I walked into my doctors office, looked her straight in the eye and said “I think I’m in menopause at 38.”
I was certain something bigger was going on. I had been struggling for so long with various symptoms such as extreme fatigue, brain fog, what felt like teenage skin one week and rapidly aging skin the next, hot flashes at night and chilled all day. I had started to have insatiable afternoon cravings, stubborn excess belly fat, strong insomnia episodes and the final straw that broke the camels back, irregular periods alongside PMS that felt like it was lasting all month long. It was everything I had heard in my life about how menopause began.
My doctor politely asked me a couple questions and then kindly smiled and said “no you’re not in menopause…you are the picture of good health.”
Since that day I’ve learned a lot of things. First, I learned that peri-menopause technically begins for all women around 35-40 when our body just doesn’t ovulate and produce estrogen the same way it did in its peak reproductive years. FULL menopause can take at least another 10-15 years after peri-menopause begins. I learned that my doctor was right, I was NOT in menopause. But mostly what I learned was that all of these strange behaviours my body was exhibiting, were NOT menopause, but classic symptoms of stress. A result that occurs in most women from mis-managed blood sugar, overworked adrenals and congestion in our organs of elimination.
As a personal trainer and holistic health and nutrition coach, for years I’ve been hearing from women over 35, expressing very similar concerns and symptoms to mine. The more women I connected with and the more stories I collected of women struggling with these symptoms – while still desperate to lose weight and feel better in their extremely busy lives – the more something became glaringly clear: women’s bodies are extremely stressed out these days and a stressed body cannot lose weight.
It reminded me of the pregnancy years of my late twenties and early thirties. It was very hard to get pregnant when you were stressed out. Weight loss is not unlike pregnancy where you are asking your body to make a change, and change causes stress to the body. Like trying to get pregnant, if you are already living in a stressed out body, trying to lose weight is not something your body is capable of taking on. Learning how to LOWER the stress in our body creates the space for our body to do what it can all on its own: Balance hormones, regulate metabolism, repair, heal, fight illness, get pregnant and of course, let go of any excess weight.
Likewise, we can learn a lot about HOW to lower the stress in our body by remembering what all of those pregnancy books taught us a decade ago when we were ready to start trying to have a baby. Here are 5 things you likely learned when you were trying to get pregnant, that you should revisit BEFORE you even attempt to restrict calories or take on an intense workout program (both of which add significant stress to the body.)
- Increase rest and sleep. Our bodies need anywhere from 7-9 hours of sleep to recharge repair and recover from daily life. If you aren’t getting that, you are asking your body to do more than it is capable of long term.
- Lessen inflammatory foods and products like caffeine, refined sugar, fried food and alcohol. These are basic first steps of pregnancy and they work the same for weight loss. NOT because omitting them makes you pregnant or lose weight, but because they add stress to the body, meaning the body has to deal with this stress instead of preparing for a pregnancy or utilizing stored fat as energy.
- Ensure you are getting adequate amounts of key micronutrients in your diet and consider supplementing key vitamins and minerals that you are deficient in. Every woman knows when they are trying to get pregnant that they should take a prenatal multi vitamin and ensure they are getting enough folic acid. Weight loss is not that different, boost your body’s ability to function optimally with the correct micronutrients you are missing.
- Low intensity exercise. Diving into a new, intense workout program when you are already living in a stressed out body is the fastest way to stress it out more, and yet, daily movement is key for lowering mental stress and boosting dopamine and serotonin levels in the brain. Opt for a daily 30 minute walk, light jog, dance, swim, stretch or yoga and leave the high intensity stuff for when your body is balanced and ready to take on something more significant from a low stress foundation.
- Track your period. The female menstrual cycle is also known as the fifth vital sign for female health. When we are trying to get pregnant, tracking it is key to knowing ovulation and hormone health to make pregnancy possible. The same goes for weight loss. Tracking the 4 phases of your cycle – follicular, ovulatory, luteal and menstrual – as well as how you feel during those phases can provide everything you need to know when it comes to your own weight loss and energy gain. Everything from what hormone imbalances you may have to how much rest you need, how hard you can push yourself in a workout and what you should be eating for optimal results can be learned through your OWN menstrual cycle. What if you don’t have a bleed? No need to worry, you can simply track your cycle with the moon, noting that the week of the new moon is your menstrual week followed by follicular, ovulatory and then luteal.
Weight loss can be stressful at any age, but as you reach your late 30’s and beyond, it can be even more frustrating as you navigate the changes in your own body. These simple 5 steps will set you up for success in your weight loss, energy gain and in general, just have you feeling more like yourself if you are like me, certain that something bigger is making you feel like a different person every day of the week.