"There's some metabolic reason, but it's not huge," she said. "As you age, you lose muscle mass, and muscle is a much more effective user of sugar than any other part of you. Also, as you approach menopause, some of your hormones peter out, and that can impact muscle growth." The new hormone environment in your body tends to send fat to the area around your internal organs, which helps explain why the waistline expands. And all this is happening at an age when most of us begin to exercise less, Lisa explained: "You're busier; your life gets in the way." Ideally, she says, the opposite should happen. Women preparing for the onset of menopause should exercise more and eat smaller portions. The easiest way to control weight is to avoid gaining too much in the first place. When you put on a lot of weight, you start adding new fat cells, which, once acquired, never go away. "You can empty them, but they hang around, just waiting to fill up again, and that happens a lot more quickly and easily than a cell that has to build itself from scratch."

This advice, of course, had come about a decade too late for me. I had to deal with fat cells I'd already acquired. So I signed up for another month of boot camp. And another after that. Gradually, I've discovered, I can run farther, lift more weight, do more jumping jacks. The gym equipment that used to make me think of medieval torture chambers now looks quite inviting. Recently, my jeans have acquired a pleasant latitude in the waistband, and my upper arms no longer jiggle so much. ("Arrghh! What's that? A tumor?" I thought the day I made reacquaintance with my long-lost biceps.) Inch per inch, Nisa reminds me, muscle weighs more than fat. And while I haven't dropped pounds, the really good news is the inches. I've lost nine and a half of them from a variety of places. My hips are now an inch and three-quarters narrower than they were when I was 28, and my waist has only an inch more to go. If I'm not quite back to being an hourglass, neither am I any longer a brandy snifter. More, I like to think, a champagne flute. Cheers.

Geraldine Brooks is the author, most recently, of People of the Book (Viking). Her novel March won the 2006 Pulitzer Prize.

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