Back in 2012, I underwent a brief flirtation with a rather hardcore vegan diet. Love of animals and the planet aside, there I was—an unformed and easily-led 17-year-old—looking for a way to fit in and do better. Like many of my millennial peers, I found a niche but growing community on Instagram. My flavour of the month? #veganism, #veganbloggers, and #veganinfluencers. You name it.

Shortly after, my first episode of serious hair loss began. For all of you stalwart vegan readers, please do not take this as admonishment—when it comes to personal ethics, it’s a beautiful way of eating when correctly practiced, ensuring all nutrient bases are covered. Sadly for younger me, I was subsisting off a diet made up primarily of dates, bananas, tofu, and Oreos. Terrifying when I think back on it now, and definitely not the plant food-rich existence that would have allowed for proper nourishment.

In the end, the lack of essential nutrients coupled with a bout of bleaching saw my hair falling out in clumps, much to my immense distress. Don’t fret: there is a silver lining, for it was the first time I truly came to appreciate the intelligence of the body. My hair was the proverbial messenger, and it was telling me I needed to address what was going on inside. Fast.

With my GP’s help, I swiftly began reincorporating the foods and supplements I knew would do me a world of good, including iron supplements and, yes, red meat and fish. Lo and behold, my hair slowly began to flourish and grow out. Yet here I am, a second time, dealing with Hair Loss: Episode 2. Tune in, my friends.

Now in my mid-twenties, following a period of sustained life stress (due in part to poor gut health), I have once again experienced the same rapid, alarming breakage I did seven years ago. My once glossy dark blonde tresses have been reduced to thin, forlorn wisps—and as such, as vain as I know it may sound, my self-confidence has taken a hit.

Before figuring out a long term regrowth plan, my first step was to rectify the situation going on (or not going on) north of my shoulders. Naturally, my first port of call was my brilliant hairdresser and friend, Louis, at Koda Cutters in Bondi (the best in the biz, in my humble opinion). It was time to part ways with the very thing I believed made me more of a woman: long, thick, waist-length tresses that evoked a soft kind of beauty, like Sandro Botticelli’s Venus standing in that scallop shell, hair impossibly tousled and windswept just so by the heavenly sea breeze of Zephyr.

For many of us, long hair acts as a kind of security blanket. It’s something that makes us feel womanly on the outside when perhaps we feel disempowered within. So, as I stared at what was left of my hair in the salon mirror, I took a deep breath and told Louis to do away with it all. Sure, it took a little getting used to, but after a heart-rending yet much-needed chop, I have now been granted the very same Audrey Hepburn-esque bob I once feared would make me look more tomboy than Hollywood.

So there you have it: I have officially committed to Phase 1 of Operation Hair Recovery.

For the record, I am now entirely devoted to my new look in a way I never thought possible. While the end goal is still very much restoring it to its former lengthy glory, I must say I’m quite enjoying this new, short-haired alter ego of mine. Styling has been an easier task than I’d thought, as has the whole washing and drying process.

In getting to the root of the problem (pun very much intended), here are the takeaways: chronic stress can trigger excess production of androgenic male hormones, which can, in turn, lead to hair loss. As such, managing my anxiety levels has been at the top of my list of priorities. This self-enforced regimen of mine has included engaging in daily mindfulness and meditation practices (deep breaths, you guys) which I had long been neglecting, as well as exercising regularly and ensuring I get an adequate amount of sleep each night (eight hours, non-negotiable).

Of course, eating well plays an important role, too. Dosing up on an abundance of greens, a variety of healthy fats, and some key supplements is integral to recovery—namely biotin, zinc, silica, amino acids, and a hydrolised collagen powder of your choosing. Australian nutritionist Jessica Sepel recently released a range of multivitamins, which have already garnered a cult following, and for good reason. Her Hair + Energy formula has been an utter godsend for my poor locks. After just four weeks of taking these babies, I have honestly noticed a real difference in both strength, length, and gloss factor.

While I’m firm in my belief that proper stress and diet management are the true game changers in hair repair, that’s not to say that some stellar products can’t offer some assistance. Following some extensive product trials, I’ve developed a solid cortège for myself. Namely, the old faithful Olaplex for hair breakage backed by the likes of the golden-tressed Kate Bucceri. Twice a week, slather the stuff on, pour yourself a nice glass of red, and indulge in some “serious” downtime. Excellent quality shampoo and conditioner is also essential—I personally love anything from French hair guru Christophe Robin’s range as they’re free from a majority of hidden nasties, do a great darn job, and smell divine. More tips from the man himself right this way. A leave-in treatment oil is also an excellent idea. I’m currently using this one from Mecca by French brand Buly 1803 that smells pleasantly of orchids and is nice and lightweight on my fried little ends.

The bottom line is: there is hope. Hair loss may occur at any stage of a woman’s life as a direct result of any of these lifestyle factors, or even perfectly normal hormonal fluctuations. As upsetting as it may be, it is conquerable. Seek out a trusted GP, trichologist, or naturopath, and do some further research of your own. Or perhaps it really is the prime opportunity to take the dive like I did, and book in for that boy cut. Much to my delight, mine has served me pleasantly well thus far—you could almost say it’s beginning to grow on me.

Words, Katie Dyce.