Rod Stewart's wife Penny Lancaster revealed how she lost over a stone after comfort eating due to the menopause. Stephanie Bell asks NI women to share their experiences.
'No one prepares you for the menopause'
As an expert in weight control, Liza Trainor was mortified when she started to pile on the pounds and found herself struggling to lose it.
While advising clients at her weekly Slimming World groups in Lisburn, she was very conscious that her own weight was soaring.
It wasn't until just before lockdown in March that she finally realised she was going through the menopause and went to her GP.
As well as gaining weight unexpectedly, the quality of her life had changed drastically with mood swings, brain fog, anxiety and hot flushes. Liza is grateful that she was considered a safe candidate for hormone replacement therapy (HRT) which she says has given her quality of life back.
Since April she has lost two stone which she gained because of the menopause, and slimmed down from a size 16 back to her usual size 12.
"It was really difficult for me being a consultant putting weight on and I found it difficult to cope with in front of my class," she admits.
"I couldn't get to the bottom of why I was putting weight on and so quickly.
"I have two dogs and I was really active and walked them every day and suddenly I didn't have any motivation to go out with them.
"I also started to have sugar cravings and I think looking back I was comfort eating. I also started to suffer brain fog which was the worst part. I was forgetting the names of people in my class which was really embarrassing and I did start to worry about what was happening to me."
As well as a full-time weight loss consultant, Liza (51) is a singer and musician along with her husband Gerard (56), a civil servant, in a popular two-piece band called G&T. The couple live in Lisburn with their pet dogs Chip and Cookie.
It was after walking her dogs one day in January that Liza was horrified to discover she was wearing two different shoes and realised that something serious was happening.
"I walked through Lisburn and got home and was shocked to find I had a Nike trainer on one foot with a bright orange tick on it and a pale grey Skecher on the other foot," she recalls.
"I couldn't believe it and I did worry that I was maybe getting early dementia. The menopause hadn't entered my head at that point."
Liza turned to the internet and was relieved to find that her symptoms matched the menopause - this was confirmed by a blood test during a visit to her GP.
"Thankfully I was able to get HRT which I started in early April," she says. "Very quickly my Slimming World members noticed a change in my personality.
"I was happier and I got my energy levels back and I finally started to lose weight."
Lockdown brought a huge change to Liza's lifestyle. Her Slimming World classes had to go online and the band she and her husband play in, mostly at weddings, faced months of cancelled bookings.
While both have been tough, it did give Liza the time and space to focus on herself.
"Not being able to see the class members physically was tough and it was a very worrying time for us because of our music," she says.
"I just decided I needed to accept the situation and focus on my own health. Lockdown gave me the time and space to do it and maybe that was the same for Penny Lancaster as being at home would have given her more time to look after herself.
"From April until now I have lost two stone. Younger members can lose two stone in two months but I had to accept the fact that it was coming off by 1lb a week because of the menopause.
"Thankfully the HRT has helped my other symptoms too. I was not sleeping and had no energy and was struggling with anxiety and thankfully that's all gone. No one prepares you for the menopause and I really do feel for women who can't take HRT."
Details of Liza's classes which are held in Finaghy and Lisburn can be found at www.slimmingworld.co.uk
'Weight gain is a big issue and hard to deal with'
Lisburn civil servant Diane Carlisle believes there should be more education for women on menopause and its many symptoms. She was completely unprepared when it first hit her four years ago. She had symptoms for a few years before finally being diagnosed two years ago and put on HRT.
Diane (49) who lives with her partner Gordon Dickson (54), a sheet metal worker, has also gained three stone because of the change of life and has struggled to lose it.
"I had no idea of the range of symptoms and how bad it could get and I had never even heard of perimenopause (symptoms that occur before menopause)," she says.
"I started getting hot flushes and went to the doctor because I thought I had sensitive skin. I then developed dry eyes and dry mouth and still had no idea it was menopause. I just hadn't connected the dots."
Diane also developed severe anxiety which had a big impact on her day-to-day life.
"I suddenly started to get really nervous when I was driving and going down the motorway really frightened the life out of me," she says.
"I didn't realise it was all to do with the menopause and now when I look back I wonder 'how did I not know that?'."
Unexpected weight gain has also hit her hard. Diane has battled her weight for most of her life but before the menopause she lost three stone through a local slimming group.
With the changes to her body brought on by menopause, she has put it all back on again.
"I am eating less and because of the menopause I have developed an intolerance for alcohol so I'm not drinking and yet the weight has just gone on," she says.
