Do you appreciate your body, let alone celebrate it? For most of my life, I definitely didn’t.
There were many times over the decades that I was extreme – I have been both very underweight and also overweight heading towards obesity. And, for approximately 20 years, I experienced disordered eating and debilitating body images issues – all because I wanted to be thinner and thought I needed to be ‘thinner’. If anyone reading this relates, then you will know how much of a waste of life that attitude is.
I allowed myself to miss out on many social and sporting opportunities because I was waiting to the slimmer, fitter and somehow ‘better’.
Luckily for me, after the birth of my daughter, I changed this extreme way of thinking and I have spent most of the last 18 years much more balanced. Partly because I wanted to be a good role model for my children and partly because who has time to worry so much about the way you look with young children to care for. And during this time – I maintained a fairly stable healthy weight without over thinking it – fluctuating only when training for endurance events.
Now after hitting post menopause, as many women find, I have gained a little weight.
Initially, to be honest, I found this quite distressing, as it happened relatively quickly and I suppose I wondered if it would ever stop (especially as I was training for an Ironman and imagined I would lose weight as I had done in the past with endurance training).
I felt myself drifting back into the past thought patterns about being ‘stricter’ with my nutrition and feeling like I need to work harder with my exercise. After all, there are many articles on the internet (and even some medical professionals) telling women that they have gained weight at menopause because they are simply more sedentary and eating less healthy than they may have previously. (Note here – that is often outdated advice.)
The fact that I’m a Personal Trainer also caused me quite a lot of grief. As many women who seek my advice and services are looking to manage their weight and I myself was not really doing so, I felt like a fraud and that perhaps I could no longer do my job properly. I also lost a lot of self confidence. What type of role model was I when I couldn’t control my own body?
Now, at around 2 years post menopause, my hormones seem to have settled and my weight gain also seems to have settled.
One thing that I have found interesting is that the weight I am today (around 60kg – I’m 5’4″) is the weight I was when I was 30 and also 40 (both very healthy times in my life). Maybe my body is returning itself to its ‘set’ weight – ie what I call the weight I maintain easily by eating healthy but not too strictly and just moving regularly.
Whatever the case, it is quite nice to be over the diet culture days of my past and really just focused on enjoying good food and living a healthy more balanced life. However, I will note here that I am a work in progress. I’m still coming to terms with decades of messaging and habits – I therefore still do have those occasional days where I find myself again having unhelpful thoughts about what I ‘should’ look like. Though thankfully much less now.
With regard to my weight gain – of course, I can’t ‘blame’ everything on menopause. With the reduction in estrogen at post menopause, our ability to build muscle is definitely compromised. Added to that, we also naturally lose muscle mass and our metabolism slows as we age. Note that we can do a lot to negate the effects of these menopausal and ageing factors, particularly by undertaking strength training, incorporating some shorter more intense workouts and ensuring our protein intake is adequate.
For other menopausal women who have found their weight increasing, I understand that it can be distressing and it may feel like you have no control.
My advice, as always, is to focus on your health, not your weight.
I have made some changes to my diet to better support my post menopausal biology but I do not follow a restrictive way of eating and I do not cut out food groups – I just don’t find it necessary or fun! I eat lots of healthy mainly unprocessed foods but also make room for some of the less healthy foods I enjoy. I’m also adding more intentional strength/hiit sessions that I know will help optimise my muscle mass and body composition at this stage of life.
I’ve also had a rethink about what a post menopausal personal trainer ‘should’ look like (or any trainer for that matter). I’ve decided that if I have to devote my life to dieting and exercise, then I’m not really portraying the kind of healthy lifestyle I’m advocating for my clients. Health for me is more than just physical. Yes, exercise and nutrition are important but we also need to consider other aspects of health such as sleep, stress management, mindfulness and even our social connections.
I now view healthy food and movement as a way to enhance my life and not to restrict it and I want to share that philosophy with people around me. I have no intention of ever going back to the extremes from my past. Those days, for me, are over.
At 53, I now celebrate my body (and my thighs) for how they are allowing me to live this fit, healthy and beautiful midlife.