Hey – we may as well have fun as we go sliding into old age, right?

Archive for the ‘Health and Diet’ Category

Most. Expensive. Hot Flash. Ever.

I should have known I was in trouble last Thursday when that pop-up zit appeared on the edge of my lip out of nowhere. Up at 5AM to catch a flight north for work, I stared in disbelief at the mirror. Just when I thought the menopausal acne was behind me… But the road to menopause is full of surprises.

Acne. Mood swings. Bloating. Hot flashes. Mood swings. Exhaustion. Hot flashes.  

Yes, hot flashes can be surprising, as they come and go and change and morph throughout the years leading up to “official” menopause, defined as twelve consecutive months with no “monthly friend” (I’m on a six month roll right now – woo-hoo!!). Not only do hot flashes arrive unexpectedly, but they vary widely in intensity. I’ve had some big ones – rolling heat waves that start in my chest and roll upwards until my scalp was tingling.  I’m talking about strip-off-your-clothes-in-mid-winter major hot flashes (indoors and at home, of course). We’ll be watching television quietly at home, and suddenly I’m flinging off my sweater or sweatshirt in a panic. Poor Hubby barely raises an eyebrow anymore when I start peeling off my clothes. Then the hot flashes will subside for a while, with just the occasional night sweat. Mild night sweats have become fairly routine, but they’ve never been debilitating for me. 

I know I’ve been relatively lucky. I’ve heard stories of horrendous night sweats, where women wake up so drenched they have to change the sheets. Women who had to keep spare outfits in their offices to change into because a hot flash would ruin their clothes. But not me. My hot flashes are just the nuisance type. Annoying, but manageable. Kinda like me. And it was all under control.

After Thursday, I’m not so sure anymore…

It happened at the Charlotte, NC airport Thursday morning. I caught the 6AM puddle-jumper from home to Charlotte (a 50-minute flight) to connect with another flight north to my office, where I was due to attend an important meeting shortly after landing. I was wearing comfortable dress pants and a colorfully patterned, lightweight polyester knit top. I had a 3-hour layover, so there was no hurry as I strolled from one end of the airport to the other. I felt the hot flash begin, and I knew it was a strong one. I was not only hot, I was also very light-headed, felt faint, and my hands were shaking. I stopped, and I started to feel better. Wow. That was a good one. I figured I’d get something cold to drink and I’d be fine, as usual. I stopped by a little tourist shop along the way, mainly because it was extra cool in there. I strolled around a bit, not to buy anything, but just to enjoy the coolness for a minute.

An employee in the shop looked at me rather oddly, and instead of saying “good morning!” or “Can I help you?” he said “Is everything okay this morning, ma’am?” That struck me as an odd thing to say, and then I thought my mega hot flash must have made my face red. I told him I was fine, and decided I’d better go get that cold drink and sit down somewhere.

As I walked out of the shop, I felt something on the side of my face. I put my fingers up to my left temple, and discovered water was running down my face near my scalp. I was covered in sweat. I’m not talking about a soft dewy glow here. I am talking about big drops of water. Dripping down the side of my face. Good lord, the guy must have thought I was crying, or just…well…a crazy lady drenched in sweat at 8:00 AM. I grabbed a tissue and wiped my face. My scalp was sweating. My hair felt damp and limp. Whoa. This was no normal hot flash.

I grabbed a yogurt parfait and a cold drink, and got settled into a seat at a quiet gate. As I sat back against the chair, my back felt cold and clammy. I sat forward and my shirt was clinging to my back. Good grief – I was soaked! I put my hand back there, and sure enough, my shirt was not just damp – it was wet with sweat. The chair was wet. From me. Gross.

I analyzed my options, and wearing this shirt for the rest of the day was not one of them. I had to buy something. I was heading into a meeting less than an hour after landing, and I couldn’t go in wearing a bright t-shirt that said “North Carolina Rocks!” A golf shirt was not dress code compliant. Maybe I could get away with that some other time, but not now – not when I’m trying to convince my employer that I can be away from the home office and still maintain a high level of professionalism.

That left me with two stores: Lacoste (expensive) and Brooks Brothers (more expensive). Lacoste had a sale rack, but nothing on it would work – too clingy, too sheer, too heavy (being warm triggers hot flashes). Why spend $50 on a sale shirt that I know I’ll never wear?

