If you remember “The Twilight Zone” (on a black and white TV) . . .

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. . . then you are probably also familiar with “The Perimenopausal (or Menopausal) Zone”.  For some women, it can be – at least at times – just as scary as the original sci-fi ’60’s TV show featuring Rod Serling as the narrator, a voice that sends an eery chill up my spine to this day.  Without my significantly older twin brothers, I would probably never have seen any of the episodes at such a young age, but that was one of the advantages of staying up later when they were in charge.

These days, nightmares do not usually keep me up at night, but night sweats occasionally do.  The journey into a new hormonal balance has felt a little creepy and mysterious.  I could do without the suspense of wondering when I will start sweating, or whether or not my energy level will carry me past 9pm.

I believe this is temporary.  I remind myself these are all normal symptoms of fluctuating hormones.  Time will tell.  I write this not because I love talking about personal health details.  In fact, I would really rather not, but I am often asked what is “normal”, particularly with regard to body weight and shape.  I am actually quite optimistic about the whole process.

Maybe by discussing the topic openly, I can help to make the topic less scary and unpredictable for those of you who are also at this transition point.  The forced body awareness of this journey makes it an opportunity (love that word!) for self-discovery and positive changes.  Bring it on!  In spite of all the physical annoyances, I do feel wildly excited about what is possible in the years to come.

Let’s hit the most common questions first – “Is weight gain inevitable?”  and “Why do I have fat around my middle when I never did before?”  Weight gain is really annoying, for women in particular.  It is understandably difficult to look at a body that changes noticeably in a short period of time.  Normal hormonal fluctuations during perimenopause may create a small weight gain (5-10 pounds), but much more than that is probably an indicator that physical activity has diminished, calorie intake has increased, or some other imbalance has occurred.

It is understandable that activity declines with age, for both men and women.  Muscles and joints can be more susceptible to injury, and arthritis is often a concern as well.

Increased calorie intake can be associated with emotional changes that tend to happen concurrently with hormonal shifting.  Many women become empty nesters around this same time, and a divorce can add to the challenges.  If food is used as a major coping method, the calories can quickly add up.

I know this is not entirely uplifting, but the good news is that by focusing on healthy foods in the right amounts and keeping activity levels up, it is possible to stay quite healthy and trim.  I have not experienced a noticeable weight gain, but I stay active and practice moderation with eating.  I do not avoid all of the foods I love though.  I eat them all – along with a small daily glass of wine – in moderation.  So far, so good.

As for the belly fat, this is the result of a more dominant effect of testosterone as estrogen levels plummet.  The good news:  if you have minimal weight gain, there will be less chance of depositing it anywhere, the mid-section included.

Shifting hormones during this time sometimes lead to newly diagnosed conditions.  It is a time to take stock of health status, particularly with regard to heart health risk factors – again, think “OPPORTUNITY” (to review your health).   Blood pressure changes, higher levels of cholesterol, and other markers for heart disease may show up as estrogen levels dip.

With my family history of heart disease, my risk factors are my primary focus right now.  My mother’s blood pressure and cholesterol levels increased in menopause.  I’m planning to keep an eye on those risk factors and do what I can with lifestyle.  I’ll keep you posted on my heart risk factors when I get updated labs in a few months.

Now it’s 9:30pm and I’m ready for bed.  I’m not sure if my early bedtime is hormonal or seasonal.   It has been very cold here – I just want to crawl under the blankets.  The “good” news is that within a few hours I will be throwing off the covers and the cool air will be welcome.

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