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The Menopause Question

Updated: May 30, 2022

How can peri-menopausal women avoid falling into the dieting trap when their bodies start changing?

I was asked this question, and being 45 myself, I fall into the peri-menopausal category and can say I have given the answer a fair amount of thought! I feel ready for the coming season. My preparation started long ago. When I was 25, I had been in one of those stormy, messy on again off again relationships, and it came to the point where I understood that the only way to stop the cycle permanently was to create physical distance. I quit my job, gave up the lease on my apartment and painfully, moved back in with my parents in the city I grew up in. I figured a bit of TLC and being around rational, caring people would help me heal.

My father was 70 at the time, he had just retired. My mother was 51. Going through menopause. My younger sister was 13.

For the first time ever, I saw my father uncomfortable with himself. Aimless, not knowing what to do with his time, he was restless and uncertain. He had to re-negotiate his identity and sense of purpose as a retiree, and I could see that he found it difficult.

My mother usually one of the most even-keeled, unflappable people I know, had become flappable. Anxious, emotional- not at all herself.

My little sister? 13. Fully in puberty.

I, in my broken state, was the least unhinged of the lot!

What this experience did, was challenge my view of life, particularly my expectations of the future. I thought that the most difficult parts of our journey were the growing up years and maybe the 20s- when you have to decide what kind of career to pursue, who to share your life with, where to live etc. After that, I thought it’s all pretty much sorted and settled and you can just go ahead and adult your way through the rest of life.

Seeing my own family members in the middle of transition phases from up close showed me how wrong this assumption was. Things continue to change. The road is not smooth or straightforward. Acknowledging that, I believe has helped me transition through life stages with more grace because I wasn’t taken by surprise.

I think life is a bit like taking a raft down a looooong river. There are beautiful, peaceful stretches where you float along and admire the scenery. There are also rapids. when the water suddenly speeds up and the boat bumps on the rocks and there is a real danger of capsizing or falling out.

If you know about the rapids coming, you use your time in the smooth stretches to hone your rapid-running skills. You make sure your oars are in place, your boat is not leaking, your foot-straps are secure, your arms are strong, and you know how to swim.

If we see Menopause as a rapid how do we prepare to run it well? What are our metaphorical oars? Swimming skill? Strong arms?

Lets first look at what Menopause actually is, and then on what we can do to go in strong.

Menopause is the term used to describe the transition a woman goes through when her ovaries stop production of Estrogen and Progesterone, stop releasing eggs and the menstrual cycle ceases. It is the “switching off” to the “switching on” that happens at puberty.

Peri-Menopause refers to the time when reproductive hormones start to decrease in the lead-up to Menopause.

This is the part that is concrete. Every woman will go through it when they reach a certain age.

Like puberty and pregnancy, it is a period of hormonally driven body changes, and just like puberty and pregnancy, every woman experiences it differently.

Some common experiences are fatigue, night sweats, hot flushes, sleep disturbance, loss of scalp hair, anxiety, irritability, moodiness, and loss of sex drive and weight changes.

Until you are there, you won't know what YOU will experience, but you can prepare:

Here are a few ideas:

  1. Make sure you have an active lifestyle where you move regularly. Engage in a range of activities that build strength, flexibility and cardiovascular fitness. We know Menopause to be a time of increased stress, loss of bone mass, disturbed sleep and more. Exercise helps with all of them. I put this first on the list because I really think it is the most important. All forms of exercise are beneficial, but there is one in particular that I have to highlight. The simple act of walking. The benefit of walking can be so much more than the physcial- walking, you see yourself cover ground. You see yourself go from one place to another if you keep on taking steps. You can walk from one suburb in to another, from one side of a bridge to the other side. You can get to the top of a tall mountain if you keep putting one foot in front of the other. You can do it at your own speed. Walking outside, you see seasons change. You see a tree budding, then you see flowers, then if you keep walking, you see the flowers die, then you see the tree bare and if you keep walking and keep walking, you will see it budding again. If you are paying attention, walking can teach you about life- about YOUR life and where you are and where you are going. It can give hope and courage and remind you of your place in the order of things.

  2. Have a regular eating pattern- feed yourself faithfully. When things are in flux, established rhythms and patterns bring stability.

  3. Call on your years of experience with your body to remind you that you can trust her to take you through. Listen attentively and with curiosity to the signals coming from your body and lean into the new season. Take your lead from your body about what you need, allow for change and disruption and some discomfort.

  4. Build a support network for yourself. If you have neglected time spent with others during the busy years of building a career and caring for a family, now is the time to start investing in relationships. Reach out, make dates, join clubs, do what it takes. If you have people in your life that you can be vulnerable with, you can process your experience of menopause with them.

  5. Talk to your doctor about options when you need to make a decision on taking HRT or not.

  6. Speak to older women- ask them to tell you what it was like for them and what tips they have for you, but remember, you will only know how your body will respond and feel when you get there.

  7. Expect that there may be some sadness. Grieve the loss of your productive years, so that you can embrace the next phase.

  8. Be very very kind to yourself. If there is an eating-disorder voice in your head that is starting to rear its head again, find help.

  9. Read some Mary Oliver I worried By Mary Oliver I worried a lot. Will the garden grow, will the rivers flow in the right direction, will the earth turn as it was taught, and if not how shall I correct it? Was I right, was I wrong, will I be forgiven, can I do better? Will I ever be able to sing, even the sparrows can do it and I am, well, hopeless. Is my eyesight failing or am I just imagining it, am I doing to get rheumatism, lockjaw, dementia? Finally, I saw that worrying had come to nothing. And gave it up. And took my old body and went into the morning, and sang.

  10. Practice saying the serenity prayer until it resonates in you and becomes part of you: give me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference” Nobody knows how their body is going to change. Some women go through menopause and still fit into their clothing from before, but many do not. Your own mother’s experience will probably be the closest one to yours. When I was about 30, my mother and I had gone shopping. We were trying on different things in a small boutique. Mom had put on a pair of trousers that looked great. I went to get them in my size to try on too. On me, they didn’t work at all. The shop assistant commented “honey, those are cut for an older figure, you are too young for them”. If people in the clothing business distinguish between an older and a younger figure, I think we have to accept that these changes are real. I expect that my body will change. Having this expectation will make it easier to accept it when it happens. Elasticated waistbands, here I come 😊

I can accept it.

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