ETR 294: Perimenopause and Body Image (Body Image Series)

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Podcast on Perimenopause and Body Image
Perimenopause and Body Image

In this episode of Eat the Rules, I’m talking about the influence of perimenopause – the transitional period before menopause – on body image. I’m looking at what the research says about perimenopause and body image, as part of the Body Image Series.

I also talk about why our body image is worse during perimenopause compared to menopause, and what we can do to build resiliency and mitigate these effects.

In This Episode, I Chat About

  • An update on my Masters of Counselling,
  • What perimenopause is,
  • What influences body image in perimenopause,
  • How a history of dieting can put you in a more vulnerable position as your body changes with age,
  • That weight gain is common in perimenopause and that there are many factors that contribute to it,
  • The other stressors that impact body image during this time,
  • How depression shows up during perimenopause, and how it differs from other times,
  • Why this time in life can also be liberating,
  • The interlocking relationship between youth and beauty,
  • The importance of unpacking our beliefs around aging,
  • The importance of resilience and how to strengthen it,
  • Plus so much more!

Listen Now (transcript below)

Watch on YouTube

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Links Mentioned in Show

Citations Referenced:

Transcript

Summer:
Perimenopause can be this perfect storm for body image concerns to arise because you have the influence of hormonal changes, body changes increased life stress, mental health challenges and the influence of ageism hitting you all at once.

This is eat the rules, a podcast about body image self worth anti dieting and intersectional feminism. I am your host summer Innanen. a professionally trained coach specializing in body image self worth and confidence and the best selling author of body image remix. If you’re ready to break free of societal standards and stop living behind the number on your scale then you have come to the right place. Welcome to the show

this episode of eat the rules is brought to you by you on fire you on fire is the online group coaching program that I run that gives you a step by step way of building up your self worth beyond your appearance. With personalized coaching from me incredible community support and lifetime access to the program so that you can get free from body shame and live life on your own terms. Get details on what’s included and sign up for the next cycle at summer innanen.com forward slash you on fire. I’d love to have you in that group.

This is episode 294 And we are looking at perimenopause and body image. Specifically we’re talking about perimenopause, that transitional period of time before menopause. And the factors that influence our body image. Why our body image is worse during perimenopause and what we can do about that you can find all the links and resources mentioned at summer innanen.com forward slash 294. I want to give a shout out to Ezekiel 35, who left this review awesome podcast explaining things in such a fab way and making me think differently about myself. Thank you so much for leaving that review. It means so much to me it helps keep the show going. You can leave a review by going to Apple podcasts search for eat the rules and then click ratings and reviews and click to leave a review. It’s really easy takes two minutes and it would mean the world. You can also subscribe to this show via whatever platform you use. And don’t forget to grab the free 10 Day body confidence makeover at summer innanen.com. Forward slash freebies with 10 steps to take right now to feel better in your body. If you’re a professional who works with people who may also have body image struggles like a therapist or a dietitian, then grab our free body image coaching roadmap at summer innanen.com forward slash roadmap.

