Sophie Turner Says Extreme Dieting Made Her Lose Her Period—Here's Why That Can Happen
The Game of Thrones actress opened up about how body image affected her menstrual health as a teen.
Sophie Turner's character on Game of Thrones, Sansa Stark, fought hard to reign as Queen of the North. But behind the fictional battles that took place on TV, the actress was fighting her own personal battle with body image—and as a result, amenorrhea. (Related: Sophie Turner Gets Candid About Her Battle with Depression and Suicidal Thoughts)
In an interview with The Sunday Times, Turner opened up about how her GoT fame took a toll on her health when she was a teen, during her "most awkward, uncomfortable, unsure-of-yourself years."
"Suddenly, everyone's metabolism slows down at 17, 18 and then that's documented," she told the publication. "My skin and everything. People commenting on it. I was too aware of my body at a young age. And it just kind of took over my mind, it was all I would think about. Calorie counting, everything. Oh, I'll just eat nuts today."
It wasn't until Turner was 19 years old that she sought help. "I stopped having my period for a year—that's when I decided to have therapy," she said.
There are two types of amenorrhea: The first is known as primary amenorrhea, in which "a young patient does not ever start having a period (by about age 15)," says Elissa Serapio, M.D., M.P.H., a California-based ob-gyn and fellow with Physicians for Reproductive Health. The second type, known as secondary amenorrhea, happens when "a patient had a menstrual period, but then it has stopped for over three to six months," explains Serapio.
Secondary amenorrhea is most common during pregnancy, but it can happen due to a disruption of hormones, or other less common causes, including a significant loss of body weight and/or extreme dieting, she adds.
"If your body thinks it's starving, it halts normal hormonal production and function," says Heather Bartos, M.D., board-certified ob-gyn. "In extreme low-calorie situations, your body is trying to survive, not worry about getting pregnant—and periods work to get you pregnant." (Related: My Infertility Was the Eating Disorder Wake-Up Call I Needed)
Translation: The connection between nutrition and your menstrual cycle is a strong one. So what sorts of nutrients are necessary to keep yours regulated and healthy?
Every body is different, so it's important to talk to your physician and/or a nutritionist to narrow down which foods will benefit your individual body and menstrual cycle. In general, though, "a well-balanced diet with whole grains, vegetables, fruits, proteins, and dairy products that are low in saturated fats" is highly recommended, says Serapio.
However, it's also important to keep in mind that, in order to have a "normal" period—whatever that means for your body—you can't be in a huge calorie deficit. You need to consume enough calories to compensate for the number of calories you're regularly burning off.
"If you exercise a lot, your body needs more calories and you need to eat more. If your lifestyle is less active, your body needs fewer calories," explains Serapio.
She recommends that anyone who has lost their period should see a clinician to determine the root cause. If amenorrhea is a result of extreme dieting, speak with a physician and/or a nutritionist who can help you come up with a game plan to ensure that you're eating the correct amount and variety of nutrients for your body, she explains. Serapio also suggests seeking therapy and confiding in friends and loved ones about what your health struggles. (Related: Should You Eat Based On Your Menstrual Cycle?)
For Turner, recovery started with therapy, and it continued with opening up to her now-husband, Joe Jonas. The actress met the pop star when she was 20—a time when she was "very mentally unwell," she told The Sunday Times.
"He was, like, 'I can't be with you until you love yourself, I can't see you love me more than you love yourself,'" said Turner. "That was something, him doing that. I think he kind of saved my life, in a way."
Thank goodness he did.