From HRT to Intuitive Eating and Body Image: How a Health Coach Approaches Menopause
You might think that doctors and health coaches are more prepared for menopause than other women, but even the “experts” can be caught off guard by their menopause symptoms and the shifts that happen both physically and mentally.
In the second of a series of #curiechats, California-based health coach Holly Toscanini shares her experience with menopause, how mind-body eating can help women maintain a healthy weight, and how social media affects body image. Here’s what we learned.
Menopause can be sneaky
A lifelong sufferer of PMS, Toscanini says her symptoms “got turned up to 11” during her 40s. Uncertain about what was happening—“I wasn’t sure if it was me or something else”—she didn’t make the connection between her lack of focus and disinterest in things she once cared about and menopause until she started having hot flashes and night sweats. “I thought it would happen to other people and not me,” she says. “You think it’s not going to hit you as hard as it hits other people.”
Once she realized that perimenopause was responsible for her changing attitudes and forgetfulness, she sought help but found information hard to come by. Her doctor downplayed her concerns. “That was one of the most frustrating things,” she says.
Toscanini’s physician offered her antidepressants or a low-dose birth control pill, which can be helpful for some women, but she knew that wasn’t the full spectrum of solutions. The health coach was lucky to be working with a doctor who introduced her to hormone replacement therapy. “It was like turning the lights back on. The improvement in my mood and decrease in hot flashes was almost immediate,” Toscanini says about starting hormone replacement therapy.
Intuitive eating is a palate cleanser
“Forget everything you’ve learned up until this point about what is healthy and nutritious and what worked in the past,” Toscanini says, recalling a time when fat-free everything was the rage and counting fat grams and doing step aerobics were top ways women tried to lose weight. Chronic dieting stresses the body and mind, she says, and it doesn’t have a place in midlife. Instead, “listen to your body. Understand what it needs.”
To do that, you have to realize that metabolism is only part of the weight-loss equation. We also bring to the table our thoughts, beliefs, and experiences. “Intuitive eating isn’t about dieting. It’s about understanding why we do what we do,” Toscanini says.
Toscanini also points out that different phases of life call for different approaches to nutrition. A little girl and a pregnant woman don’t need to eat the same. A 40-something perimenopausal woman needs a different diet than a 20-something woman. After 40, your metabolism is changing, the way the body stores fat is changing, she says. If you don’t understand all of that, it’s difficult to understand why you are gaining weight.
In midlife more than ever, the quality of the food you eat matters, Toscanini says. She advises eating fresh, unprocessed foods as much as possible and suggests reducing refined carbs and artificial sweeteners and increasing fiber intake.
Women who are interested in learning more about intuitive eating can start with these resources:
- Nourishing Wisdom
- The Gift of Our Compulsions
- Psychology of Eating podcast
Social media can be damaging
We all know the dangers of social media for girls and young women, but older women aren’t immune to the effects of filters, lighting, and Photoshop. The social media accounts of women in midlife tend to fall into two categories, Toscanini says: “I am very fit and doing all I should be doing” or “I have given up and am letting myself go.” But most women live somewhere in the middle, “and if we spend too much time comparing ourselves to the accounts we see on Pinterest or Instagram it’s going to be a little depressing,” she says.
If there are social media accounts making you feel bad about yourself, it’s time to unfollow and focus instead on accounts that inspire you to love yourself as you are right now. Finding ways to have more confidence and appreciation for your body is essential as you approach menopause and beyond.
“Remember that this is a journey,” Toscanini says. “If you feel like 5 pounds is going to change your life, maybe it’s time to have a little more compassion for who you are in the world.”
Watch our entire discussion on YouTube.
Learn more about Toscanini at hollytoscanini.com.