It’s only taken me 50 years or so to truly love the body I’m in.
I’m not naturally a super skinny person. I’ve always had a more athletic, curvier body shape. And, I was always embarrassed about my muscular thighs.
Throughout my life I have been extreme – both very underweight and also overweight heading towards obesity. And, for approximately 20 years, I experienced disordered eating and substantial body images issues – all because I wanted to be thinner. If anyone reading this relates, then you will know how much of a waste of life that attitude is – I allowed myself to miss out on many social and sporting opportunities because I was waiting to the slimmer, fitter and somehow ‘better’.
Luckily for me, after the birth of my daughter, I changed this extreme way of thinking and I have spent most of the last 17 years more balanced. Partly because I wanted to be a good role model for my children and partly because who has time to worry so much about the way you look with young children to care for. And during this time – I maintained a fairly stable healthy weight without over thinking it – fluctuating only when training for endurance events.
Now after hitting post menopause, as many women find, I have gained a little weight. Initially, to be honest, I found this quite distressing, as it happened relatively quickly and I suppose I wondered if it would ever stop (especially as I was training for an Ironman and imagined I would lose weight as I had done in the past with endurance training). Now, at almost 2 years post menopause, my hormones seem to have settled and my weight gain also seems to have settled (thank goodness!).
One thing that I have found interesting is that the weight I am today (around 59kg – I’m 5’4″) is the weight I was when I was 30 and also 40 (both healthy times in my life). Maybe my body is returning itself to its ‘set’ weight – ie what I call the weight I maintain easily by eating healthy but not too strictly. Whatever the case, it is quite nice to be over the diet culture days of my past and really just focused on enjoying good food and living a healthy more balanced life.
With regard to my weight gain – of course, I can’t blame everything on menopause. With the reduction in estrogen at post menopause, our ability to build muscle is definitely compromised. However, we also naturally lose muscle mass and our metabolism slows as we age. Note that we can do a lot to negate the effects of these menopausal and ageing factors, particularly by undertaking strength training, incorporating some shorter more intense workouts and ensuring our protein intake is adequate.
For other menopausal women who have found their weight increasing, I understand that it can be distressing and it may feel like you have no control. My advice, as always, is to focus on your health, not your weight.
I have made some changes to my diet to better support my post menopausal biology but I do not follow a restrictive way of eating and I do not cut out food groups – I just don’t find it necessary or fun! I eat lots of healthy mainly unprocessed foods but also make room for some of the less healthy foods I enjoy. I’m trying to add some more intentional strength/hiit sessions as noted above – though it is challenging with time while training for the ironman. When that event is completed, I’ll be focusing more on strength – for my muscles and my bones.
Most importantly, I now view healthy food and movement as a way to enhance my life and not to restrict it. I have no intention of ever going back to the extremes from my past. At 52, I now celebrate my body (and my thighs) for how they are allowing me to live this fit, healthy and beautiful midlife.