Menopause, Movement and Body Image with Dr. Maria Luque
Even with an abundance of research connecting movement and exercise with lowered rates of anxiety and depression, the majority of women in midlife are still only exercising to lose weight. On top of that, we also believe that if it’s not a form of torture, then we really can’t “count it”.
In today’s episode, I’m joined again by Dr. Maria Luque to address this reality as it relates to our body image. While we can all relate to looking back at our 20 and 30-year-old selves with some longing, many of us intuitively know that “going back” isn’t possible without punishing ourselves every step of the way. So what if we flipped the script and started prioritizing fun as we explore ways to get active? Would Salsa dancing suddenly appear on this list?
In midlife, it’s really common to feel a bit disappointed-perhaps even betrayed by this body you’re in. But those feelings are rooted in the belief that you are only valuable when you are fit and thin. I challenge you to not only identify your own negative thoughts about your body image but to trade them in for gratitude for the life your body has empowered you to live out.
In this episode, you’ll learn:
- Why we have to get in touch with the real reason we exercise
- How to start asking: What can I do with my body? vs. Why isn't my body making me happy?
- Why a movement journal may be an insightful tool
- Examples of movement and exercise we need to start honoring in our day-to-day lives
- Why exercise must be joyful for it to be sustainable
To learn more about Dr, Maria Luque, and her work, visit her website at
Links Mentioned in the Episode
Episode 25: Redefining strength in midlife and menopause
Jenn Huber 00:02
Hi and welcome to the midlife feast the podcast for women who are hungry for more in this season of life. I'm your host, Dr. Jenn Selena Huber. Come to my table. Listen and learn from me. Trusted guests, experts in women's health and interviews with women just like you. Each episode brings to the table juicy conversations designed to help you feast on midlife. Hey there, welcome to this week's episode of the midlife feast. My guest today is a returning guest expert Dr. Maria Luke A is a fitness expert. She's a health science professor. And most importantly, she works exclusively with women in midlife to help them improve their health, their fitness, and more importantly, their relationship with movement. And I wanted to invite Maria back on the podcast today to talk a little bit about body image. Because as we discussed, there are many of us in this age and stage who have a really difficult time redefining our relationship with movement.
Because the only reason we've ever moved our bodies is to change what it looks like, with the goal of improving our body image or feeling better in our bodies. But as we discuss, that is a goal that we will probably never reach meaning that how we feel in our bodies isn't really as tied to how we feel about our bodies or how our bodies look, as we may have been led to believe. So tune in to this episode. As always, let me know what you think. I think you're going to enjoy this one. Hello, and welcome back to the midlife feasts, you're one of the few returning guests that we've had.
Dr. Maria Luque 01:43
Yay, I'm so happy I made it back. Thank you for having me.
Jenn Huber 01:48
Honestly, your episode was definitely one of the loved ones, which is we'll link it in the show notes. But it was around redefining strength and midlife. And over the last year, I've really loved what you have been talking about with respect to body image and about how, you know, we need to be shifting our perspective from why are we moving our bodies, you know, away from that diet culture centric, you know, I'm, I need to move my body to change my body and to I need to move my body so I can feel good in my body. So why don't you tell our listeners a little bit about why why this body image piece became such a I don't want to say the focus, but certainly has become a focus of the work that you're doing with women in midlife.
Dr. Maria Luque 02:34
Yes, I'd love to I, it's because I have such a long history in this space. Now that I have figured out. That is really the missing piece. If we don't address how we feel about ourselves, then all of the other efforts are kind of like futile. It is it doesn't we will never achieve that ideal image of ourselves. If it's a physical related item, like if we're always looking for that smaller body. When you get to that body, you're going to want another body until we address why it is that we want that nothing else matters. So it's almost like in working with clients, you know, for 20 years in the past 10 years, all I've done is work with menopausal clients. So that's been really been my focus.
I've just noticed that no matter what we do, until we address that part, that component. It just doesn't make it doesn't make a sustainable difference, a long lasting difference, which is all what I'm about. I don't want the quick fixes. I want women to be able to transition through menopause into post menopause and the rest of their lives in a sustainable manner where they feel strong and capable.
