diaryofthemenopause

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Exercise and Diet

Following on from my last post, it was suggested that I elaborate on my comment about increasing exercise instead of going for the traditional diet approach to weight maintenance.  This is a good idea as I have a good family, including identical twins, that explain my reason for this perfectly.

Like probably the majority of people in the world, I gain weight, I diet, I fail.  Anything that restricts what you eat is pretty much setting you up for failure.  There are a handful of strong and determined people that have made this work and kept it up and sadly, I’m not one of them.  I have lost a lot of weight in the past and I have never been able to maintain that new low weight. Over time the urge for chocolate, crisps, cheese, wine, vodka etc has come back into my life and I’ve been unable to eat or drink small amounts and maintain for whatever reason.  Mainly I’m greedy!

Right – my family.  There are a lot of Aunts, Uncles and Cousins and we have all followed the same pattern.  I spent my teens and 20s being very underweight.  I could eat and drink anything I wanted and I would never gain a single ounce in weight.  All of my cousins were exactly the same.  My father had also been the same but when I was a teenager, my father was an overweight middle aged man.  Similar story with my Aunty, very skinny youngster, overweight middle aged Aunty.  It seems that all the children had incredibly high metabolic rates through childhood and the teenage years, sadly for me this lead to a massive appetite because I had nothing to worry about, I was never going to gain weight.  Around the mid 20s this starts to slow down, and we all had a weight gain somewhere around 25 years of age. By 30 every single one of us started with weight issues. In my case I still had that massive appetite to go with it.  By our 40s it’s a very serious problem.

It is at this stage that you can now split my cousins into two.  I’ll use my cousins as my example in this as they now range between 30s and 50s.  Half of us are positively round, battling weight on a daily basis, dieting, falling off the diet, going back on the diet, falling off again.  The other half don’t have to worry about what they eat and are slim and fit.  The difference with this is that the other half all exercise.  They run or swim, or bike ride at least 3 times a week.  If they stop this, then they have the same problem as the rest of us.

My perfect example of my family are identical twins. If you follow them through their teens and twenties then you can hardly spot any difference with them in photos.  They then hit their 30s and one now works in the restaurant business and gets sent around the world trying out cheese and wines.  The other works in a hospital on shifts and when not on shift cycles for fun, walks hills, climbs and goes on climbing and adventure holidays.  They are the perfect example of the split in my cousins.  One is overweight and the other is slim and fit and eats what she wants.

The same applies for my friends, both male and female. The slim ones aren’t slim because they diet, they are slim because they exercise.  I went shopping with a friend on Sunday and she said that she is gaining weight and needs to get back out on her bike.  That is the attitude I need to develop.  I need to stop starving my body and taking away the things it likes and I need to exercise.  I have another friend, a male friend who I work with.  On a night shift he will eat enough food to create a decent sized menu for a restaurant. He cycles every day so he burns everything he eats off.

I am on a diet by the way.  I started with 49lb to lose to get me to what I consider an OK weight (around 14lb higher than I would normally aim to get to).  I now have 35lb still to lose.  I’m seeing a physiotherapist for problems with my feet that are more than likely due to excessive weight gain in a short period of time.  Because of this I cannot do weight bearing exercises, so walking and jogging are out.  Swimming and cycling however are fine.  My bike is broken so I’ve started swimming.  I’m up to 50 lengths of a 25m pool and some days it’s an effort to drag myself down there, but during the hour I’m in there I’m finding my brain just relaxes, my mind isn’t going over everything and I find some form of calm.  Afterwards I feel great for the rest of the day.

I have had 20 years of failed diets.  I like cheese and bread, but I am a greedy and a lazy person, which means I eat more than I should and I don’t wear off what I eat as I have an inactive lifestyle.  I like my food too much, so if I am to grow old enjoying my food still and being healthy, then I need to get myself to a decent weight where my body can happily carry the weight I am and get off my big fat backside and do some exercise. My plan is to diet and exercise until I get to a decent weight where exercise alone will maintain me. I hope that the half of my cousins that are slim and fit are enough to encourage me to do this, because I would like to grow old being active and being able to go off and see the world and having the energy to do it all.

