Much has been written of the challenges of menopause, particularly of coping with changes to our bodies, metabolism, and weight gain. It can be a big balancing act to cope with accepting some inevitable changes, trying to maintain a healthy weight, all while trying to come to terms with the emotional and mental stress accompanying these changes. It often seems like we’re receiving mixed messages: that weight gain is inevitable, that one should fight it at all costs, and that women must maintain a good body image and attitude! It is often hard to sort through all of these often opposing messages and maintain one’s sanity.
In order to make sense of this, every woman must examine the facts, determine what is right for herself, and make decisions that will help her develop a healthy relationship with food and her own body.
Rule #1: Every Woman is Different
Every woman may go through menopause, but not everyone goes through it the same way. In researching this article, I found it interesting most research indicates the inevitability of menopause weight gain. Yet, not everyone will gain weight. Metabolism does change, it is harder to burn fat, and most women find they need to alter some habits or patterns, but given all the dire predictions about menopause weight gain, it would be easy to throw one’s hands up in despair and just give up. The fact is, that there is no one pattern, nor is there one solution. Experts stress the need to know our own bodies and to make conscious decisions about what and how we choose to eat. Healthy decisions about exercise and sleep will also have an impact on overall health and wellness.
The obstacles of healthy eating are often the same ones that we face throughout our lives. The difference is that they might affect us differently as we age. Snacking, large portions, and culprits like sugar and carbs need to be monitored. We all have our particular cravings and weaknesses. Often the message that we receive, or that we enforce upon ourselves, is that we just can’t enjoy food if we wish to have an “acceptable” weight. Rather than complete deprivation, learn to monitor and reduce these indulgences so that they can be enjoyed occasionally and in smaller quantities.
Alcohol is a big factor in menopause weight gain. It also affects our bodies in other harmful ways. Many menopausal women report that alcohol hits them faster than it used to, or that the hangovers are much worse than they used to be. As a result, some women decide that imbibing is no longer an option. Others, though, are not ready to give up the benefits and enjoyment of their wine with dinner or drinks with friends.
As with food pitfalls, habits need to be re-assessed and one’s consumption plan adjusted. As with all foods, acknowledge what, when and how much you are consuming. I know that having that extra glass after dinner will disrupt my sleep patterns (yet another menopausal issue already!), so my cut-off time needs to be earlier. Keeping to these practices may allow one to keep enjoying while keeping the adverse effects under control. Again, everyone is different and each us us needs to evaluate her habits and come up with solutions.
The Big Picture: Healthy Choices and a Healthy Lifestyle
Our relationship with food and drink does not have to be a choice between gluttony and deprivation. As stated above, being aware of our own habits, cravings and pitfalls is essential and more wiser than following a one-size-fits all diet or regimen. However, some good practices may prove helpful. These are less about cutting back on certain food and more about smart and reflective eating habits, such as focusing on your meal rather than the TV or iPad, thinking about your dining company, realizing when you are eating out of thirst or fatigue, rather than hunger.
It’s Not Just About Food!
Maintaining good physical health is dependent on good eating habits but a good lifestyle goes beyond what we eat. The following are essential, especially in menopause, for good overall health, and will also contribute to the development of a good relationship with one’s own body:
- Exercise: Although one cannot depend only upon exercise to manage weight loss, regular exercise will help burn calories, but more importantly, build strength and energy, making you less likely to make poor food choices and leading to a more positive mood.
- Sleep: As stated above, people often overeat when they are tired. Menopause can be hard on sleep but treating sleep as a necessary part of your health routine can, like exercise, affect your energy, outlook and overall health.
- Mental activity and stimulation: While mental and cognitive fitness doesn’t directly shed pounds,staving off “brain fog” keeping your mind active and stimulated is a major part of the overall wellness big picture!
Attitude and Mindset
Many of the tips listed above have a direct link to overall outlook and attitude. While maintaining healthy habits will generally lead to better physical and mental fitness, one cannot simply flip a switch and turn on a positive mindset. Developing “a glass half full” approach to life takes work!
This can be particularly challenging when it comes to menopause weight gain and body image. Not only are we battling with our own inner critics but we are faced with societal pressures in this area. “Fat-shaming”, (or “thin- shaming!) and guilt brought on by experts urging us to re-think our choices all add to the stress of coping with our body images. Again, we need to strive for that healthy balance between listening to good advice and falling into despair or guilt. We need to come to terms with our own bodies and set realistic expectations for ourselves, realizing that not everyone looks the same or has the same challenges.
A Cautionary Note: The Other Side of the Scale
If we are acknowledging that everyone is different, it must be acknowledged that some women will face the opposite problem. While weight loss is not common during menopause, it does happen to some women. Whether this is because these lucky ladies are genetically fortunate or they are simply blessed with excellent willpower and dedication to a fitness routine, good for them! We have to be careful not to give in to “thin-shaming”, or to beat ourselves over the heads further by comparing ourselves.
However, an unexplained weight loss is grounds for concern and should be monitored to ensure there are not other underlying medical concerns. Being too thin can also present other risks, such as osteoporosis. And an unhealthy predisposition or obsession with losing weight is also physically and mentally unhealthy.
The Balancing Act
In conclusion, weight management in menopause is certainly a literal balancing act. We must carefully weigh our expectations, our attitudes, and our lifestyle choices and come up with the formula that will satisfy us physically and emotionally, ensuring that we develop a happy and healthy relationship with food and our bodies.