I've been getting a question a lot lately about how the body changes with menopause. It's something that we don't talk about enough, which leaves women unprepared and distressed when these changes occur.
In the field of eating disorders we are seeing more and more women seeking treatment during and after menopause. It may be their first time getting treatment for an ED that has been present for decades, or it may be a new onset ED. For some, they had subclinical disordered eating for most of their lives and it finally crossed the threshold. We also can't overlook that ED awareness has increased, and treatment options are much more available than they ever used to be. Whatever the reason, ED's are not just a disease of adolescence.
After puberty the ovaries secrete hormones that regulate the menstrual cycle. These female sex hormones also serve other functions. Estrogen is of particular interest because it helps prevent bones from demineralizing and it also protects the heart. Women who aren't secreting enough estrogen become vulnerable to osteoporosis and heart disease. We see this often in anorexia because the ovaries stop secreting estrogen to prevent pregnancy in a malnourished body.
Puberty is the entrance to childbearing years, and menopause is the exit. The ovaries gradually stop secreting hormones. As estrogen levels decrease the body finds other ways to get it – mainly through adipose tissue (body fat). The additional belly fat is particularly distressing to women. You don't have to look far to see why with these types of headlines:
- "How to get rid of belly fat"
- "Shrink belly fat fast"
- "Lose belly fat in a week"
Obviously belly fat is undesirable, right? Not so fast. Belly fat is very good at producing estrogen. Hence, women often complain of increased belly fat, or a 'spare tire,' with menopause. This also happens if someone has a hysterectomy and removes the ovaries, it's basically artificial menopause.
Your body is amazing. It knows what it is doing. The changes that happen with menopause are natural and beneficial to your health. Weight gain in older adults is also beneficial. Those in the 'overweight' BMI category live longer than those in the 'normal' weight category. But nobody (especially not your doctor) tells you that. Instead, you hear about the alleged dangers of weight gain and belly fat, not to mention the way society tells us belly fat is unattractive.
As you age, embrace the way your body changes. It carries the wisdom of your years on earth. Nourish your body with delicious food, revitalizing physical activity, and plenty of rest. Your body has done so much for you, appreciate it.
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