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All the things I dreaded

When I made the decision that I wasn’t going down the HRT road, I knew that there were big issues I was going to have to face head on.  Hot flushes and mood swings being the main two that worried me.  On top of that you read about changes in hair and skin, weight gain and bone issues due to lack of calcium. At now over one year in to the menopause I’ve come too far now to change my mind and go on to HRT.  The main reason I managed to avoid it was that I seemed to completely miss the mood swing part of this.  As I work in a male dominated office, I know all too well the moans and complaints and the treading on egg-shells that goes on around someone who doesn’t know their mood is up and down.  I went through this with my own mother, who was quite honestly hell on earth until she discovered HRT. Treading on egg-shells didn’t even begin to cover how we had to approach that one.  It was lucky for us that when the first HRT tablets didn’t work, my sister was the one brave enough to approach her and tell her to try again.

The hot flushes are now part of my daily life. I can live with those.  Wearing layers or using a scarf that you can put on and take off work perfectly well for me. Just enough to be able to drop my body temperature enough to stop them getting to me.  At night I have a fan on me all night long. Yes there are times when they wake me up and I have to wait to cool down enough to go back to sleep, but again it seems you eventually learn to live with that too.

My next non-live altering concern was hair.  I read that your hair can thin or you can lose it during menopause.  I didn’t have a lot to begin with.  Family trait.  Half the women have the most gorgeous thick hair that they cannot do anything with as there is far too much of it, and the other half have next to no hair and one sunny day will burn your scalp.  I’m in the scalp-burning category.  I didn’t have any hair I could afford to thin down.  I was at my hairdressers last week having my hair done and she said that in all the years she’s been doing my hair, she has never seen it in such great condition.  It hasn’t dried out or shrivelled up or thinned out any more than usual.  I am very, very, very relieved!

Skin – again I was dreading that drying out or changing drastically as my body changes its hormone levels.  My skin is probably easier to control now than ever before. I haven’t had the usual breakouts I used to get during hormone level changes. It’s not as dry as it used to be either, which is quite strange.  I can go without applying moisturiser and not be itching like mad all day long.

Finally the dreaded weight gain. There is no way I can blame that on the menopause. That is entirely due to me, chocolate and crisps.  With double surgery and a prolonged recovery time, I basically ate my way through my recovery period at home, and with even less exercise than usual (does going to the fridge for more chocolate count as exercise?), I managed to pile on far more weight than I ever have in my life so far.  I finally got to the point where I was mentally ready to tackle this. The weight loss programme started a couple of weeks ago and is off to an OK start as I have lost 8lb so far.  Sadly I still have around 2.5 stone (35lb) to go.

With one year now behind me, my biggest lesson is that no matter what you do through the menopause, the first thing you really need to do is ensure you exercise more.  Walk somewhere, go for a bike ride, take up cycling or yoga.  Your body needs to start doing more, not only from a weight point of view, but for your own well-being.  It needs to have strengthening exercises (walking, jogging, etc) to help with the lower calcium levels it is now dealing with.

I finally got there, better late than never as they say.  I have chosen swimming to begin with as  I have joint issues which are completely unrelated to the menopause, and entirely related to a massive weight gain in a short period of time.  It is a low impact form of exercise.

My aim is to get my weight down but not to maintain my weight through diet, as I know from past experience that never works for me, but to maintain it through exercise. The people I know who look and feel healthy don’t look that way because they watch what they eat, they look that way because they lead active lifestyles and make themselves do the bike rides, the jogging, the swimming, a few times a week.  And because of the exercise that they do that keeps them that way, they don’t have to watch what they eat, so a dinner out with a lovely pudding or a bottle of wine is no big deal for them.

My focus for the next year is to look at my life in a different way and to make my life an active one.  If I plan to age disgracefully dancing away on cruise ships (lottery win pending) with all the young men working on them, and drinking cocktails into retirement, then I need to be fit to achieve that goal. Yes I know, and the lottery win!

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