I struggled with weight gain as a teenager and college student. Low energy, mood swings, depression, hormonal imbalances, headaches, chronic acne, addiction to sugar and MSG-laden snacks, over-consumption of alcohol and an inability to self-regulate had me in the worst physical shape and worst mental state of my life. I suffered with bad PMT, needing painkillers every month and losing days to heavy flow and cramping.
When I lived abroad with Italian students for a year I realised how out of sync my eating habits were, but I had no idea what to do about it. I had joined a commercial weight-loss club but the constant counting of “points” made me obsessive about food and I cheated the system so I could continue to eat the junk I was addicted to.
I was also on the contraceptive pill and suffering breakthrough bleeding on it, which led my doctor to begin me on the contraceptive injection at the same time, so I was taking a double dose of synthetic hormones.
At its worst my acne spread right down to my lower back and to my nipples on my front, as well as pustules on my face which were ultra-painful when touched. I learned make-up techniques to cover it on my face, but was self-conscious about it on the rest of my body. No amount of hormone therapy was treating it, nor were topical antibiotics, so I had the controversial Roaccutane treatment (high dose of Vitamin A) at age 21 and it improved hugely.
A year later some abdominal pain and an ultrasound revealed I had developed an ovarian cyst, no surprise to me now, but at the time the contraceptives were not identified as a cause. I was overweight and uncomfortable in my body, eating to fill some emotional holes and because of boredom.
Thankfully my college course in theatre performance included a large portion of dance and I began to get fit for the first time in my life and my weight decreased. I continued to have annual ultrasounds on the ovarian cyst and it remained stable at 5cm diameter. I was scheduled to have surgery to remove it, but cancelled at the last minute when I understood that all or part of the ovary would be removed too.
It wasn’t until I came off the pill and let my natural fertility return that I realised how much the synthetic hormones had affected my life. My cycle returned to a natural one, with natural peaks and troughs, my libido returned at ovulation time, my PMT was manageable without painkillers and I began to appreciate my body for the first time.
Planning to conceive led me to discover natural family planning, watching my cycle for symptoms of ovulation, so I could identify the optimal time of month to avoid conception, or to achieve it when I was ready to get pregnant.
As I improved my diet, my PMS improved and my “adult acne” which I had always assumed would be with me, disappeared completely. I was able to go make-up free, and had a smooth face, jawline and neck for the first time since childhood. It is obvious to me now that my high-sugar, highly-processed diet had created the inflammation inside which led to the acne and hormonal issues.
My hormones came into balance and my weight has remained stable since coming off the pill and getting fit in my early 20s. Apart from natural pregnancy weight gain, with three pregnancies in 7 years, my weight has remained stable, my skin clear and my mood is stable and positive. The ovarian cyst disappeared without surgery and I have had no other hormonal issues.
I hope sharing this story has given you some clarity on the impact that diet and lifestyle can have on female hormones, skin conditions and health in general. I aim to share my knowledge and experience with my clients in The Wellness Clinic so they too can take control of their health and avoid long-term problems.