Menopause and Metabolism

menopause4cropOver the past year, I feel as if my metabolism has ground to a halt.  I’ve been in relative denial for awhile, but I think that as I approach my 49th birthday, it’s safe to say that I have entered menopause.

According to this article:

Menopause occurs when a woman stops having menstrual periods. This is caused by a decrease in the production of hormones, resulting in fewer periods. Many women have irregular periods before completely stopping menstruation. For most, menopause occurs during the 40s to 50s, with the average age being 51. In addition to the end of menstruation, menopause can cause symptoms of hot flashes, fatigue, depression and irritability, weight gain, a decrease in sexual interest, night sweats and insomnia.

The years preceding menopause show a decline in metabolism, often resulting in weight gain. Women gain approximately one pound per year during this time. The distribution of weight changes for a woman during menopause as well, accumulating around the abdomen as belly fat, as opposed to the hips and thighs. This leads to a body figure that is more of an apple shape, compared to the pear shape of some younger women.

My symptoms pretty much check out.  I haven’t had a period since January. I realize that it’s not over officially until a year has gone by, but nine months of no period (and no baby) has made me fairly confident that it’s over.  I’m experiencing moments through the day when I spontaneously heat up from the inside and break into a sweat.  I’m not more tired than usual, but I’m not in a happy place and I feel pretty irritable (what about weepy? does that happen too?).

Though I don’t weigh myself, judging by the way my clothes feel, I’m either the same (with some redistribution) or a bit heavier than I was in January. It’s gathering around the middle a bit more than in the past.  I won’t comment on my level of sexual interest other than to say I’ve lost my usual mojo over the past little while.  I thought it was just that I’ve got a thousand things on my plate right now (that’s my hope). Night sweats and insomnia: check, check.

So what to do? I’ve had people suggest hormone treatments to deal with the hot flashes and night sweats. I’ve been loathe to mess with my hormones up until now.  But when I see my doctor in October I may have a chat about options.

I’ve read the standard fare recommendation of eating less and moving more.  The article ended with this pep talk:

Remember, successful weight loss at any stage of life requires permanent changes in diet and exercise habits. Take a brisk walk every day. Try a yoga class. Swap cookies for fresh fruit. Split restaurant meals with a friend. Commit to the changes and enjoy a healthier you!

And it just made me sad.

I’ve probably never had a healthier lifestyle than I do now. Our “fittest by fifty” project has really helped me develop new healthy habits.  If I was any more active I’d have to cut corners on sleep, work, or family time. Every day I run or walk or swim or ride my bike or some combination of those things. I train with weights twice a week — heavy weights. I do yoga at least 3 times a week most weeks.

If I was doing all these things to lose weight, I’d have quit by now.

The other day there was that Matt Stone post, “Never Exercise to Lose Weight.”  He says:

Exercise is great. It’s probably the single best quality of life enhancer, especially for older people, of any health practice. Do it for fun. Do it because a day that includes a hike, a swim, some hoops, some Frisbee, or some weightlifting is always better than a day of complete and total couch surfing. Do it to master new skills. Do it so you can walk up a flight of stairs without gasping for air. Do it so you can play sports and have fun. Do it, ultimately, because it makes your life better and fuller. You will do a lot more of it if it’s recreational. No motivation required.

I like this. I like how he adds that “especially for older people,” being active is an excellent quality of life enhancer. Since it looks, from all that I’ve read, that a slower metabolism is an inevitable part of menopause, I’m relieved and pleased that I’ve found other reasons to be active.

And all those things I’m doing really are improving my quality of life as I enter into those crucial decades where you can’t get by on the luck of youth anymore. Apparently,  women who reach menopause tend to exercise less than other women.  That’s is consistent with what Sam talked about in her post about aging as a lifestyle choice.  There, she drew attention to research that said that recent research shows that we age because we slow down, not the other way around.

So even though my metabolism has decided to retire early, I don’t have slow down along with it.  I had a great time at the gym this morning, working up a sweat in the weight room and then going for probably my last swim before the triathlon on Sunday.  Now I need to hop on my bike and ride up to campus.

About Tracy I

Writer, feminist, vegan, triathlete, sailor, philosopher, sometimes knitter.

8 thoughts on “Menopause and Metabolism

  1. Oh boy. I feel ya! I’ve been using compounded bioidenticals for a few years now and I’m only 38! For years I thought that I must have done something wrong – it was too early!! I was/am too young! Turns out, I’m just ahead of my time 🙂 its been, er, interesting to manage but doable. I stay active, eat food that fuels my activity and sleep as best as I can. I’m lucky that I don’t have to wake up for work each day since the cyclic insomnia wreaks havoc on my sleep. Please let me know if you have any questions about BHRT!! It can be tricky to navigate! Best of luck to you!

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  2. Sam B says:

    Agreed, from the land of perimenopause. I don’t think HRT will be an option for me when I get to the full fledged thing since it appears to increase risk of breast cancer. Like you, I’m trying to focus on fitness over weight which, as you say, is a very good thing! I actually wonder if women quit exercising because it stops “working” where that’s defined in terms of weight loss. A blog post for another time. In the meantime, here’s my past posts on menopause, https://fitisafeministissue.wordpress.com/2012/12/17/monday-morning-perimenopause-and-metabolism/

    https://fitisafeministissue.wordpress.com/2013/05/21/middle-age-bellies-body-acceptance-and-menopause/

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  3. catherine w says:

    At 51.5, I am just now entering perimenopause, and it is not fun. I have some insomnia, some wicked mood swings (not just irritation, but tears, too, which is new and I hope temporary) and fatigue. No hot flashes (so far– they don’t tend to run in my family). And change of weight distribution– more around the middle, which is also vexing. Tracy– check out supplements containing black cohosh and soy isoflavones; there is some clinical and biochemical evidence (emphasis on some, not a lot) that these substances, through estrogen delivery, help mitigate symptoms like hot flashes, mood swings, insomnia. It certainly seems to me as if things are better now that I have been taking it every day for a few months (said cautiously with respect for the perils of confirmation bias). I find, like you, that exercise also helps– with the sleeping, with the libido, with mood– it is just flat-out good for what ails you!

