June 25, 2023

Navigating Perimenopause and Menopause with Grace

Photo of Justine Friedman, Registered Clinical Dietician and Mindset Mentor
Justine Friedman
Registered Clinical Dietitian and Mindset Mentor

My late gran used to say to me while shaking her head in disbelief, “Getting old is for the birds!” She always prided herself on her appearance, painstakingly having her hair and nails done, and her makeup just so. She passed away one month before her 99th birthday. I choose to remember her as fiercely independent and well-groomed—although at the end of her life, none of this mattered as she slowly got more frail and then sadly no longer recognized me.

So what is the connection between my family matriarch’s words and the work I do with women in their 40s? Well, aging is inevitable, but suffering through it is not. And I see so many women who are struggling with hormonal changes and many more who don’t even want to think about the physical, emotional, and life changes that are happening—or going to happen.

Ladies, we will all go through this shift from our reproductive years to menopause and beyond, and whether we want to hear about it, speak about it, or not, it’s going to happen.

So my philosophy is, your body can either drag you through it, resisting, kicking, screaming, and miserable. Or you can empower yourself and have conversations and learn how you can best support your body so that aging can be done more on your terms, gracefully, and without feeling old!

“I know I should probably think about it and learn about it, but I’m too young and I don’t want to…” - Anon, 43 years old.

This is such a common conversation I have with friends and women in passing when they hear about the work I do. I know you don’t want to go there! Like a child who covers their ears and sings lalalala to drown out an adult's words. It may push the reality away at that moment, but we all know that when an adult is trying to tell a kid something they don’t want to hear, it's pretty much for the child's benefit—so how about listening and filing the information away so that when the inevitable happens you have the guidance to fall back on.

Did your mom give you “The Talk” before you hit puberty? You know the one where she sits you down—mine handed me a book—and tells you about an egg and bleeding from your private area once a month?

I don’t know about you, but I couldn’t wait for my period to start! And when it finally happened it felt like a milestone, and I was finally a WOMAN! My body was working and doing everything like it should.

Well, guess what, when you go through perimenopause and menopause your body is still doing what it should, and you are no less of a woman than the day you had your first period. Now you are a wise and strong woman who has life experience behind her.

Did your mom prepare you for this next phase? Did she sit you down (if she was able to, of course) and gently give you the tools of what to expect and how to handle it? I’m guessing most of you are saying NOPE!

My mom—through no fault of her own, certainly did not. And I guess that's because her mom before her never did. This is one of those generational conversations that somehow gets passed over.

So allow me to play that role for you. Let’s sit down and chat about what will probably happen to your body—yes everyone is different—but some of the main features will be the same.

Here are some of the main points to know:

  • Perimenopause may begin as early as your mid-30s or as late as your mid-50s. Some people are in perimenopause for only a short time. But for many, it can last anywhere from four to ten years. The term perimenopause simply describes the time when your cycles are no longer predictable.
  • Menopause is only one day. Meno stands for menses, and pause, well that’s easy, it means to stop. So menopause is the day you stop having your period. You are officially in menopause when you have not had a period for 1 year—and yes some women have stopped for a year and can get them back again—who said the body was straightforward?
  • What women think happens during menopause, and what may happen could be worlds apart. The typical symptoms, like hot flashes, night sweats, and weight gain, are not experienced by everyone. Many women don’t have any of these! Some women wake up one day and realize, hey I haven’t had a period in a while, and flip I’m tired and depressed. I don’t want to be around anyone, and I am crying at the drop of a hat—what’s going on here? Others, myself included, get joint pain and skin irritations.

I have become fascinated by how quickly my body now reacts to things like dust which was never an issue before. I break out in urticaria (hives) from it, which is so annoying and itchy. I once had to go home in the middle of a dinner with friends to change clothes because the seam of the dress I was wearing—combined with the red wine I drank—caused a break out under my arm. Only once I had applied a soothing cream and removed the offending clothing could my skin slowly calm down, and I could return to my dinner.

What causes all of the symptoms? Drops in progesterone and estrogen, which are the two main hormones that are the stars of the show during our reproductive years, are responsible for most of the symptoms you will experience. The balance of these as well as how stress affects your body will determine how severely you will be affected. Estrogen is a powerful hormone that has numerous functions in the body, and when it is either too low or too high, which can also happen in a condition known as estrogen dominance, the body exhibits this in any number of ways. Brain fog, poor concentration, exhaustion, itchy skin, sleep disturbances, hair loss, skin breakouts, reduced skin tone, irritability, anxiety, mood swings, cravings—the list goes on.

Okay, I see you covering your ears again, perhaps angry that you even have to read these words—which you don’t of course, you are welcome to stop at any time. But how about you give yourself the gift of actually learning what to expect—the opposite of the classic book “What to Expect When You are Expecting.” Now instead of hearing about pregnancy-related changes and a baby after 9 months, you can raise your knowledge about what your body needs to best be supported as you naturally close the chapter on your reproductive years and move over into vibrant post-menopause (which I believe can be truly awesome—of course I have yet to experience it).

I’ll leave you with this thought. You may never need all the information out there about the symptoms of menopause. But having the conversation and being part of a larger community of women who can all be there for one another, lifts the lid on a time that could be seen as secretive and even shameful and allows for connection and support.

I’m on board, how about you?

Want to hear more and get tips on how to nourish your body as well as how to prepare for and navigate perimenopause and menopause with confidence? Follow me on Facebook/ IG/ LinkedIn/ Youtube or reach out here for a complimentary consultation.

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Photo of Justine Friedman, Registered Clinical Dietician and Mindset Mentor
Justine Friedman
Registered Clinical Dietitian and Mindset Mentor
Justine is a seasoned Clinical Dietician with over two decades of experience in private practice. Holding a Bachelor of Science from WITS and an Honorary Bachelor of Science in Nutrition and Dietetics from UCT, she is both South African qualified and Israeli licensed. Justine's journey into nutrition was deeply personal, stemming from her own battles with weight management, emotional eating, and adapting her diet post-40 to meet the changing needs of her body. This personal connection to her field fuels her mission to empower clients to forge a harmonious relationship with food and their bodies. Understanding the complexity of diet, hormones, gut health, and eating habits, Justine brings empathy and expertise to her practice. She is dedicated to helping individuals overcome the cycle of dieting and self-sabotage by fostering a profound understanding of their own bodies. Justine's approach is grounded in the belief that knowledge is power—by understanding your body, you can work with it, not against it, to achieve lasting health and wellness.