All right. For those of you that don’t know, I’m currently doing my master’s of counseling part time. And I just finished my second semester. Yay. So happy I have almost a month off now, which is huge. Because January and February nearly killed me. I thought I was drowning every day. It was pretty terrible. I need to learn better time management in terms of balancing not time management, I need to learn better, I need to learn how to say no to things so that I can make time for this additional massive responsibility. That’s really what it is. It’s not time management. Fuck that No. And so I’m doing my master’s of counseling program. And part of that requires that I do a capstone research project. And that will be happening in 2025. And my focus for that project is going to be on eating disorders in people 40. Plus, given my interest and experience working with this age group, I just feel like it’s one of those age groups that kind of gets left out of the conversation when we talk about eating disorders. And as we’re going to hear in today’s episode, there’s a myriad of factors that play into body image concerns, as well as mental health challenges that would make someone more vulnerable to an eating disorder. And so one of the best pieces of advice that I received before I started this program, and this piece of advice came from Dawn Sarah, who some of you may know her, she was on my podcast years ago. Anyways, she did the program she just finished. So she’s three years ahead of me. But she said that, the best thing you can do is to figure out what you want to do your capstone research project on so that way, every course you take, you can do your research projects in those courses around that topic. So that way, by the time you get to actually doing your capstone, you’ve done half the research. So that’s what I’ve been doing. And my last semester. One of the courses was psychology of sexuality and human development, and I chose the topic of perimenopause and sexual form Listening and desire as my topic. And it was super interesting. So it’s not only just to make my life easier with the Capstone, but I actually am legitimately interested in these things like I love research thing them. And I love being able to take what I’m learning and then apply that to how I work with clients now. And it’s so great because it gives me content for this podcast, which will also be really useful for you because I’m doing all this amazing research. It’s like, why don’t I actually share it with people who can benefit from it now, instead of it just being something that sits in my teachers laptop? So that’s what I did my last research project on was perimenopause and sexual functioning and desire and a big portion of that paper was on the psychosocial factors that influence sexual functioning. And that includes body image and ageism. So I asked you in my Instagram stories, whether it would be useful for you if I did a podcast episode around this topic, and the answer was yes, although I didn’t give no as an answer. You pretty much had to answer if you were answering you were answering yes, in some capacity. But I gave a couple of different episode options and most people said both. So I’m going to do an episode, the one I’m doing today on body image and perimenopause, and then I’m going to do another episode which is going to be on aging and sexual satisfaction. All right, let’s get into it. I’m going to be talking about what perimenopause is, because a lot of people don’t actually know what it is.

