by VANESSA HAMPTON
I remember the day, when I was nearing the age of 40, that I received a letter in the mail from my health insurance company. It stated that my premiums were going up because I was “entering a new age bracket”. I was ticked. What the heck were these people thinking? I hadn’t been sick in 3 years and I was in better shape than ever. PSHHH! How ridiculous for them to decide I was going to cost them more money just because I was having a certain birthday… And then it happened.
Obviously, it was not the insurance company’s first rodeo because, just like what happens when your car warranty expires, everything on me started to break…quite literally. I had never had a broken bone in my life but somehow that year I fractured my thumb and sprained my foot and ankle…all in a 24-hour period. I had never had the flu…got it. My vision suddenly seemed to decline…hello reading glasses! My digestion went to crap, causing me two different surgeries, a truck load of tests, and a multitude of medication trials…still a mystery. Probably the most daunting of all, however, is how my over-40 hormones have wreaked havoc on my life. (Apologies, in advance, to the gentlemen readers. Maybe too much info for you to follow but consider it help in understanding your lady…or at least help in knowing when to hide from her.)
For some reason in these last 3 years, since crossing the line into crazy lady land, my hormones decided that I didn’t need periods every month….but only on the occasions that they decided I needed periods two times a month. But let’s not stop there. Just so I can reminisce about my teen years, the old hormones (no pun intended) have given me the gift of acne …yay! They also decided it would be fun to make it much harder to lose weight, and to tack on extra padding around the belly… just for a challenge, you know? So as I walked around with my blotched face, my morphed gut and all of these other awesome over-40 gifts, I listened to other ladies going through similar issues, only to confirm that it is a mental screw for all of us. So, what exactly is happening here?
In our late 30’s and early 40’s (typically), we enter the dreaded “perimenopause” phase of life, which basically means our estrogen has hopped on a roller coaster and is taking us along for the ride. Because of the wild fluctuations in levels of this hormone, we experience mood swings, night sweats, hot flashes, and inconsistent sex drive, and memory problems (gentlemen, this one may actually work in your favor).
When I started experiencing the crazy lady land theme park, my doctor put me on birth control pills in an effort to even out the distribution of hormones throughout the month. I tried these on more than one occasion, but they didn’t work for me. It was only when I stopped taking the pill and began adding in extra fatty acids, in the form of supplements, when things began to change. Suddenly, my symptoms became a lot more manageable and I started having regular periods again (for the first time in a very long time).
My doctor explained to me that it was likely helping because there is evidence that an increase in fatty acids are beneficial to women with changing hormones. Typically, an increase in Omega 3’s (such as those found in flax seed, walnuts, and eggs) is recommended to help with perimenopausal symptoms. Understand, however, everyone’s body is different and what I respond to is likely to be completely different from you and 10 other ladies we line up beside us. It’s trial and error for each of us so talk to your doctor about what might work for you. (As a side note, my doctor also suggested that a change in stress levels could be contributing to the noticeable difference. Stress is a big factor for us in all things body related!)
As our hormones change, we also see our bodies begin to distribute fat differently. We may never have held it around our middle before, but we certainly do now. (See “morphed gut” reference in paragraph 3). Our body composition does change but we do have some control over this. Let’s clear something up right here. There is no scientific evidence that we are doomed to gain weight mid-life. Yes, our metabolism will slow somewhat, just like everything else in our bodies, but if we become less physically active and aren’t intentional with the way we eat, then we are going to gain weight no matter where we are in life. Don’t use hormones as an excuse not to take care of yourself. Don’t ever just lay down accept that you have no choice in what is happening to your body. You DO have a choice.
One of the biggest choices we have is in how we eat. We often minimize the importance of what we are putting into our mouths. The choices we make are a huge deciding factor in how much worse our symptoms will be with changing hormones, as well as how our body will respond from a weight perspective. If you are not paying attention to your salt and sugar intake, start now. If you are drinking a lot of caffeine or wine, understand that these can exacerbate your hormonal symptoms (as well as cause water retention and have a big impact on your weight).
I began to see the biggest difference in my body and my hormonal symptoms when, this last year, I started to eliminate simple carbs like bread and pastas. Instead, I started sticking closely to complex carbs like fruits and vegetables along with plenty of protein and fiber to round out my eating. With these changes, I noticed not only better digestion, a lot less water retention (including in my belly), and some good fat loss, but also a big difference in my energy during the day and in my workouts.
The other choice we have is in exercising. Making up our minds to stay active (or get active) helps us battle back against the physical AND mental effects of our over-40 body as it continues to change. Yes, we may take a bit longer to recover between workouts, but we may find we are stronger in those workouts. Yes, we may tend to hold fat in different places, but we can make an impact as to how much fat. If we learn to understand what our body is telling us versus what our minds are making excuses for, we are better able to move forward with changing hormones instead of getting sidelined and frustrated.
As women, when we reach midlife, we have experienced a lot. Our journey has been filled with love and heartbreak, the highest of highs and the lowest of lows, a lot of laughs and many, many tears. We have a text book full of successes and failures and we have learned from each of them. In mid-life, we are stronger than ever in mind, body, and spirit. We have fought much harder things in this life than changing hormones. So bring on the rollercoaster ride. We own this theme park!
Vanessa Hampton, owner of Body Balance with V, is a personal trainer, yoga instructor, and CrossFit coach (CrossFit Cool Springs, Brentwood). Follow her on Facebook or Instagram @bodybalancewithv or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you have something you would like for me to write about, email me at email@example.com!