Or at least it doesn’t have to be.
I get lots of messages from women in their early fifties, alarmed at how their “tummy never used to be like this” or “I used to be so fit and strong and now I’m just exhausted”. This isn’t just the menopause, this is also ageing. As we (and men too) age, we lose muscle. Muscle burns more energy (calories) in a toned, firm state than it does when it’s slack.If our muscle is slack and untrained, the rate at which we burn calories drops.
So what if we’re still eating the same amount? Then we store the surplus as fat. It’s not a bad character trait, it’s just what happens. Hold that thought.
Everyone grows old. All our cells are less robust, our muscles shrink, our connective tissue loses its elasticity. Our body is no longer firing on all cylinders like it was when we were 25. it won’t burn so many calories now as it did then, simply because it doesn’t have the physical infrastructure in place.
Fast forward to now. As we approach our fifties, all sorts of other mad things start happening . You feel hot when no-one else does, your skin is dry, your sleep is terrible, your hair is thinning and you want to chase your partner round the house with a carving knife for no apparent reason. That is the menopause and it can make us feel mightily miserable but it’s not necessarily the physiological reason for weight gain. Think what’s happening in our lives – it’s busy!!. There’s the children and all their exams, anxieties, relationships. Your own parents with their ailments and issues. Not to mention the pressures of your work, your partner’s work, redundancy, the mortgage, the rent, the bills. And the dog! Who’s walking the dog? It can be overwhelming. Our heads are stacked full of stuff, both important and trivial but all of it keeps everyone else’s lives ticking along.
I’m not saying that some strength training and a few thousand steps a day will make the symptoms of the menopause go away. God no. What I AM saying is that weight gain is likely to be because we’re still eating the same amount we always did but our older body may not need that much anymore. I’m also saying that menopause symptoms, family worries and general lifestyle may mean we drink more rosé and eat more crisps. Proverbially speaking.
WHAT SHOULD WE DO?
1. Use your muscles, take them out of their comfort zone, challenge them, so they adapt and grow firmer and stronger. They will require more energy to stay in that state. That could be resistance training at home, at the gym, your yoga session, your body pump class, my online group training…anything. So long as those muscles are being used, they will continue to help offset the ageing process. On top of that keep active all the time by walking (the long way round) to your appointments. It will increase the quality of the blood in your veins, give your mind a boost and allow you to finish that chapter of your rather good book.
2. Be vigilant about what you eat. Remember, our older bodies don’t need quite so much food. Don’t diet as such, but make sensible swaps. Choose wholegrain carbohydrate (takes longer to digest and metabolise into glucose). Add lots of protein (fish, chicken, yogurt, eggs, cottage cheese, pulses, beans, tofu) and veg (volume fills your belly). Go easy on ultra-processed food, a morsel now and then isn’t going to hurt. Watch how much sugar (or white carbs) you have. A constant diet of white this, white that, biscuits, chocolate, pasta, rice, bread every day at every meal means a whole load of glucose being made. And unless you’re very active it won’t be used up. It will be stored as fat. Not scaremongering. It’s just what happens.
My sole aim is to help women become more content with their bodies by understanding how weight-loss and weight-gain happens. Understanding replaces guilt.
Questions in an email to email@example.com. Thank you very much for reading.