I’m gonna just gonna cover that briefly because that would be a massive episode, but I’m gonna give you a resource to learn more. I’m going to talk about what influences body image and perimenopause, what the research said about body image and perimenopause, the role of ageism. And some things we can do to counteract this effect to become more resilient as we go through the perimenopausal years. And so before I talk about perimenopause, I just want to say that I was looking up a stat and it’s it’s not like it wasn’t like a peer reviewed journal source. It was just an article I found. But it said that the average person will try 126 fad diets over the course of their lifetime. They surveyed 2000 people, so it’s not that many pretty small, but they found that the average person will do at least two fad diets a year, typically abandon abandoning them after six days. And I can relate to this. I mean, this makes sense to me. I probably did like 12 a year, at least in my dieting days, because I was constantly weight cycling like on and off the diet. But if you think about that fact, and you think about aging, we can deduce that the older you get the more diets you’ve likely tried and failed and had weight fluctuations as a result of these and other factors. And all of these things can put you in a more vulnerable position when body changes occur during perimenopause. And so that’s why I think this conversation is so important. We’re going to talk about the other factors that make body image worse during chronic perimenopause. But there’s also this other factor of like most people have just been trying and failing diets for decades leading up to that period of their life. And so they already kind of feel like failures, they already feel like nothing I do works, I can’t get my body under control, or this time, maybe it’ll finally work for me. And we know that with every one of these attempts, it just sort of chips away at our sense of self worth. So I think that that also makes us more vulnerable. That wasn’t in the research. That’s just my own hypothesis based on working with people over the last decade. Let’s define what perimenopause is. perimenopause is the transitional period leading to menopause. So menopause is when you have not had a period for a year. That is when you have had menopause. Most people talk about menopause as if it’s this huge chunk of time. It’s really just that one, boom, you’re in menopause. Now, like you haven’t had a period for a year, you’re in menopause. So the timeframe leading up to it is what I really wanted to focus on, and that’s called perimenopause. And that can kick in for some people as early as their 30s. So the median age of natural menopause, that’s what I was trying to say in Canada is 51 years old. It’s pretty similar in other countries, give or take a year or two. But the symptoms can last for a decade before that, and so that would be considered perimenopause. It’s that time when your hormones are fluctuating and you have symptoms starting to occur. Now most people I think, assume that perimenopause means hot flashes, maybe like heavier periods or irregular periods. What they don’t realize is that some of the most common symptoms of perimenopause are brain fog, disrupted sleep anxiety, depression, rage, and those things can start in your late 30s and early 40s and they can be perimenopause. If this is new information to you, and even if it’s not even if you already knew that I’m linked, I’m going to link to a podcast episode in the show notes to this. The podcast is called the imperfect. It’s one of my former clients and one of the listeners of this podcast kampsen. Shout out Hello, if you’re listening to this, sent this to me, and it’s a podcast called The imperfect. It’s an Australian podcast, and they did an interview with a menopause doctor named Dr. Louise Newsome. And it is such a good summary of perimenopause and menopause, what the symptoms are, what the benefits and risks are of hormone therapy, as well as all of these other topics that relate to that. And I feel like I’m, I’m pretty well versed in perimenopause, menopause. I’ve been reading about it for a few years now, because my own hormonal challenges. However, I still thought it was like such a good summary and so beneficial, and I learned a lot from listening to it. So I’m gonna link to it in the show notes. I sent it to all my friends, I was like, You have to listen to this. Everybody who’s over 30 needs to listen to this. Because we don’t get this information is not necessarily widely available. And Dr. Sure as hell aren’t going to tell you these things. I could go on and on more about this, but I’m gonna get off my soapbox, leave it here, go check out that episode in the show notes. But or just Google imperfect menopause. And I’m sure it’ll pop up for you. But during perimenopause, weight gain is also common during that time, a lot of us assume that it’s because of the hormonal changes. So because of the decline in estrogen, we assume that that’s what causes the weight gain. But that’s only a small factor. And there’s other factors. So weight cycling, loss of muscle mass, disrupted sleep, increased stress, all of those things can contribute to weight gain that happens during perimenopause. And so I think this can be like a difficult transition for people because you might be experiencing brain fog, depression, sleep disruption, and your body’s changing too. And so that can, you know, make you a lot more vulnerable to body image concerns and body shame. I’m going to talk more specifically about what research said about it. But these are, these are just some of my own opinions sprinkled in here too. Now doesn’t mean that like, just because you gain weight, your body image is going to decline. I think that if you you know, do a lot of work on at first like you can go into that and have your body change and you can be you can be okay with it, you know, might be an inconvenience to buy new clothes. And obviously, depending on your situation, that can be an incredibly difficult thing if you don’t have access to clothing that fits you. But I don’t want to make it all doom and gloom. I just don’t want to be like, Hey, you’re gonna gain weight and your body image is gonna suck because I just don’t think that’s the case. I think that we can do things to put ourselves in a much better position. And that’s ultimately what I want to I want you to get out of this podcast episode, we’re gonna start out a bit Doom and gloomy and then we’re gonna like circle around to like, here are some things we can actually do. Before I get into the research, I want to tell you how body image is defined in these papers. So body image is defined as a multifaceted construct encompassing one’s body related self perceptions and self attitudes, including thoughts, beliefs, feelings and behaviors. I feel like that’s a pretty good definition. Let’s look at what influences body image and perimenopause. So when I reference studies, I’m going to most of them are done on women. So when I refer to pre menopausal women, I’m pulling directly from a study if it’s my own thought or opinion, I’m just gonna say perimenopausal people. So just keep that in mind. I want to make sure that I’m using inclusive and gender affirming language, but a lot of these studies don’t unfortunately. So let’s look at what the studies say. So one study found that perimenopausal women face unique challenges as it relates to body image because of the change in appearance, and the change in appearance isn’t just a change in body shape and composition. So it’s not just like increased belly fat, which is something that’s happening, but it’s also changes in skin coloration, firmness elasticity, as well as hair changes such as graying hair, thinning hair. So it’s an overall change in appearance that happens during perimenopause.

