Yesterday morning, I began preparing @ExperienceLife’s November 2013 content for the web. I often end up reading each article to make sure I don’t miss anything, and one particular article got my attention: a decade-by-decade look at how to plan for an easier and healthier transition into menopause by listening to signals from your body. I’m 28 and I like to plan ahead (in a freakishly organized way), so this was something I gravitated to. This paragraph, from the section titled, “In Your 20s: Gather Data and Examine Priorities,” resonated with me:
“The post-teen years are the perfect time for you to tune in to your body’s hormonal signals because they are usually not competing with other age-related aches and pains. Everything from your fertility to your libido to the health of your relationships is telling you something.”
I was reminded how important and relevant it is to be proactive about my health, from the food and beverages I choose, to my daily sleep and exercise habits, to the personal-care products I slather on my skin, face and hair. The article reinforced that I’m not high-maintenance for taking a stand on these issues, and left me encouraged me to reset my body this week. Even as someone who has been on a health-quest for about six years, I still backslide, and need support to sustain.
As I was pondering my current health state — was I on track and listening to my body to have a healthier transition into menopause 30 years from now? — senior editor @Anjularazden stopped by my cube and we began talking about nutrition and hormones for a future article. I shared TMI and told her that’s actually how I got into healthy eating and living. So this post is about to get pretty personal. Feel free to walk away from your screen now with the takeaway that the menopause article in the November 2013 issue rocks and you should read it. Or keep reading …
In the past month, I let myself get very worn down and exhausted, and eventually got sick. I stopped eating good things and exercising because I wanted to conserve my energy to get through the days. Just as I was feeling better, my small Wisconsin town, Spring Valley, had their annual Dam Days celebration. There were Lion’s Club burgers (which are not grass-fed — nor is the cheese hormone-free), deep-fried cheese curds, ice cream, and a four-layer cheesecake I made for guests because I was craving something insanely rich. None of the ingredients I had were organic. I ate them all.
I drank more wine than usual, ate virtually no vegetables or fruits (except a few apples from the orchard we visited … who knows if they were sprayed with toxins), and drank a lot less water. I told myself that I’d start anew after the weekend, but, instead, all of those nasty chemicals, crazy amounts of sugar, and no doubt loads of MSG left me craving a lot more unhealthy food. I got busy and was tired — and sometimes, if I’m being honest, it’s just exhausting to be a stickler about my health. So I let another two to three weeks slide. I got even more tired, gained some weight (which makes me very crabby), and my emotions went haywire.
I started exercising in small amounts last week, but when you’re stuffing your face with unhealthy options, it makes getting motivated for that run (and staying with it!) much more difficult. Then came this past weekend. I went on a mini-trip with a friend up north to a delightful place. I didn’t pack soap. Or shampoo. Or lotion. Or any good snacks. I used what the place we stayed at had. Sunday I returned and made that same cheesecake (this time with organic ingredients) for a friend’s birthday, ate more pasta and cheese, and drank more wine.
My breasts hurt today as a result.
I know this because that signal is what once launched me into my food journey years ago. When I was in high school, I had horrible periods. For weeks leading up I had cramping and my entire body swelled up. I had different bras and jeans for this time, because nothing fit. My emotions went nuts. I didn’t want to be around anyone, and no one wanted to be around me. My sweat took on a whole new nasty smell, and I’d feel my body temperature turn icy cold and then be flaming hot. I was uncomfortable.
So I ate my “comfort foods”: Corn dogs, large cans of spaghettios with meatballs, full boxes of macaroni and cheese, entire DiGiorno pizzas, and bowls of Cool Whip mixed with Hershey’s chocolate syrup and colorful sprinkles. I washed it all down with a few cans of Mountain Dew while taking refuge in my room.
This continued through my college years, but the cramps worsened, the flow got heavier, and I started suffering from migraines. I was completely exhausted. Before I knew it, my period was lasting two weeks, and I was only feeling normal for one week a month before the pre-period saga began again.
I asked my doctor if there was anything I could do to help my body because I refused to go on living in such a miserable state. They offered birth control. The first kind made me feel incredibly angry, and after six months of my body not adjusting, I stopped taking it. They put me on two other kinds, which leveled my hormones a bit, but I saw no considerable changes; after six months, my body trumped the pills and started back on it’s two-week cycle.
I asked the doctor repeatedly if there were things I could do differently. I had begun seeing articles online that said herbs would help. The doctor said that was foolish, but I decided to do my own research.
And then I met some really “weird” people who I am now proud to call my friends and mentors — fellow humans on a health journey. They only ate grass-fed meat. They went to farmers’ markets. They used herbal teas and things like cramp bark, and chose not to eat dairy a few days before their periods. They slept eight hours a night. They hiked in the mountains. They ate organic vegetables and fruits and were constantly sending me healthy information. They requested no MSG when we went out to eat and only ate organic-non-hormone chicken. I am stubborn and very skeptical, but I felt I was at the end of all my options, so I started to give it a try.
I stopped eating boxed food. I started drinking things like Dandelion root and PMS tea before my period. I bought organic vegetables at the farmers’ markets and started taking vitamins (multi, B-complex, calcium-magnesium, D). I got more sleep. I started running and biking consistently. I ate less bread, and when I did, I had sprouted grains instead of that white fluffy airy kind. And as I watched countless food documentaries and read book after book after book, I slowly began choosing to eat grass-fed meat and hormone-free cheeses. I drank less wine, cut out soda and drank a lot more kombucha. I learned to cook. I fell in love with Brussels sprouts. And hardest of all, I embraced healthy fats and stopped consuming fat-free options. (I was terrified I’d gain weight. And in reality, I lost a bunch). I ate less sugar and started drinking kefir, and became conscious of wanting good bacteria in my stomach.
Although this has been a six-year process, with each improvement and exchange and trade-out of something toxic and hormone-filled, I have gained more energy, felt much less hormonal, and my breasts have stopped hurting before my period. I now have one set of clothes and feel happier on a holistic healthy level.
So as I sit here, blogging, the afternoon sun is shining through my window, my Kombucha is sliding easily down my throat, and I feel hopeful for health: a healthy body, mind, spirit, emotions and life. So I can fully experience all it has to offer. And menopause? I’m preparing for you by building a foundation in my life that values health and learning to listen and respond to my body.