This is the last Menopause Monday of Menopause Awareness Month. In the past three weeks, we've discussed caregiving for yourself and others, what's new on the perennial subject of hot flashes and my birthday post about releasing limiting beliefs (being free to be you). Now, we arrive at a subject that can be used either to denigrate or empower ourselves. Perspective, anyone? The looking glass metaphor is really about how we see ourselves -- both literally in the mirror and figuratively in how we feel about what we see.
On top of everything else a woman has to face during perimenopause and menopause, there is an issue that I refer to as complimentary membership into the sisterhood of the shrinking pants. I was dealing with hot flashes, depression, loss of stamina and a shmirshky in the desert when suddenly, my clothes didn't fit anymore. Insult to injury! Are you kidding me? Changing hormones and depression-fueled carb binging resulted in more of me while my wardrobe was becoming smaller and smaller. ;>) Every time I opened the closet, I was frustrated to see my poor favorite outfits collecting dust. In fact, my clothes and I were both in the closet about admitting that not just my hormones were changing.
In a recent article, Dr. Vivian Diller, author of Face It: What Women Really Feel As Their Looks Change, writes that we should "learn to use our reflection in a healthy way to support, not undermine, our self-esteem." My view at the time was not so evolved. The mirror was not my friend, and I avoided looking at myself too closely. I began to stock up on diet books and burned up what little energy I had on more intense workouts. Unfortunately, nothing made a difference. My clothes still didn't fit, and I began to feel unworthy and even more out-of-control of my body and what was happening to me. I longed to be Alice where my mirror was instead the entrance to a wonderland where I might find a potion to shrink me down to fit into my favorite clothes again.
One of the reasons 90% of women gain some weight during perimenopause is that your ovaries decrease the amount of estrogen they produce. This causes your body to go searching for another source of estrogen, and... surprise... fat cells produce estrogen. Your body begins to convert calories into fat at a faster rate than before. Lower progesterone levels can lead to water retention and bloating. An increase in the hormone androgen sends the fat cells to your abdomen rather than your hips, and loss of testosterone results in loss of muscle tone which results in a slower metabolism. No wonder we see our bodies expanding before our eyes and find that nothing helps us lose weight. Our body is not exactly cooperating with us. Maybe we begin to stress about it. Guess what? Stress causes your body to hoard even more calories as stored fat. Blood sugar levels and insulin resistance can also play a factor, so it's a good idea to have your sugar checked. What's a gal to do????
Knowing why it's happening is a good start because now we can stop blaming ourselves. First, find a menopause specialist. Speak to your specialist about getting a thyroid, hormone and cholesterol screening to help you receive the individualized care that you need and deserve. The solution is learning to work with your body, accepting these changes as normal and natural, and setting realistic weight and exercise goals once you and your menopause specialist have developed a strategy suited to your specific health profile and needs.
Exercise and finding physical activities that you enjoy is key to losing those extra pounds you may have picked up before finally putting yourself, your health and a treatment strategy on your priority list. I love to ride my bike during the week. On the weekend I try to switch it up a bit, so my husband and I go for a walk together. We enjoy the benefits of exercising and spending quality time together catching up on our week. The point is not to be the next super model, but rather to feel super healthy and improve your sense of well-being. After you've reached your goal weight, continue with moderate-intensity aerobic exercise (at least 30 minutes per day) and strength training with weights to help maintain muscle tone, increase your metabolism and guard against osteoporosis. Strength training builds muscle and maintains bone mass. Plus, once you're into it, you'll receive the stress-busting benefit of increased endorphins. Your mood will improve and be more stable. You may also experience fewer and less-intense hot flashes.
A new study in the journal, Menopause, looked at over 17,000 post-menopausal women between the ages of 50 and 79 and who were not on hormone replacement therapy. The study found that women who followed a reduced fat diet with more fruits, vegetables and whole grains and who were able to lose 10% of their baseline weight were 89% more likely to eliminate menopause symptoms. Now, those are some good odds! I found Weight Watchers to be a girl's best friend. I talked to my husband, and we both wanted to learn better eating habits, so we did it together. Weight Watchers is not a diet that you go on and off; it's a new way of eating. Try it!
So, stop glaring or staring hopelessly at yourself in the mirror. You are not hopeless or helpless. Talk to your menopause specialist. Decide your treatment strategy. Then, eat healthy, wholesome meals while also getting the right amount of exercise. Get your friends and family to help motivate you. Enlist one of your friends to be your workout buddy. Once you find hormone happiness and you begin to see and feel the difference a healthy lifestyle makes, your new quality of living will be all the motivation you need to keep it up. You can do it!
Remember: Reaching out is IN! Suffering in silence is OUT!
Tell me: Who do you think is a good role model for living and looking your best?
Take back your closet:
- No need to take a mirror holiday. "Body Image and the Mirror: To Look or Not to Look?" by Vivian Diller, PhD on HuffingtonPost.com.
- "Menopause Weight Gain: 4 Ways To Avoid Middle-Aged Spread," watch the CBS News video on HuffPost/Post 50.
- "Prevent Midlife Weight Gain," by Cynthia Sass, MPH, RD on shape.com.
- "Eating disorders, weight worries still stalk women after 50, study finds," by JoNel Aleccia, NBC News, on todayhealth.today.com.
About Ellen Dolgen
Ellen Dolgen is the author of Shmirshky: The Pursuit of Hormone Happiness -- a cut-to-the-chase book on perimenopause and menopause that's filled with crucial information, helpful guides, and hilarious and heartfelt stories. Known for her humor, compassion, and sassy personality, Ellen has appeared on numerous television and radio broadcasts, including: The Rachael Ray Show, The Doctors, Oprah Radio, Playboy Radio, "Tell Me More" on NPR, Doctor Radio, and dozens of other regional and national media outlets. Ellen is a regular guest on the popular radio show, "Broadminded," on Sirius XM Radio (Stars XM 107) and KSWB Fox 5 Morning News San Diego. When Ellen isn't promoting women's health and wellness, she's busy trying her best not to eat all the ice cream in the freezer.
Follow Ellen Dolgen on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ellendolgen