I’ve been on a journey for the past 20 years to lose weight (yes, you read that right, 20 years). Menopause includes its own particular kind of hell when it comes to weight loss. This year I approached everything differently and may have found the magic bullet . . . at least for me. I started by treating my attempts as a science experiment and documented what worked and what didn’t. I’m currently halfway to my end goal so in this post, I’ll explain how I have lost 40 lbs (most of it in 3 months) while in menopause. More importantly, I’ll help to think about creating a plan that works for you.
I started the year with a focus on Mari 2.0 – that’s me creating the best version of myself. It wasn’t just about weight loss, it was about becoming my best self in every way. This is an important point because while the number on the scale was important, becoming my best self also included things like mobility, overall health, managing food addiction, and longevity (in addition to dressing better, having some financial goals, and experiencing more love in my life).
Then I looked at my body as a unique and individual piece of equipment. My body (and yours) is not like anyone else’s so why would we expect it to respond like others do to specific diets and exercise routines? I started to view my body as the vessel I was given to experience life and it was just as important to care for it as it was to care for my intellectual or spiritual health.
Your personal health history and weight struggles are important to note when attempting any weight loss or health improvement regimen. I was very active (or what I thought was active for my age) yet I was in the obesity range for weight (over 30% BMI) and I couldn’t get off the couch without using my arms to push up. You can check your BMI here.
My activity level and mobility impacted what types of exercises I approached. What I love about what finally worked for me is pretty much anyone can do it. While I’ve been fanatical at different periods of my life about weight training and bicycle riding, what ultimately worked for me was walking (which was both shocking and a relief). In order to provide a clear picture of what I tried that didn’t work, here’s a list:
- Cycling 20 miles per day (I did actually lose 10 lbs doing this but honestly, it was a LOT of work for little reward)
- Intermittent fasting (more on this later)
- Calorie restriction
- Increasing my protein
- Drinking lots of water
- Every freakin diet under the sun
- Weight training an hour a day with 2-hour long hikes each day
- Not weight training and hiking 3 hours per day
- HIIT (High-intensity interval training) on an Elliptical machine
- Vegan for 7 years
- Working with a Personal Trainer
Related Article: Can a Plant-Based Diet Alleviate Your Menopause Symptoms
Each of these approaches worked to a certain extent and some approaches left me feeling stronger and healthier. But I was still obese and that’s not good for my health or longevity. Most of them resulted in a little loss only to gain it back the next week. It was infuriating because I was working so hard for so little reward.
I’m not a doctor. I’m not a nutritionist. And I certainly don’t know your body and your specific health issues. Use your head, see your doctor, and do what is best for you. And that’s why you should start by getting a physical. I know you want to skip this so please read on and learn why a physical was so important to discovering what I needed to do differently.
Get A Physical
DON’T SKIP THIS STEP!
A physical is paramount to understanding what is going on with your body. Let me tell you why.
Historical vs Current Data
I’ve been monitoring my blood work for at least 20 years. While my doctors are generally focused on today’s results, I like to focus on trending data. I’ve moved around a lot so my doctors don’t have my trending data. I went to school to be an RN and left my final year and I worked in a hospital for 7 years so I know a little enough about lab results to be dangerous. Honestly, you can find out anything on the internet.
There are two markers I’ve been watching go in the wrong direction for a few years – my fasting blood glucose and my cholesterol levels. My father had heart disease and type 2 diabetes so these are markers it’s important for me to watch.
I got my physical and lab work about 6 months into my Mari 2.0 journey. While my blood sugar was high, it wasn’t high enough to warrant insulin (according to my doctor). But for me, it was way too high (100) and had been trending in the wrong direction. I never want to be a type 2 diabetic. Type 2 diabetes increases your risk for all kinds of other physical diseases (see resources below) and I wanted no part of it.
Video: Dr. Jordan Peterson interviewing Dr. Peter Attia on Obesity, Diabetes, Cancer, & Longevity
My cholesterol was also higher than recommended but not high enough for a statin prescription. Again, I never want to take statins and if I can prevent that from happening, I will.
If you are interested in joining a Weight Loss Support Group for motivation and encouragement, please check out this article. I’m considering creating one on my YouTube channel and would love to know if you are interested. Article: The Power of Weight Loss Support Groups
Do Your Own Research
Because I was collecting data, I started researching more about how to reverse these numbers. In my research I discovered a high fasting glucose means you are insulin resistant – basically, your body doesn’t process insulin as it efficiently as it once did. Some of the research indicated two ways to reverse this for menopausal women is a combination of decreasing sugar intake and intermittent fasting. I talk more about insulin resistance in another section but honestly, in all the programs I had tried, decreasing total sugar was not something I had been willing to do. I loved sugar! I’d give up calories to have sugar and I’d work out twice as long for a sugar hit. But since I was “experimenting,” it felt like a worthy experiment to try.
