Tania Dalton is a 52-year-old healthy aging coach and personal trainer who is passionate about redefining aging and helping women navigate menopause in a positive way.
Where are you in your hormonal health journey?
What’s one word or phrase that comes to mind when you think of menopause?
Which menopause symptoms have you experienced?
I’m now aware of the 34 symptoms of menopause but, when I experienced some of the symptoms, I wasn’t aware they were possibly due to menopause.
I experienced body odor, decreased libido, dry, itchy skin, fatigue, hot flashes, incontinence, irregular, heavy periods, muscle aches, mood changes, night sweats, insomnia, vaginal dryness, and weight gain. I did not experience these symptoms all at once (thank goodness!). Some of the symptoms were not severe, while others were more challenging.
Irregular, heavy periods: I feel like many women and doctors aren’t aware that irregular periods can be part of perimenopause. For me, I experienced very heavy periods right before my periods stopped. One doctor wanted me to have a hysterectomy – I now look back and am pleased I decided against it, as it wasn’t long after that my periods stopped.
Joint aches: I had an unexplained elbow joint pain for almost a year. I even had to sleep with my elbow on a pillow at night as it was so sore. There was no other explanation (ie it didn’t hurt exercising or doing activities), so I’m assuming this was another menopause-related symptom. Thankfully, it disappeared over the last few months since my hormones seemed to have settled in postmenopause.
Night sweats: Although I didn’t experience night sweats for a long time, it was terrible for the few months that I did. I would have to change my clothes several times a night and I could literally wring them out. One night, I woke up and thought I was bleeding, but it was just sweat running down my leg! This was so disruptive to my sleep and it was an exhausting time.
I started adding flaxseeds to my diet and also some soy milk – within a couple of weeks, the night sweats were gone. I can’t say for sure that my dietary changes were the reason or whether they just naturally went away.
For the first time in my life, some days I felt like I literally couldn’t get out of bed in the morning. At the time, I didn’t realize it was menopause-related. However, this menopause symptom has actually resulted in me learning more about sleep, improving my sleep, and making me a healthier person.
Incontinence: Although I probably already needed to be doing more pelvic floor exercises, when my periods stopped and my hormones flatlined, my bladder control became particularly terrible. Embarrassingly, I actually wet myself (more than once!) while out running – and I don’t mean just a little – I had to finish my run sloshing home! I have been doing more pelvic floor work (though not enough and I do need to see a women’s physio) and I also feel like over the last few months as my hormones have begun to settle, that I have more control again.
Sleep disruptions/insomnia: The sleep disruptions and insomnia were probably the worst of my menopause symptoms. Before, I had felt that I had never needed a lot of sleep (which was of course incorrect as we all do) but with menopause, the sleep loss affected me much more than even when I had newborns (and I wasn’t a young mother and they weren’t great sleepers)
For the first time in my life, some days I felt like I literally couldn’t get out of bed in the morning. As a personal trainer who worked early mornings, this was a disaster and I eventually gave up my morning training sessions. At the time, I didn’t realize it was menopause-related.
However, this menopause symptom has actually resulted in me learning more about sleep, improving my sleep, and making me a healthier person. Over the last few years, I have read numerous books on the subject of sleep and done lots of research. Understanding how our depleted hormones affect our ability to sleep has been very helpful to me.
Although I can still improve (I need to go to bed earlier), I have made some major improvements in my sleep hygiene. Basically, I now have the motto that I start to prepare for sleep as soon as I wake up. I now average between 7.30 and 8 hours a night – a huge improvement on the less than 6 hours I lived on for most of my adult life previously. I do still wake to use the toilet but overall I have seen my sleep stats continue to improve on my sleep-tracking watch!
Weight gain: Over the last 5 years, I trained for my first marathon, two half Ironman triathlons, and am currently training for a full ironman triathlon. During perimenopause, I seemed to be able to manage my weight easily – I actually probably looked the best physically I ever had in my life.