Jenn Huber 03:43
Yeah, I mean, we talk a lot about on your first episode about why we need to be focusing on strength training. But let's go through a scenario here. So how old are you? Can I ask that?
Dr. Maria Luque 03:56
Yes, I am almost 49 I'm about crouching in April.
Jenn Huber 04:01
Okay, so Oh, when's your birthday in April? Mine's in April.
Oh, 13 months? 18.
Jenn Huber 04:07
Look at that. Goodness, you know, and the funny thing is that my best friend growing up like my first friend, his birthday was on the 13th. And so it's really funny. Anyway, so yeah, this is why we get along so well. So you and I are similar age, I'll be 46 You'll be 49 And I think our generation was really introduced to the concept of intentional exercise solely through the lens of weight loss and changing your body so that you could look like Jane Fonda like that is if you know if I were to like be hypnotized on a couch and someone asked me like what is my first memory of exercise? I picked her like leg warmers and leotards and Jane Fonda you know, and it was really this I think programming of like, Oh, well that's The only reason why I move my body is to change what it looks like. That is such a hard thing for our generation. And I'm making sweeping generalizations. I know that.
But I think it's, that's when I talk to people about shifting from an exercise based mindset into a joyful movement based mindset and to focus on how movement is making them feel. That is often like the mental hurdle of, well, if it's not going to help me lose weight, what's the point? Right. And with that comes this idea that exercise should I'm saying that in air quotes, but should shape our body into a body that we like, and love. What are your thoughts on that? Am I totally crazy? No, not
Dr. Maria Luque 05:46
at all. I actually think I grew up in Europe. So I have a slightly different experience, because I think that we were I was not bombarded with those images of weight loss that wasn't really prevalent. When I grew up, I got the shock when I moved here in 98. So I was already full grown adult, but it like shocked me right into it. Because I mean that the you know, it's at its height, like late 1990s words, just really like it's becoming super toxic. I grew up in an environment where outdoors is, you know, you just needed for fun, and you did that kind of thing. So that culture shock first, when I got when I moved to the States was quite large, I just didn't understand any of that, why we're not enjoying things more and why we're working too much. And, you know, it's like that European mindset is so different. But I have had to also learn like that for my clients, because their experience was just very different than mine growing up, and I didn't actually start having real body image issues until I moved to the States.
Jenn Huber 06:54
Wow. That's a whole other episode, isn't it?
Dr. Maria Luque 07:01
I mean, it and when you you know, I didn't grow up my have some of those experiences that a lot of people have, like their parents or their mothers talking about weight loss. My mom never really did that. I really, as a I moved, so I was already 24 When I moved to the States, and then it became the obsession, like the working out, you know, two hours a day, controlling my food. And it just, it was really weird. Because it was a cold shock, like I was thrown into this cold plunge of weight loss industry when I got here, and I wasn't prepared for it. And it consumed me and it took me a good, you know, 20 years to like, unravel that. That thing?
Jenn Huber 07:47
Yeah, I can imagine, I can't even actually imagine the culture shock of coming from Europe, which is where I live now. And you know, it's probably not the Europe, you left in terms of our shelter. You know, we're not as sheltered I think, from the West as it were, or from North America. But I do see a difference in how I do see a difference. I don't even know that I can, like describe it. But I know that when I was growing up in Canada, in the 80s, and 90s, all of the discussions around movement were about how it could make your body look. And you know, people would often blame their bodies on their lack of exercise.
So they would say, Oh, I eat well, but I don't work out enough. Or I'm not doing the right things. And with every like with every new diet with every new movement thing. Whether it was you know, p90x or you know, most the recent one I've heard that's crazy is like, I think it's called herd 75 or something where it's like you're trying to like do 75 days straight. Like that's punishing. There's nothing I love to move but who wants to do a hard workout? 75 days in a row? No one that doesn't feel good. Right?
Dr. Maria Luque 09:13
But but we are conditioned to believe still to this point that unless it is uncomfortable, really worth it. Right. That mindset of still I'm supposed to not really enjoy it, and push myself through it. That is still no matter how much we're using. Yeah, yeah. I don't listen to it anymore. It's still the correlation of uncomfortable and pushing yourself and forcing yourself to have to do it is still correlated with it. That's the only way I'm going to get results because if I enjoy it, then I'm not working hard enough.