Regarding my cholesterol numbers, I also researched diet alternatives. I know many people try to modify their diet and it doesn’t help. Some people have a genetic predisposition to high cholesterol. I just figured since mine had been trending up, it could also possibly trend down given the right environment. It was a hypothesis I needed to test.
Utilizing the Scientific Method (I use that term loosely)
When looking at experiments scientifically, it’s important to control the variables and document results without bias. While you may have a hypothesis regarding how something will work or feel, you might be surprised by the outcome. Spoiler alert: When I started this process I had no idea cutting sugar would be the game changer for me. I honestly didn’t think I ate that much sugar (“that much” is obviously not a scientific term). It’s not like I was grabbing Snickers bars every day or drinking sugar-filled soda. But I did love me some diet soda and “sugar-free” options! I soon found out most of those options messed with my body and results just like actual sugar did.
It took me a good 6 months to find a solution that worked for me. But when I did, the weight came off fast and effortlessly.
Start With a Clearly Defined Goal
It’s soooooooo important to know exactly what your goal is before starting your own custom approach to weight loss. As the title says, I’m in menopause. My goals for weight loss were as follows:
- To be the best version for the rest of my life
- Mobility as I age
- Longevity – it isn’t so much about living as long as possible as it is about being as healthy as possible for all of my time on the planet.
- To be able to enjoy the things I love – hiking, kayaking, outdoor activities
- To wear a swimming suit in public again
- To dress more like the person I felt I was on the inside
- For my presentation to the world to match my soul and personality
- To be within my normal weight range
Take the time to think about your goals. Because mobility was one of my goals, I chose exercises that helped with my mobility and strengthened my core. It’s a comprehensive approach to health. Create a plan that works with your goals in mind.
Video: Longevity Myths
Article: How to Create Life Goals
How to Track When You Are Afraid of the Scales
If you’ve been overweight for any length of time, you know how difficult it is to find a picture of yourself because you are always hiding in the back. I don’t know about you but I also felt the scale was my enemy. It was like a slap in the face to have it tell me how much I’d failed when I was trying so damn hard. The logical thing to do is avoid it . . . for as long as possible. What I don’t know can’t hurt me, right? Yeah, not so much.
Related Article: Dealing with a Food Addiction, My Personal Struggle
It’s All Just Data
I started my Mari 2.0 process by looking at everything like a science experiment. I saw myself as the rat in the cage and I was just trying different things to see how my body reacted. In order to have an effective science experiment I needed to look at all the data points – input, output, how I felt physically, how I felt mentally, the impact of sleep, etc. I could control most of the inputs and outputs so it was easy enough to do this. The most interesting thing I discovered is when I treated everything as just data with no connection to me as a human, it became easier to get on the scales. After all the scales were providing me with valuable data. My scales weren’t just providing a weight, they were providing so much more!
The More Data Points, The Better
I’ll put a link to the scales I’m using below but one of the most critical data points for me was my metabolic age. When I started the process my metabolic age was 10 years more than my biological age and that scared the crap out of me! Some other important data points to these scales were pounds of body fat, percent body fat (different than BMI), and visceral fat. These are important markers as the more visceral fat you have, the greater your risk for all kinds of other health problems.
These scales also measure both pounds and percent of lean muscle mass and this allows me to monitor that I’m not losing too much lean muscle as I lose pounds. On a positive note, while I had a lot of excess fat, all that weight training paid off and the scales revealed I also had a fair amount of muscle.
Here’s the scale I use. I don’t know the accuracy but I do know the impact: My Favorite Scale
B. Document, Document, Document
Remember, it’s a science experiment. Document everything. You might be surprised by what you find. I certainly was. I would generally stick to an approach for at least three weeks, sometimes making minor tweaks to see if made a difference. And in the beginning, I weighed myself at least twice a week because I wanted to see the impact of the approach I was taking.
When I started my journey, I was 5’10” and 250 lbs. My body fat percentage was 49.8% and my BMI was 36. I hadn’t been below 200 lbs for 13 years and hadn’t been within my ideal weight range for almost 20 years. My confidence in my ability to succeed was low but my determination to be my best self was high.
Now, let’s talk about what worked.