So I went back to Brooks Brothers and spent a ridiculous amount of money on a very nice cotton pinstripe shirt with ¾ sleeves. Beautiful fabric. Lovely tailoring. Very professional. Looks great. It is easily the most expensive shirt I’ve ever purchased. The sales tax brought the total over 3 figures. For a shirt.

All because of a monster hot flash at a really bad time and place.

And that’s the story of my first sweat-through-my-clothes hot flash. I don’t need to have another one. Truly, I don’t. Once is enough.

But just in case, I’ll start keeping an extra dress shirt in my office (and in my carry-on when I’m traveling).  

Because I simply can’t afford any more hot flashes like that one.

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Where Did My Brain Go?

As long as I’m on the subject of hormones…  I find the second-most irritating symptom of menopause (after the raging emotions) to be the loss of mental function in general.  This is more than being absent-minded – I’ve been absent-minded all my life. 

But lately, it’s like I just go into a “brain-fog” with no warning.  I’ll be driving home from work and suddenly realize that I don’t remember getting off the highway exit, and yet here I am, driving down the side street to my home.  Apparently I drove it safely and legally, as I heard no honking horns or blaring sirens.  But I don’t remember doing it.  It’s not that I was thinking about something else – I wasn’t thinking at all. 

I’ve been in conversations recently, and I’ll suddenly realize that I’ve “tuned out” and I have no idea what I’ve missed.  I’ve become good at using my “interested” face and appearing to be listening – nodding, smiling, jotting a few notes.  But I didn’t hear an entire block of speaking.  Well, I heard it, since my hearing isn’t gone, but I didn’t process it.  Again, it’s not that I’m daydreaming, which I’ve always been very good at – my mind is just blank. 

It’s pretty creepy, actually, to realize you’re losing time (without the assistance of alcohol!).

And even when I’m not losing time, there are moments when I just can’t kick my brain into gear.  I’ll pick up a new bag of (low-fat) chips, start to pull it open, and then just stop.  What was I doing again?  Do I need the scissors?  No, I just have pull it open – and still my hands aren’t moving.  What the hell?  Do I want these chips?  Is there something else I’d rather have?  Is it too close to dinner?  Oh, for crying out loud – open the damn bag!

And choosing clothes for work?  There are days when it’s agony, because I can’t make a freakin’ decision.  Do I want the black pinstripe pants?  Did I wear black pants yesterday?  What shirt should I wear?  Does that pattern go with the pinstripe?  Will it be warm enough?  Maybe not…  But this brown sweater would do.  But then I have to pick different pants.  Do these need to be ironed?  What shoes would I wear?  Do I have trouser socks that match?  No, no – I already had my black shoes pulled out to wear.  I should wear the pinstripes.  Maybe add a jacket over a short-sleeved shirt?  But which jacket?  Does this match??  A-r-r-g-g-h-h!  By now, I’m late for work. 

Never good with names, I now meet people and forget their names within seconds of meeting them.  Even when I’m trying to remember – even when I made up a word-association to remember.  Or I mix up the word associations in an embarrassing way.  For example, I use word association to remember the name of a consultant our company is working with.  He’s tall, good-looking and conservative, and his first name is Don.  So I’ve associated him with Don Draper of Mad Men, and it helps me remember his first name.  But twice recently I’ve referred to him as “Don Draper” to colleagues, who then look at me as if I’ve lost my mind.  And perhaps I have.

So I did a little research, and sure enough, one of the symptoms of menopause is “foggy thinking”, absent-mindedness, short-term memory loss, lack of cognitive ability, etc., etc., etc.  Something to do with hormones (of course), and probably stress.  It can be a vicious cycle, actually.  Get frustrated at the brain-fog, stress out, which makes the brain function more poorly, which cause more stress, which makes the brain function even more poorly, and pretty soon, you’re driving home without remembering the trip, and wearing blue socks with black shoes. 

It’s not all the time – it comes and goes.  Some days, even weeks, I’m perfectly fine (or at least as good as I was before menopause arrived).   And then one day, or string of days, I’m just out of it.  I have to struggle to maintain any kind of focus and momentum.  It’s scary.

