Donna Young, 46, is a freelance online marketeer. She lives in Manchester with her partner James, 49, a commercial airline pilot and her 12-year-old son Luke. The menopause left her with depression, anxiety, weight gain and bloating, but through diet and lifestyle changes, her symptoms have virtually vanished.
On holiday in Orlando with my son Luke, the pair of us were in tears. I’d lost my temper with him yet again because I mistakenly thought he’d lost his new Apple watch. He hadn’t. But as I yelled at him about not taking responsibility, I knew by the look on his face that he had no idea what was wrong.
The fact is, he’d done nothing wrong. It was all down to me and my menopause symptoms. Full of hormonal rage, I’d been feeling anxious, bloated and depressed for months and I was not behaving normally at all.
It was on this holiday – in August 2022 – that I tried to explain to him what was going on with my body and my mind. We ended up hugging and crying. I knew when I got home that I had to do something to help myself as I didn’t want my child to hate me. But at the time, I hated myself.
My menopause symptoms started in May 2022 when I was only 44 and had had my coil taken out six months earlier. I knew it may take some months for my period to return but it never did. Instead, I began to feel different somehow.
I’m usually quite a fit, confident person – I worked at senior management level in the NHS for many years and then retrained as a fitness instructor – so pre-menopause I was toned and strong.
Suddenly, I was becoming softer around the edges and I was losing my confidence. I was more stressed and anxious, and felt very self-conscious about my body.
Hit by the menopause
But suddenly, I was becoming softer around the edges and I was losing my confidence. I was more stressed and anxious and felt very self-conscious about my body. Blood tests soon confirmed that I was in menopause and it may sound strange but I began grieving for my youth. One minute you’re a young, vibrant and sexy woman and next suddenly you have sore boobs, vaginal dryness and you’re getting older. Because I was only in my mid-forties I think I’d been in denial before the blood test.
My menopause kicked in pretty quickly. I started forgetting why I was walking into rooms. I would wake up in the middle of the night with anxiety attacks. I was drinking far too much alcohol to numb my grief and I’d binge eat in the evening. I remember smothering butter over four little brioche rolls in the kitchen and shovelling them in my mouth before bedtime. I had no idea why I was doing it but I hated myself and thought my partner hated me too – even though of course he didn’t.
Even HRT which I began in June 2022 didn’t help. If anything, it made it worse. I was on oral HRT and it sent me absolutely loopy – my libido hit the floor and I was getting up to 10 nosebleeds a day. My GP told me it had nothing to do with my HRT but I was not convinced and later found out that it actually can be a very rare side effect of that particular kind of HRT. James begged me to stop taking the tablets and so two months later I went onto HRT patches instead.
My menopause kicked in pretty quickly. I would wake up in the middle of the night with anxiety attacks.
Straight away, I felt less like I was ‘under attack’ from my hormones but still, the vaginal dryness and sore boobs continued. My joints were so achy. I had always loved exercise but even walking the dog was excruciating. I’d come back from a walk and I’d be in tears as I’d been able to feel my hips and ankles grinding. I piled on 30lbs (13kg) in weight and went up to a size 14 dress from my usual size eight.
It was this time last year in January 2023, I finally woke up and knew I had to do something about it. I felt old, I didn’t recognise myself and I was exhausted. I signed James and I up to a local gym to start doing some weights-based small group personal training sessions. Strength training was something I knew I needed to do. I lost my 59-year-old sister to Covid in lockdown and she had had degenerative osteoporosis and had been so weak.
The weightlifting helped me get stronger but it didn’t help my weight loss – if anything I felt like I was getting bigger. I thought I could eat absolutely anything because I was working out – but obviously I was wrong. It was only when I changed my diet that I began to notice real change with my body.
A new diet
Firstly, we both quit alcohol, which is high in calories and slows down metabolism. Then, following advice from my gym, I started following a high-protein, low-fat and low-carb diet.
In the past I always thought I’d eaten healthily. We’d eat lots of vegetables and we loved jacket potatoes but they were always topped with cheese and coleslaw. I loved slow cooked foods so I would eat chicken and lamb with dumplings but there would always be a sweet treat afterwards and if we went out for a drink we’d often have a takeaway as well. We enjoyed going out for breakfasts or for coffee and cake which meant my blood sugar was all over the place. It was no wonder I couldn’t lose any weight.
Following advice from my gym, I started following a high-protein, low-fat and low-carb diet.
I discovered that clearly one of the main reasons why women are not losing weight – even when they think they are eating healthily – is that they are not controlling the hunger hormone, ghrelin. We get sugar cravings which mean we binge and crash and then binge and crash again but with a high-protein diet, you feel much fuller for longer.
I started to do my own research into nutrition and began to include much more protein in my diet. For instance, for breakfasts I have 40g of protein such as a dry fried egg on a protein bagel with four slices of ham or turkey with spinach and mushrooms. I have it within 30 minutes of waking up so that my body doesn’t start breaking down muscle for energy.
If I’m going to the gym that morning, I’ll add a banana or some porridge for a few more carbs. For lunch, I’ll have half a jacket potato with either air-fried salmon or cod and rocket or green leaves on the side. And for dinner I might have something like turkey or chicken chasseur with peppers, mushrooms and another half of jacket potato. Turkey is one of the highest lean-protein meats you can eat and fills you up so much.
My bloating has completely gone and my confidence is back. I feel and look younger.
Dropping dairy was also a game-changer. I now have oat milk and barely any cheese and I feel that’s really helped lift my brain fog. I lost ten pounds within four weeks and at the end of the 12 weeks I lost 19lbs (8.6kg) but that was 19lbs of fat as I actually dropped three dress sizes.
But more than that, my menopause symptoms have all but vanished. I have so much more clarity of thought. My anxiety has gone, my moods are more regular, my libido is back. The only thing I still suffer from mildly is dry skin, but I can cope with that.
It worked so well that I adapted my eating plan for other menopausal women because I’m on a mission to empower them to lose fat with the knowledge I’ve gained over the last six months. I call it Donna’s Five Day Challenge because that’s all I need – five days of their time to show them how easy it is.
Most of the women decide they want to stay on the programme after five days but if they only have five days they should have the tools they need. My bloat has completely gone and my confidence is back. I feel and look younger.
Just before Christmas I dug out a pair of old sparkly size eight jeans which had been hidden under my bed for four years because I couldn’t fit in them. I was amazed and overjoyed to find that not only did they slide up over my thighs but that I could fasten them easily. I burst into tears and I couldn’t stop crying because it’s such an emotional point.
Many of the women I’ve helped say the same thing – once you hit menopause you really don’t know what to do about your symptoms, whether that's weight gain or low mood. It’s all so confusing and you have to carry on with normal life too. You begin to feel your life is over but it absolutely isn’t. Through making lifestyle changes, I feel better than ever.
Donna’s plan can be found on Instagram.