My Weight Loss in Menopause Game Changers: Steps to Success
A. Meal Plan
I don’t think it matters if you are vegan, vegetarian, or carnivore. Just pick what works for you. Remember, this won’t be for just a period of time. It’s a lifestyle change. I had to come to accept that I’d never be eating sugar like I used to again. Personally, I prefer more of a plant-based diet. I get a craving for meat every now and then and I eat it but it is not a routine part of my diet. When I started this journey, I tried decreasing calories and while I had limited success, it was frustrating. The game changer for me was cutting my sugar and watching my portion sizes. What I thought was a serving ended up being three servings. My optimal diet for great results looked something like this:
A Typical Day of Eating
Breakfast: 1 or 2 hard-boiled eggs, a bowl of high protein, low sugar yogurt with some berries. I also added half of a scoop of Orgain Vanilla Protein powder to my yogurt and a tsp of Amla powder.
Lunch/Dinner: A huge pile of steamed vegetables (generally carrots, broccoli, and cauliflower). Sometimes I’d add in part of a sweet potato with my steamed vegetables. I ate enough steamed vegetables for 3 or 4 people. I added a tablespoon or more of Olive oil to my vegetables for some healthy fats.
Treat: Nutty Pudding. OMG, this stuff is soooo good! Here’s my complete recipe for this wonderful freak of nature, but for now, suffice it to say it includes Orgain Chocolate Fudge Protein Powder, almond milk, avocado, 1/2 banana, broccoli sprouts, almonds, brazil nuts, chia seeds, flax seeds, collagen peptides, and macadamia nuts. I ate a small portion of this (a 4 oz. mason jar) just about every day.
Snacks: While I did often share an apple with my dog if I was starving and needed a snack, I went for 10 almonds instead of a banana.
A couple of alternatives to the Nutty Pudding include:
The healthy fats (avocado helped with satiety and my cholesterol issue), and the nutty pudding helped me feel like I wasn’t missing out on sugar. As you can see there is no bread, rice, pasta, potatoes, or anything white really. Why? Because that shit turns right into sugar in your body.
Be Sure to Change it Up
While this was my staple diet, about every three weeks, I’d take a couple of days off, eat out, have bread, etc. The first time I did this I was scared to death I’d gain weight and found I’d lost more. Just don’t go crazy.
When I started this program I needed a day off every week. When I did that, I found I’d gain a pound and then start losing again. Then I convinced myself I could probably go for 2 weeks. The same thing happened. It slowed down my weight loss a little.
I had the best results when I went 3 weeks. If I ate normally for a couple of days every three weeks it didn’t set me back at all and it seemed to ramp up my weight loss. When I say “eat normally,” that doesn’t include dessert of cake and ice cream with a full meal. It means eat like a normal person who is currently at your ideal weight. I’d go out and have a nice dinner of fish with some steamed vegetables and a glass of wine and the bonus was the bread basket!
Let’s talk some more about insulin resistance because evidently, it’s a common problem that prevents weight loss in menopause. Actually, some evidence suggests it’s a problem for everyone. As I said in the disclaimer, I’m not a doctor or a nutritionist. It made sense to me that my elevated fasting blood glucose meant I was insulin-resistant. And since I was experimenting, why not try an insulin-resistant program?
I even purchased my own blood glucose monitoring kit to check my blood sugar throughout the day.
While I’ve never eaten the Standard American Diet and I’ve even been Vegan, I ate a lot of fruit. Fruit is healthy, right? Yes, fruit is better than cake or a Snickers bar. But fruit is still sugar. I’m not saying you shouldn’t eat fruit or it’s bad for you. I’m saying my body was not processing any sugar very well. And if your body is not metabolizing sugar, well, any kind of sugar can make weight loss impossible.
I noticed this when someone I know was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes and was talking about high glycemic index foods and how dates and bananas made her blood sugar skyrocket. ‘And if your body is not metabolizing sugar well, and any kind of sugar can make weight loss impossible, well, I don’t know, I think that means I need to pay attention to the glycemic index of all foods.
I’ll put some resources here from people way more knowledgeable than me about insulin resistance but here’s the gist. Our body burns sugar first. It can’t even think about burning fat until the sugar is burned. Carbs like white bread break down into sugar. So anything you eat that is sugar or breaks down into sugar quickly, that’s where your body will focus all its energy. If you are insulin resistant, it’s even more difficult for your body to burn that sugar so the more that’s in your system, the more difficult it is to actually get to fat loss. By decreasing the sugar in your system, your body is able to focus on burning fat.
