Last year I started to notice that I was getting larger around my stomach. It was a little weird for me, I don’t normally carry extra weight there, it’s usually on my hips and legs. But I thought, it must just be my age. I’m 45 and I know that as a woman approaching perimenopause, it becomes more difficult to lose weight and it is common to carry it around your stomach.
It was frustrating, though. My eating wasn’t any different. In fact, I started cutting out certain foods from my diet as I thought maybe the bloat around my stomach was a sign of a problem with gluten or soy. I went to a gastroenterologist but he wasn’t concerned and he thought I just had Irritable Bowel Syndrome, which is a catch all for any digestive problems when they don’t know a specific cause. I’ve had some trouble with constipation since my 20s but my stomach has never looked this large.
At one point last year, I told my sister I didn’t think it was possible, but my stomach looked like I was in an early pregnancy. I was getting so discouraged. I was working out, my food was good; I thought age was just being mean to me. Why wouldn’t this weight come off, why did it feel like all of my clothes wouldn’t fit? I tried to have acceptance that I was getting older and my body was changing but it just didn’t feel right.
Over the past summer, my periods also started getting heavier. I asked my mother if this was normal and she said yes, she remembered that happening. So, again, I accepted that this was normal and it was the cost of being a woman and getting older.
In September, I went to the gynecologist for my annual exam. I thought she would just tell me the heavy periods were due to perimenopause but instead she sent me for an ultrasound. A few years earlier the doctor told me I had a small fibroid but I didn’t really understand what that meant and she didn’t seem concerned so I didn’t pay much attention to it. Well, when I went to get the ultrasound, they found 5 fibroid tumors. If you don’t know what a fibroid tumor is, here’s the deal… A fibroid tumor is not cancer, it is a growth from the smooth muscular tissue of the uterus.
“Uterine fibroids are noncancerous growths of the uterus that often appear during childbearing years. Fibroids aren’t associated with an increased risk of uterine cancer and almost never develop into cancer. A single cell divides repeatedly, eventually creating a firm, rubbery mass distinct from nearby tissue. The growth patterns of uterine fibroids vary — they may grow slowly or rapidly, or they may remain the same size. Some fibroids go through growth spurts, and some may shrink on their own.” http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/uterine-fibroids/basics/definition/con-20037901 Fibroids, on their own, are not dangerous and many women aren’t even aware that they have them.
Fibroids can range in size from a walnut to the size of a watermelon! Crazy, right?! And, this can cause a woman to look like she is pregnant! So, what I thought was weight gain around my midsection from age or because I wasn’t doing enough at the gym or because maybe I needed to eat less was really due to 5 golf sized fibroids in my uterus. My heavy periods are probably from a combination of changing hormones and these growths.
This past year, while I was getting frustrated with myself and thinking I wasn’t working hard enough, I was really having hormonal issues. In fact, due to the heavy periods, I became very anemic and had to have three iron infusions to get my blood levels back to normal. Over the past few months, I’ve been to multiple doctors to get information and opinions on how to manage the fibroids and had tests to rule out any other reasons for the bleeding. There was a stressful week while I waited on the result of a biopsy to make sure there was no cancer.
Thankfully, those tests were negative and it is just the fibroids wreaking havoc on my body.
So, why am I sharing this with you when I normally talk about weight, food and body image? Well, I spent most of the past year, as I said, thinking I must be doing something wrong. I thought I’m not working out like I used to, I’m older, my back hurts, it’s just my fault. Maybe not fault, but the weight gain and change in my body is because I’m not doing enough. So many of us think like this! We think if we gain weight, if someone doesn’t like us, if we didn’t get that job, we did something wrong. We are in control and if something doesn’t go our way, it’s our fault! Right?! Not necessarily!
We are not in control of everything. If someone doesn’t like us or respond to us in the way we think they should, many times it has nothing to do with us. When we don’t get the job we’re up for, maybe the company decided to cut back on costs or hired internally. When our bodies change, we might have a health issue that is making our best efforts to lose weight or get in shape very difficult.
