Hot flushes, mood swings, weight gain, brain fog – for some women, menopause symptoms are far from easy to navigate but a recent book, by two respected US dieticians, says simple diet and lifestyle changes can help.
The Menopause Diet Plan: A Natural Guide to Managing Hormones, Health, and Happiness (£9.99; Penguin) aims to use the latest science – and diet and lifestyle advice – to bring relief to perimenopausal and menopausal women everywhere.
Its authors are registered dieticians (and old friends) Hillary Wright and Elizabeth Ward, who have experienced the menopause and also have 20 years combined experience as health professionals, so they know what they're talking about when it comes to food. They're also honest that there's no 'one size fits all' approach for women.
'Between the two of us, we have many decades of experience helping people navigate weight issues, but to be honest, prior to experiencing menopause ourselves, we couldn’t fully relate to the specific challenges this stage of life presents,' Wright and Ward say.
'Though we understood that women’s bodies change with declining oestrogen levels and ageing, we may have been somewhat skeptical when listening to women describe how their usual eating and exercise routines were no longer working. Now that we’re both past menopause, however, these women’s stories resonate with us! Just like the women who have gone before us, we’ve gained some belly fat, fended off hot flushes, and dreamed about getting a good night’s sleep again.'
Why do some women put on weight during menopause?
The dieticians say there's far too little research about menopause and weight gain: 'Midlife women’s lives are complicated and often in transition on many fronts, and research to date has struggled to tease out the differences between weight gain related to age and that specifically attributed to shifting hormones. We do know that metabolism changes, especially once a woman is in her 40s, and it plays a major role in midlife weight gain.'
That said, there's one common reason middle-age can impact on our waistlines: 'Unless you’re genetically blessed, once you get into your 40s (and maybe sooner), you can’t eat the way you used to without gaining weight. For the most part, a loss of muscle mass combined with less physical activity is to blame. Muscle mass peaks around age 30 and then begins a slow decline that will drag your metabolism down with it unless you get serious about adding some strengthening activity to your life.'
6 diet and lifestyle changes that can help curb menopause weight gain, according to the Menopause Diet Plan
Go easy on carbs and up your protein
'Research suggests that many menopausal women do not consume the protein they need. While it’s important to include enough protein, timing matters, too. Eating protein regularly throughout the day helps to keep you feeling fuller for longer while nourishing your muscles and bones.'When you add protein to your eating plan, you may need to shed some carbohydrate and dietary fat for balance. We have nothing against foods rich in carbohydrates, such as whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. However, you may be eating more carbohydrates than your body can handle at midlife, and that can make weight control more difficult.'
Eating patterns matter
'When you under-eat earlier in the day because you’re too busy or you’re over-restricting food to lose weight, your good intentions will likely implode, resulting in overeating later in the day, and often into the night. Due to the influence of circadian rhythms on our metabolism, night is the worst time of day to play calorie catch-up.'
Eat according to your body clock
'We are ruled by natural body rhythms that affect our health, and when you eat matters. Consistent food intake regulates your energy levels, heads off crabbiness, and helps prevent you from going overboard because you let yourself get too hungry.
'Managing meal timing is gaining ground for its role in weight control, regulating blood glucose levels, getting better sleep, and possibly lowering cancer risk.'
Focus on plant-based foods
'Plant-rich eating plans typically supply a balance of healthy fats, fibre, vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients that help reduce blood pressure and LDL cholesterol ("bad cholesterol"), lower the risk of diabetes, and promote a healthy weight.
'Two of the most popular plant-based approaches to eating are the Mediterranean-style diet and the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet. Both plans regularly top international lists of the world’s healthiest diets for their recommendations to eat more fruits and vegetables than the average American consumes, opt for whole grains most of the time, and include plant proteins like nuts, seeds, and legumes more often. Both styles of eating strongly encourage limiting added sugars and refined carbohydrates, but neither forbids them.'
Increase your physical activity
'No healthy lifestyle plan is complete without physical activity, which helps you burn calories, maintain muscle and bone health, lower diabetes and cancer risk, reduce stress, and so much more. We are firm believers in moving every day.
'You probably need to sit less. Modern life makes it far too easy to kick back, but there’s a significant energy expenditure price to pay for being more sedentary that must be acknowledged and reckoned with.'
Be more open to different types of food
'If you’ve made it this far being a “picky eater” who avoids a variety of healthy foods such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, it’s time to try again. Taste preferences change over time. You need to fill up on something, and whole fruits and vegetables and whole grains take up space in your stomach without loading you down with a lot of calories.'
The Menopause Diet Plan: A Natural Guide to Managing Hormones, Health, and Happiness (£9.99; Penguin) is out now.
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