As women mature and the menopause looms, it can become harder to lose weight. But we really don’t need to accept this as our lot. Although there is a tendency for women over 40 to gain up to 2lbs per year, it is more likely down to the fact that we move less and our general activity levels drop rather than from hormonal changes and the slowing of our metabolism. That is not to deny that hormonal changes, particularly the lowering of estrogen as we enter the menopause, can change the way we store fat particularly round our trunk. Hence the dreaded thickening waistline. So what can we do to keep these excess pounds away?
It is important to acknowledge that the tried and tested quick fixes of our 20’ and 30’s are gone. Our bodies just don’t respond in the same way. Personally I love this. It means that any changes we make will need to be long term for the weight to stay lost and so we give up on the “diets” and make the food and lifestyle changes that lose the weight and benefit both our physical and mental health.
A couple of years ago, in the height of my embarrassing hot flushes and sleepless nights – the ones that left me looking and feeling like a wrung out tearful shadow of myself, I started investigating why some women suffer so much and others seem to sail through (maybe they actually didn’t, but if they were feeling like me, they surely deserved an Academy Award for hiding it!). I started to read about cultures where the effects of the menopause where unknown. Initially I wondered if this was maybe down to embarrassment and under-reporting on the part of the woman of these cultures, but even female health care professionals there had never heard of “hot flushes”. Why? Here follows a brief description of the changes in our bodies during the menopause, please bear with me, I expect most of us know this, but still, I do have a reason for writing this……
When we stop ovulating our need for estrogen drops off dramatically. We do still produce some estrogen but in much smaller quantities in our adrenal glands and adipose tissue (fat cells). The menopausal symptoms we come to dread, the hot flushes, sleepless nights, mood swings etc. are simply the result of our bodies being in withdrawal. We don’t tolerate the drop in estrogen because in our Western diet of high fat, low fibre, we are accustomed to much higher levels of this hormone than our bodies ever needed. Basically we are going cold turkey! Our bodies really struggle to re-equalize this balance and so we swing from one feeling to another.
So, that’s the science. Now my response as a weight loss specialist and nutritionist and someone who cares passionately about women’s health and wellbeing.
During the menopause, as with all natural bodily functions, there is a natural diet based solution, which even if it does not completely alleviate all the symptoms, definitely makes them more manageable because our hormones become more balanced. In the instance, the re-balancing is achieved by eating phyto-estrogens (plant based estrogen), antioxidants and essential fatty acids, along of course with cutting out the foods that work against them.
The highest sources of phyto-estrogens are soy, lentils and chickpeas – don’t panic though, this is nowhere near as dull as you might imagine. Whilst it would be great to up your intake of these, the list of phyto-estrogen foods is long and varied and includes, seeds, nuts, grains, many vegetables and fruits (which also include the antioxidants) as well as herbs and spices. Along with some healthy fats, think salmon, avocado, eggs and a little lean red and white meat, you can see that your daily diet won’t be dull but will go a long way to reducing your symptoms.
So these are nature’s menopause helpers. What about its saboteurs? They include excessive caffeine and alcohol, sugar in its processed form and refined wheats, salt and excessive meat protein intake. I say meat protein specifically as vegetable protein (quinoa for instance is a complete vegetable protein), as meat protein seems to take more calcium from our bones which can make us more vulnerable to osteoporosis.
Also, whilst it is vital to maintain calcium intakes during the menopause, dairy sources of calcium can have high saturated fat content so should be limited to one to two servings a day.
So, armed with all this information, I made some really easy changes to my diet. I upped my phyto-estrogen foods and minimized my processed/caffeine and sugar. And I kid you not, I do not have any symptoms at all now! Truly, I have gone from changing my sheets at least twice a week to the much more normal once. My energy levels and mood are right up there and I still have my waist (not so much maybe, but it is still there….), plus, and for me most importantly, my so precious sleep is back on track.
Obviously there will be some ladies who say, “I do all this and I am still really suffering”. My heart really goes out to you and please see your doctor in case there are any other underlying issues, however in the main these changes do work and will benefit every aspect of your life. Dare I say it, here’s to a happier, more manageable menopause! x