The Menopause Diet
How I got older and thinner after a lifetime of dieting
I am the oldest menstruating woman in America. Based on an exhaustive survey of nine of my friends, I am the only 54-year-old in the world who still gets her period every month. You’ve heard of people being young at heart? I’m young at uterus. Since neither my crow’s feet nor my crepe-y elbows are similarly youthful, I’m clinging for dear life to my monthly reminder that it’s not all over. I may not still have it, but I still get it, like clockwork, every month.
But peri-menopause, that’s a different story. That, dear friends, is kicking my butt. Hot flashes, mood swings, irritability, a fibroid the size of Minneapolis. Name a symptom, I’ve got it. So while I’m unashamedly basking in the glory of the monthly reminder of my womanhood, I know my estrogen-filled days are numbered. While I am worried about what the loss of estrogen might mean for my health–osteoporosis, higher risk of heart disease or stroke–I’m mostly worried about what it will mean for my weight. Priorities, amiright?
Until my mid-forties, when the joys of peri-menopause began, I had weighed the same since I was in my late twenties. Which is to say, I had spent twenty years trying to lose the same ten pounds. Between 40 and 45, I put on five pounds. I wasn’t happy, but I made the mental adjustment. At around the 50-year mark, I realized I had gained five more. Then, when my twins went to college and didn’t gain the freshman fifteen, I was a good helicopter parent and did it for them. That, I decided, was a gain too far. I had crossed the line from “wouldn’t it be nice to lose ten pounds” to “holy crap, I’m uncomfortable ALL THE DAMN TIME.” But every article I’d read about menopausal women told me that losing weight got more difficult after 45. And if I hadn’t been able to lose those ten pounds in the twenty years before I hit my mid-forties, what made me think I could do it now that 55 loomed on the horizon?
Name a diet, and I’ve tried it. My first diet, In high school, was called the Woman Doctor’s Diet for Teenaged Girls, which meant eating an orange and a glass of skim milk for breakfast, an orange and a hamburger for lunch, and an orange and two hamburgers for dinner. Really. I tried the Scarsdale Diet, and the Cabbage Soup Diet. Weight Watchers, Atkins, Food Combining. The Grapefruit Diet, The Zone, South Beach. Nothing stuck. Not because the diets didn’t work, but because I didn’t–or couldn’t–follow them.
But a funny thing happened on the way to full-blown menopause: I lost 18 pounds. I didn’t do it by cutting carbs, and counting points, and generally making myself and everyone I dined out with miserable. I lost the weight I’d gained (and then some) because menopause freed me to lose it. I call it The Menopause Diet.
What changed? My hormones, yes. And yes, I followed a diet plan. (It’s called the 2B Mindset, and you can look it up. Basically, you drink a ton of water and eat everything in moderation.) But I don’t think it was the diet itself that changed things for me. It was my menopausal mindset. My reason for dieting. In every previous attempt to lose weight, I was doing it because I wanted to look better for myself, yes, but mostly for everyone else. In my early twenties, it was about looking good for men. In my thirties, I was comparing myself to other moms, in my forties, I was clinging to my status as a woman people noticed. Now, in my fifties, having made peace with the fact that no one is noticing me anymore anyway, I finally lost the weight for me.
Much has been written about the invisibility of older women. It’s all true. At some point, I crossed the line from noticed object of desire, to invisible space-taker-upper. It wasn’t like I was used to men swooning at the very sight of me. But after a certain age I realized that I could no longer I count on the deli-men at Zabars to light up when they called out a number and I was the one who responded. I noticed shop-girls suddenly offered help with a desultory shrug instead of a conciliatory smile. It’s strange, even for someone like me, someone whose looks were never central to her life as a woman, to suddenly find my status in the world so changed.
I didn’t miss catcalls and objectification, but after a lifetime of unconsciously moving through the world as a woman worthy of notice, the invisibility was disconcerting. Until men stopped objectifying me, I didn’t realize how used to it I had become, and how I used it to navigate my way through everything from trips to the deli counter to workplace encounters. The shift wasn’t about beauty, but about age. I had aged out of men’s notice. For months, I found it depressing. I mean, if a woman walks into Zabars and nobody sees her order two pounds of rugelach, is she even there? Can she even get a whitefish salad on a toasted bialy?
Invisibility was also, unexpectedly, liberating. If no one was looking, I could move through the world behaving as I liked. I’ve heard the decade I now inhabit described as the Fuck You 50’s. But I like another term I heard recently: The Road to Fuck It. The Road to Fuck It is a journey to the Fuck You 50’s or 60’s or whenever you get to the point where you truly stop caring what other people think. It’s a road to doing what is best for you, without vying for approval. You don’t stop worrying about others’ feelings. You don’t become callous and selfish. You just decide that other people’s judgments matter less than your own. The Fuck You 50’s are hard to fully embrace — after all, I still do wear lipstick every time I leave the house. I’m not looking to frighten the neighbors, after all. I still care about what others think of me, I just care more what I think about myself. Other people’s weight in relation to my own is no longer relevant. The Road to Fuck It is about navigating the road to being comfortable in your own skin, something I’ve always strived for, but never achieved. It’s about noticing your neck, but not feeling bad about it.
After three months on the Menopause Diet, I weighed about what I weighed for the bulk of my adult life, and I’ve now maintained that weight for more than nine months. I weigh the same I weighed forever. A forever in which I always wanted to lose ten pounds. Only now, I feel thin. Or at least thinner. I have no interest in losing more weight. Catherine Deneuve is famously credited with saying that after a certain age, women have to choose between their ass and their face. Turns out, if you wait long enough to lose weight, you don’t get either. My ass is saggy and my face is, perhaps, a bit drawn. Somehow, knowing that no one but me really cares how I look, allows me to be okay with that. It’s only now that I don’t care how other people see me that I can fully see–and appreciate — myself for who I am.
I wish I hadn’t waited for the batwings of the menopause monster to knock me on the head so hard I finally realized my losing weight only mattered to me, but I’ll take it. I’ll take this step on the Road to Fuck It and see where it leads.