Just when I thought it was safe to hover at my goal-weight…BAM! Life had other ideas, and they came in the form of that unavoidable rite of passage known as menopause. It shifted my foundation in a most unlikable way, but I’m here to say in no uncertain terms, there is hope! Even for those of you like me, who have to sweat and skip desserts in exchange for svelteness. It took months of unmitigated grit, but I finally feel I’ve got a handle on the cloying monkey that hopped a ride on my back nearly two years ago. It was hardly a surprise landing. Friends who’d already navigated their menopausal passage sounded the warning: the sleepless, sweat-drenched nights; the brain fog and fatigue; lifeless libido; and worst of all (cue the music from the shower scene in ‘Psycho’) …the weight gain! An athlete friend of mine who’d never battled a weight problem one day pointed, with great dismay, to the girdle of fat around her middle, which she claimed was impervious to exercise and calorie-cutting. Since that made no biological sense to me, I dismissed it as drama. Oh, if only: l now can say with authority that menopause is one tough opponent.
Before I recount how I was able to stay in the ring with this mid-life demon for 12 rounds without getting knocked flat, a little background on me: For the majority of my life I dwelled in the category doctors classify as obese. I went from a chubby kid to a heavyset teenager to a binge-eating adult whose all time high of 345 pounds exceeded even heavyweight champ material. At the age of 44, after a lifetime of trying, I finally turned the ship around and dropped 180 pounds through clean eating, yoga, and facing the personal calamities that drove me to overeat. This is the condensed version, and there are certainly more details involved (see my cookbook-memoir ‘Clean Comfort’ for the full story), but after keeping the weight off for nearly five years it seemed I was home free.
And then, menopause, and all its attendant symptoms barged into my life like an unwelcome freight train...carrying an extra-wide caboose in tow. It began for me circa the age of 51. My energy levels dipped and then dipped some more. Short-term memory was like a ‘Mission Impossible’ assignment that self-destructed in 30 seconds, and that handy ability I had to burn off a pasta dinner by taking a longer walk had left the building. By the time I was brave enough to step on the scale, 30 pounds had elapsed.
And after a series of doubling down, getting discouraged and giving up, then doubling down and getting discouraged again, I realized it's best to not treat this unavoidable process like an enemy. There's some anthropological reason that menopause occurs, so I certainly can't stop it; but I can manage it as best I can. So, I began to earnestly practice what I’ve been preaching all these years, turning my focus more on loving my body and listening to it, rather than scolding it and making it work overtime. I increased the positive self-talk and gave generous amounts of gratitude to my body for all it does for me.
I also consulted with a professional nutritionist and left the door wide open to allow my body and its intuition guide me. Our bodies are extremely wise and usually know what we need before we’re consciously aware of it. And somewhere in between reading about the streamlined eating practices of a high-end weight-loss spa in the Austrian Alps and hearing the buzz about the benefits of confining one’s eating time to 8 hours, I was divined with the life-changing epiphany: eat less. No really, that was it. Eat less. A tactic I’d tried before, but the eight-hour window is helping me gain traction and lose the menopause weight.
Eating less is a truth I ran from, even after my transformation had occurred. I was no longer a binge-eater, but had to admit, feeling hunger pangs was something I avoided. Not so unusual, I mean, who really enjoys them? I know some of you ladies won’t like hearing this, but capping the chewing after my 8 hours have expired has left me feeling lighter and more energetic in the long run. This, along with herbal remedies such as Black Cohosh and Chasteberry for the hot flashes, regular DDPYOGA workouts, and 3-5 miles of daily walking have gotten half of those 30 pounds off.
Going to bed hungry is like spiritual karate. It has given me both emotional strength and increased appreciation for meals and snacks tenfold. Part of my resoluteness in staying the course has to do with vanity – I simply don’t want to buy a new wardrobe and slide back into my former sizes. But more importantly, I don’t like the impeded freedom that comes with extra weight. It’s an energy-sapping load that I’m just not interested in carrying anymore.
It has taken well over a year to get a handle on this situation and I could not have done it without buckets of patience. The weight is thankfully coming off, but the pace is considerably slower than in years past. Menopause may be a universal female experience, but the path to solutions and balance is a solitary one. There’s no one-size-fits-all answer…it takes research and a little trial and error.
I’m always underscoring to clients the importance of goal-setting. So in April, I bought a beautiful pink tunic that didn’t quite fit. I hung it in a visible spot and glanced at it several times a day, keeping my end goal in mind every time I felt like dipping into a bit of mindless recreational eating for relief or fun. By mid-July I was wearing it – ecstatically I might add.
For the first time since the train roared in, I feel hopeful. Staying on top of menopause weight-gain is work to be sure, but it’s also a mild challenge compared to some of the burdens others are dealing with. So after I write this, I'll finish my lemon water, lace up my walking shoes and get to work. The rest of the day will be spent getting work done, listening to my body, learning to live with less food, staying hydrated, and yes - having some fun – an essential element to a balanced life. I'm staying strong, hanging in, and going the distance.
Stacey Morris is a cookbook author, health coach and DDPYOGA instructor. Visit www.staceymorris.com for more information.