Weight gain and Exercise for the Coming of Age Woman

Part I: My Story
“It is rare to find that premenopausal women who does not have some degree of adrenal dysfunction” *
Oh my god, what happened to me?
This is the story of a personal trainer who lost her “body” during the change of life.
I gained 80 lbs. during the change. I know now this was mostly due to adrenal dysfunction.
Our adrenals are both the glands of stress and of sex hormone balance. We need to protect our adrenals.
The adrenals secrete hormones to balance and modify our body’s response to stress. And with all types of stress that a women encounters throughout her lifetime, the adrenals will be the first to fail under stress.

Some of the stresses we might face:

  • One severe stressful event whether it is mental, physical, or emotional
  • Overworking to the point of exhaustion
  • Extended or severe respiratory infections
  • Chronic illnesses
  • Death, divorce, moving or childbirth
  • Nutritional stress: bad eating habits
  • Environmental stress and toxic overload stress

The one stress I see the most? Overtraining.

In this article I am not going to give you all the details on the adrenals and how they function with the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system, but let me sum up by saying my body was in “fight or flight” mode most of my life. I basically just wore out the adrenals with stressors. It worked well for me in my early years, enabling me to multi task, over-train, and stay very thin no matter what I ate.

Then… pre-menopause (perimenopause) hit.

My adrenals were too “tired” to function in a way to help me through a smooth transition. Weight gain happened overnight, and so did all the other symptoms of pre-menopause. My hormone doctor says I was one of the worst premenopausal cases he has worked with. Even some of my clients who see him now will mention that he told them how menopause kicked my butt.

To give you an example, I hot flashed every 20 minutes for years! No matter what hormones they gave me, nothing worked. My thyroid became very sluggish, I had insomnia and I had inflammation all over my body—basically, all the awful menopause symptoms times 10. Menopause was not kind to me!
I never had a weight problem my whole life, but during pre-menopause, I literally doubled my clothing size . Let me tell you, this had a huge impact on my self esteem and I developed a very poor body image. Not to mention, all the negative thoughts added more stress, which in turn added more body fat. It was a vicious cycle.
Since I am a fitness professional, I am supposed to look the part! Especially in this day and age where there are impossible high cultural standards of having a six pack. In the past, my clients told me they would never hire a trainer unless they looked the part. Talk about putting someone on notice.
Here’s the kicker, though: during this transition my diet was next to perfect since I live with my nutritionist! I am extremely disciplined when it comes to what I eat. I can only wonder how much more weight I would have gained if I had a poor diet. This is why I always tell my clients that they need to be 100% on their diet since that is one variable we can control. If the weight is not coming off or you are still gaining body fat, then the next step is looking at thyroid, hormones, stress levels, inflammation, overtraining, sleep patterns and a host of other issues.
Believe me, I know, though: it is not an easy task to lose the menopause weight. It is not easy to love yourself when you look in the mirror and you wonder where you went!
I have done triathlons, biked up to 100 miles a week, ran miles every week, roller-bladed every chance I got with getting a few days of strength training under my belt. I did “extreme” type workouts and most of the time left the gym feeling awful and feeling like I got beat up. But isn’t this how you should feel after a workout? Even after a long bike sometimes my legs were so shaky the first few steps were pretty slow.
Working as a fitness professional, I have observed over the years that the clients who did this extreme exercising usually were a fast metabolic type who could not calm their brains down, didn’t know how to sit and relax and were high achievers, aka type A personality. Getting involved in extreme exercise forced you to concentrate on your physical pain instead of the ant in your head. Now when I see a runner, I usually wonder what they are running from.
I know this article just might anger a few, but I am writing about my experience and the experience of hundreds of my female clients that I have worked with over the 20 plus years of training.

For my part, when I started seeing the weight pile on, I continued my “crazy” way of training only to keep putting on more and more body fat, especially in the belly. Like most of my clients, I thought that I needed to just exercise this weight off.

It was a real eye opener; when I would work out, my belly would stick out like I was 8 months pregnant. I even had a person ask when the baby was due. Funny in a way since I was 52 at that time…the one bright spot was she at least thought I looked young enough to have a child!

I would come home after work and my husband would take one look at me and say, “hey Buddha, you must have worked out.” Believe me when I say this was truly said with love. He has always been my number one fan even when I was at my highest weight. One year we went to about 9 medical conference and seminars on hormone replacement so he could learn as much as he could about what was happening to my body.

My husband is a certified nutritionist with a biochemistry back ground with a large nutritional practice. He is also the Chief Science Officer for a company that manufactures vitamins for companies all over the country. Thank god I had him as my advisor! It was because of his dedication to finding the solution that we did figure this out.

*Paoletti, Jim. A practitioner’s guide to Physiological Bioidentical Hormone Balance. 1st Ed.2015