitness to get better. I just had to make enough lifestyle changes to put my body on the road to recovery — and in the process, I learned an entirely new, hormonally healthy way to live, which I'll maintain moving forward, especially after welcoming my first baby boy later this year.

To all the superfit ladies out there, no matter what you do, make sure you monitor your cycle to know that it's coming regularly of its own accord and not just induced by hormonal birth control. And be careful not to overdo it on your workouts, because you just may be messing with your insides. Because, yes, you can be too fit to be fertile.

Image Source: Ashley Pitt
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