Jenn Huber 09:46
And it's, it's hard to to get people away from that because even if somebody goes for a walk, that they love seven days a week, and I asked them, you know, did you move your body this week? Or you know, I don't usually ask But if I were to ask that person to do exercise this week, they would say no, because they wouldn't count it. You know, unless it's hard and sweaty and at a gym, it's not exercise. It doesn't count. Yeah,
Dr. Maria Luque 10:13
I use movement in everything I do now. Because movement encompasses everything that your body does to move and that we should be counting all of those things. Yeah. And I asked the same, I answered the same questions of just did you enjoy it? And it's, it's almost like that when you first ask it. It's like, why you ask, why is this even relevant? In this conversation, that joy factor, and it is the only factor that should really be important in anything, and that's changing that mindset. Once that happens? It's quite powerful.
Jenn Huber 10:48
It really is. It is. Okay, let's bring it back to body image. I feel like we could go off on all these different tangents. How? How should women in midlife be thinking about body image?
Dr. Maria Luque 11:02
That's a loaded question. Well, I think that it's one of those words that is being thrown around. And generally in a negative connotation, right, we usually when body image is used, it's used in a negative way. Because it's usually we have bought bad body image, there's women that have good body image, which is great, right? So understanding what body image is, and that it's really composed of how we see ourselves. And how we feel about what we see, it does has nothing to do with actually what our physical body is. And that is a big one. So understand that it is the perception of how you feel, not the actual if not attached to your physical self, then we can start detaching a little bit because we do have to what we do know about menopause is that vast majority of women will go through some sort of change in their body composition doesn't have to be weighed, but compositions who hasn't. I mean, you know, 80, some percent of women report negative body image and it is often related to that belly fat.
And then you know, that center centralized belly fat, that even women that consider themselves to be skinny, right, so when we lose that one skinny, but this fat, and now, what am I supposed to do about it? And so there becomes almost like, it's like this betrayal that's happening. Your body is betraying you somehow. And we need to Yeah, we need to move away by just reminding ourselves what is that belly fat going to ensure that I've have a good quality of life? 30 years? Or is strength training or being capable? Strong, going to change how we feel and are able to live our lives? So focusing on the Can we came here? Where do we want to go do and what is the quality of life that we want to have for the next 3040 years? That's how we need to reframe body image of what the capability and the functionality of our body is, rather than than what it looks like.
Jenn Huber 13:11
Yeah, I just, I love I love everything you said, I often describe it as if your body image is driving your self esteem bus. Meaning that how you feel about yourself as a person is primarily determined by your thoughts and feelings about your body, you will never be happy. Because we cannot control what our body is going to look like. In two weeks, two years, two decades, bodies do change. That's part of the normal human experience. I often say a human body is a changing body. And we are so much more than our bodies like that's what I really want people to know is that, you know, you are so much more than your body. Even if you're not ready to give up on the idea of changing it. Just start to welcome the idea that maybe there are parts of you that deserve as much time and attention as you've given your body. You know, and that's that's where real confidence comes from is realizing that you are more than your body. Also, how exhausting
Dr. Maria Luque 14:15
is it to continuously think about? I think one of the big things also is we've been long enough women that once you reach menopause, you've been around the block several times the diet, you've been on that diet, but you've been on the exercise train, you've done them all and you know, for you and what hasn't worked for you so and what you're willing to do and what you're not willing to do. And you're also center that most of the women have that looking back and saying in my 20s or 30s or wherever you you romanticize that best body that you ever had. Because at that point you didn't think you had the best body I can almost assure Are you like you, when you look back, you had it but not looking forward were in those 20s, when you, you now think was your best body. At that point, you probably were still looking to get to that next level of best body so that that version of the ideal body is constantly changing, and you're never going to reach it. Because once you reach that station, there's another station, it's the endless route, you're always going to want to stay on that bus for that next level. And I always dare to have women go back when they I do this to for myself.
