Embracing Menopause

Tuesday, March 2, 2021

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Embracing Menopause

Recently I’ve been undergoing a few changes. I’m 49 and am now well into menopause. But let’s go back a step. I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2018, treatment of which fast-tracked me straight through  perimenopause. I’ll be honest, when the oncologist told me that chemotherapy would stop my periods and they might not return, I wasn’t remotely concerned. I had other things to worry about. And how many 47-year-olds wouldn’t want to stop their periods while skipping the uncertainty of perimenopause?

Side note: perimenopause symptoms (which vary from person to person and can come and go over a number of years), can include hot flushes, night sweats, insomnia, changes to your cycle, increased blood flow and cramps during your period, increased PMS and weight gain despite no change in your diet or exercise. Everyone’s experience is different – some people have minimal symptoms; others feel like their world is turned upside down. On the plus side, dietary / lifestyle interventions and supplements can play a significant role in reducing symptoms. A good quality fish oil supplement and increased fibre were game-changers for me when I noticed increased PMS, heavier periods and excess cramping some years back.

But I digress. I survived chemo and surgery and am now cancer-free, albeit taking medication to help prevent the cancer returning. One side-effect of this medication is hot flushes – which are common during perimenopause and menopause. So, I figured I was well into menopause over a year ago thanks to my lack of periods and regular hot flushes.

But there’s another side of menopause that many of us grapple with, and that’s the seemingly sudden weight gain, particularly in areas like hips, stomach, breasts and back. This is in part due to reduced levels of oestrogen and progesterone, which impact muscle mass and metabolism, and increased testosterone (relative to oestrogen and progesterone), which contributes to an expanding waist and heavier upper body.

Having been the same weight for many years, I was somewhat surprised over the past 6 months as the number on my scales moved up alarmingly quickly. Clothes that I’d been wearing for years were getting tighter, particularly shorts and jeans (my daughter was delighted by this turn of events as I kept handing stuff over, and she hopefully asked whether my menopausal hips might also impact my shoe size?). But when some favourite dresses suddenly refused to even zip up anymore, something had to give.

What gave? Well, two things.

Firstly, the dresses made their way to my daughter’s closet. No point keeping them in my wardrobe to mock me with their lack of wearability. I bought a couple of new dresses and a new skirt, steadfastly ignoring the size on the label (the young shop assistant was slightly nonplussed at my complaints about menopausal hips, but she encouraged me nonetheless). Who doesn’t like an excuse for a new wardrobe?

Secondly, my mindset. Stepping on the scales every morning and seeing the number increase is no good for anyone. I decided it was time to focus on how I was feeling rather than the number on the scales. I’ve always loved exercise, but it was time for a change. I wanted to focus more on strength (essential to help maintain bone strength and build muscle as we get older) and less on cardio. I joined a different gym, with smaller, more personal classes focused on whole body health (Carmel at The Fitness Nirvana Health Centre in Castle Hill has been amazing to work with). I’m still keeping half an eye on my weight, but with a goal of increasing muscle mass and embracing my new shape.

The results? I feel better, stronger, happier and more confident.

There’s lots more I can say about menopause and the changes that come with it (and I’ll explore these in future blog posts). For now, I’m focused on the positives – a new approach to exercise, newfound strength and an excuse for a new wardrobe (well, a few new items at least).

Menopause shouldn’t be about negatives. It should be about embracing all that’s ahead of us. Whos’ with me?

Photo by Nelli Lau Photography

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