So it’s not just weight gain, which I think we a lot of us center the discussion around the weight gain because sometimes that can be the most shame inducing for people. However, there’s an overall appearance change that happens. And I think sometimes we can get really fixated on some of those changes to, especially when we’ve been conditioned to value ourselves based on how we look. This same study also looked at other challenges that perimenopausal people face that can impact body image, and that includes less time for self care due to work and household demands. Child or elder care and other life stressors more common in midlife, like illnesses or deaths of family or friends or illnesses within yourself and So it’s not just the appearance change. It’s these other stressors too, that are impacting body image. And I think that that’s really, really important because I talk a lot about how other factors in our life contribute to our body image. And this just verifies that and speaks to how these a lot of these, like stressors are happening during perimenopause. And then also, we have to layer this up against gender roles, because women are often the caretakers, and therefore face the brunt of of this stress, trying to juggle it all. Like when we think about child care, elder care, managing household demands, like all that shit is usually falling on the backs of women that have mental and emotional labor. And so it’s increasing that level of stress for them, too. Another study found that there’s also a negative impact on emotions during perimenopause. So specifically, they found that the women in the study found it difficult to regulate their emotions that they were experiencing. And as a result, they felt disconnected from who they were as a person. So I just want to put in my own opinion here for a second, I talk a lot about how the emotions that we’re experiencing get deflected onto our body, which is something I learned from the book when women stopped hating their bodies many, many years ago. So when we experience anything like grief, or stress, or, you know, anxiety, we tend to deflect that onto our body and fixate on our body. Because it’s like it’s a coping mechanism. It gives us a way to distract ourselves from what’s really going on, and focus on something that we feel like we can fix instead. And so this to me, this one study that talked about women, finding it more difficult to regulate their emotions during perimenopause would then contribute to a worsened body image like it would make sense that there would be they would be fixating on their body more, because of the emotions that they’re experiencing. And they’re having difficulty regulating, as well. There’s pre menopausal rage, which is really hard to regulate to just want to pepper that one in there. And then you also have what they mentioned, is feeling disconnected from who they are as a person. And so there’s also like this identity shift that’s happening there. And I, when I’m working with people, I noticed that too, like, especially if our identity was wrapped up in how we look, and how we look, we start to age out of beauty standards, then we start to really kind of wonder like, well, then who the hell am I? So that’s another thing that’s like going on there. And the that same study reported that women felt less valuable and competent, which impacted their overall sense of well being. So what I’m going through right now is I’m talking about just all of these factors that influence body image during perimenopause. So it’s not just the body image change. It’s the stress. It’s the emotional regulation. It’s the feeling disconnected from who we are. And then on top of that, we also have the fact that 40% of perimenopausal women will experience depression. That is a really big number. And the symptoms of depression during perimenopause are different than what you defined in pre Peri menopausal people. So the way it shows up during perimenopause is irritability, nervousness, frequent mood changes. And so that’s a little different than like that generalized sadness that you would normally get with depression. And so I think that’s important to note as well. So mental health challenges as a result of perimenopause can also worsen body image and self worth concerns. So again, it’s like a lot of stuff happening all at once. And this is on top of other changes, like mood changes, sleep disturbances, hot flashes. So to me, it’s like this is a perfect storm for body image issues to increase. And that’s exactly what the data says. On the flip side, I also see this being a period of time where a lot of people are super determined to just be done with this shit. Like, they’re like, I’m done with this body shame, nonsense. I’m done with these beauty standards. And there can also be this greater determination to do the work as well as a greater sense of surrendering because you can’t you just realize you can’t turn the clock back. So you’re just like, well, I don’t give a shit anymore, because I can’t make myself younger. And so that can be also be really liberating. That’s echoed in the research a little bit, not in those words, exactly. But I’ll talk about that later when we talked about what we can do to become more resilient. So yeah, so those are all the factors that are that are coming into play that are going to create body image disruption during perimenopause. And when we actually look at what the research says about correlations between body image and perimenopause. There was one interesting study that looked at the relationship between body image and perimenopause. They also looked at the relationship between sexual satisfaction but I’ll talk about that in the other episode. They found that dissatisfaction In with body with our bodies was significantly higher in perimenopause compared with pre perimenopause as well as compared with menopause. So it’s almost like this bell curve that’s happening. So these findings suggest that changes to our body image during perimenopause are more acute reason being is that that is the transitional time when our appearance is really moving farther away from our culture, socially accepted ideal of beauty. Whereas once we actually get to menopause, which is usually when we’re like in our 50s, these changes appear to be more accepted. So therefore, our body image isn’t as bad, it starts to kind of return or improve a little bit, so to speak. Now, this is kind of like they’re not really looking at someone over the span of time to see if it improve. They’re just comparing like these these people who are in these different periods of time. So we can sort of assume that it would likely improve, but that’s not necessarily what they’re saying. They’re just saying that like the people in the pre menopausal group were really hated the more than the other groups. One other thing I just want to mention is like when they measure body image, they use this thing called the body shape question or even that name, like body shape questionnaire, like me a fucking break anyways, they use this questionnaire to evaluate body image. And it took me I had to really dig to find this actual questionnaire, it’s pretty terrible. In my mind, it’s not a great, not a great evaluation, on body image, but it because it uses a lot of anti fat language, like it just assumes that fatness is bad.

