There are 50 million menopausal women in America and yet, menopause is still considered a taboo topic. Many women know that it is an inevitable part of life -- a phase that they can't escape, no matter how hard they try -- but they do try to escape it or at best pretend it doesn't exist. After all, no one wants to admit they are getting older; young is in and everyone wants to stay young somehow, but that doesn't stop the clock. Time marches on. So why not find a way to deal with this elephant in the room? In this age of abundant knowledge at our fingertips and openness about many topics past generations just didn't talk about, we need to start talking about menopause. And not just when it happens, but before it happens. Many women experience changes in the years leading up to menopause, known as perimenopause.
One of the most distressing and common symptoms for the majority of women is weight gain due to changes in hormone balance: progesterone, testosterone and estrogen decrease and androgen increases. These changes affect a woman's body and how it burns and uses calories, in turn affecting its ability to lose fat. In fact, research shows that 95 percent of menopausal women who diet will regain as much as two-thirds of the weight they lose within one year of completing a diet program, and almost all of it within five years. And nine out of 10 American premenopausal and menopausal women will gain weight (as will 70 percent of all women worldwide, due to varied diets and other cultural influences), says Amos Pines, MD, former president of the International Menopause Society. They can expect to gain 10 to 20 pounds, which translates into needing clothing that's one or two sizes larger. Many menopausal women become frustrated, discouraged, annoyed, and angry as they gain the weight. I can't say I blame them.
After working with over 10,000 menopausal women in my practice over the past 23 years, I have seen some misconceptions and myths that women have believed that have hindered their success in navigating the dreaded "change." The good news is you don't have to believe those myths. There is a way to get your body back. Here are a few of the biggest myths I have come across in my work with premenopausal and menopausal women.
1. Myth: "If I starve myself, I won't gain weight during menopause."
Good news: dieting is out. With nine out of 10 women gaining weight during menopause, I've heard my share from desperate dieters. What women fail to realize is that their body chemistry completely changes, so that the old ways of staying slim simply won't work going forward. Eat like a bird or skip a meal and you risk gaining instead as metabolism slows to defend against what feels to your body like starvation. You've got to eat to get thin. But women need to know what and how to eat in order to increase metabolic rate and burn body fat. Small amounts of food at frequent intervals rather than three big meals a day will help regulate blood sugar, burn calories, melt fat and get you thinner.
2. Myth: "I can avoid the menopausal muffin top if I work my butt off doing high intensity exercise."
There may be nothing like an intense, sweaty workout to make you feel on top of your game, but it won't help you shed the pounds or the pouch. High-intensity exercises like Zumba, spinning or step -- though great for cardiovascular conditioning -- burn more sugars than fat, doing nothing for weight loss. To trim the fat, you need moderate cardiovascular activity, like a three mile walk or 45 minutes on a treadmill. Though walking is less grueling -- no huff, no puff -- you do need to do it every day.
3. Myth: "It's not fair; menopause is starting earlier and earlier these days."
We can't blame hormones in the food for this one. It's all your mother's fault! With 99 percent certainty, women go through menopause at exactly the same age their mothers did. And in much the same way. Night sweats? Hair loss? How irritable was she? Just ask her. And make it sooner than later; many moms can't remember, and when they do, there's often selective memory at work. When asked by one daughter what her menopause had been like, one mother responded, "Oh, just fine," to which her other younger daughter, the one who'd been living at home at the time, piped up, "Are you kidding, Mom? You were a wreck!" No need for women to feel they are entering a phase that will leave them out of control. With more communication and more women joining in the conversation they can find a way to take control of "the change."
4. Myth: "Menopause has done me in. I'll never get my body back."
There's nothing like menopause to wreak havoc on a perfectly good body. From extra pounds to muffin tops, hot flashes to hair loss, it's no wonder women get depressed. Through understanding how food, diet and exercise affect the menopausal woman, symptoms can be mitigated and the damage reversed. The trick: understanding metabolic mechanisms and then manipulating them. The right proportion of protein to carbs, the amount of fat intake and revving up fat-burning movement will all help to regulate blood sugar and burn calories. Armed with information specific to menopause weight control, women will no longer ask,"Why is it that the older I am, the more I exercise and the less I eat, the fatter I get?"