It’s Not Just the Hot Flashes: Why Do I Feel Fat and Crazy?

Most of us recognize hot flashes and night sweats as very common symptoms of menopause.  But until you experience them, you may not know that there are many other symptoms that can be very distressing to perimenopausal and menopausal women.

For most, the hot flashes eventually pass, but some other symptoms like weight gain and insomnia may become issues which women struggle with for the remainder of their lives.  Menopausal symptoms don't have to be a "life sentence." By preparing for and managing these common issues you can live very happily and comfortably during and after the change.

Menopausal Weight Gain

Perhaps one of the most common and frustrating of these symptoms is weight gain. Almost every woman I see complains that they gain weight and struggle to lose weight during this life transition.  As unfair as it may seem, metabolism slows down tremendously with age, and this slow down accelerates during menopause.  This means you require fewer calories (about 200 less than in your 30s and 40s) in order to simply maintain your weight, even more to lose any.  And research confirms we tend to exercise less as we get older.  Hormonal changes result in decreased lean muscle mass and deposition of fat cells onto the midsection.

Mood symptoms, insomnia, major life stressors such as children leaving home, divorce, financial woes and caring for elderly parents may all contribute to overeating.  In order to counteract all these factors, you must make changes in both nutritional intake and exercise so you can either stabilize or lose weight.  You require fewer calories so make sure the calories you consume are high in nutritional value. Include lots of fresh vegetables, lean proteins and fiber to get the most out of your diet.

Aerobic or cardiovascular exercise becomes increasingly important to burn calories, increase your lean muscle mass and improve your metabolism.  Strength training is also helpful to build muscle and protect your bones, which can weaken after menopause.

Managing Your Mood

Moodiness and irritability are other common and disruptive symptoms that most women experience.  Those who have any history of depression are at an increased risk during menopause.  There are numerous factors responsible for mood symptoms including hormonal fluctuations; the physical discomfort caused by other symptoms like hot flashes and vaginal dryness; sleep deprivation from stress, insomnia and night sweats; and dealing with the stress of tremendous life-changing events that accompany this age.

No need to despair!  There are many effective strategies for managing these symptoms.  Getting plenty of rest and routine exercise are both great mood stabilizers.  Eat well and avoid mood-altering substances, including alcohol.  Seek stress relief through your relationships with friends, meditation, yoga, and getting outdoors – whatever it takes to help feel grounded and soothed.  If your mood symptoms are severe and interfering with your ability to be effective in those roles that are most important to you – wife, mother, entrepreneur or employee – professional help from a counselor or health care provider can be very beneficial.

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