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Drew Barrymore, Gabrielle Union recall their early menopause signs: 'No one talks about it'

As Union entered perimenopause, she realized she was experiencing “all these things no one talks about it," she said.
Drew Barrymore, Gabrielle Union
Drew Barrymore and Gabrielle Union discussed body changes in menopause and perimenopause on "The Drew Barrymore Show."Ash Bean / The Drew Barrymore Show
/ Source: TODAY

Gabrielle Union and Drew Barrymore aren't hiding a tough truth about perimenopause, or when the body starts to transition to menopause — sudden and unexplained weight gain.

“It felt like it happened overnight,” Union told Barrymore in a Nov. 14 segment of the “Drew Barrymore Show.” “It was 27 pounds in what felt like overnight.”

Dr. Kameelah Phillips shows Gabrielle Union and Drew Barrymore how stress and busy lives contribute to perimenopause weight gain.
Dr. Kameelah Phillips shows Gabrielle Union and Drew Barrymore how stress and busy lives contribute to perimenopause weight gain.The Drew Barrymore Show/Ash Bean

For Barrymore, the pressure of daily life during perimenopause led her to experience extreme bloating, she said.

“When I am stressed, the (stress hormone) cortisol in my belly gets so bad that I can look anywhere from six to eight months pregnant,” the "Never Been Kissed" star explained. “It happens quite often to me, and I have to change my diet, really reset everything, and then I get back to center.”

After her weight gain, Union said she visited her doctor, who recommended a strict way of eating to help manage the weight gain.

“They were like, ‘First things first: No gluten, no dairy, no alcohol, no caffeine,” the “Bring It On” actor recalled. “I was like, ‘Three out of four, I feel like I could try.”

Dr. Kameelah Phillips, an OB-GYN, told the pair that weight gain in menopause and perimenopause remains common.

“Many of us don’t realize that as you’re entering your perimenopause transition, you can gain up to 30 pounds,” she explained. “We tend to gain this weight for many reasons.”

The biggest reason, Phillips said, is living a busy life and the stress that comes with it — women often prioritize other people over their own wellbeing.

“(Women) are caregivers, right? We start to eat crap. We don’t make time to exercise,” Phillips explained. “That (stress hormone) cortisol is just doing too much every day.”

Research shows that high stress levels can contribute to weight gain in women. But when it comes to menopausal women, massive shifts in the levels of the sex hormones estrogen and progesterone can contribute to loss of muscle mass, which can lead to fewer calories burned and weight gain, especially in the abdomen, explained University of Chicago Medicine. Extra weight in the abdomen can increase risk of heart disease, Type 2 diabetes and breast cancer in women, according to Harvard Health.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for women in the U.S., Phillips pointed out, adding, "So, we are going to work to control our weight gain.”

Barrymore and Union also chatted about another bothersome perimenopause symptom, dramatic mood shifts. They revealed they were surprised by their mood changes, agreeing that there's not enough conversation about perimenopause so many women are caught unaware.

“Something just felt a little off,” Union recalled of entering perimenopause. “All these things, no one talks about it. They’d rather just say that you’re crazy or bitter.”

Barrymore said she was “struggling so much" mentally. “You go through an emotional rollercoaster, and you don’t know what’s happening, and there aren’t indicators there to help it make sense to you, so you just do whatever it is you can to be calmer so that you will be better for yourself, as well as those around you.”

Union takes a different approach to grappling with her feelings.

“I go to the bathroom, and I listen to my favorite sad song, like the song you listen to to make you cry, and I just cry and I’m able to release something,” she said.