The good news is that it’s temporary – once menopause goes along its merry way and finishes with me, my cognitive ability should improve again.  How long will that take?  One article tossed around 3 – 12 years…..  3 – 12 YEARS??????  Oh, come on!!  I have a life to lead in the meantime. 

My husband thinks I’m just careless and should “try harder”, my co-workers wonder what’s happening, my boss thinks I’m not paying attention, my friends and family think I’m losing it and wonder why I let weeks go by without calling or emailing.  How do I tell them I sometimes have trouble remembering just how much time has gone by.  Did I call my mom yesterday?  Or was it last Friday?  Did I talk to her at all this week?  Maybe…but maybe not.   Damn it.

So how do I get better (other than waiting YEARS for menopause to pass me by)?  Most articles agree that three things can help – moderate exercise (oh crap, I hate exercise), a diet that includes many small meals during the day to keep the brain “fed”, and easing up on the stress load. 

Okay – so today I threw new batteries in the Wii and will try to get back on board with morning workouts.  My diet’s been better lately, but can certainly still improve.  And I’m trying to lose the same 20 pounds I’ve been trying to lose for more than a year (down 4 in two weeks), so I’m trying to limit snacking, which now may not be helping my brain.  And stress.  Ah, stress.  Let’s see – major system conversion going on at work, just finished a traumatic and exhausting move, trying to lose that damn 20 pounds that have settled into a happy “meno-pot” in my belly which makes all my clothes uncomfortable, and can’t remember anything.  What stress???  I guess I can get some “down-time” in there somewhere, between work, marriage and church activities.  Maybe get up between 3 and 4 AM to do some journaling?  Try to squeeze a yoga class into my hectic schedule?  A little more prayer? 

Somehow, I have to figure out how to get through these brain-fog spells without losing my job, my marriage, my friends and my sanity.  So I guess I’d better find the time to relax, eat better and exercise.  If I can only remember to do it….and why….and…what was I saying again??

Fighting With My Reflection

A month ago, I posted a blog on my frustration with fitting back into my Fat Jeans again.  At that point, I’d lost a whopping 1 ½ lbs, and was determined to keep going.  So, consider this my update in frustration.  I don’t know which irritates me more – the mirror or the scale.

I am doing serious battle with my body right now.  And that’s not like me.  My body and I have always gotten along pretty well.  I’ve always been pretty in tune with what my body was doing and feeling.  Every little change was noted and acknowledged.  After a serious bout of IBS in my twenties, I learned that I could control some health issues (especially stress-induced ones) with a few moments of deep breathing, a good night’s sleep, a few days of simple foods, and truly paying attention to what my body was telling me it needed.  We got each other.

I married a great cook, so it was only naturally that some pounds came on after a while.  I accused him of making me “fat and happy”.  I had moved from an active lifestyle of horseback riding and farming to a sedentary suburban life.  It wasn’t my body’s fault that I gained weight – it was mine.  And when I decided eight years ago that I could be stronger than the food in my life, I dropped the weight and kept it off.  I felt terrific.

But my body has now joined the dark side.  My metabolism changes every year, and not in a good way.  Pounds come on in bunches, for no good reason.  Ten pounds a few summers ago.  Five here, five there, and another three this past April.  My body feels heavy, especially around the middle, and my clothes are uncomfortable.  I’m not at all at peace with my body right now.  Even Zumba isn’t weaving its magic spell this year (oh, sure, it’s fun, as I wrote a few weeks ago), but my body is unimpressed at the moment.

My body has become the enemy.  Stubborn, pouting, grumpy, lumpy and lazy.  It’s become old and cranky.  I stare at it in the mirror, and I’m horrified.  Officially, I’m within my healthy weight range, BMI and all that jazz, but my body is turning into something unrecognizable.  For crying out loud, I’m only fifteen pounds over my target goal weight!  The mirror shows me the extra weight, along with things like my skin, once taut, but now crepey and loose – under my chin, on the back of my hands, on my stomach, in my cleavage. 

And speaking of cleavage…oh, never mind.  Let’s just say my breasts are following gravity toward my waistline at a rapid pace.  And when the hell did I grow boobs on my back?  Suddenly there are big rolls of skin on my back that show under t-shirts and sweaters.  And bathing suits?  Forget about it.  All that extra flesh is determined to burst out in the most unbecoming places.  Ignore all the hype about the Miraclesuits.  Sure, your body is held in very nicely everywhere the suit is, but wherever it isn’t – – – who are we trying to kid?