So it’s kind of like, you look in the mirror and you see fat on your body. And so no, I mean, that’s not an exact question. I’m sort of paraphrasing, but that’s sort of what I interpreted. When I read the questionnaire. I was like, Oh, God, this is not it. Not very good. And I’m laughing because that’s what I do to cope with rage. So anyways, I feel like that could be improved. But right now, that’s sort of the standard or what they use in these studies. I’d also really like to see research that incorporates the role of weight stigma on pre menopausal experiences with body image. Because I feel like that’s really missing from the conversation. But what I did find is the role of ageism. And so that’s what we’re going to talk about now. So, as just leading up to this, we have talked about some of the things that influence body image in perimenopause and how body image during perimenopause can be worse. And so the role of ageism is also a factor in that so ageism is really like, causes us to have this like societal focus on youthful beauty. And one study found that perceived ageism, is related to low body esteem, which can decrease psychological well being. And they specifically found that increased concerns to appear younger and more attractive, were correlated with higher body image issues in order to avoid disapproval. So it’s kind of speaking to like this playing into like, there’s this fear of judgment there. That causes us to have increased concerns about appearing younger and more attractive, which correlates with like having poor body image, which makes sense. Another study found that cultural perspectives really play a role as it relates to aging. So in Western culture, there’s not just this emphasis on the thin ideal standard of female beauty, but it’s also thin and young. So there’s this interlocking relationship between youth and beauty. And that has a bigger effect on people in Western cultures, it creates greater anxieties about aging. This study also found that body dissatisfaction was correlated with ageing anxiety. So the more stressed you are about aging, the more dissatisfied you are with your body, which makes sense as well, right? Like, if we’re terrified of aging or fixated on like trying to make ourselves look younger, then of course, we’re going to, you know, feel more stressed about our body image. So I don’t think anything was too shocking. There. You know, I think we all sort of know that ageism plays a big role in our perception of our body. But let’s talk about the flip side to this and what we can do about it. So that same study found that women who associated aging with positive characteristics, and who had a perspective that aging is a natural and manageable part of life had more positive views on their changing bodies. So that to me is like a really important piece of information that we can pull out of there. If you’re someone going through this experience, a good question to ask yourself is like, How can I bolster my views on aging? Like how can I see aging in a positive way? How can I see it as this natural and manageable part of life? And I think there’s a lot of different ways we can do that. It’s kind of like the same work we do around shifting our beliefs around fatness because we want to have better views around fatness we want to see fatness is just like this wonderful diversity that exists in our body shapes. And so we want to see aging as this wonderful thing that exists. And in our, you know, the way that we look. And so we have to unpack our beliefs around aging to really develop a more positive view on them. I talked about this in Episode 283, dealing with aging body changes. So definitely check that out if you want to hear me speak more about that. But we have to do the same thing with ageing. And I want to argue ableism as well, because I think that ties into it in terms of our perceptions of you know, what our bodies should be able to do, and that our sense of self worth needs to be tied to like our functionality, when the reality is, is that most of us are going to have some sort of health condition or become disabled in our lifetime. And so we need to be challenging those things, too. Another study looked at the psychosocial variables that contribute to resilience in premenopausal women. And they found that women with higher resilience seem to have better well being and report better mental health in perimenopause. So this is another nugget that we can take away. If we’re talking about what we can do to improve our body image during perimenopause, we can have greater resilience. And I just want to say that I think my personal stance on this is that resilience is a privilege, like this study did not factor in social factors. So it didn’t look at like the role of class or poverty or, or race or anything like that, as it relates to this resilience measure that they looked at. They looked at resilience as it relates to certain factors. And they found that there’s certain factors that bolster resilience. So specifically optimism, emotional stability, emotional regulation, self compassion, and self