“Pack your bags for the journey,” Grandmother Growth advises softly. “Your Change may be rough in places, so cushion yourself. Your Change may have some hard edges, so let your contours round. Your wise blood is stirring and you are learning to let it move without attaching fear to its meanderings. In the same way, you can gracefully allow your natural weight gain. Struggling with your weight or dieting is bad medicine for you now, resulting only in thin bones that break easily, extreme hormone shifts that will keep you from sleeping and thinking, and an inner fire reduced to ashes or burning out of control. Pack your bags, slowly, dear one. There is no rush,” sighs Grandmother Growth, closing her eyes and sinking into a nap.
The best ally you can have on your menopausal journey is ten “extra” pounds. I know you don’t want to hear this. I understand how difficult it is to desire ten extra pounds (or accept it happening to you, as it does to most menopausal women). You may have spent much of your life trying to get rid of ten extra pounds. The ultimate failure as a woman nowadays is not to be infertile, but to gain weight.
When thin and young is the standard of beauty, any menopausal woman might find it difficult to maintain a positive self-image as she sees herself becoming a thick-waisted, silver-haired Crone.
I had some killer hot flashes, but the most difficult part of menopause for me was gaining weight. I knew it was going to happen; I knew it was supposed to happen. But I never thought it would happen. I read the studies; I knew that most healthy women, thin or thick or in between, gained ten to fifteen pounds during their menopausal years. But not me, I thought. I eat superbly. I exercise: an hour and a half of yoga every week, tai chi, and my ordinary farm chores (moving and splitting firewood, throwing bales of hay, hauling water, chasing goats). Not me.
Yes, me. I watched my image in the mirror take on a shape more and more closely approximating the Venus figurines of pre-history. And my modern prejudices surged to the fore: “Yuck. You look disgusting. You’re overweight. It isn’t healthy. Lose weight!” I knew it wasn’t true. But despite years of feminism and consciousness-raising on every -ism, from ageism to weightism, there was my culture yelling at me in my own mind every time I looked in the mirror.
Now I looked like my aunts. Now I looked like a woman. It was as strange and unfamiliar as the sprouting of my breasts and pubic hair at puberty. I remember standing in my clothes closet at the age of thirteen, wistfully and resentfully removing my favorite little-girl dresses, none of which fit.
Not looking in the mirror didn’t help. (I didn’t have to resist looking at the scale. I don’t own one.) My clothes didn’t fit. First it was my blouses: my buttons gaping and my t-shirts straining. Then it was my pants: Tight waistbands became absolutely The Lost Book of Herbal impossible. My size fluctuated widely from morning to night, growing bigger as the day went on. For several months, I walked around the house with my pants unfastened from dinner until bedtime, a menopausal symptom my sweetheart was completely in favor of.
Fortunately, I knew that dieting would not improve my health, and could easily harm me. But without the loving acceptance I felt from my lover, I might have faltered and given in to the desire to resist this change with all my might. I might have given up on being proud to look like a postmenopausal woman: like Margaret Mead, Eleanor Roosevelt, Susan B. Anthony.
I wish for every menopausal woman someone to tell her each evening when she disrobes, how goddess-like, how voluptuous, how attractive and desirable she is, and to say with her: “The best ally I can have on my menopausal journey is ten extra pounds”.
Of course, I don’t mean ten pounds of ordinary fat. You want ten pounds of healthy fat supported by healthy muscle and bone. And you want to gain that weight very, very slowly. Ideally about a pound or two a year during menopause. Remember, you are cushioning yourself for the journey. Love yourself as you get “in shape” for Change.
Step 1. Collect information
- Fat cells convert androstenedione, a substance produced by the adrenals and the ovaries, into estrone, the primary postmenopausal estrogen. Women who gain weight during menopause have less severe hot flashes, an easier Change, and denser bones, according to menopause advocate, and long-time editor of A Friend Indeed, the Newsletter of Menopause, Jeanine O’Leary Cobb.
- Despite pronouncements that extra fat is a health risk, weight gained during the menopausal years is not associated with any increase in mortality risk.
- And losing it will not improve your health.
- In fact, weight loss can lead to thyroid malfunction, severe gall bladder problems, increased insulin-resistance, and weakening of the cardiovascular and immune systems.
- If you don’t have a sweetie to tell you your bigger body is bodacious, read:
Radiance: The Magazine for Large Women; PO Box 30246, Oakland, CA 94604.
Healthy Weight Journal; PO Box 620, LCD1, Hamilton, ON; L8N 3K7, Canada. 1-800-568-7281.
You Count, Calories Don’t, Linda Omichinski. Box 102A, RR#3, Portage La Prairie, MN; R1N 3A3, Canada. 1-800-565-4847.
Loving Your Midlife Body, Linda Moore Browning, Health Forum for Older Women, Winter 1999.
Step 2. Engage the energy
“The first time I saw pictures of my postmenopausal self I was frightened by my size!”
- Give yourself permission to take up more space. Allow your needs to be uppermost. Enlarge your view of yourself. Enlarge your world.
- If you don’t already do an hour or more of yoga, tai chi, or some other meditative physical exercise weekly, begin … now.
- Go to an art gallery, or get a book from your library, and find a picture of an attractive woman with a round proud belly. Meditate with her. Become her for a moment. Feel the energy in your belly. Feel the wise blood stirring within your belly. Stirring and simmering and sending its heat up along the energy pathways of your body. Be proud of yourself and your belly.
- Say a short prayer of thanksgiving, or sing a song, or light a candle, or observe a moment of silence before you eat. Affirm that the food will bring you health and pleasure.
Step 3. Nourish & Tonify
- Give up dieting. Eat the widest variety of whole foods possible. Don’t make any foods absolutely forbidden. What you eat everyday has the most effect. The best way to stop worrying about weight gain is to eat ten or more servings of fruit and vegetables, three or more servings of whole grains, and a cup of yogurt daily.
- To ensure that you add hormonally-helpful, bone-strengthening, empowering fat, include one serving of a high calorie phytoestrogen-rich food and three servings of super mineral-rich foods in your daily diet.