I’m trying, damn it!  I’m going to Zumba, I’m walking almost every day, I’m drinking Slim Fast shakes, I’m trying to watch what I eat (I know I’ve cut calories), I’m even drinking 55 calorie beer, for crying out loud!!  I bought Wii Fit, and I’ve been using it daily for a whole week.  And my body is still sitting at the same place it was a month ago.  Seriously???  Not an ounce lost??  In a month??  What kind of cruel trick is that?  I’m sitting here at the computer with my jeans (not the Fat Jeans) both unbuttoned and partially unzipped for comfort, and that really ticks me off.

But I am not giving up.  Like a marriage going through a rough patch, my body and I are just having a hard time right now.  We’ll work through it and work it out.  I stare at my reflection and try to understand (and try to love) what I’m seeing.  I’m not one of those silly women who flail away at the aging process in panic, trying so desperately to look twenty-five forever.  I know that some changes are inevitable as I age.  I generally like getting older.  I can handle my crow’s feet and a certain degree of sag here and there.  But enough is enough.  This creeping, crepey invasion of flabby flesh is going to stop.

It’s time for a little “tough love” with this body of mine.  We have to get back on the same page.  This month-long plateau is going to end.  I may have to pay the price in some hunger pangs and unopened bottles of wine, but I can do it.  A little extra sweat.  More fruit and veggies (I’m munching strawberries right now).  A lot more water (yup, got a glass of water in front of me).  The Wii every single morning.  A walk every single day …. well, maybe not every day… but close to it.  Zumba at least twice a week.  I’ll drag my petulant body along for a while until it gets with the program and decides to join me. 

I’m not looking to get a 36-24-36 Barbie doll figure.  I’m far more realistic than that.  I just want my reflection to show a healthy, at least moderately fit, body.  A body I can relate to again.  With a minimum of nasty surprises in the mirror as time goes by.  Stay tuned………………………………..

My Love/Hate Relationship with Zumba

In case you’re wondering what Zumba is, it’s exercise disguised as dancing.  Or dancing disguised as exercise.  Or torture disguised as fun.  It’s basically a way to sweat like crazy and cram what feels like days’ worth of exercise into an hour or so.  It all began in Columbia, South America, and has swept the U.S. in the past 8 or 9 years.

I had no intention of being dragged into the craze when it hit our area a few years ago.   Sadly out of shape, I still could not imagine myself dancing in a room full of people.  You see, I’m just not very coordinated.  I have a bad sense of timing, and a worse sense of direction.  Invariably, if my husband says “look at that car on your right!” I will immediately look to the left.  So much so that Hubby now just sighs and says “your other right, honey”.  So any kind of structured dancing, even though I dearly love music, is not my strong point.

But my friends were very persistent, and they seemed to be having fun, so eventually I found myself going to classes with them.  That was a year ago.  I hate it.  And I love it.  It’s complicated. But I won’t give it up.  Let me try to sort it out the primary issues for you.

1a.   SWEAT IS BAD –  You know that old saying that ladies don’t sweat, they perspire?  Well, not doing Zumba they don’t!  It’s definitely sweat that rolls off in buckets.  Your hair sweats in Zumba.  Just this morning, I went to brush my bangs off my face in class, and a shower of water sprayed out in front of me.  Surprised, I put my hand to my head and realized my hair was completely soaked with sweat.  That much sweat is disgusting.  It’s uncomfortable.  It’s cold and unhealthy in the winter when you walk outdoors into below zero temperatures.  It requires washing of workout clothes, including my expensive athletic bra, after every single class.  Sweat is not pleasant.

1b.   SWEAT IS GOOD – Sweat is empowering.  Sweat tells you you’re really doing something.  Sweat tells you that your body is working – hard.  Sweat tells you that you’re building muscle and burning fat.  That’s a really good feeling.   Sweat is powerful.  Sweat is good for women.

