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Shortly after my revelation, I made a call to the woman who wrote The Wisdom of Menopause—Christiane Northrup, M.D., an expert on holistic healing and women's health. Dr. Northrup says that perimenopause begins years before a woman's last period. It can start as early as 35 (yes, 35) and last anywhere from 5 to 13 years. In this country, the average age at which a woman has her final menstrual cycle is 51. And here's a kicker that'll keep you using birth control into your fifties: An entire year must pass after your final period before you can be certain that you've absolutely stopped producing eggs.

Here's what I realized after reading all 498 pages of The Wisdom of Menopause: Everything you've always known about taking care of yourself—getting adequate sleep, balancing your diet, drinking water, exercising regularly—comes into sharp focus during this phase. Perimenopause is your body's way of shifting your full attention back onto your well-being. "When you don't take care of your body in your twenties," Northrup says, "you can get away with it. But as you move toward your forties, your body says, 'If you keep this up, I'm gonna make you old—but if you stop now, you'll get a second chance.'"

At Dr. Northrup's suggestion, I cut out what I call the white stuff—high-glycemic-index foods such as potatoes, white rice, refined sugar and bread that throw my insulin level out of whack, cause weight gain, and trigger palpitations. I'd already cut out salt months before, believing that my racing heart might have been a symptom of high blood pressure. After just four days of swearing off the white stuff, my palpitations completely ended.

So many women I've talked to see menopause as an ending—a loss of youth, autonomy and vitality. But I've discovered that the approach of menopause is a knock at the door that can prompt you to finally create the life you've always wanted. This is your moment to reinvent yourself after years of focusing on the needs of everyone else—your mate, your children, your boss. It's your opportunity to get clear about what matters to you, and then to pursue that with all of your energy, time and talent.

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