And this is I think this is where my body image changed on how I feel about it. Besides having my daughter, I think that's really changed my perspective a lot. But when I was at the leanest, I was at the middle most miserable. And I can acknowledge that now. So looking back at where you were in that ideal body that you are now romanticizing. Where were you like, were you truly happier? Were you sacrificing you know, food and your social life? And you're like, what was it they're like, take a good account of them. So I think that we are not giving ourselves enough credit in midlife, of all the lessons that we've already learned. So body image, we need to have that conversation of like what you were saying, we need to change the conversation, that body image has to become something of what can I do with my body? What is it letting me do like, how is it affording me the possibility to be happy? Not it making me happy? You know?
Jenn Huber 16:35
Yeah, yeah. And I think that's such a great jumping off point for, okay, well, let's talk about the things that we can do, that will help us to be happy in our bodies, instead of about our bodies. And, you know, I will often say to people, because that all or nothing thinking shows up so much with movement, right? It's like the last thing to go, this belief that, like, there's the best way to do something, and you have to do it for a minimum amount of time for in order for it to count. So I will often say, let's start by assuming that one minute counts, and that 100 minutes wouldn't change what your body looks like. So if you knew that to be true, beyond a shadow of a doubt, how would you move? What would be fun? What would you want to do, if you knew that it could never change your body?
And I think that that, you know, often opens up a lot of doors, like people will say some really fun things like I would learn to dance, I would take salsa lessons, I would you know, I would get a bike and start cycling. And those are things that they wouldn't ever have prioritized or even thought about because they don't, aren't considered, you know, traditional exercise. So what are some of the ways that we can start to think about movement from a, I want to be able to go up the stairs, when I'm at perspective and enjoy my life, instead of I'm trying to change my body so that I can feel better about it. Because that's where the fallacy is right? That like losing weight does not protect you from a negative body image. And, you know, a six pack of ABS may look nice in the mirror, but it's ultimately not going to give you the confidence that you're after.
Dr. Maria Luque 18:18
Absolutely. And I think what we have to do is by trying to strip away the definition of what people think is exercise, like you're saying, I think this is a critical component. Because when we're looking at, and especially a lot of women shy away, we're talking all this talk about strength training has to be done, you have to lift heavy, you have to do these things. And all of these things are true, we have strength training is an incredibly important component we cannot do without, but what that strength training looks like is different for every woman, it doesn't have to be lifting weights, it doesn't have to go to the gym, like we have to just strip why like a completely blank canvas. What can we do that requires us lift anything that is more than air? You know, that's resistance training.
It could be building some some house within you having to lift the lumber, like those kinds of things that like you said, giving credit to movement that isn't considered air quotes exercise. That is where the change happens. And I am a big advocate and every person that I work with strength training is what we have to do has to we will not I will not create anything that is not based on some sort of strength training. What does it mean to you? What is strength training, there's a million ways to strength train the most efficient ways to grab some dumbbells because you can strategically lift that. But I dare to say that when we start options of what it means, and you start saying, okay, I can lift that 10 pound garden, let's say garden soil because gardening is fun for everyone. You are able to do that and you're like, Oh, this feels great. I can lift 20 bounce, then going to look for other avenues to increase that resistance because you feel capable. There's something just really powerful that happens when you feel that you can do something before. Like, it's, there's no other way to say it right.
And so sometimes it's just to envision what that would look like, where there are people like me and you and a lot of other really great people that are able to give you those ideas and have to come up with it. Like that's what we're here for. Right? And I like to share as many like non weight related or dumbbell related exercises and things like this. That's where we start. And so I think that's really the beginning, baby. Step number one.
Jenn Huber 20:43
So what are some of those ways?
Dr. Maria Luque 20:45
Like I said, it's like, well, you know, I have if you have children or grandchildren, those grow, that's progressive resistance at its best. Keep growing and you get keeping, you get to get to be stronger every time. So like that is the not everyone has human children, you have furry children, they tend to grow. So you get to do like I said, it's like gardening things you get to um you can go the playground. Yeah, the ground stuff like it is, you know, it's those things scary.
