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#TabooSmasher Spotlight: Rachel Hughes, certified nutrition counselor

Rachel Hughes, certified nutrition counselor

Rachel Hughes is committed to inspiring women in midlife to feel better about themselves in all regards. Her experience working with chronic pain patients and as a Certified Nutrition Counselor has informed her love of helping people feel better by examining what they put in their bodies. In the future, Rachel hopes to write a book and launch a podcast!

Where are you in your hormonal health journey?

I am still in perimenopause.

What’s one word or phrase that comes to mind when you think of menopause?

A second half that’s better than the first!

Which menopause symptoms have you experienced?

I have experienced acne, anxiety, brain fog, breast pain, decreased libido, dizziness, dry, itchy skin, fatigue, migraines, heart palpitations, muscle aches, mood change/irritability, sleep disruptions, vaginal dryness, and weight gain.

“It’s enormously freeing and I would say that I can’t wait to be over this perimenopausal season and into full menopause because I really do feel like my best years are ahead of me”

Do you have specific anecdotes, remedies, or truths you’d like to share about your symptoms to help demystify the experience?

We can’t “escape” the season we’re in, just like we couldn’t escape the start of menstruation and all that weirdness that brought into our lives and bodies. We kind of have to walk through it to get to the other side, right?

I insist, however, that there are fundamentals that can help to ease the blowback. So, you know, eating well, exercise, and getting more rest than you think you need. My mother has been really helpful to me through all this. She’s kind of like, “Yeah, it totally sucks, so just do what you need to do…but also, call your doctor!” It makes me laugh. She’s kind of half, “I feel terrible for you!” and half, “Get off your butt and do something about it!” I suppose that’s my attitude too. I’m not into suffering needlessly and however you find relief for yourself, I support it.

I have not tried HRT yet, but I’m not opposed should I feel I just can’t get out of my own way. Also, from my mother, I learned when I was around 43-years-old that I was likely IN perimenopause! That was super important for me because, otherwise, I would’ve had no idea. Only then could I begin to think about what being proactive could look like for me.

The one symptom I was afraid of was any symptom related to my mental health, which sounds funny because I truly believe that we are whole beings and if one part is “off” the whole of us is “off.” So, this holistic approach was always important to me and I’m aware as I can be (without being a professional) of acknowledging this for other women. Many women feel that their minds are hijacked during this season of life and that’s terrible. I mean, just awful. And sometimes, too often I suspect, these women may not even be thinking about their hormonal state. And if they DO speak to a doctor, I hear that they are frequently dismissed. I’m enormously fortunate to have the gynecologist I do. She’s amazing, and she listens, and she believes in you. Just having a sensitive ear like that is tremendously helpful. And we need more doctors like this to help normalize all the things women suffer from during peri/menopause.

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?

It’s so hard to know what is hormonally driven and what is just plain justified annoyance, or impatience, or growth, or whatever else. But, I do feel like I know myself and my body pretty well, and hormones drive a lot of how I feel in my body these days. At the same time, personal growth, and I’m aware of this as well about myself, has largely driven my impatience. Ha! I’m just “over” a lot, and one of those things is worrying about what the heck everyone else may be worrying about.

I mean, I don’t wish bad things on anyone, but I’m much clearer about what’s “your” stuff and what’s “my” stuff and I’m not into carrying anyone else’s baggage. My muscles are for me now (and any future grandchildren!). I’ve done that my entire life and I’m not into it anymore. It’s enormously freeing and I would say that I can’t wait to be over this perimenopausal season and into full menopause because I really do feel like my best years are ahead of me. And all of us!

It’s not just the “saying no” that’s exciting. It’s also the things I feel like I’ll be saying yes to! Many of them simply because I look forward to not being so fatigued and unmotivated!

“Whatever you’re going through is normal, and you’re not alone. Ever! Share your stories with others. Find a doctor who listens.”

What helped you throughout your hormonal health journey (treatment, product, mantra, routine, friends, etc.)?

Nutrition, exercise, friends, my son, my mother, and my patient husband (lucky for him, ha!). I’m consistent with food and exercise, and I think that’s made a big difference. I think it can make a big difference for all women, but it’s hard to get started if you haven’t been on top of that aspect of your life prior to perimenopause. Just start moving. Weights are important, but just get moving. Let it become a habit.

Same with food. Quitting refined sugar is really hard, but do what you can. Same with alcohol. Actually, more so with alcohol! It’s not helpful at all, and it really exacerbates symptoms. Give it up altogether if you can. Get support if you need it and if anyone tells you it’ll help “take the edge off”, don’t believe them.

Is there anything you wish your younger self had known? Words of advice for women starting their journey?

Had I known everything I wish I had known…boy, my life would have been different! What can I say? Whatever you’re going through is normal, and you’re not alone. Ever! Someone else has certainly, or is certainly, going through what you are. Share your stories with others. Find a doctor who listens. Don’t be afraid of HRT if you qualify to take it.

Don’t be a martyr. Take care of yourself in the ways that make you feel whole. Eat more plants. Don’t think you’re too young to start. If you’re able to speak to your mother, ask her about her experience. Often yours will mimic hers. Rest. You likely need more than you think. Know that the worst of it will pass.

What didn’t we ask that you want the world to hear?

I think that we don’t hear enough about women from a variety of cultures. I wonder all the time about what perimenopause and menopause look like in matrilineal cultures. How is aging, the passing of child-bearing years, viewed in cultures where women are revered or are the deciders of wealth, identity, inheritance, and politics? American culture, western culture, puts such a stamp on girls and women that’s so enmeshed in other things. I’m curious about another way and would love to learn more. Maybe I’m being presumptuous in thinking things are different, but I have a hard time believing they’re not.