"Most of it has gone on round my middle. Working from home since March and sitting at a desk all day hasn't helped and I am finding it really hard to shift."
Menopause Support Network and the Irish Menopause Group on Facebook have proved a lifeline for Diane, especially during lockdown when she was feeling more isolated that usual.
"Being able to talk to people and know they understand and are going through the same thing really helps," she says.
"The HRT has been good but it hasn't taken all the symptoms away completely. I still get night sweats, although not as often and my anxiety is not as bad. The weight gain is a big issue and it is hard to deal with.
"I would say to women to educate themselves. There is a lot of help and support out there waiting for you."
'There are things out there that can help you'
Stephanie Reid (55), from Dunmurry, delivers training for businesses on supporting women through the menopause as well as workshops on how to manage symptoms. She has a daughter, Hannah (17), and lost her partner David O'Donnell to prostate cancer six years ago at the time when she was going through the menopause.
Stephanie says she was in her mid 40s, working in business consultancy, when she first noticed symptoms, but didn't realise for some time what was causing them.
"My physical stuff was weird," she reveals. "I started having electric shocks - for a couple of days a month you couldn't come near me. A small percentage of women get it.
"I also got a tingling in my extremities, in my fingers and toes, like pinpricks. I didn't get any of the physical symptoms that are really obvious."
It was a few years until she made the connection. At 48 or 49, she attended a menopause clinic and they confirmed that she was menopausal. The diagnosis came at a difficult time in her life.
"We got the news that my partner had cancer, but it was diagnosed too late and he died within a year," Stephanie says.
"I was in the full flow of going through menopause, with my grief and with a young child. The only thing I could control was the management of the menopause symptoms, so I concentrated on that."
One of those symptoms was weight gain, which went almost unnoticed for some time.
"I'm four foot 11 and I've always been tiny," Stephanie says. "I've always been size 8 to 10 up until that point. But when I was 47 or 48, I put on weight.
"I went from size 8 to size 12 in a matter of months - it just crept on without me realising.
"The stuff I'd worn that was loose on me was now too tight. It was all round the middle and there was no waist. I wasn't fat around my arms and legs - it was all that stomach bit.
"Then the aches and pains started, the stiffness in the mornings and the lower back pain, compounded by going through the grief. I thought, I can't be getting up every morning feeling like this."
Stephanie says the scariest side was the psychological impact as oestrogen makes serotonin in the brain and those endorphins were now dropping.
"It impacted my sleep, which led to depression and anxiety," she says. "I'd never had anxiety before in my life and I thought I was having a heart attack."
Stephanie took a holistic approach to tackling the symptoms of menopause, realising that tackling diet and lifestyle will also impact on mental health.
"I thought if I can't control what's happened, with the grief and everything going on around me, at least I can manage the menopause and get on top of that," she says.
"It was also me thinking, I am responsible for my daughter and I'm going to have to be working for at least 20 years to look after both of us. I had more concern about my mental health and getting my body fit to get me through.
"You need to start from scratch, looking at diet, lifestyle, understanding what is happening, what you eat, triggers - and changing all that."
Stephanie says she went down the alternative route, going for counselling and getting into mindfulness and tapping, which proved useful for tackling the stress. She went vegetarian, took up daily yoga, tried acupuncture and reflexology and found supplements that helped.
"Diet was the big thing, because that impacted on so many things," she says. "Once I started to lose weight, the aches and pains started to go and the symptoms started to decrease.
"It was managing it, realising it doesn't have to be awful and there are things out there that can help you. Women don't have to suffer."
Stephanie says that within a year she had dropped down to size 6: "It was diet and going out, walking daily and engaging in life. I got a wee dog and that became part of our routine every day.
"I follow a very simple rule - 80:20. So, 80% of the time I'm good, 20% I'm not. Have a glass of wine and have that wee bit of cake - but it's about understanding what foods do to your body. Alcohol can exacerbate hot flushes, or night sweats and insomnia.
"I'm now fitter and healthier than I was 20 years ago. I had my metabolic age done six months ago and I was 39 and a half."
Two years ago, Stephanie began running courses for women's groups on managing menopause symptoms, and when she began working for Business in the Community last October she started offering training for businesses, trusts and councils in supporting women employees who are going through menopause.
And she pays tribute to Penny Lancaster for figuring out how to manage her symptoms.
"Going through menopause is difficult enough and I don't think women should beat themselves up about it. Good on her for realising that she needed to do something and taking herself in hand," she says.
"The more people, especially people who are celebrities, talk about their struggles, the more everybody realises they are going through it too."
Interview by Linda Stewart