I every recovery discovered my love for racquetball. Given that there's not a lot of resistance, but you get some endurance, roller skating, wow, I my legs are on fire. And I go to the gym and work legs all the time. And it's that is a different emphasis. You know, if you go out there onto a loop and take your roller skates or your bike like that is you know that some resistance, we can figure out a way for you to do something that is relevant and applicable to your life.
Jenn Huber 21:51
And I love and for anybody who doesn't follow Maria on Instagram, I love when you post the videos of using your daughter for resistance for it's so cute. In it, it looks fun, which is the point it's fun for both of you, right? Yeah,
Dr. Maria Luque 22:09
absolutely. And she doesn't, I don't force her like that. If you ever see any of the videos, that's 100 present her and she comes up with all these things. So I love it. Because it just shows that if you're just doing things to have fun, it's so organic, there's nothing that you have to force yourself to do. So if you find that way. It could be a a, you could find someone that enjoys workout or like moving just as much as you and you can help each other out to bounce off ideas. You do that with other things in your life, right? It's like, you go on a walk, and you talk about your brainstorm ideas for everything. Why didn't What What about workouts, you know, or like movements or things that you just didn't think about? It doesn't have to be again, it doesn't have to be the gym, dance class. Sounds great.
You know, like those kinds of things. Also, I think one of the big things that I do with with my clients in my master class is that we go back in time, I like to go back in time, because I think you're much smarter than you actually give yourself credit for. And you have to go back and say, Did I do something? Or did I enjoy some sort of movement in the past that I no longer do now? And if you did, why are you no longer doing it? Let's reconnect with some of those passions that we used to happen so that you don't have to endure this hurts 75 that I've never heard of it hard. 75 It sounds incredibly awful.
Jenn Huber 23:33
I've heard it from a few people who say that, like you know, kind of goes around in circles with like, you know, people, I think trainers who are probably not qualified, I'm going to make an assumption. You know, and are really like trying to like, herd motivate people to do this thing. But after like, I don't know, five days, people realize that we need a break, because rest is an important component of movement. You know, you have to be able to rest to recover. And if you're not allowing that space, then it's never going to be joyful. And we don't want to do things that always feel hard. That's just human brains. We're like, you know, programmed to to avoid that, in fact, because that doesn't feel good. But speaking of feeling good, one of the things that I have noticed I noticed it with my own relationship with movement but with others is that when we approach it from this weight neutral lens that okay, I'm trying this on, I'm going to try this thing without the expectation of how it's going to change what my body looks like. We sometimes discover that we actually like it, which is fun.
Dr. Maria Luque 24:45
Absolutely. I think that out, you actually enjoy doing and connecting those dots that can change your entire perspective about it. And when we're going through, especially specifically for menopause. I think that there's a lot of talk about out menopause. And given that symptoms vary so broadly, that we can just say, well, everyone should do high intensity, everybody should do this. If you can figure out like I have, you know, a movement journal, I think is a great idea not to track your movement. But to write down maybe like an example is, I've been having six days of insomnia, I can't sleep, to try Maria ad told me to try it some yoga, or some meditation, or I'm gonna, you know, I'm going to try it. And I'm going to write down what it does for me, just from a symptomology perspective, if we want to be very clear on like, connecting those dots.
And how did it make you feel like I really actually have a box in there saying, that movement make you feel not how many did you do? How long did you do it? It's so that would be one piece of advice that I would tell anyone. And that's what I also do with my clients, it just lets you, you have to be able to tell what works for you. Because what works for someone else doesn't work for you, it might not work for you, it could
Jenn Huber 25:58
Yeah, and all movement counts, like I you know, if we can really get in the space that all movement counts. And then it should be fun, it should be joyful, it can still be intentional, and it can still be challenging, like no one is saying that it should never be hard. But it shouldn't feel like a chore. And you know, it shouldn't be with the expectation that I'm doing this for my body image. It should be I'm doing this with my body. This is something we're doing together.
