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Metabolism & Menopause

menopause signYou’ve reached that ‘magical’ (HA!) time in your life either naturally or surgically when you don’t have to worry about your monthly friend showing up unannounced or expected, either way-you thought she was annoying and she inevitably ruined your plans and now you have her out of your life forever…..Yes! Until you start to realize that thanks to her, you could eat more and weigh less, and you weren’t having a thrashing fit nightly with the covers and the thermostat.

Our bodies undergo a LOT of changes when the M-word hits.  You may ask me, “What do you know about menopause? You are only 40?” My response, Too much! I underwent premature ovarian failure at the ripe old age of 24 and I’ve spent the last 16 years experimenting on the right  HRT (hormone replacement therapy) for me.  I’ve used them all trying to find the right fit.  I’ve used synthetics (premarin and provera) I’ve used creams (OTC and bio-identical), mist pumps, sublingual, tinctures, teas and herbal replacements.  I’ve experienced more hot flashes in my life than my own mother! And let me tell you, hot flashes are the mild side effects of estrogen dominance and loss.

It is possible to be estrogen dominant and yet be too low in estrogen.  Women’s bodies have many many hormones.  And several different kinds of estrogen hormones.  However, it is equally important to know that PROGESTERONE balance is just as equally important as estrogen balance. The key is finding the right doctor for you who will LISTEN to what your needs are and work with you on what your body needs.  Please do not fall into the trap that you have to have a prescription drug that will magically fix everything.  They work for some, but not for everyone.  If one doesn’t work for you, try another and another. Don’t give up.  It took me 14 years to find one that helped relieve my symptoms.

One of my biggest complaints was how menopause had affected my metabolic rate.  There are a few factors as to why this happens.

Several years ago (one year before menopause  hit me) I went to a Personal Training Conference.  At that conference I went to a work shop about menopause and metabolism.  I was pretty clueless at the time, thinking that soon I would be able to share my new found knowledge with my clients…not applying it to myself!

Have you ever stopped to consider how much energy is required for your body to go through your monthly cycle? The eggs are already there, but the process of the uterine lining being built up, the ovulation of the egg and the sloughing off of the lining in the absence of fertilization all require a caloric output by your body.  Most women, crave specific foods a couple weeks prior to their period, that’s when ovulation is taking place.  Your body is hungry!  It’s doing it’s best and working hard to do what the factory has designed it to do….be available for fertilization.  The second phase of energy requirement is the building up of the uterine lining.  It’s saving up and reserving a nice comfy spot for a potential little parasite (I say that with all the love in my heart-I did have one baby before menopause) Then if the egg isn’t fertilized, the body releases that lining.  I have friends who can not leave their home because they are so tired, worn out and frankly the flood gates are open.  This process is an energy sapper which = you are burning calories!

Let’s pretend you are a pre-menopausal woman who is maintaining your weight by exercising  for an hour 5 times a week, sleeping 7-8 hours a night, eating fast food occasionally,  fruits and vegetables daily and treating yourself to a small dessert once a day, would you think that was about average?  I would think that is probably more towards the side of healthy living.

Let’s assume that over a period of time your body starts to go through the changes of menopause where you are skipping periods,or Aunt Flo may come twice in a month then all of a sudden there is no sign of her whatsoever. You think, “Yeah!  I’m home free! No more planning trips and parties and outings around my monthly friend.”  Life is going along great.  You don’t have those terrible cravings anymore, you are not bloated and your mood is somewhat level.  You are still working out 5 days a week and wearing white now (whoop!) and eating smart.  This goes on for a few months then one day you get on the scale and WHAT?  I’ve gained a couple pounds?! How could that be? I know I went out to dinner a few extra times because I was on a business trip and Aunt Shirley got married so I ate a few pieces of cake, and it was Halloween so I high-graded the kid’s Almond Joys ( they can’t appreciate the finer candies anyway). But these are things I normally do anyway, occasionally.

Remember all of those calories you use to burn when you were ovulating and sloughing off and starving?  Those days are gone…..At my fitness conference I learned that the average pre-menopausal woman burns about 1,200 calories per month just because of the menstrual process. If you take that same woman, who is now menopausal and she does all of the same things she did before, eat the same and exercise the same, in 3 months time she will gain weight. It takes 3,500 calories, stored or used to gain or lose weight respectively. 1,200 calories that your body use to burn  per month x 3 months = fat gain….UNLESS some changes are made.

kettle bell older woman

A few things that will help you from gaining unwanted body fat (notice I didn’t say weight) while your body is transitioning from pre to post menopause.

  1. Strengthen your muscles by doing weight bearing exercise.  Ladies don’t think that you will bulk up if you pump some iron. Use enough weight on your first set that you are stimulating the muscle. It’s not necessary to make yourself completely sore to reap the benefits of strength training.  If your body gets bigger at first but smaller later then you are doing it right.  If you get bigger and firmer but not smaller, it’s time to take a look at your diet.
  2. Strengthen your heart.  The number one killer of women in the United States is Cardiovascular Disease and menopausal women are more at risk because they tend to live a more sedentary lifestyle.  If walking is your preferred cardio, do it briskly.  If you are breathing heavy-good.  If you aren’t a bit breathless, pick up the pace.  Swim, jog, bike, roller blade, chase your kids and grandkids. Play a sport.  Challenge yourself.
  3. Quality food.  If you are getting bigger and firmer but not losing inches, it’s quite possible you are eating a little too well.  Don’t eat less, just eat differently.  Skip the whipped cream coffee.  Avoid the birthday cake.  Hide your eyes as you pass the candy dish in the break room and tell your kids to hide their Halloween candy.  Keep the sugar low.  Eat a small bit of protein with every meal and I don’t mean eat dairy with every meal.  If you haven’t already checked out my post Moooove Over, please do!
  4. Balance your hormones.  It is very important that you do SOMETHING to keep the delicate dance of your hormones going. It depends on whether you have all of your parts if you have had surgery, that you will need specific hormones.   Find a qualified doctor that can help you.  I don’t necessarily mean a conventional doctor-in my experience they have NOT helped me with my hormones.  Okay, I’m saying I think an alternative doctor is a better choice….there I said it!

When you find the right HRT for your body and you get into an eating and exercise routine, your metabolism will settle down and your body will find a new set point that it’s comfortable with. There are advantages of having gone through the change of life.  You don’t have to worry about becoming pregnant.  You are more available (eh em). You don’t have to worry about an unexpected accident or gut wrenching cramps.  The cravings and starvation calms down.  You save money on supplies ie. sanitary items and chocolate. In reality, I was pretty sad to be so young, but because of my experiences I have a lot more stories to tell and information to share 🙂

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