Tuesday, June 11, 2013

The Woman, The Runner, The Athlete, AND Menopause - Weight Gain/Nutrition

If I think back to about the time my thyroid decided to go kaput and the impact that had on weight gain, and then after being put on Synthroid, when my symptoms went back to normal, or somewhat normal, the one thing that from that point on I had changes in was my mid-section. So I wonder if it was at that time when my body decided to go into peri-menopause. Anyway it wasn’t until a couple of years later that I realized I wasn’t destined to have the middle aged spare tire extra weight in the mid-section that everyone knows starts occurring for the majority of women entering into their older years.

While I was running and running a lot in those first years from finding out I was hypo, it was no longer enough. As far as I am concerned it is true what most studies say is that it will no longer be enough to just be an extreme cardio crazy person. Exercise too must be approached differently. Cortisol is produced during intense exercise and long duration exercise. This includes long duration jogging or running and high intensity interval training (HIIT), metabolic conditioning or weight training. However, intense exercise that is short also raises growth promoting hormones like HGH and testosterone and these hormones work with cortisol to burn fat and build, or at least maintain, muscle.

Long duration exercise works differently. It has a different hormonal impact and may exacerbate the negative effects of cortisol, because it raises cortisol without the balancing action of the growth hormones. And raising cortisol this way during menopause, a time where the female physiology is far more susceptible to the negative impact of cortisol, can frequently cause more issues than it solves for weight gain. For this reason, shorter intense exercise is probably more beneficial compared to long duration moderate intensity exercise.

Cortisol can also be controlled and lowered nicely by relaxing activities. These include leisure walking (to be distinguished from power walking), restorative yoga (to be distinguished from intense yoga), Tai Chi, as well as massage, sauna and other restorative non-exercise practices. I don’t do any of those, although after Chicago round #1, I got into Bikram yoga and love love loved it! Obviously I don’t have that opportunity here where I live currently, and I actually stopped doing it after about a year due to expense. I still do some of the positions though just as general stretching after running or when I wake up in the morning I make sure I do at least 5 minutes of just good old fashioned stretching; nothing fancy, just streeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeetch your arms up, out whatever. Bend over, touch your toes, or as far as you can and just hang there…

If you don’t have a lot of expendable cash I can give you an idea that is completely free and that I take FULL advantage of: Sleep. Rest. Stop. Seriously just stop and ENJOY being still. And for those of you reading out there that have kids, or twenty thousand places to be, errands to do…Bah! Stop using that as an excuse. Learn to say NO. And as far as kids go, if you have a spouse, then by God have them take care of kid(s) for an amount of time. QUIT. QUIT. QUIT. Just quit with the excuses. Lord knows I read it enough either on Facebook, blogs, Twitter or just in conversation.

Besides once you get to be older (for those readers), you have no excuse about children being the problem.

There is nothing more than I love to do than whenever I can, and that’s at LEAST once a day, I just do nothing. Maybe I will go crawl in my bed (weekends) in the middle of the day in between errands, cleaning, meal prepping, and just take a nap for as long as my body wants to sleep, and if I can’t sleep then I just lay there with my eyes closed, no TV no nothing, under the covers. In the evenings maybe take that hour for yourself and even though you’ve ran or worked out or whatever, take a slow walk even if its just a mile. I love being able to go sit up on my upper deck with the sun setting, but yet shaded from the suns glare and just hear the wind blowing through the highest of the trees there that line it, and just. Be. Quiet. It’s a way for me to cool down if I’ve run or went to do CF after work…and just enjoy the peacefulness.

Building in restorative and relaxing activities into your life early on is preferred, but it wasn’t until I hit 45 that I really started it regularly and am certain it is a contributor to my overall good mood and good health. I am SO SO SO much more relaxed and able to just let things slide off like water on a duck whereas before I was tense, quick to lash back, argumentative, didn’t sleep well, among many other things. This is also known as rest-based living.