2a.  MIRRORS ARE BAD – Most Zumba classrooms have at least one wall of mirrors.  They’re scary.  They show EVERYTHING to EVERYONE.  You see everything you’re doing wrong – every time I turn right instead of left, the mirror lets me know about it (as does the unsuspecting classmate to my right!).  The mirror also shows me how bad I look in workout clothes.  Just when I’m feelin’ the music and thinkin’ I’m really jammin’ to the song, I get a glance of myself in the mirror – lumpy, puffy, in pants that are too short, with a blotchy red face, and my mouth gaping open like a flounder, gasping for air.  So much for confidence – I look like I’m ready to drop!  Mirrors are not helpful.

2b.  MIRRORS ARE GOOD – There’s always the practical purpose of mirrors – they allow you to see what the instructor is doing, and they show you whether you are doing a move properly when you compare your moves to hers.  But there are other fun things about mirrors.   The mirror teaches us to avoid that gasping flounder look as we struggle for air, and to instead purse our lips like we’re just blowing off a little steam.  Lips together, mouth more closed than open – “whew”.  Trust me – it’s much more attractive than the gasping flounder look.  Mirrors can boost your Zumba confidence when you realize that many other people in the room are making even more mistakes than you are!  Or when you realize that everyone looks weird in workout clothes.  Mirrors show you that most women (and men) in class are really not concerned with how they look – they’re just throwing themselves into the dance moves the best they can.  You want to be fearless, like them.  Mirrors also show you when you finally get that complicated step right, and you’re smokin’ it, keeping up with every move the instructor is making.  Thank goodness for mirrors!

3a.  HIPS ARE GOOD – Moving and swinging your hips with the beat of Latin music is very seductive.  I’m not talking about being seductive to an audience.  It’s seductive to you.  I’m talking about the feeling of letting your hips sway to the rhythm of drums and Latin words.  Whether it’s a belly dance to a Shakira song; or a samba to the rhythm of an island beat; or an aggressively low hip swing to a naughty Notorious lyric, you feel the power of music.  You feel the power of your own body, moving with the music.  It’s a beautiful thing for your soul to feel that kind of synchronicity.  It makes you appreciate your body, rather than criticize it.  Whether you’re full of curves or skinny as a rail, feel the rhythm and MOVE.

3b.  HIP IS GOOD – Look closely – this isn’t a bad/good comparison as with the first two topics – it’s just two positive takes on “hip” and Zumba.  Moving your physical hips is good.  But so is BEING hip!  Some of you may have teenagers who keep you in the loop on the current entertainers, but Zumba saved me from a life of being one of those boring old people who say  “who’s that?”  “never heard of her!” when we watch the MTV Music Awards.  I know who Lady Gaga is, I dance to Shakira and the Black Eyed Peas.  I can do the “Beyonce bounce”.  I groove to Pit Bull, man!  In my real life, I listen to country music and oldies, but in Zumba, I am crankin’ it to lyrics I (probably blessedly) don’t always understand.  Some are in Hispanic, and some are being ground out in rap.  I am in a room with women (and men) smaller and larger than me, older and younger than me, and we are all yelling and cutting loose to a song that I’m pretty sure is talking about posing “like a pornography poster.”  Do I have fun being just a little naughty and working out to that infectious hip hop beat?  Oh, yeah!  Being hip makes young co-workers eyebrows raise when you stride past them humming “Let’s Dance”.   Being hip is cool.  Being hip keeps you young.  Zumba makes you hip.

As with any workout, it can be torturous while you’re doing it.  But the afterglow is well worth the effort, and the changes in my body, stamina and confidence keep me going back for one sweaty, torturous, exhausting, exhilarating class after another.  Hating it.  And loving it.

Uh-Oh…Back in the “Fat Jeans” Again!

We all have them – hidden deep in the closet or at the very bottom of a drawer.  We feel comforted just knowing they’re there.  We hold onto them for years, just in case.  They’re our secret, silent insurance policies.  They’re our Fat Jeans. 

We don’t want to use them, don’t want to need them.  But we keep them because we know the realities of life, with all its ups and downs, including those found on our bathroom scales. 

We tell ourselves we’re only saving them in case we have a “bloated” day or a tummy ache.  But we know the truth.  We know that we’re hedging our bets and playing it safe.  All that weight we fought so hard to lose and/or control is always waiting to come back and surprise us.  We have to be ready for it.  Thus, the Fat Jeans.

