My goals for my body are greater than the numbers on the scale or the size of my clothes.
I stepped onto the scale and watched the blue digits whiz up at what felt like warp speed.
Climbing, climbing, climbing — they passed the weight I thought I should be, surpassed the weight I thought I might be, and landed on a 3-digit number I hadn’t seen since pregnancy.
I stepped off the scale, feeling defeated. I wondered how my body had changed so rapidly; how, I thought, I had lost control.
I’d felt similarly a year earlier when I was diagnosed with breast cancer and the BRCA2 gene mutation at age 37.
Once I completed breast cancer treatment, I decided to have a preventive oophorectomy — removal of my ovaries and fallopian tubes — to reduce my risk of developing cancer in those areas.
After surgery, my body was almost immediately thrust into premature menopause.
As the weeks wore on, I gradually began to notice something else — my clothes no longer fit. I hadn’t changed my eating or exercise habits, but my pants were tighter and my shirts and dresses fit more snugly.
In the past when I put on weight, I could simply increase my exercise and cut back on junk food and the weight would fall off. I had no reason to believe that still wasn’t the case, so I added more steps to my walking routine and stopped consuming sweets and alcohol as often.
Though I was making healthier choices, the numbers on the scale didn’t budge. And that’s totally normal.
Women experience weight gain during and after menopause for several reasons. Hormonal changes cause the body to gain or retain weight around the belly, hips, and thighs. And on top of that, as women age, we lose muscle mass, which slows metabolism.
Determined to lose the weight I’d gained, I incorporated more vigorous workouts into my routine and limited carbohydrates — two strategies that would have guaranteed significant weight loss for my premenopausal body.
After menopause, these changes barely made a difference. Every time I stepped on the scale, I felt disappointed and frustrated by the numbers I saw.
That feeling only fed the difficulty of coping with a body that had been radically changed by cancer.
At my annual exam with my OB-GYN, I expressed these frustrations to my doctor. She explained how easy it is to gain weight during and after menopause, and why it’s so difficult to lose it.
She didn’t have any magical weight loss fix, but she offered one piece of information that changed the way I saw my body: I was healthy.
My blood work looked great, my blood pressure and cholesterol were well within healthy ranges, and though I’d gained weight, I was in no danger of developing diabetes or other illnesses often related to weight.
As I drove home that day, I couldn’t help feeling a little silly for fretting so much over a few extra pounds.
Hadn’t I just faced a disease that could have killed me? Not only had I survived, I was thriving.
My body had recovered from the trauma of surgery and chemo, and according to my doctor, I was the picture of health.
I realized I’d been too hard on myself and I was focusing on the wrong goal. Instead of aspiring to regain the body I had in my 20s and early 30s (before motherhood, cancer, and menopause), I could learn to love the body I had now and make sure it stayed healthy and strong.
When I got home, I put away the scale and resolved to focus on making my body healthy rather than thin. I quit counting calories and instead tried to make good choices: fruit instead of candy, water instead of soda.
Sure, I still enjoyed junk food sometimes, but I refused to let myself feel bad about it.
I rethought my approach to exercise, too.
Instead of noting how many calories I burned, I focused on the distance I walked. With every movement, I homed in on the sensation of my muscles working, feeling them get stronger and more capable with every step.
I incorporated exercises with small hand weights to build strength and yoga to improve my flexibility and balance.
Tips for a healthy post-menopause body
Navigating body changes during and after menopause can be confusing and frustrating. Here are a few tips to help you get through:
- Females have a higher risk of osteoporosis as they age. Hormone changes from menopause can cause you to lose bone even more quickly. To prevent that, eating a healthy diet rich in calcium and vitamin D is essential for menopausal women.
- Yoga has been
proven effectiveat alleviating symptoms like hot flashes and mood shifts.
- The North American Menopause Society offers a wealth of resources for menopause-related issues, from nutrition to sexual health.
Sure, there are still days I struggle with body image issues and I get frustrated when my pants won’t zip.
But even in those moments, I try to remember that my goals for my body are greater than the numbers on the scale or the size of my clothes. My ideal body is a strong, healthy one — no matter the size.