    -catherine w

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  4. Rita says:

    You know, women are going into menopause earlier and earlier and having more and more difficult times with it. I’m 61 and had my last period at 43. It KICKED MY BUTT. The hot flashes and the waves of anxiety would wash over me 50 times a day. My memory disappeared. I was a roiling ocean of emotional uproar (how do you like my alliteration?). And it went on for a few years. But I’m fine now. I switched to the Paleo diet and lost all the weight I gained during menopause. I’m back to my high school weight.

    Back to my previous point: My mother had her last period somewhere in her late 50’s … I asked her about it once and she said she couldn’t remember the exact age because things just tapered off, no hot flashes, no weight gain. In polling my friends, they all said something similar about their mothers’ menopauses: unremarkable, quiet and quick. These were moms who were born in the 1920’s and their diets were very much cleaner and more wholesome than ours, as was the air and water.

    We are suffering in this generation from bad food (even when we try to eat healthy), bad water, bad air and hormonal sabotage from the sheer amount of plastics in the environment that mimic estrogen and from hormones in the meat and pesticides in the vegetables. So I try to eat clean, as much as I can afford.

    Re: natural products for menopause. In my experience, NONE of them helped with hot flashes, and the claims they make about safety are unproven because natural products are not subject to double-blinded, controlled studies. They do have hormones in them, they’re not benign in that regard, and we don’t know the long-term effects. So I don’t recommend them. But I do recommend everything you can do to reduce stress and detach yourself emotionally from the worst of the symptoms. A simple half-hour meditation every day — where you just notice your breathing (as opposed to trying to breathe), and when your mind wanders, which it will, bring it back to the breath — can work miracles with your mood.

    The advice to exercise more while eating less doesn’t really work. Just keep your carbs on the low side, get enough protein and fats, supplement with omega-3’s, eat a lot of vegetables and fruits and pass on the sugar. By the way, I’m not one of those older women who exercises less. I lift heavy weights. I agree with you that in many respects we age because we slow down. Our bodies will change but we don’t have to hide in the house because of it. Seems like you have a full life. No need to fix a thing.

    Re: your weight gain — maybe get your thyroid tested? Hypothyroidism is sometimes associated with menopause and could be partly responsible for weight gain.

    In the old days they used to call menopause “The Change.” They weren’t kidding. (Everything changes. That’s life. Entropy ‘R Us.) If menopause were simply the cessation of menses, we would throw a big party with all the money we used to spend on tampons. But the underlying implication that causes much of the suffering of menopause is emotional: we’re aging and one day we’re going to die. I saw parts of my body change almost overnight. Wrinkles, rough skin, even the look and feel of my genitals changed, including annoying vaginal dryness. (And the old mojo definitely went on vacation.) We women are reared to be obsessed with our appearance. It’s a shocking readjustment. But the symptoms will pass and you will regain your old self, and potentially be better than before, certainly emotionally.

    So we’re all going to die. We bury our parents and watch our loved ones pass away. And then it’s our turn. Morbid? No. Reality. I let it inspire me to live, live, live.

    There’s so much we can’t control, and some of the symptoms of menopause, like night sweats and emotional weirdness, we just have to ride out. But we can control how often we exercise, what we eat, and what we do to experience love and joy in the here and now. Which it sounds like you are already doing. So thanks for writing about this topic which is far too little discussed, and carry on!

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    • Gingerzingi says:

      “If menopause were simply the cessation of menses, we would throw a big party with all the money we used to spend on tampons.”

      LOL! I’ve been praying for the day since I was fourteen years old. Was very disappointed to discover that it’s not a simple matter of turning off a faucet.

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    • Rita says:

      Yeah, menopause isn’t simple and uncomplicated. But now that I think about it, sometimes women do throw a party when the tampons go away. It’s called a “Croning,” where we older women embrace our menopause in the company of our friends, celebrate the wisdom and experience that comes with age and look forward to years of creativity and productivity yet to come. I’ve been to a couple of those myself and they’re very affirming and fun. If people (men) want to disparage older women as a bunch of old crones and hags, I say bring it on! (There’s plenty of fertility to be experienced as we get older, and it has nothing to do with sperm. Sorry, guys.)

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  5. Jean says:

    Thankfully have moved into menopause @54…well for good now. It was a gentler phase for past 3 years or so. Only mild short flash 1-2 times early morning while in bed. I very rarely had them later during the day.

    My diet coincided around perimenopause when I dropped eating white rice and bread 80% less due to near diabetes 2 blood test results.

    Yes, aging can be bothersome. But really for me it isn’t physically aging, but the loss of loved ones over time.

    I agree that exercise should just be like breathing..your body just wants to do it. If not, then body misses it after a few days. Or having 2 consecutive days of lousy food..when later body craves veggies and fruits.

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