esteem. Those were the areas that can contribute to better mental health and well being during perimenopause. And what’s really interesting to me is like, those are some of the core areas that I focus on when I’m working with people and specifically in my Yuan FIRE program. So we focus on, I don’t hold self esteem because I see self esteem as being different than self worth, but self worth, self compassion, emotional regulation, and stability. optimism, I think is kind of like a thread within those things. So that was just I was that was really validating to me, I’m like, Oh, these are the things I actually focus on. That’s why people find benefits from doing the work we do together. And so anyways, focusing on those things to improve those areas, then improves resilience which can improve well being during perimenopause. And so ultimately, like it’s not all doom and gloom, I think that we have to identify bias as being a big issue here. So our body is not the problem, anti fatness, white supremacy, ageism, sexism, etc. Ableism. Those things are really what caused us to have so many of the struggles that we have. And then that’s compounded by the hormonal changes, as well as like the additional stressors that are happening, which I think are also contributed to gender roles during this time in our life. And so those things together are creating the issues. And so we always have to tease apart these societal factors. And look at these biases that are causing us to have these. You know these feelings about our body and specifically during perimenopause because you have this audit effect of ageism coming into play. So, to summarize everything in this episode, I’m Hope you’re learning something from this. I’d love to know what you took away from it. But perimenopause is a transitional time. It can last like 10 years for some people, there’s going to be changes to our body and mental health. The changes that happened to our body are related to hormones, but not entirely. There’s other factors as well. And our body image is worse during this time compared to pre perimenopause or menopause. And that’s the result of body changes, ageism, anti fat bias, increased life, stress, higher likelihood of mental health challenges, emotional regulation being more difficult issues around identity. So all those factors coming into play, things that can mitigate that. I think something that’s really important is like education around this, I feel like the more that you can understand the role of hormones and what symptoms are our I don’t want to say normal because I think that doesn’t mean you have to suffer through them. But what symptoms correlate or not correlate what symptoms happen as a result of these hormonal changes is what I’m trying to say there’s some of them are really weird, like heart palpitations, which is something that I experienced. There’s things that we can do around it and educating yourself around hormone therapy and the benefits and the risks and taking that into consideration. I personally take progesterone and it saves my ass like it really does. And I will take estrogen when I need it. I don’t need it yet. But my progesterone has always been low. And when I don’t take it, I have rage. I have sleep disruption, I have anxiety. I have heart palpitations. And so I take it on an ongoing basis and it helps me feel so much better. That’s a bit of a another soapbox moment, but I think education around those things is super, super important, as well positive views on aging like really really challenging ageist beliefs that you’ve internalized, and really working towards developing a more positive attitude around aging and being around people who have a positive attitude around aging and reading their stories and following them on Instagram, etc. And then building your own resiliency. So building up self compassion, building up your self worth learning how to feel and regulate your emotions. And all of these things together can help to improve body image during this time and really make it a much more positive experience.

So I hope you took something away from us, I’d love to know what let me know send me an email send me a message. I will link to I will provide the citations for all the studies I mentioned in the show notes. I didn’t mention the the author’s because I didn’t want this to be like this, like academic podcast, but I will I will include the citations if you’re curious of what I used. I’m sure there’s more. I only had to do a 10 page paper. So I you know, I had to just sort of be like, Okay, that’s enough research. That’s all I need to actually do this paper so you can find all the links and resources mentioned at summer innanen.com forward slash 294. Thank you so much for being here today. Rock on.

I’m Summer Innanen. And I want to thank you for listening today. You can follow me on Instagram and Facebook at summer Innanen. And if you haven’t yet, go to Apple podcasts search eat the rules and subscribe rate and review this show. I would be so grateful. Until next time, rock on.

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