Would we dare tell our daughters that growing hips and breasts at puberty is unacceptable?
Yet, why do we often feel that gaining a few extra pounds and a little more belly fat at menopause is unacceptable for ourselves?
Menopause, like puberty, results in a change in our reproductive hormones and subsequently, there are often changes in our body composition. I don’t know the official stats or even the scientific data, however from the conversations I’ve had (a lot of them), I’d estimate that 95% of post-menopausal women would say that they have gained a little weight and some extra belly fat.
Are there things we can do to prevent this? To some extent, yes. Strength training, for example, will help to minimise the natural loss of muscle mass we experience with declining estrogen/age and subsequently minimise body composition changes. Other training such as short sessions of HIIT (high intensity interval training) may also work well with our new hormonal status.
However, are we doing ourselves (and our daughters who will also eventually experience menopause) a disservice by still aspiring to the type of lean physique that generally (there are genetically blessed exceptions of course) can only be achieved through strict exercise and dieting practices? And, is that actually healthy (both the extremes and the mindset)?
Should we perhaps be viewing a post-menopausal woman’s belly and the more rounded shape that many of us gain, as something as beautiful as the breasts and hips we received at puberty?
Personally, I’ve contemplated these very questions myself (intensively) over the last couple of years as my body has changed – literally what felt like overnight when my reproductive hormones diminished.
Of course, I’m not about to stop exercising, laze on the couch all day, eat bucket loads of chocolate and allow myself to become unhealthy. Health is important to me. It’s who I am.
I know that if I move my body intelligently and regularly, eat a relatively healthy diet (with some chocolate included) and ensure I optimise my sleep etc, then my body will naturally find it’s correct weight and shape. Will that be the same as it was 20 or 10 or even 5 years ago? In all honesty, I don’t think it will – and I have to admit that I have struggled with this idea. On the other hand, I’m also not prepared to undertake the deprivation/obsessiveness I may need to achieve an aesthetic that is possibly no longer realistic for me.
My daughter kindly reminded me recently ‘mum, you talk about how it’s normal to gain some weight and more belly fat at menopause all the time to other women but then you say you wish you fitted into your old clothes – you need to remind yourself that it’s ok as well!’ Thanks, my very wise 17 year old! So true! And, thank you for reminding me that you are always watching and listening to what I do and how I talk to myself. How I approach this time of life will undoubtedly impact my daughter’s own menopause experience in the future.
So, what’s my way forward? As I discussed with another lovely midlife woman recently, who articulated this so well, I know what my values are and what I want my body to be able to do in another 20 years or so. It’s not really so important what my body looks like. I’m more interested in whether I can still hike up mountains, travel and explore new places by foot and maybe even compete triathlons in my 70s and beyond. To achieve that, I can’t be a skinny, frail older lady. I need to be fit, strong and healthy. My thoughts just need to catch up with what I know is right (and good) for me.
My extra belly fat and my larger bottom? At 53, maybe it’s finally about time that I learned to embrace the curves seem to be part of my natural genetic makeup.