And guess what I was wearing last weekend?  Yup – after they spent years at the bottom of the jeans pile in the closet, I dug up the Fat Jeans.  I could justify it by saying my other comfortable jeans (a/k/a the “Borderline Fat Jeans”) were in the laundry.  But I couldn’t deny the truth – those Fat Jeans fit.  Damn.

Four years ago, they’d have been inches too big.  I got rid of all the other loose pants back then, but I tucked these black denim trousers into the closet – just in case.  I never forgot them.  I saw them constantly.  Even picked them up a few times and thought about sending them to a church rummage sale.  But I always put them back in their safe place. 

In a way, I think I enjoyed knowing that they used to fit and became much too big for me to wear.  They were my badge of honor – my proof that I really had lost well over 30 lbs.  Like on “The Biggest Loser”, when at the end of the show, the person sent home holds up a pair of enormous pants, then drops them to show off their new, slimmer figure.  My Fat Jeans were never that large, but they had the same effect for me.  I used to be that, but now I’m this.

A few years ago, all that vanished weight started creeping back onto my hips.  In fact, two summers ago, I gained ten pounds in a matter of weeks.  Didn’t change my diet.  Didn’t change my activity level.  Just got bigger.  Like magic! 

At first I freaked out.  Someone mentioned it being a “meno-pot”, and I had no clue what she meant.  So I started doing a little research.  Oh, joy – as if getting older wasn’t enough fun, it turns out women get fatter, too.  It’s all natural.  Approaching menopause means slower metabolisms, decreased hormones, increased hormones, blah, blah, blah.  And even better, the weight gathers around our waistline, giving us those charming little pot bellies.  Our own little meno-pots. 

WHY WE GAIN WEIGHT NOW

Apparently, our body doesn’t communicate well with itself.  Menopause makes estrogen levels drop, but instead of just accepting that, our bodies want to find estrogen elsewhere.  Fat cells produce estrogen, so our bodies start collecting jiggly little fat cells around our middles in order to get that estrogen.  Our bodies should just say ‘good riddance’ to estrogen and move on. 

Progesterone also drops.  Lower progesterone leads to water retention (no wonder my rings are feeling tight on my fingers).  Testosterone levels drop, too, and this is one of the few times in our lives when we want more testosterone around.  When it drops, so does our metabolism, and we don’t burn calories as easily as we used to.  And one of the hormones that actually increases now doesn’t help us at all – androgen levels rise, and androgen, for some reason, makes our weight collect in our mid-section. Yippee.

Insulin issues can also lead to menopausal weight gain, as well as stress.  I don’t know about you, but I have a little stress flowing through my life right now.  My first thought was that stress makes us gain weight because comfort foods like chocolate and beer make us feel better, so we indulge in them more.  That’s probably true, but stress also encourages our body to hold on to fat, in some misguided nod to our Stone Age days, when stress meant we might be heading into a famine, so our bodies start collecting fat cells (what’s so darn attractive about those fat cells, anyway?).

As I cruised all my favorite medical websites, I read two different messages about this mid-life weight gain.  Some articles said “don’t feel bad, it’s not your fault.”  True, and nice, but not helpful.  The others said “if you’re active and eat right, you can beat it.” Also true, and even helpful, but nothing that we really want to hear.

So I ignored those extra ten pounds, which, over the next year or so, became the extra fifteen pounds.  In the last couple of months, after I stopped exercising, it became the extra 20 pounds.  And, this past weekend… I wore my Fat Jeans and they fit.  Argh!

WHAT I’M GOING TO DO ABOUT IT

So back I go to Zumba (more on that love/hate relationship another time).  No more careless snacking in front of the TV.  Much smaller portions at meals.  It’s not misery, and it’s not rocket science – if you eat less and move more you’ll lose weight.  But it’s so hard to get back into that habit, and now it’s complicated by an aging body that’s fallen in love with fat cells!

But I am NOT in love with Fat Jeans, or feeling out of breath after tying my shoes, or sitting on the sofa like a lump every night.  That’s not how I want to go sliding into old, so I’ll suck it up and start behaving.  I’ll keep you all posted on how I’m doing every week or so.  I’m off to a respectable start – since Fat Jeans Saturday, I’ve dropped a pound and a half.  Bye-bye, fat cells!  Bye-bye, Fat Jeans!

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