Phase 1: Understanding the Problem

Given one hour to save the world, I would spend 55 minutes defining the problem and 5 minutes finding the solution.
Albert Einstein

I’m going to make the assumption you’re a smart person (people with RED-S tend to be high achievers), so you might already familiar with Einstein’s approach to problem solving. If not, it involves investing time and effort into understanding your problem before jumping straight into solution mode. In my experience of recovering from RED-S, this applies to understanding a) what the problem actually is, b) what may have led to the problem, and c) what the problem will continue to look like until you decide to take action.

I know it may not seem like a priority right now, when you feel the way you do. I know you might think dragging up the past is irrelevant—that as soon as you can get over your current injury or see the first signs of a period, you'll be good to go. But think of your RED-S problem like a weed. Each time you mow it down with an attempted quick-fix solution, it'll pop back up again, bigger and uglier than before. If you can take this opportunity to dig a little deeper beneath the surface and recognise which beliefs and behaviours may have brought you to this point, you'll be far more likely to reverse your downward spiral for good. Sounds simple enough? Well, not always...


Our minds are sophisticated storytellers with a tendency to portray the most romantic narrative. We often choose one that provides the most gratification, but not necessarily the truth. For example, it’s quite possible that during the early stages of your energy deficit, certain dysfunctional behaviours led to some success. You may have felt good, performed well, or gained satisfaction from your body composition. It's likely that you were seemingly able to maintain this status quo for a while with no negative consequences...

I'm doing so well! How can this be harmful!?
Why are people warning me to be careful? Maybe they just resent my success...
I'm just doing what it takes to be the best. It's not supposed to feel good!

The unfortunate reality is, it's likely the dysfunctional side of your energy deficit reared its ugly head long before you fell down the hole that led you here. Perhaps you were able to explain away that relatively minor injury last summer, or dismiss that frequent illness just bad luck. Maybe you did manage to normalise avoiding certain food groups as 'commitment to your sport', or learn to live with frequent gut distress that never seemed to have a larger impact. Maybe you thought your obsession with exercise was your way of dealing with the stressors of life, or that irritability and and low libido were nothing to do with it... Even if you were aware on some level that ‘in theory’ you were doing a bit too much and eating a bit too little but it was working out well for you, you have no reason to tell yourself otherwise until it starts to negativity impact your sport (or life) in a big way.

Thankfully, you're reading this now because you recognise that something you've been doing is no longer working. You also know that continuing to avoid the issue any longer isn’t going to fix it. Any denial you may be experiencing will not diminish as time passes, but your health and performance status is likely to if you don't act now. So now is the time to set aside any denial or impatience to get straight to the solution stage before sparing some thought as to how you got here. I'm not saying that you need to search for a hidden meaning, drag up some childhood trauma or psychoanalyse your behaviours in order to begin your recovery process—far from it, the recovery process begins the moment you take action. I'm just saying, from experience, deciding to take action starts with understanding what you're dealing with.