The Poster Child for Childhood Obesity
I’ve been overweight my whole life. My earliest childhood memories revolved around food—chocolate cake at birthday parties, pizza at bowling league, ice cream at sleep away camp. For every major childhood event (and most of the minor ones, too), I have a memory that involves food. As an only child of a single, working mother, I was home alone a lot. Growing up, I turned to food for comfort, for companionship and as my source of entertainment and “fun.” But, in the end, relying on food for comfort and companionship would cost me dearly. I was overweight or obese for my entire childhood and most of my adult life. But, then I did something I had not been able to do successfully for decades. I lost the weight, going from 240 pounds to 178 pounds in my early-to-mid 50s. I think losing more than 60 pounds is impressive at any age, but what’s especially significant is that I did it at a time in my life when so many people (including myself) were telling me it was too hard to do. I lost 60 pounds during menopause.
Topsy Turvy Hormones: Menopausal and 50
As I entered menopause, I developed nightly hot flashes, itchy skin and very heavy periods. Bedtime became a nightmare as I anticipated my hot flashes. But what happened next was a turning point. I developed nightly heart palpitations. My heart rate didn’t increase much, but it beat with such force that I felt it might jump out of my chest. It was very scary, and as I got into bed each night, I dreaded the oncoming wave of pounding that kept me up, worrying late into the night.
I went to a cardiologist. He told me things I knew—I was obese, my normally low blood pressure was starting to creep up into the hypertension range as I aged. Tests revealed that nothing was wrong with my heart. I left the doctor’s office with this vague diagnosis: heart palpitations possibly due to fluctuating hormones. It was common for my blood pressure to be low, especially during my period when my hormones were fluctuating. I’d fainted several times in college with what was called a vasovagal syncope (fainting caused by a sudden decrease in heart rate and blood pressure).
I felt trapped by the news. I didn’t consider hormone replacement therapy an option. As it turns out, I found a natural alternative.
A Chance Encounter with a Diet Book
By chance, I had purchased a diet book by Dr. Mark Hyman called UltraMetabolism: The Simple Plan for Automatic Weight Loss. I read it over my Christmas holidays in 2016. I didn’t follow all the book’s advice, but I did strictly follow the food plan. It was a whole-foods diet with no sugar, caffeine or processed foods, and its simple, rational guidelines made sense to me. The plan called for giving up sugar and processed foods for a period of time and then slowly adding some or all of them back to determine how my body reacted to them. Something about eating whole foods resonated with me: I like to cook, and I had always eaten healthy food in addition to processed food, so I was willing to give it a try. I didn’t know what, if any, effect it would have on my heart palpitations, but I thought I’d lose weight.
I did. I lost two pounds most weeks. After seven months, I’d lost 40 pounds. For someone who had been on and off every major diet imaginable, losing weight this consistently was unheard of. I still don’t believe it. I’d weigh myself every Saturday and be absolutely amazed to see the two pounds down. There were a few weeks when I’d go off my food plan (and not see a weight loss for the week), but if I was on the food plan without variation, I felt assured that I would lose my two pounds that week. I ate whole foods: fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds, beans, olive oil sparingly, whole grains (amaranth seed, brown rice) and a limited amount of fish and chicken.
New Health Habits: the Start of HodgeonRepeat
I had always exercised, but once the first 25 pounds came off, I joined my local YMCA and started working out more. Rowing is my exercise of choice—it works some 85% of the muscles in your body and is a great, low-impact exercise for people of all ages. At my local YMCA, there are people in their 70s and 80s who row next to me. That makes me happy. 😊
You’re probably wondering about those heart palpitations and hot flashes. Well, almost immediately (within three days), my heart palpitations were gone. I mean gone consistently, and my hot flashes lessened to once-in-a-while occurrences. When I slowly added caffeine back into my diet, I discovered I could drink 1-2 cups per day without a return of the heart palpitations. However, adding back the sugar was another story. Almost every time I eat sugar (especially after 3 pm), my heart palpitations come back. This includes the sugar in alcohol (something that I wasn’t sensitive to in my younger years). If I have a highly-processed sugar dessert such as a doughnut or piece of chocolate, I’m apt to see the palpitations return. It’s become predictable, and knowing that has helped me stay off sugar.
My Amazing Truth #1: There’s More to Weight Loss than Pounds
As great as the weight loss has been, there are many other remarkable changes that I didn’t think I’d achieve at age 55.
- My weight loss helped me go from a size 2x to size 12 (even in jeans).
- My thighs slimmed down and developed muscles (they power my rowing workouts).
- Rowing and strength training have leaned out my abs, legs, back, and chest (my arms are a work in progress).
- Weight training has empowered me, making me feel like a bad-ass (I highly recommend this feeling for all women).
- I improved my blood pressure, eliminated my heart palpitations, and significantly reduced hot flashes and other menopause symptoms.
My Amazing Truth #2: It Will Take Time and You’ll Need to Get Yourself on Repeat
What’s missing from my little story is one vital takeaway that is critical and non-negotiable when losing weight at any age. It will take time! It will take more time than you think it should or that you want. Keep at it. Weight loss is a long game. While the first 40 pounds came off steadily, the weight loss slowed down as I got smaller. The next 20 pounds came off at a rate of .5 to 1 pound per week. I had to get consistent with my health habits.
Eating well and exercising have to become healthy habits that you recognize will give you more than they cost you to do. If you acknowledge and honor their value by putting in the work, you will see results (at any age). Most articles talk about how hard it can be to lose weight during menopause due to shifts in hormones, loss of muscle mass, changes in metabolism, and sleep disruptions. Still, consistent healthy habits can overcome those factors. Looking at it another way, can you afford to not take care of yourself through healthy habits when you know that these factors may make it more likely to gain weight if you do nothing? For me, it all came down to quality of life. How did I want to live as I age?
Wishing you good health achieved through your own hard work and healthy habits. Put yourself on repeat at any age!
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