What NOT To Do Now
Advice on what not to do now, based on the mistakes I made while tackling (or not tackling) my RED-S problem.
1. Allow yourself to believe this isn’t enough of a problem to deal with right now
For too long I let myself dwell in the delusion that my problem wasn’t big enough to do something about. While part of me knew that things hadn’t been right for some time, until I crashed spectacularly into the iceberg and started to sink my own ship, it just seemed easier to press on. Until then, I had based my whole athletic life upon the premise ‘you get out what you put in’, so I had struggled to accept that this too wasn't something I could fix by simply working harder.
I've heard similar explanations from others when it comes to addressing their own RED-S problems. Since the initial signs and symptoms tend to be relatively subtle in isolation, it can be all too easy to explain them away. As athletes, we often pride ourselves on our ability to endure pain and put up with a certain level of discomfort. It’s what makes us athletes! It’s also what makes us far less likely (or less willing to accept) the warning signs until we’re confronted by a bigger issue we can’t ignore. So, if you suspect you're experiencing RED-S, regardless of how mild or severe the symptoms, or how much or little it's impacting your performance at this stage, it's important recognise that it is always enough of a problem to do something about.
2. Continue to believe there must be another cause or some other solution
When my health and performance started to deteriorate, I never once considered that I was in control of the cause. There was all this stuff going on that I desperately wanted to change but continued to bulldoze my way past the true causes. So, when I set about looking for answers, I did so with the mindset that something that could cause this much trouble had to be way out of my control. I’m not sure how many times I scrolled past information that pointed towards an energy issue or hormonal dysfunction before researching an extreme thyroid disorder or serious immune disease! I was on a mission to find a real problem with a real diagnosis and absolutely not one that involved facing simple realities or swaying from the path I was on.
So, I know whatever you’ve been doing may well have delivered some initial success. I understand how much work you’ve put into achieving the body composition and performance results you deserve. I can relate to how painful and demoralising it is to consider the relatively straightforward (yet oh-so-complicated) causes of your issue, but you're also reading this because you recognise that something you're doing is no longer working. You’re listening to the voice inside your head that’s telling you something’s wrong. If a medical professional has already helped rule out any other potential causes for your problems (find advice that here) then now is the time to end your agonising search for other answers.
3. Remain in denial about pieces of your puzzle – sabotaging your chance of diagnosis
When the RED-S warning signs started to appear, I was so afraid of hijacking my own progress that I dismissed every single one of them. I had refused to admit that my healthy eating had gone too far; that the fatigue could be tied into my reluctance to rest; or that getting ill so often was anything but bad luck. I remained determined not to factor my persistently low iron levels, feeling constantly cold, glandular fever diagnosis, low mood, or disrupted sleep into the picture and discounted every other symptom I was able to push through.
I’d become so psychologically de-sensitised to the symptoms I’d experienced over the years that visits to the doctor were a thankless task. I’d sit there, trying to explain how I was seriously fatigued for absolutely no reason but had to continue training because there was an Olympics approaching, so could I please be prescribed a miracle cure because there was no way I could change my current set up...!
If I’d paid attention to the real warning signs and taken the time to form some sort of comprehensive picture, I’d not only have stood a far better chance of getting the diagnosis and guidance I needed sooner, but may have even put the pieces together myself. Now is the time to consider your own health and performance puzzle. You could start by looking at the signs and symptoms outlined here.
4. Choose to believe you can get back to health and fitness again before properly sorting out your problem
OR, that a halfhearted attempt at recovery will be enough to get you through the next few years, after which you’ll retire from competitive sport and just enjoy it ‘for fun’ again…
When I eventually reached a self-diagnosis of RED-S, I decided to tackle the ‘recovery’ part alone. I thought that if I could just do a bit less exercise and a bit more resting and eating, the fatigue would lift, my period would return with ease, and I could get right back at it. I knew the sensible thing to do was to dive deeper into my missing-period problem, but since I was feeling fine, training better and eating plenty, I simply chose not to.
So, as soon as my body was physically able to get back into training I did. My periods hadn't returned but I'd successfully maintained my performance without them in the past and since I wasn’t interested in having kids for a while, I didn't explore my hormone status any further. I still hadn't understood my problem properly; my motivation was in the wrong place; and my actions were insufficient. Needless to say, the improvements I made were short lived and until I reached out for the expert help I needed, I came up against the same old roadblocks repeatedly.
The irony was, if I had just had the strength to reach out for help and commit to a true and complete recovery process the first time around, it would have taken far less time in the long run. So please, learn from my mistakes and don’t waste any more time trying to return to full health or reach your athletic potential without prioritising a FULL recovery from RED-S. You will never be the best athlete you can be without doing so.
Thankfully, there are plenty of things you can do now and reading this is one of them. As impossible and perhaps even frustrating as it is to believe, everything you need to fix your problem is already within you. As someone who has been there and come through the other side, I’m here to help guide you towards the support you need in doing so.