Here’s a case study any woman finding it hard to lose weight in perimenopause will find familiar:
Liz is a healthy, vital woman who’s maintained a stable weight, size, and energy level throughout her 20s and 30s. One day in her early 40s, Liz notices her pants are tight. She further sees she’s drowsy in the afternoons and has difficulty getting through a day without a nap (or at least the desire for one).
Liz goes on a diet and ups her caffeine intake. But rather than lose the extra pounds, she gains. Her belly grows soft and fleshier, like a ball of bread dough, and so does her derriere.
The internet suggests gluten intolerance, so she cuts out all wheat. Elimination diets seem to make a lot of sense because of her other symptoms: fatigue, headaches, and brain fog. So she cuts out dairy and corn, sugar, and alcohol. What’s left to eat? Vegetables, fruit, and fish become her mainstays –– and still, she gains weight.
Liz is now seriously concerned for her health. She knows her irregular periods and abdominal “swelling” could be silent symptoms of ovarian cancer, so she sees her doctor. After routine labs and an exam, everything seems normal, and the doctor reminds her that women in their 40s often spread in the middle, gaining an average of a pound a year. The doctor suggests a closer look at her thyroid, but Liz and her doctor are frustrated when those tests also come back normal.
Liz isn’t actually in menopause yet, according to her bloodwork. By 45, she’s 25 pounds heavier than she’s always been, despite dieting and running several miles a week. She has a hard time concentrating, struggles with frequent migraines, and has low energy.
Liz has lost her vitality and has no idea how to get it back. When she discusses it with friends, she gets tons of commiserating empathy but no suggested solutions. She feels depressed to feel old when she thought she was young, and she doesn’t understand why her body seems broken.
Yoga and vitality:
Tired of beating herself up for what must be a normal part of aging, Liz signs up for a yoga class. Yogis are fresh-faced, rested, flexible, and healthy. Some are fit and lean; others are fit and soft. “It will at least feel good to stretch and lie down on a mat,” she reasons.
At her first session, she notices a pamphlet with a word on it that she recognizes from her diet research: Ayurveda. She puts one in her bag and joins the class. After an hour of sun salutes, mountain, warrior, and tree poses, Liz feels calm, healthier, and refreshed, at least for now.
And then the instructor suggests the homework assignment that will change Liz’s life:
She tells Liz to find out what dosha you are.
Dosha is the Ayurveda word for the constitution that predominantly characterizes us. We also have some portion of the other two doshas within us, and our optimal health is the balance of these three.
In Ayurveda, the study of body force, every health symptom points to an imbalance of dosha, which will first manifest itself in the digestion. In addition to the dosha in our bodies, there are dosha periods in the day and dosha periods of our lives.
The three doshas:
● Pitta: fire, heat, temper, ruddy skin, moles and freckles, and acid.
● Vata: air, dryness, activity, movement, even-tempered, joyful, free-spirited.
● Kapha: earth, cold, heavy, dense, soft, oily, tough, and stable.
What Liz discovered about her dosha changed every part of her lifestyle and outlook. Ayurveda wasn’t a “diet” like she was used to, with calorie counting, rules, and a list of sinful foods to avoid. She did learn about food –– which foods were easiest for her dosha to digest and which foods triggered her body’s imbalance. She also knew how the timing of what she ate mattered and how important it was to rest and move her body.
For example, Liz’s pitta dosha, already fiery and active, had become dangerously acidic. While she’d been restricting her food intake to lose weight, she’d been heavily dousing her meals with pepper and hot sauce. She loved orange juice, pickles, and coffee –– all foods that further heat the body. This increase in the heat had impacted her digestion, throwing off her gut bacteria. That explained the brain fog and fatigue and why the more coffee she drank, the worse she felt over time.
The changes she made felt small, but they added up. She stopped skipping meals and began her day with poached fruit, which is easy to digest. She went to bed on time and made lunch her biggest meal of the day when her body could digest heavy foods best. She reduced excess Pitta in her lifestyle and increased Vata and Kapha.
Liz’s body came into harmony. As her “bottom line” returned to stable body weight, she noticed one day she wasn’t obsessed anymore with it. Her mind felt clear, she hadn’t had a headache in longer than she could remember, and most importantly, Liz in perimenopause felt vital, young, and balanced.