Whether we like it or not, all women are going to experience menopause. Some of us may get through it with ease but most women do not enjoy this part of their lives.
Our bodies change shape and it’s common to put on extra kilos as we navigate our way through this rollercoaster of hormonal changes.
Early symptoms of perimenopause can occur for many years prior but typically menopause occurs between the ages 47 to 53 and signals the end of the fertile phases of a woman’s life.
Symptoms are usually caused by the reduction in frequency, and cessation, of releasing ova, which decreases levels of the hormone progesterone. Apart from its role in reproduction, progesterone affects brain function and calmness, and has a sedating effect that promotes good sleep. As progesterone decreases, the likelihood and benefits of a good night’s sleep may also decrease.
Common symptoms can include:
- Hot flushes and night sweats
- Vaginal or skin dryness
- Depression and anxiety
- Irritability and fatigue
To further aggravate the imbalance between progesterone and oestrogen, fat cells produce oestrogen and so the more excess weight you carry, the more oestrogen is produced.
Reducing your weight is one of the most powerful – and great for your health – strategies to relieve or minimise menopause symptoms. Of course, it’s best to do what’s necessary to be at the ideal weight before symptoms appear.
One of the best nutritional steps you can take to manage your weight is to get adequate protein at every meal and snack. This also helps you manage your blood sugars, reduces hunger, avoids cravings, and stabilises any feelings of moodiness and anxiety. Include one of these in each meal: red and white meats, fish, eggs, offal, low fat cheese like cottage cheese and whey protein powder.
The inclusion of low-carb cruciferous vegetables in each meal can help to reduce the effect of increasing oestrogen’s dominance over declining progesterone. These include broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, kale and spinach.
However, eating excess carbohydrates (in excess of your body’s unique carb tolerance) can lead to elevated insulin levels, insulin resistance, leptin resistance, excess tummy fat, and excess weight in general. Stay away from processed carbohydrates (which stimulate blood sugar) like flour, pasta, rice, biscuits, cakes, cereals, breads, juices and baked goods.
As women move through menopause their body’s carb tolerance may even decrease. It’s common to hear post-menopausal women say that they can’t get away with the foods and drinks that they used to be able to handle.
Higher carbohydrate foods also include beans, oats, starchy vegetables, bran, soy milk, custard, wheat products and fruits that are higher in sugars, especially dried fruits. Reducing or eliminating these foods may help migraines, bloating, irritability and fatigue.
Bone health is also important so ensure you include calcium-rich foods like Greek yoghurt, cream, and hard cheeses if you can tolerate dairy.
Ensure a daily dose of sunshine as this will keep your vitamin D levels up, so make time for a walk or run, preferably in the morning. This will help regulate your circadian rhythm for better sleep as well.
There are some foods which may trigger hot flushes or night sweats. Monitor intake of coffee, alcohol, chocolate, cocoa and spicy foods. These foods may need to be reduced (or eliminated) based on how they make you feel. Write everything you eat in your Daily Planner, so you can correlate what you ate with how you slept and how you feel afterwards, and even the next day.
Staying hydrated with water, soda water, unflavoured mineral water, tea, herbal tea, coffee, clear soups, protein shakes and bone broth can not only reduce bloating but reduce symptoms of dryness.
Regular daily exercise can help improve sleep, feelings of anxiety, lack of energy and moodiness. Walking or running in the sunshine, playing tennis, swimming, bike riding, gym classes, dance – find what you enjoy and schedule into your diary as “me time”.
Here’s a tip. After each main meal go outside and walk 5 minutes in any direction, and then walk back, totalling 10 minutes. After a week, ask yourself “Do I feel better?”
Feelings of anxiety and stress are common during menopause. Try breathing exercises, yoga, or meditation. Start small, say 5 minutes, and build up when you have the time. There’s lots of good (free) meditation apps.
Aside from menopause, other hormonal issues like acne, PCOS, thyroid, heavy or painful periods, endometriosis, fibroids, loss of libido, skin tags and even some cancers can be related to our lifestyle choices, so it makes sense to find a solution that can help you deal with or better still, avoid any of these conditions.
If you can start to think of menopause as the beginning of something new, you may find a way to get your Mojo back!!