B. Intermittent Fasting
I had tried intermittent fasting before with various levels of success. I’d tried it in all different kinds of ways – 8 hours fasting, 12 hours fasting, even 24-hour fasts. I believe it worked this time because of the combination of intermittent fasting and cutting sugar out of my diet. Here’s how I understand this to work for those of us who are insulin-resistant and attempting weight loss in menopause.
By fasting, your body has more time to process food and is forced to use fat storage. When you are eating all the time, the body is using that energy to live. When you are insulin resistant, it’s never getting to your fat stores because you are always providing fuel. Again, I’ll put links to some experts on this topic below as I most certainly am not an expert.
I started by doing an 18-hour fast. Based on my journals, it was pretty hard for the first week or two. Some things I did to help me through the desire to snack include making a cup of hot tea and keeping as busy as possible. I could not sit and watch movies in the evening as I completely associated that activity with a bowl of popcorn.
C. Low-Intensity Exercise
I tend to be an all-or-nothing kind of girl – balls to the wall, so to speak. If I start weight training, it’s not generally 20 minutes three times a week. It’s more like an hour and a half six days a week. But none of that was working. I was stronger but I wasn’t smaller.
What eventually worked for me was walking and I’ll explain why and how much walking I did.
Benefits of Walking
Walking is both a mental health and physical health activity. If you leave your phone at home, it can even be a spiritual health activity. I have a dog so I started by walking him multiple times a day. These were maybe 20-minute walks. Before you tell me you don’t have time to do this, I want you to take a hard look at your daily activities and determine how important your health is to you.
In the summer, we progressed to an hour walk in the morning and an hour in the evening. While I originally set a goal of 10,000 steps a day, I was soon walking 20,000 steps a day. It helped me sleep better, I was stress-free, kept me from wandering into the kitchen, and my dog was worn out so he didn’t bother me a bit while I worked.
Keep it Challenging
Eventually, I found an area of fairly steep hills and trails nobody was using. I live in Washington now so coming from the plains of the Midwest, these hills felt like mountains. Louie, my trusty lab, was able to be off-leash and I would challenge myself to climb as many hills as possible. This helped to both burn calories and increase muscle.
I think walking worked for me for three reasons. Psychologically, I don’t view walking as exercise (even 20,000 steps). It doesn’t increase my appetite and it feels good. Weight training and HIIT made me hungry and honestly, I felt a little entitled to eat more. You should choose an exercise that does these three things for you.
I did most of my walking while in a fasting state, before eating.
Check out my Favorite Hiking Gear Here.
NOTE: I doubt walking will be the only exercise I do for the long term. That being said, getting 40 or 50 lbs. off makes it easier to weight train, run, bike ride, and do just about anything else I want to do. I plan to incorporate weight training back into my routine soon.
Did You Know I Also Have a YouTube Channel?
In the book “Outliers,” by Malcolm Gladwell, I learned it takes 10,000 hours to master a new skill. I think this is likely accurate as I’ve been making YouTube Videos for a bit now (like 3 years) and I’m just now getting comfortable enough to tell people about it. As is the case with anything we start that we haven’t done before, it’s a learning process. I’d love for you to check out my channel with this caveat – please understand, I’m still learning. : )
Food Addiction & Emotional Eating
Food addiction is real and I had a bad case of it. Because I was documenting everything, I began to notice how I wanted food to help me deal with emotions. When I was bored, I wanted something from the kitchen. When I was sad or lonely, I wanted some chips. I had stuffed my emotions with food for so long that I couldn’t even discern the difference between actual hunger and emotional eating. Journaling about this helped a lot. I knew intellectually that I couldn’t be “hungry” for chips because chips don’t fuel our bodies. But my emotions were telling me chips were the only way I could deal with this feeling (whatever the feeling was).
You can read more about my food addiction challenges and solutions here: Dealing with Food Addiction – A Personal Struggle
Figuring this out was a journey of its own that I could write another article on. For now, I can just tell you three things that really helped me.
- Digging deep into the emotion. Pausing and asking myself what I’m feeling and allowing myself to feel it fully.
- Meditation and Gratitude. Being thankful for the emotion (no matter how bad it might feel) and my ability to feel it. Meditation just helped me to put it into a different perspective.
- Decaffeinated tea. When I craved food, I made a cup of herbal tea.
Menopause is a beast. Every single body is unique. You are unique. What worked for me may or may not work for you. Get a physical. Create your own scientific experiment. And if you think you might be insulin-resistant, try some of the strategies listed here.