Don’t Look Back – You’re Not Going That Way Now …
As I sit here writing this today, Auckland in New Zealand, is back ‘on alert’ with a return to our Alert Level 3 pandemic plan. Melbourne is the same as are many other cities or countries around the world. Hi to you all! Some of you reading this, have had your day interrupted and just when you might have been getting some normality back again, you’ve had to ‘pivot’ and change your day, making compromises for those around you. But I’m sure you’re good at this.
Because my guess is, that from your 20’s to your 30’s and beyond, your life has involved ‘change’. Pivoting has become the word associated with the pandemic, but I bet it’s not a new word to you at all. As mid-life women, we’ve been ‘pivoting’ for decades – usually in ways that best suit others around us – in the workplace, the home, the place of worship, the community, … wherever, you have lived your life. Women of our generation have typically learnt to ‘fit-in’ and well, ‘pivot’. From food choices with ‘what’s for dinner’ to helping and caring for others, whether at work, home or in the community, we tend to put our own needs aside and ‘fit-in’. But along the way, have we lost sight of caring for ourselves, especially as we’ve arrived in menopause? I know that I had too.
Menopause can be a confusing time. And I have a question for you – what if the way we are looking after ourselves, no longer matches our changing physiology and changing biology? If you are experiencing worsening symptoms or weight gain, then yes, there is a mis-match somewhere. But where and most importantly, why? If this sounds like you, then welcome, to my Wednesday briefing. No matter where you are in the world, it’s great to have you here.
When I began to examine how I was managing (or not managing) menopause, I began to understand that the life I was leading, was not suited to my changing biology in my 50’s. I felt emotional, short tempered, overweight, sore and exhausted. Despite the HRT and various other meopause-related supplements, I didn’t really feel these were working for me. How I was feeling day after day, felt so, ‘abnormal’. With the realisation that I couldn’t go on feeling the way I did (nor should my long-suffering family have to put up with my moods), I did what I’ve taught sport and exercise students to do for years … and that is to start with understanding the ‘normal’ with the physiology of the body. This time it was my body, not an athlete’s. My absolute belief is that when we are trying to untangle ‘problems’ then our starting point is always to ask the question, ‘what is normal?’ From that point, we can then pinpoint what has become ‘abnormal’.
Menopause is ‘normal’. It’s a stage of life that all women go through. Some earlier than others, some medically or surgically induced, some later than others. But it is our transition to a new way of ‘being’ – emotionally and physically. Somewhere between our mid-40’s and mid-50’s we experience that transition. And it goes on until we are nearly 60. Yes – true! This is when all of our reproductive hormones have changed and exerted their effects around the body. I include our master pituitary hormones that control oestrogen and progesterone in this. These hormones are Follicle-Stimulating Hormone and Luteinising Hormone – and these affect changes in our brain during menopause too. Feeling depressed or ‘foggy’ anyone?
So, what makes menopause ‘abnormal’ for so many? This is the next question I asked myself. And with this, understanding that our hormones don’t operate in isolation was crucial. There is a powerful connection between your pituitary, thyroid, adrenal and reproductive hormones. Because of this connection, it’s easy for other hormonnes to get out of balance. Once we understand that menopause is ‘normal’ but what is ‘abnormal’ is that we need to adjust our lifestyle to re-balance our pituitary, thyroid and adrenal hormones as our reproductive hormones change, then we can begin to untangle the ‘abnormal’ and change our lifestyle behaviours.
There’s other issues to consider as well …. the problem with many lifestyle and nutrition ‘solutions’, is that there is an assumption that we inhabit the same physical, biological and emotional space as men, athletes and young women. But we don’t. We are none of these. We are women who are ageing and in a world whereby women live longer than men, how we are ageing is important.
Then of course, there is the fact that we have been subjected to extraordinary decades of societal change. This has an effect on our stress levels too – inside and outside our body.
Think about it. We are the first generation to come into and through so many changes in society that impact on our thoughts, actions and beliefs. Television advertising wasn’t around in the 1960’s was it? Nor were all those packets of chocolate biscuits and frozen meals that jump out at you in the supermarket and you buy because you are too exhausted to cook dinner or bake. Nor did we have the choices that we now have around alcohol – and yes, this affects your symptoms and weight gain in menopause as well.
We didn’t have technology either. Those ipads, laptops and iphones that keep us in contact with everyone at work and at home and technology that we think we need to look at overnight – How many of you have really removed your technology from your bedroom as the sleep research suggests?
