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Coping Strategies

For some people, recovering from RED-S is simple. They do a little less and eat a little more for a while, quickly regain a reliable natural menstrual cycle (if they're female and it was lost to begin with) and all their health and performance goals come seamlessly back within reach. For others, it’s not quite so simple. My own experience was, well…messy. But I got there eventually and in the hopes of helping you do so more smoothly, I want to share three pieces of advice.

Own the situation

The first step towards improving your situation is to take charge of it yourself. For various reasons mixed up in fear, resistance and denial, I remained a passive bystander in my own recovery process for far too long. I spent months (if not years) searching for a miracle cure, an external force, or a medical expert who could fix me. I was so afraid of making the changes I’d inevitably need to make that I refused to get into the drivers seat, until I finally reached a point of acceptance.

With acceptance comes ownership: a policy of personal responsibility that can be as simple as recognising there are things that you can change and take ownership of. No matter how helpless you may feel, understanding that you are ultimately responsible for how you act now can be the key to turning things around. For me, owning the situation was liberating. I went from feeling angry, impatient and trapped, to motivated, empowered and determined. I realised I was capable of making hard choices instead of reverting back to destructive defaults. I remembered I had an ability to apply my focus to repeating hard actions, again and again. I learned that everything I needed to change my situation was already inside of me – it was just a matter of giving myself permission to use it.

Reframing: turning a sh*t situation into an opportunity

In the words of Jen Sincero, “Nobody who ever accomplished anything big or new or worth raising a celebratory fist in the air did it from their comfort zone.” Taking ownership of the situation opens up a door to changing your perspective. I know it is tough but the reality is there isn't much in the RED-S recovery advice that deviates from the need to make adjustments to your lifestyle. And, this is likely to involve a big step outside your comfort zone. But - and hear me out! - this doesn’t have to be a painful process. You have a powerful mind that can dictate how you feel about any given situation. Nobody can make you feel negative other than you. And, holding onto bitterness, anger, fear and denial isn’t going to make the problem go away. Instead, try to recognise that you have the power to turn this into something that works for you, not against you. There are silver linings – trust me, there are. It’s just a matter of finding what those are for you.

For example, for many athletes, taking time away from training sucks. It is SO easy to get stuck in a negative ‘woe is me’ mindset, or continue your comforting (yet destructive) training or eating behaviours, but that’s not going to change the reality or get you to where you want to be. Instead, you could try to view it as an opportunity to work on your psychological resilience. We only get to be in these bodies for a limited amount of time – your mental fitness is just as important as your physical fitness and working on it now will help you reap the benefits of a healthy mind and body for a lifetime in sport once you have recovered from RED-S.

Approach recovery with as much energy, strength and focus as your training

Training in sport requires patience, commitment and sustained effort, time after time. Recovering from RED-S is no different. Yes, perhaps the rewards aren’t as immediate as those achieved after thigh-burning, lung-busting, sweat-drenching session, but the long-term mental and physical health effects are far greater, longer-lasting and more empowering than you may have ever thought possible.

But, just as finding success and satisfaction in sport doesn’t happen overnight, RED-S recovery isn’t about a seeking a shortcut or substitute. This process is about recognising the mistakes/beliefs that may have brought you here and then applying the same dedication, energy and strength to rectifying them as you usually would to your training. For example, if this means finding a less energy-sapping substitute for exercise for a while then try it. Then keep trying it. Even if it takes time and patience to reach the point of satisfaction, don’t give up. Just as in training, you’ll likely need to push past some initial discomfort, overcome some fears and fail, over and over again. But you’re well versed in repeating things that aren’t always comfortable in sport, so apply it to this process with all the might you can muster.

Here are some ideas of how to take a pragmatic ‘training schedule’ approach to your recovery.