Part II: The Solution
In Part I, I shared my story as a woman and a fitness professional going through the change of life. In this piece, I want to explain more what happens to our bodies and how we can make this a positive transition.
First, here is a look into how weight gain happens during the shift into menopause. Think of a pyramid. Adrenals and ovaries on the bottom and thyroid on top. The bottom of the pyramid needs to be very strong. If adrenals are tired, most likely you will have thyroid problems. When the ovaries start shutting due to perimenopause, your adrenals are the gland that needs to make the hormones. If they are tired, they cannot produce the hormones. The base of our triangle has broken down.
The next best thing for the body to do is to put body fat on, because we carry hormones in our body fat. I have observed that the women who usually have the most body fat are those that lead a stressful life. Many of my clients are those that used to train like I did. We all looked great, but inside we were doing a whole lot of damage.
Then, our bodies become even more stressed because of the lack of hormones, so the body sends out signals all day long for cortisol and if we are resistant to it: more body fat! Not to mention the toxic load we will have stored in our fat tissue which interrupts our hormones even more. Whew!! No wonder…
When it comes to training, women have to eat more and train less to lose weight, which is the exact opposite of what most of us were taught to believe. I have worked with hundreds of women who were overtraining and under-eating and in the meantime ruining their hormones in an effort to become thinner and leaner. This mindset backfired on them. They became heavier and their body image became worse. These women started to really beat themselves up because they thought that this type of strategy would not fail them. “It worked before” is what I often hear.
Well, ladies I am here to tell you that most of us had the hormone reserve back when we were younger to counteract the damaging effects of overtraining. We do not have the hormone reserves to train like we did in our earlier age. I found that out the hard way!
Starving ourselves is a one of the biggest stresses on our bodies. The fitness experts at Positively Fit know when our clients are not eating enough or the wrong foods. It shows up when we monitor them during their workout.
The key to training during our transition is to monitor the stress. All exercise is fight or flight. So, we monitor our clients so they do not get over trained, release too much cortisol or stay in fight or flight too long. In my case, since I was close to adrenal burnout, my whole approach to training had to change. Weight lifting consisted of only 4 sets, sometimes 2, depending how my body reacted to the stress of exercise. I only lifted 2 times a week and did leisurely biking only for 15 minutes one time a week. Many times during my transition, I gave up training completely for months since working was stressful enough on my body.
Guess what? I actually gained strength.
As we age, we need muscle on our bodies for so many health reasons. Weight training is the best way for premenopausal and menopausal women to exercise in order to stay healthy, strong and to get the weight off.
To do this right, we need to monitor ourselves. At Positively Fit, we tell our clients we want them walking out feeling like they could have done more and feeling better than when they came in. Let me say that again…you want to walk out of an exercise session feeling like you could have done more! Hard lesson to learn…since the fitness industry is more about taking people to extreme fatigue and over-training almost everyone unless the clients are being monitored through HRV, cortisol and hormones. An example? Right now the fitness industry is heavy on Tabata workouts or extreme exercise which was actually designed for 20ish year old professional athletes in their prime of hormone balance.
What about training for the long haul?
Some people who are genetically gifted can get away with high intensity training, but that is a small percentage of people. High intensity cardio or any type of training that makes you get into heavy breathing for a length of time causes the lungs, heart and brain to shrink since there is so much free radical damage that we cannot overcome.
A special caution for those with known thyroid problems: there is a very good chance your adrenals are taking a hit. Thyroid and adrenals go hand in hand; they are the main organs of the triangle I spoke of before.
I have come to believe we need to protect our adrenals at all cost, be kinder to ourselves, slow down the hectic pace of life, and most of all quit overtraining!