Nor did we have all the confusing messages from the fitness industry. I’ve been part of this industry for 30 years and I started with Jazzercise. Heavy weight-training with an emphasis on power-lifting and hard-out training from Boot Camps only started in the mid-1990’s when sports-science arrived and military style training hit the gym. These choices are meant for men and athletes. For women in menopause who aren’t sleeping, the end result of all this heavy workout training can lead to adrenal exhaustion. I went down that path too.
Consumer choice. This is what the last 30 years have given us. And for many of us who have had to work outside the home (and inside), we have embraced this change. But the trade-off in mid-life is that these life-time changes in how we’ve looked after ourselves may be clashing with physiological changes in menopause. We are spending money on all sorts of supplements and various remedies for our symptoms, but do we really need them? Because it may well be that the life you’ve lived, has contributed to your symptoms and weight gain in menopause, so what you really need, is a little ‘pivot’ in your lifestyle to better suit your age and stage of life instead.
Understanding menopause is crucial to your symptom management and weight gain. As I tell women on my 12 week programmes, ‘YOU’ are the solution, not the problem.
The ‘understanding’ therefore, is that menopause is NOT the issue. The issue is that your busy, exhausting lifestyle may be clashing with your ancient physiology and this has been building up for decades. In which case, you might need to change your behaviours and I would dearly love to show you the way.
I love theories of behaviour change. My Masters degree was on lifestyle behaviour change, which is why when women come onto the MyMT™ programmes, this is a big part of the ‘how’ – especially when it comes to turning around sleep, hot flushes, anxiety and for most women, their weight as well.
The starting point to changing our lifestyle in menopause is to firstly, remember that we aren’t going back – we are going forwards into the future – hopefully we have another 20 or 30 years ahead of us. What does that future look like for you? Secondly, we need Questions – this is the way to examine our current situation and gives us a starting point for change.
1. What is out of balance? Start with the basics – sleep, food, water, rest, movement, posture etc. This is your starting point for making changes.
2. What do you do in your day that puts you out of balance? Start with examining your routines and current habits, e.g. do you work through lunch? Do you have people around you in the workplace who stress you out? Do you crash at the end of the day because you are in ‘helper-mode’ all day?
3. What is one thing you can do to change something in your current routine? It might be the way you respond to others. For example, if someone is complaining to you about something, then ask yourself, is it your problem or theirs to solve? I think we often take on board other people’s problems don’t we? I know that I have over the years … especially with my teenagers. But the more I began to realise that they needed to learn to problem-solve, then I would ask them, ‘what do you think you will do about ….?’ It puts the responsibility onto them.
We all have our own set of life themes, habits and ways of organising ourselves and we arrive in mid-life with all these habits firmly ingrained. But the deeper we explore how we got to a point in our lives, where our body is out of balance and we are feeling unhealthy, then we can begin to make the changes we need to put into place.
Menopause and post-menopause means that we need to understand how the body is ageing and how to move with this, not resist it.
This is what you learn in the MyMT™programmes. You learn, through my step-by-step modules, which you access in your private learning hub, how to untangle your symptoms and/or weight, during or after your menopause transition. For those of you struggling with your changing health in menopause, you’ll learn how to move from unhealthy to healthy too. Our menopause transition is our biological ageing and as such, there are changes that we need to make so we can ‘pivot’ healthily into the future. That’s what nobody is teaching us to do in the context of our menopause transition and yes, I had to research how to do this from women’s healthy ageing research. Many of you might think that it’s ‘just’ nutrition that is the issue, but it’s not only what you eat. If you are overweight and not sleeping, then turning around sleep is important as is restoring liver health, gut health and of course, your joint health, so you can walk and hike and do all the movements that your body needs to achieve as you age without aches and pains. For those of you with relentless hot flushes and feelings of anxiety, then managing your temperature regulation and heart health is the key. ALL of these solutions are in both of the MyMT™ programmes for you – ‘Transform ME’ is the weight loss programme, and I named ‘Circuit Breaker’ so you thinner/leaner girls could ‘break the circuit of your symptoms’.
When you know what to do to manage menopause it makes so much sense! This is what I hear every day. As women on my programmes discover as well, ‘you’ are part of the solution, you are not the problem.
[NB: Photo Credit: Carlo Barone Photography – Carlo has taken a beautiful photo of my cousin Bridget walking on a Perth beach. Photo used with permission].