Ginny Grabowski, MSc.
My #1 Question About Menopause
Updated: Jan 28, 2020
I was in denial. I admit it.
As I made my way through my early 40s, menopause was the last thing on my mind. I was newly married, running a fitness and nutrition business and spent most of my days balancing the two.
Female friends who were a bit older would talk about the “impending doom,” of “the change,” which I happily ignored because I secretly believed it would never happen to me.
OK, I realized it would happen, but I didn’t want to hear about hot flashes, hormones, or whatever else came along with menopause. Truth be told, I didn’t really believe it would be as bad for me and somehow if I didn’t acknowledge it, I’d sail through it all.
Throughout my career as a Certified Personal Trainer and Nutrition Coach, I have worked mostly with women over 40. I love these women because they’ve been there-done that, are ready to make a change and are done with quick-fix solutions. They are no nonsense, down-to-earth, ready to listen and they act on good advice.
When you work with women over 40, there’s no avoiding the topic of menopause. It’s a huge change for us. Reducing estrogen in your body by 95% is a big deal.
Menopause gets blamed for EVERYTHING. Seriously, everything.
Gained weight? Menopause.
Can’t sleep? Menopause.
Your boss is a jerk, your kids won’t listen, you’ve run out of wine? Menopause.
Menopause plays a big role in our lives…absolutely.
But, it’s not the only reason for the everything.
For many of my clients, once we dug into what was really going on and started addressing their nutrition, exercise and other habits, the menopause symptoms went away. Not all of them, but even the worst symptoms were made much better.
Linda Drops the M-Bomb.
My favorite example of this is a client named Linda (name changed to protect the innocent). Linda, a busy corporate executive in her early 50s wanted to lose about 25 pounds. When we began working together, she sometimes came to workouts, sometimes had excuses. She sometimes followed my nutrition recommendations, sometimes she was too busy and didn’t. She didn’t see much change because she didn’t change much.
After about 6 weeks of sort-of following the program, she dropped the M-bomb. “What about menopause?” she asked. “Could menopause be keeping me from losing weight?”
Anything is possible and I had, of course, heard stories about weight gain in menopause. I dug in and started researching articles on weight gain and menopause. At the time, there wasn’t much. This study wasn’t published until after I did my research.
From the few studies that I could find, the consensus was factors like diet and exercise had a greater effect on weight than menopause.
The next time Linda came in for a workout, I invited her into my office. “Linda,” I said, “I have an answer to your question.”
Her eyes lit up, thinking I would say that she was right. It was menopause’s fault that she had gained weight. Go ahead and have another glass of wine, it has no effect. There’s nothing you can do to lose the weight.
Instead, the conversation went something like this. “It’s not menopause. You may be experiencing some changes to your body, like where body fat is showing up, but menopause isn’t the reason for your weight gain. There is a lot you can do to change where you are now. Exercise and what you’re eating will have the greatest impact…it’s up to you.
The light of “it’s not my fault,” changed to the spark of, “I can do this.” Linda started following her plan, she lost the weight and took control of her health.
What is the Truth About Menopause?
For me, in my early-40s innocence, Linda’s story solidified my belief that while we blame menopause for much of what ails us, it’s more likely that long-term lifestyle choices have finally caught up with us. We can’t get away with “cheating” the way we could in our 20's (**sigh**).
Now, I’m 50. Menopause is a part of my world (technically, none of us are menopausal, we’re peri-menopausal or post-menopausal, but that’s another article for another day). My friends and I are at different stages and we each have our own experience. But there’s one hot topic (yes, I went there) of conversation in any female get-together I attend.
It’s my #1 question and it affects most of my friends.
Hot flashes, WTF?
Yes, WTF makes it a question.
What I find most interesting about hot flashes is the range in which we experience them. I have friends who have full-on meltdowns. You know the kind…first, her face flushes, then the beads of sweat break out and you know, inside, she’s on fire. There’s nothing you can do to help her, so you ignore it, pretend you’re both just fine (“You had a hot flash? I didn’t even notice!”). Conversation continues. I, on the other hand, feel a little warm now and again, more like the way I used to blush when embarrassed by something when I was a kid. It’s annoying, but not debilitating. And then there’s the lucky ones who are experiencing no hot flashes at all.
Which brings us to WTF? Why do some of us have wild swings in body temperature at no predictable interval while others barely notice they’re happening?
Science doesn’t have an answer. More frustrating! There are theories and there are influences or triggers that can make our hot flashes worse or better, but researchers have yet to determine the cause of these internal, tropical stay-cations.
Here’s what I found out.
We can make them worse. There’s more information about what makes hot flashes worse than there is about how to make them less severe. Here’s a list of what can make them worse:
Diets high in animal-protein and fat
Low fiber intake
Low soy intake
High BMI/being obese
Living a sedentary lifestyle.
We can reduce their impact. To reduce how hot your flashes get and to have fewer of them, here’s what you can do. This list is pretty much the opposite of the list above.
Increase fiber intake: Yes, this means eat more fruit, veggies, legumes, nuts and grains. Taking a fiber supplement is NOT the same as eating whole-foods that contain fiber.
Reduce the animal-based fat and protein in your diet: You don’t have to go vegan or vegetarian, but experiment with this and see how you feel. Shift your focus from “I can’t eat meat” to I’ll add in one or two additional servings of fruits, veggies, etc. into my day.
Eat regularly. This study found that hot flashes were reduced when blood glucose was raised (as it is immediately after eating) vs. fasting.
Reduce your body fat and reduce your weight. Our bodies can produce estrogen from our body fat. This fact supports a theory that our body increases our abdominal body fat so that we have a way to counter the ovaries ceasing to produce estrogen. What we do know is that women with higher BMI had a greater number and increased severity of hot flashes.
Black Cohosh is an herb that has shown mixed effects on hot flashes, depending on the study. This study shows benefit. Please be aware that Black Cohosh can have some side effects and because it is an herbal remedy, it’s tough to know how much of it will benefit you. Do your research and speak with your doctor before trying it.
This too, shall pass.
We go through menopause in a 2–10 year span. This is part of what makes studying menopause difficult. Is the intervention really helping or are we just moving through the process and our bodies adjust? Having said that, 10 years of hot flashes would be miserable.
Remember, it’s your body.
If you’re struggling with menopause, ask for help. Speak with your doctor. If s/he doesn’t take you seriously, get a second (or third or fourth) opinion. Find someone who will listen to you.
There are a range of symptoms that come along with this time in our lives. Some are great, some just suck. Whether you are thriving as you transition or struggling, you deserve to be listened to and you’re not crazy.
In The Women's Wellness Academy I help you work through menopause, along with the mindset and physical aspects of our changing bodies. Yes, you can lose weight and have great energy through every stage of your life. Together, we get you to your healthiest life. Find out more here.