Dr. Maria Luque 26:31
I was gonna I was gonna say I think we like you're saying when we let go of the expectation that it will change the body. strength increases and functionality and quality of life, like the physical changes, like the appearance appearance related changes, let's say that, when we can let go of that even for just a split second can make a commitment and saying, for the next month, I'm not going to work out for appearance related reasons, that sometimes can make a difference, because we're not fully committed, committing to that thought of letting go but just trying it out like a 30 day trial of body image change. You will It will change how you think and how you feel about exercise. It's impossible not to and I dare everyone to give that a try.
Jenn Huber 27:19
I think that's a great dare. No, and it's true. I use that language to like, let's just try it on. We're not committing to this for the rest of your life. We're just committing to trying it on and how does it feel? And if it feels good, how can we make it easier to do it more often. That's really the ultimate goal is to make movement feel easy, intuitive, joyful, and support our health. Because that's, that's how we feel good in our bodies. And I really love your kind of fun play based approach with it. And that really comes through in like how you show up on social media, but movement is that it should be
Dr. Maria Luque 27:56
fun. If that's missing, you're again, you're you're doing it completely right, it's not sustainable, you will not continue doing even if there's this, you know, the weight loss challenge and this challenge, and I'm just gonna do this challenge. If there's something that you have to force yourself into even that initial part, you know, there's a conversation of just you just have to force yourself in the beginning, and then it will become part of your life. But that doesn't work. Does it just doesn't work. Rather and in a lot of think I startled some of my wines when they first reached out. And I said my approach is that we start one or two days, if you've never worked out and you're just trying to get it back in there. One or two days, let's like using try it on. Let's, if you can commit to 30 minutes once a week, for now.
Let's do that and see how that works. And then if you want to do more you can because you will, because you're not telling yourself that it has to happen. Because it does feel good. I've yet to know anybody that does movement and hates it if they're just letting go of those perceptions, right? And so that initial there is should never in any time of that position. Should there be a moment where you have to force yourself. Do it because then it's not sustainable. Like then you have to full stop and say, why is it that I'm doing this or forcing myself to do it because I can't make myself do this forever? And that's really like taking that minutes to just say what am I really truly forcing myself to do? It isn't because I'm doing it for my health or is it because I'm trying to I'm falling for something that we've already fallen fallen for?
Jenn Huber 29:38
Yeah, no, it's true. It's true. So this has been a great chat and I know that it will spark some food for thought for lots of people. So as we get ready to wind up, what do you think is the missing ingredient in midlife?
Dr. Maria Luque 29:53
I think I mentioned last time so I got a new one. It is self trust. Oh, we are losing in our own bodies. We're being told to not trust ourselves. We're being sold not to trust ourselves. Because if we trust ourselves, we can't they can't sell us. That's something that doesn't make any sense. So I really dare women to look inside and say, I've been around this block 550 years, I know more about myself than anybody. So trust that you know, when something doesn't sound right, trust that you are right, because you are. And that that is a big missing ingredient. Just give me give yourself more credit.
Jenn Huber 30:43
I love that. Love, love. Love it. That's a That's a good one. That's the first one by the way, in like almost 60 episodes. That's the first one that I that's the first time I've heard that. So I love that. So if people want to learn more from you about you what you've got going on, where's the best place for them to find you.
Dr. Maria Luque 31:05
I am on Instagram. But the absolute best way for them to reach me is just to go on my website at fitness and menopause fitness in menopause.com. And just contact me send me a contact link sign up for my newsletter. I'm making some big changes in the future. But I'm really reachable. Just reach out. I'm I'm willing to talk to anybody at any time and share some experiences.
Jenn Huber 31:30
Awesome. And we'll have all those links in the show notes. Fantastic.
Dr. Maria Luque 31:32
This was fun. Great.
Jenn Huber 31:35
Thank you so much.
Thank you for having me. I'll be back anytime.
Jenn Huber 31:41
Thanks for tuning in to this week's episode of the midlife beast. For more non diet health hormone and general midlife support. Click the link in the show notes to learn how you can work and learn from me. And if you enjoyed this episode and found it helpful, please consider leaving a review or subscribing because it helps other women just like you find us and feel supported in midlife.
Stay in touch!
Join my newsletter to receive the latest news and updates from me and the world of menopause nutrition.
We hate SPAM. We will never sell your information, for any reason.