The other changes I have made (but I fall off from) that either make or made a significant difference is picking up the weights OR using your body as weight (e.g. CrossFit types of workouts). I mention the body weight stuff because I know CrossFit is expensive but you can do CF on your own for free! Maybe not all the stuff you would at a CF box (unless you slowly build up a home gym with a pull bar and what-not :o) But a lot of times I will do a CF WOD in my basement with just me, some hand weights to use instead of a kettlebell, on 20lb weighted bar, and a jump rope. There are air squats, push ups, sit ups, SO many things you can do on your own and will increase muscle over fat.

It has been more of a challenge for me here, at least initially, because well, there isn’t a whole lot of motivation in this small town. So its either I do it with my willpower and determination or it won’t get done. There is no Kenyan Way, or FIT group…no couple of times weekly workouts with runners, or even just a easy run with a friend. I’m getting better at it and now am finally falling back into my groove of managing my workouts with my self-motivation and well honestly there isn’t much more I can do. A lot of my waning early on was due to just being a bit depressed about my surroundings or lack thereof. Anyway that’s another post for another day..or not.

Once I started running more, adding pace, tempo and intervals AND upping the strength training I started seeing results yet again.

So if there is one thing I am certain of, strength training at least a couple of times a week make a HECK of a lot of difference once you get older, but if you are young now and not to be insensitive, overweight, obese even and have a lot fat as opposed to muscle if you don’t do something now its just going to get worse. Being a former gym rat all my life, I have had muscle more often than not, so I am certain that helped as well once I started getting older. To be honest I didn’t have trouble with my weight until the thyroid thing and then running. So that would lead me to believe that at least for me, running DOES make me jiggly :O) And probably for you too; if not now, eventually.

Weight train intensely at least one time per week and preferably three. These sessions should be short. Shoot for less than 60 minutes or even better less than 30. Right now I am shooting for twice a week AT the gym, and off and on in random spurts when at home. It might just be that I randomly do some air squats, jumping jacks and push ups in the living room watching AGT. :O) Whenever the mood strikes me I guess!

So that kind of covers what I think is important and/or what has worked for me during the peri/menopause era but honestly if you do these things early on, it will be a lifestyle as opposed to having to try and make up for lost time later on. And I guess the thing I want to stress to those reading, or know someone, who is overweight now, struggles with their eating habits, if you don’t take care of it now, not next year, or 5 years or just before you hit 40, then you or that person is going to be in for a shocker. Because guess what? The longer you wait the HARDER, and I mean HARDER its going to be later on, however long later on is.

And if you are scoffing reading that, so be it. But don’t say no one ever told you.

One last note, I think its important to mention that while I have at times, when I gain a few it generally will be spread out over my body parts, but when I lose it falls off quickly and easily EXCEPT in the mid-section. A lot of women while yes gain weight during this ‘season’, it will primarily be in the center of their body: waist, hips, and thighs.

Now about that eating thing….

Realize you are far more carbohydrate reactive and stress sensitive after menopause. Which means the carbohydrates you used to be able to eat that did not effect your waistline may now be too many and do just that. The stressful exercise and lack of sleep you could tolerate in your younger years, while still remaining lean, will now start to show itself on your waist.

Now you need to know that it is not just refined sugars that are the issue. You will need to start controlling all the foods that have potential insulin promoting action. This includes many foods that are regarded as “healthy”. Whole grain breads, sweet fruits, dairy foods and starchy vegetables, which may have once been a central part of your lean diet, may now be working against you. Reducing these foods while simultaneously increasing low starch vegetables, low sweet fruits (berries, apples and pears) and protein foods, has to become your new solution to burning fat.

I take the approach, and have for some time, if I eat something and I become bloat-y, I chalk it up the first time to just one of those things. I will eat it again at some point, making note of the previous time and if I get bloaty again? Guess what? Kabash on that. I miiiiight try it one more time in a smaller quantity..like with brown rice, it’s the quantity for me. Anything more than half of a cup and its all over. To be honest, with me, all the foods that make me gassy, bloaty or just feel like crap generally it has to do with quantity rather than the food itself.

To deal with these hormonal impacts, requires a far more insulin centric approach versus a caloric one. In other words, whereas a lower calorie diet may have been enough in your younger days, you now need a hormonal approach to body change.

