The most obvious sign of my impending menopause was putting on body fat, especially belly fat. Excessive belly fat is associated with increased metabolic syndrome and other disease. In my journey of letting go, one of the areas I wanted to address was the idea that aging needed to be a downhill slide into ill-health. Would it be possible for me to find a simple and sustainable way to be lean, fit and active as I got older?
My weight loss journey.
I started to put on weight in my early 40s, even while exercising frequently and eating a whole foods diet. I gained about 25 pounds and my waist went up 5 inches from my lithe mid-thirties. As a former personal trainer, this was painful for me.
Like many women, I thought that I was doomed to put on a few pounds each year. Fortunately, I did a lot of reading and decided to adopt a Primal diet (grain-free, low carb) in 2010. I dropped 15 pounds in the first couple of months, mostly from dropping bread. But those last 10 pounds have hung around and I despaired of ever having a flat belly again.
Back to my internet research. In 2011, I tried intermittent fasting and actually dropped down to a 26 inch waist! Basically, I didn’t eat until noon and stopped eating at 8 pm. It felt like a miracle. I even was able to wear size 4 pants!!
Well, the story would have ended there, but I ended up putting the weight back on.
First, my hormones at this time (age 52) are all about conserving body fat so that I have a handy source of estrogen, while my ovaries are shutting down (Estradiol is made as needed from the Estrone in body fat.) Women become more insulin-resistant during menopause and insulin-resistance makes it hard to lose body fat.
Second, I was unconsciously reducing my meal size and not eating to satiety. I would get so hungry some mornings, I started eating earlier, so my eating window was longer and I ate more often. At first, I thought I was still eating too many calories, so I purposely counted and reduced my intake for the first time in my life and still, no change!
Third, I experienced carb creep and was eating more gluten-free goodies than I would admit.
I was already walking 1.5-2 hours a day and lifting weights twice a week. I knew from past experience and research that exercising more would just make me hungrier, so I dropped that as an option. Too many stories of women with adrenal fatigue to make me want to go down that road!
This is such a common story, isnt it?
I dropped my carbs even further. Still no change. What was a smart low carb cookie like me to do? This was getting seriously depressing…
Dropping carbs didn’t work
Dropping calories didn’t work.
More exercise wouldn’t work.
On a whim, I decided to do a three day water fast to “reboot” my system and hopefully drop a couple of pounds. My husband had done a 4 day water fast and was very supportive. I had previously only fasted for 36 hours, so I was feeling a bit intimidated.
Having done shorter fasts of 24 and 36 hours, I was not scared of how my body would react. Having done intermittent fasting for the last 4 years, I knew that hunger would be a distraction initially, but I wouldn’t die if I didn’t eat for a few days.
The fast worked beautifully! I lost about 3 pounds and dropped another 1/2 inch off my waist and hips. Unfortunately, I chose to fast just before my period and was ravenously hungry a lot of the time. (women experience up at a 25% increase in metabolism right before their periods.)
With my ravenous hunger, I knew that I wasn’t going to be happy to be fasting that long on a regular basis. Yes, I dropped a couple of pounds, but it was PAINFUL.
I read that the longer you fast, the easier it gets, as long as you have plenty of body fat to lose, so two weeks after my 3 day fast, I did another fast. I timed it better and decided to fast for 7 days, as long as I felt well enough to hold coaching sessions. I also decided to ease into the fast, with a small high fat meal the first day and plenty of black tea with a splash of cream in the first few mornings.
This time went better. I was far less hungry and much more energetic in the first three days. I walked the dog for 45 min each day and did some light gardening and house cleaning.
By the fourth day, my hunger was gone and I felt clear-headed and calm. I was also able to walk the dog, but needed to rest for a few minutes part way through.
Unfortunately, on the fifth day, I felt seriously weak and just able to walk the dog for 1/2 hour with a rest part way through. I had no energy to do anything else all day. This sucked big time (I am not a fan of suffering or boredom!) and I decided to end my fast that afternoon.
I suspect I just am not carrying enough extra body fat, or I am not one of those people who find fasting easy. And most fasting retreat centers encourage rest and relaxation, not trying to keep up with normal activity.
I am very glad I did it, and now have an increased confidence in my willpower and my body’s wisdom.
In my next post, I will tell you how I tweaked my eating pattern to drop my last few pounds of body fat and keep it off, without being overly hungry or adding more exercise.