'One of the most challenging aspects of getting older and reaching menopause has been sudden weight gain', says Lisa. She shares her relatable advice
She may have dated George Clooney back in the day (respect!) but Lisa Snowdon has always been one of those totally relatable, grounded celebrities who just seems, well, nice. The kind of gal with whom you’d like to go to the pub and chat until closing time.
The 51-year-old TV presenter, model and menopause campaigner’s recent memoir-cum-manual, Just Getting Started: Lessons In Life, Love and Menopause, confirms this. It’s highly candid (she talks about experiencing domestic violence and her fertility struggles), self-deprecating, and intersperses her own experiences with sensible, practical advice for navigating the challenges of midlife. (She’s still clearly got those Hollywood connections by the way – both Jennifer Aniston and Naomi Watts, no less, have given her glowing reviews for the blurb.)
Lisa has spoken to Get The Gloss before about the beauty routines she swears by and what she’s learned about menopause but this time round she gets very personal in this forthright extract from the book about how she gained three stone during the perimenopause - and how she dealt with this, both practically and emotionally. It’s a story that will resonate with a lot of women.
Over to you, Lisa.
“One of the most challenging aspects of getting older and reaching menopause has been sudden weight gain. It is sometimes quite shocking to notice the changes happening – the waistline spreading and the frustration of not being able to fit into some favourite jeans (or any of my wardrobe, in my case, when I was my heaviest) is not easy on the ego. It’s a known fact that our metabolisms slow down as we get older, and when you add hormones into the mix, causing all sorts of havoc, it’s clearly a disaster waiting to happen.
"For me, the weight gain felt like it came out of nowhere. In my head, I didn’t think I had changed what I was eating (that’s perhaps the first little white lie I have told you, because maybe, looking back, I was drinking and eating more than I had previously). Feeling bigger affected my confidence massively and made me feel out of sorts and disconnected from myself. In all honesty, I felt a little disappointed with myself, too.
"A moment which is ingrained in my memory was in April 2017, when George [George Smart, Lisa’s partner] and I were in Japan. We were in this stunning open-air onsen (a Japanese hot spring), which was the perfect place for a picture that I could post on my Instagram grid. I was going to look like a water nymph at ease, bathing in the surrounding misty natural springs, and it would potentially get a lot of likes (something I think we all got a little too caught up in back then – maybe still to this day for me). George obliged, I sucked my belly in, arched my back and threw my arms in the air, convinced we were making art. But then, when I looked through the photos he had taken, I did not recognise the person I saw there. I honestly looked like someone completely different – less water nymph, more England Rugby Union player.
"Looking back, I was clearly overindulging and enjoying my food just a little too much, but also eating the wrong types of food, bombarding my system with too much protein and way too much sugar and refined carbohydrates. And the thing is, for me, this was not out of the norm; my body was usually able to deal with whatever I threw at it. But not this time.
"I have always had a healthy relationship with food; I like it, it likes me, and we had lived harmoniously together for 45 years – or at least until that moment. For those who have struggled with food throughout their lives and have had to work hard to control their intake and calorie limit, I worry that menopause could open old wounds and bring back a desire to be too restrictive. It is a very delicate balance; we need food for fuel, but too much is just not good, and if we don’t put in the work to keep off the weight, it has the potential to stick.
"I thought nothing more of the weight gain while I was travelling around Japan but it all came to a head one day that summer. I was with my best friend, who happens to be a gorgeous, blonde, six-foot supermodel, and I got the biggest wake-up call. I don’t own scales and never have, as not only are they often misleading, I also know I have the tendency to be rather Bridget Jones and become obsessive, weighing myself all through the day, after each meal or pint of water, just to see. So I have always gone according to how my clothes feel. And that particular day I noticed that none of my clothes would fit. They were no longer just a bit snug – I couldn’t get them over my hips. I was devastated and knew that I’d have to work even harder if I was to remain a stable, healthy weight.
"I will be the first to admit that ageing and accepting that I am getting older haven’t always sat well with me. I could feed you some bullshit about the fact that because I worked as a model for many years of my life I have always been judged on how I look, and to a certain degree that is, of course, true. But let’s be honest – we are all guilty of being a little vain, and of scrutinising ourselves, finding fault with each part of us. We all torture ourselves with constant comparison, not helped by the unhealthy way we consume social media and magazine images, which are unrealistic and unachievable. The idea of perfection and not being enough infiltrates our subconscious day and night and is so damaging.
"In the end, I put on three stone through my perimenopausal years. That, for me, was too much. Getting rid of the extra stones was not easy. I’ve sweated and cried quite a lot, but I was determined to keep going. I still haven’t lost all that weight, and I don’t think I ever will. I lost two of the three stones, and I am coming to terms with the fact that it is what it is and now I can only try to tone everything up. I am a size or two bigger than I’d like, but I try not to let it concern me too much. Here is what I’ve learned."
- It helps to vary your exercise regime.
"I have had to work harder than ever, work out for longer and try many different types of activities in order to see a change. I have run, lifted weights and walked and walked for miles."
- Don’t make food the enemy.
"There is so much going on in this process, so you have to accept what you can and can’t control and finding that balance is key. After all, life is about balance, and I happen to be one of those people who enjoys life to the full. Food brings me so much pleasure; I love eating, I love tasting new things. Food makes me so happy, cooking brings me so much joy, finding new restaurants and pubs – all of this, for me, is living, and that’s what gives me a thrill. And so I just remember that I have to keep it all in balance. If I have a large meal one day, I try to be careful the next. I try to limit what I am drinking to two glasses and always try to make sure I exercise. Moderation in everything."
- Intermittent fasting helps and doesn’t have to be horribly restrictive.
"There are days when I am stricter with myself, and there are days when I say yes to that dessert. One size does not fit all when it comes to managing weight, but I do believe in intermittent fasting, fasting a few days a week or just having days when I practice strong self-control to check in with myself and realise what I need, what I want to achieve and what works for me. One thing I do a few times a week to give my system a break is to have dinner early, around 6pm. I eat something light and nutritious, not too many processed carbohydrates, just lean protein and vegetables, pulses, or lentils – then I head off to bed without any alcohol and fast for around 12 to 15 hours"
- Work out what works for you.
"There is lots of research proving that intermittent fasting helps to slow down the ageing process and that it is positive for overall health, as well as managing the pile-on of pounds. Again, this approach isn’t for everyone, and when we enter perimenopause and menopause it’s a time to nourish our bodies, not deny them, so managing your weight is very individual and you need to find what works for you"
- Write it all down.
"Keeping a food diary, and noting not just what you eat but when you eat, is important because it also helps with monitoring how food or alcohol can impact sleep."
- Listen to your body.
"It’s important to listen to your body as you eat and observe its reactions to food. If you know that eating bread bloats you or doesn’t sit well with your body, limit it. If you know sugary cocktails make you retain water and leave your skin dull and in breakouts, listen to your body – it is your greatest teacher and is capable of sending you the biggest signs. There will be foods that no longer agree with you, and drinks that aggravate your system. The key thing to remember is that as we age, we just can’t continue to bombard our systems and overload them in the same way, especially as we enter perimenopause"
This is an edited extract from Just Getting Started by Lisa Snowdon, out now