However, when my periods stopped (at basically the same time I started training for the full Ironman triathlon), things took a different turn. I was training more than ever but started putting on weight. I also lost a lot of muscle mass and gained belly fat. It was really distressing as trying to drag an extra 5kg around an ironman course is not ideal and it felt like I was gaining weight by the week!
I have since completed a menopause for athletes course and educated myself more about exercise/nutrition for menopause. I haven’t lost a lot of weight, but I have stopped gaining weight, and I’m now at a weight that I have been most of my adult life. Most importantly, I have resumed strength training (which I had neglected due to triathlon training) and this is improving my overall body composition.
I’m still tweaking my nutrition and trying to manage the not-so-ideal long training I’m doing for the ironman, but I feel like I’m on the right track to learning what works best for my post-menopause body. I’ve also taken my nutrition to a new level. I feel like my diet, although healthy beforehand, is much more nutritious and balanced and it provides me with more energy than before (without being extreme – I still eat chocolate and bread and other foods I love).
We know menopause can be challenging, but it can also be funny, enlightening, liberating, energizing, and more. Do you have an anecdote or reflection that shows another side of menopause, beyond what we’re conditioned to “fear” as women?
For me, menopause has been one of the most challenging times of my life, but also the best thing to ever happen to me.
It has been a time of contemplation and growth. Menopause has allowed me to re-evaluate my health and my life. The symptoms I have experienced have encouraged me to make tweaks and positive changes to my lifestyle that have improved my health, not only for now but also for the future as I age.
Because I considered myself very healthy prior to menopause, I naively thought I wouldn’t be affected by menopause symptoms. I was wrong!
Other than the physical symptoms, I experienced unexpected feelings of loss about my fertility. I also had to accept that this transition meant that, regardless of how well I look after my health or body, I am aging.
However, menopause has also allowed me to become more authentic and confident. My body has transitioned from its reproductive years into a new stage of life where I have more freedom and more settled hormones.
For me, menopause has been transformational and it’s now my passion to help other women also make this the best part of their lives.
It has been a time of contemplation and growth. Menopause has allowed me to re-evaluate my health and my life.
What helped you throughout your hormonal health journey (treatment, product, mantra, routine, friends, etc.)?
So far, I have taken a natural approach to menopause – by that, I mean mainly using food, exercise, and lifestyle changes. I am not anti-HRT and, if I could not manage my symptoms naturally, then I would consider treatment.
I have tried to view my symptoms as my body telling me to make changes to my lifestyle to create a better balance. And for me, this has worked well. I considered myself quite healthy prior to menopause, but I’m definitely much healthier overall now. Previously, I focused more on just exercise and nutrition. Now, I also prioritize stress management, sleep, and social interaction.
I think we can also underestimate the detrimental effects that high levels of cortisol have on our body (I definitely did), especially as our hormones flatline and cortisol management is disrupted. My ‘treatment’ for my symptoms has been multifaceted, including changes to my diet, exercise, and overall lifestyle. I try to spend more time outdoors, more time relaxing and more time being kind to myself.
Although I am still implementing strategies to continue improving my post-menopausal health, I am now feeling so much more in control of my body and my hormones. And it feels great! Most importantly, I am feeling more empowered and alive than ever before and I can’t wait to see where this new stage of life takes me.
Is there anything you wish your younger self would have known?
I wish that I had been more informed about the process of perimenopause and had access to more credible information. I also wish that women talked more about it. Every woman who reaches midlife will experience menopause and it’s time that this taboo subject became normalized. However, even over the last few years since I started my journey, I feel like things are changing. When women like Michelle Obama talk openly about menopause, we start to see positive change.
Or do you have words of advice for women starting their journey?
My advice to women just starting in perimenopause is to find a good doctor who is well educated in menopause. I found this so difficult and, after several frustrating years, I have finally found someone I feel like I can trust and is on the same page as me.
I also think it is important to be proactive with our health, ask lots of questions and get second opinions if you need to. Talking to other women and educating ourselves also allows us to make this transition more successful.
I think the most important thing is not to fear menopause. It can be a time of wonderful transformation. I could talk forever about menopause and I hope that I am helping to be part of making menopause something that we embrace rather than fear.