Teen: No Periods and Hair Thinning As A Result of Dieting

By October 18, 2012

I have struggled with dieting my whole life, but it wasn’t until the past 8 months that it got out of control, and I started to reduce my caloric intake drastically. My mom finally stepped in and told me to start eating normally or I was going to kill myself, which was a wake up call. I have been eating healthier and “normal” but I still only eat around **** calories a day at the most. I am 18 years old, 5’5″ and weigh between ***-***. I have a very active lifestyle, and exercise in moderation (now I do, at least). I have not had my period in the past 5 months and I also experienced some hair thinning as a result of my dieting. How long will it take for my hair to start growing and become healthy again? And how long (on average) does it usually take for the menstrual cycle to become active again? I would just go to a nutritionist, but we definitely do not have the money to spend on that. I’m really on my own here when it comes to recovery. My mom thinks that I’m fully recovered and doesn’t even like to discuss my eating anymore because she can’t stand how it consumed/consumes my life. She just tells me to look things up online, but I can’t seem to find any information. Please help, I really need some answers. – v.

Dear V.,

I am glad to hear that you have taken steps to eat more healthfully and exercise in moderation. You are definitely headed in the right direction! But there are a couple of things in your letter that concern me.

First, you make reference to how eating “consumed/consumes” your life. The fact that you include the present tense suggests that you are still feeling preoccupied with food. Also, although I don’t have enough information to do a full nutritional assessment, your calorie intake is on the low side, which could be contributing to some of the physical issues you are facing. Lastly, it’s possible that you are lacking in specific nutrients, depending on your food choices.

You mention financial limitations, but have you and your family fully explored the possibility of being evaluated by a nutritionist? Often, medical insurance will cover a certain number of visits (see “Finding a Nutritionist”). In addition, I would recommend that you be examined by a gynecologist, who can give the best assessment regarding your lack of menstrual periods and make sure your hair thinning isn’t caused by hormonal imbalances. If your hair loss was due to lack of nutrition from disordered eating, it can take months or longer for it to return to its normal thickness. As a matter of fact, some people actually lose even more hair while in recovery—a delayed effect of prior poor nutrition. Hair growth is a very slow process, but eating well again eventually restores it, so hang in there!

I know your mother is hoping you can find answers online, but all we can provide are general resources and support. I admire your determination and independence in looking things up. You would benefit most, however, from one-on-one counseling that would be totally individualized based on your physical and emotional needs. As a parent myself, I can understand how difficult this must be for your mother. Watching a child struggle with eating can be a frightening and upsetting experience. I’m sure that she wants what’s best for you, so explain to her that you investigated online, and our professional recommendation is that you explore seeing a nutritionist and a gynecologist. I also think that both you and your mother would benefit from reading Constance’s book, Life Inside the “Thin” Cage. You can learn a lot from her experiences, and avoid going through years of struggles and heartache.

Take care, and let us know how things turn out.