A FEW days after Christmas Claire realised that her previous lifestyle of diet and exercise just wasn’t working. Everyone puts on a few pounds over the holiday period but when Claire stepped on to the scales she was shocked.

“I remember it like it was yesterday,” she says. “It was January 6 and decided to weigh myself after the holidays. I’ve always been quite fit, but it had been Christmas, so I expected to put on a bit of weight. But when I looked at the reading on the scales I couldn’t believe it: I weighed as much as when I gave birth to my son.

“I stood there and thought: “You’ve got to do something about this because you now weigh as much as when you gave birth to a child.” But I didn’t know what to do.”

Claire has always prided herself on being fit. She works out at a gym once a week, runs and walks on an evening after work. Her exercise regime had always kept her looking slim but, suddenly and quite shockingly, it seemed not to be working anymore.

“I’d got to 55 years old and it felt as though I was fighting a constant battle with my body and my weight. Worse of all, it was a battle I wasn’t winning.”

Claire had discovered what millions of other women all over the world go through: that the menopause can wreak havoc with the body’s metabolism.

Menopause occurs when the ovaries no long release an egg every month and menstruation stops.

Most women are familiar with the symptoms of menopause: hot flushes, insomnia, mood swings, fatigue, changes in libido, headaches and palpitations. These are the result of changing hormone levels, mainly the oestrogen and progesterone which control menstruation and ovulation. This change in the hormonal balance upsets the body’s unique bio-chemistry. The severity varies from person-to-person; some women seem to breeze through the menopause while others suffer for years.

Former nurse Victoria McFaull explains: “Some women turn to hormone replacement therapy to help alleviate their symptoms. But every one of the symptoms is reversible if you are prepared to make lifestyle changes and help your body adapt to its new normal.”

To prove her point, Victoria, who works as a personal trainer and studio manager for Darlington-based Corporate Personal Fitness, has designed a programme of exercise, dietary advice and cognitive therapy aimed specifically at women who are going through (or about to enter) the menopause.

The Transformation Programme isn’t just another workout. It’s a unique lifestyle adjustment strategy that helps the body cope with menopausal change, keep to its ideal weight and work with changing hormones, not against them. Although the programme runs for 12 weeks, clients usually sign up for longer.

Claire was one of the first women to sign up and says, at first, she didn’t know what to expect. “I’d already punished my body with exercise – my inclination was always to choose the hardest cardio-vascular workout I could, so I did boxercise, cycling, half marathons and circuits. I couldn’t see how I could do any more that would make a meaningful difference. I was totally demoralised.

“At first I was a bit frustrated because it felt as if I wasn’t doing enough. Victoria put me to work doing weights, spent time discussing my mindset and diet and gave me yoga training. To be honest, I was sceptical that it would do the trick – but it did.”

Since she started, Claire has lost more than a stone and dropped a dress size. “My body feels fitter and more toned but, just as importantly, the positive thinking has really helped me make a mental re-adjustment to embrace what my body is doing and go with it. And because the weight has come off slowly I feel as though it is sustainable. I’ve done all the diets and the results can be impressive, but they never seem to last.”

Later this month Victoria – and her Corporate Personal Fitness colleagues – will launch the Transformation Programme to a wider audience when she hosts a special seminar held at Business Central, in Darlington.

She says: “The free seminar is aimed mainly at women aged between 40and 60 who want to know more about the menopause, what it involves, and how to manage it. Delegates will be able to meet women who have used the programme (including Claire) and there will be an opportunity to ask questions in a group or private setting.”

One of the key parts of the programme is the social aspect. “Transformation requires physical and mental help,” says Victoria. “The programme helps women to meet other women who are suffering the same – or similar – symptoms to their own. It’s almost a self-help group and we encourage that. That’s why we hope delegates will bring a friend along to the seminar.

The session will also offer taster spa treatments in the Micro-Spa, Darlington’s newest wellbeing centre, plus refreshments and a glass of fizz.

“The Transformation Programme not about keeping fit, although that’s a nice side-effect” says Victoria. “It’s all about helping women cope with one of the most stressful events in their adult life by restoring their hormonal harmony. For too long women have been afraid to talk about the menopause, but I think it should be brought out into the open. We don’t want to age like our mothers – and we don’t have to.

“With a few simple changes women can conquer their symptoms, start to feel fabulous again and get their lives back on track.”

The free seminar takes place at Business Central, 2 Union Square, Darlington, on Wednesday, August 29, starting at 6pm. For further details and to book tickets go online at: https://transformationcpf.eventbrite.co.uk