• Drastically increase your non-starchy vegetable intake while cutting back on starchy foods, grain and dairy (this does not mean not to eat these foods, just eat less).

• Raise your protein intake with foods that are mostly protein (fish, chicken, etc) versus mostly starch or fat (beans and nuts have some protein but WAY more starch and fat). To help, consider a protein powder replacement shake 1 or two times per day.

• Oh, vegetables and protein are more slowly digested, so if you notice increased gas, that is because your stomach HCL and pancreatic enzyme secretion can also fall with age (and stress). A shot of vinegar or a nice green salad before meals will almost always solve this. When they don’t, an OTC enzyme preparation is great. I know the vinegar sounds gross, but it works.

  • Additionally I would tell you to begin NOW in eliminating processed food, GMO, HFCS, you know the drill...STOP STOP STOP eating low fat, out of any box...ANY box.  Bags are OK because well frozen veggies and fruits are in bags and are a great go to for when fresh is either not available or you are in a hurry.  OMG IT MAKES ME SO STABBY TO SEE PEOPLE EATING crappy diet Lean Cuisines and what-not thinking they are healthy!  And Subway?  NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO...unless its a salad with veggies or chicken NOT NOT NOT processed crap lunch meat!!! 
  • Don't eat a ton of fruit and be selective!  Again it will be trial and error what works for you as it pertains to how your body processes (or doesn't process it). I still to bananas, usually drizzled with honey, nut butter on the side, sprinkled with cinnamon!  YUM!  I also eat strawberries quite often, melon...generally whatever is in season and again only in moderation.  It's just not worth the sugar in my body making it that much harder to ward off the mid-section issues.

Sure I still eat things I shouldn't, and I would classify myself at about 90% awesome eating, 10% not awesome about 80% of the time.  The other 20% of the time I am about 80/20.  :O)

What do I eat when I cheat?  Hey I might have a frozen pizza but its the higher end one(s) and I pay attention to the ingredients and still try and go as good as I can even with the bad you know?  I still eat toast about once a week, 2 slices, usually for one breakfast on the weekend but always with double the protein to counter-act the starch/carbs.  I eat cake, ice cream...just about anything but IN MODERATION.  This past weekend, birthday weekend I ate Mexican food for lunch one day but breakfast was on par, and well I didn't eat dinner because I was still full.  I had a cupcake on Friday and on Sunday but every other meal was on par and I didnt have my usual snacks those days.

However, I did pay for the weekend eats today.  Bloaty, puffy, and just a bit miserable.  Was it worth it?  Thinking about it now, not really.  I still would have had the Mexican food because I don't get good Mexican food up here but we found a great place in Cheyenne.  Thats 97 miles away so its not like its a weekly or even monthly thing.  We usually eat very 'normal' when we go there about once a month.

Gosh I have written a lot and hopefully haven't lost too much in translation.  If anyone reading this has any questions, just email me at the email link up there in the right hand nav section.

And finally...

Why is this important?

All of this is important because the dominant message sent to menopausal women, from their nutritionists and doctors as well as the mainstream press, runs completely counter to all we just covered as it pertains to ME PERSONALLY.  The message is to do more jogging and power walking not less. Women are instructed to eat more grains and dairy and less protein. And they are rarely told to lift weights or educated on the benefits of rest and recovery centered acitvities.

Together a lower insulin promoting diet, and a smarter stress inducing exercising regime, can make a huge difference. Remember, the menopausal physiology is more carbohydrate reactive (estrogen is no longer there to help offset insulin) and more stress sensitive (estrogen and progesterone are not there to dampen cortisol’s negative effect).

The changes to diet, exercise and lifestyle can help combat menopause weight gain.


Claire said...

Thank you! I read the whole thing actually. I'm trying to put as much of this together in my life right now so I'm prepared for the future. No hypothyroid problems yet, but I do have nodules on my thyroid so the potential is there to have problems in the future.

Junie B said...

You're welcome! Clearly I am still training for at least one more marathon so the long distance/cortisol thing...well I am trying to balance it with enough of the HIIT and strength, plus good eats and more rest...I think there IS a balance, but this more than likely will be my last full...famous words right? ;)