We think we have so much control and when things don’t go the way we want, many times we blame ourselves.
My lesson from the past few months is yet another reminder that I am not in control of everything! That I can do my best but I cannot worry about results. That my outer appearance is not a measure of my worth or my success and not always of my efforts. That weight and how I look is not a good measure of my health. As someone who has finally found peace with my body, I am thankful that in this stage of my life I am learning to let go of judging myself by my weight and how my body looks. My stomach being bloated is not connected to how I am viewing myself. As someone who has struggled with weight and body image, I can give in to the old beliefs and think that my bloated stomach is a reflection of my worth. Or I can get frustrated that my eating and exercise won’t eliminate my belly so I should just give up and go eat crap because it doesn’t matter anyway. But, because I’ve worked on my feelings about my body and weight, because I know that eating crap or overeating is a way to deal with frustration, I don’t have to do any of that. In fact, I know that continuing to eat healthy and move my body is how I show that I love myself. I know that my bloated belly is separate from all of that.
For any of you who might have fibroids, as they affect nearly 80% of women by the time they reach menopause, I will share what I have learned. I am not a doctor and this is based on months of researching options and alternative treatments.
After much research and contacting the HERS foundation, a non-profit international women’s health education organization which provides information about alternatives to hysterectomy and the aftereffects of the surgery, I decided to not have any medical procedures to remove the fibroids. I learned that many times these procedures don’t work and can cause more problems. This is my choice at this time. If you are dealing with fibroids, you have make the best choice for you. You can read more here.
I started working with a nutritionist who focuses on hormone balancing. Fibroids may be caused by excess estrogen. During the years leading up to menopause, a woman’s hormones are all over the place. Progesterone drops which can cause an imbalance with estrogen. From my understanding, if the imbalance isn’t corrected, even if fibroids are removed it is very likely more will return. And the concern is that too much estrogen can be a precursor to other problems, such as uterine and breast cancer. So, my focus is to lower my estrogen, balance my hormones and work on the cause rather than the fibroids, which are really a symptom.
I have eliminated soy, dairy, and gluten from my diet. There is some debate on whether soy increases estrogen, but I prefer to avoid it. Dairy and gluten can make the digestive system more sluggish. I avoid all plastics as much as possible, as the chemicals have been shown to affect the endocrine system, which can increase estrogen. http://www.npr.org/2011/03/02/134196209/study-most-plastics-leach-hormone-like-chemicals I added Vitamin D3, which has been found to be low in women with fibroids. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23493030 I drink lemon water with apple cider vinegar every morning to cleanse my liver. (When the liver is sluggish it makes it more difficult to expel excess estrogen.) I am taking a high quality probiotic which aids in digestion. Again, I want to help my body eliminate estrogen. I have been loading up on cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and kale which also help to eliminate bad estrogens.
In addition, I have also added a whole food source of iron to keep up my blood levels because of my heavy periods. Synthetic iron can be hard on the stomach and cause constipation, which is not what we want when we’re trying to keep things moving. I alternate the iron with liver. I don’t like liver, but it is a good way to keep up your iron. To be honest, I couldn’t handle eating the liver, so I recently started alternating the iron with grass-fed beef liver pills. I don’t usually eat red meat, but I don’t want my iron to drop again.
Please note, I AM NOT A DOCTOR. This is what I have been doing. It’s only been a few months since I started changing my supplements and completely eliminating certain foods. I also am trying to incorporate more gentle exercise that doesn’t tax my body along with more mediation to alleviate stress, which has so much of an effect on our hormones. I cannot tell you this is the magic answer. But I am trying and I am on my side!
I am not blaming myself for my changing body or for my health. If you think you’re always to blame when your body changes or things aren’t going your way, I hope this helps you to see it’s not your fault. You can eat healthy, move your body and be kind to yourself. That is what is in your control. The rest of it….you can just let go!