As you approach menopause you might notice more than just the infamous hot flashes.
There’s a sneaky change happening in your body — stubborn fat settles around your waist, and the readout on the scale is slowly but surely going up.
The diet and exercise strategies that used to keep things in check don’t seem to work anymore.
So, what’s the deal, and is this weight change inevitable? Let’s uncover the facts and figure out what can be done.
Menopause arrives when you haven’t had a period for 12 months and bring to an end the reproductive years.
This occurs usually in the early fifties, but this doesn’t happen overnight.
There’s a warm-up act called perimenopause, which can start in your mid-forties. During this prelude, your reproductive hormone levels fluctuate in an erratic way.
These hormonal swings come with an array of symptoms such as hot flashes, insomnia, mood disorders, headaches… the list goes on.
There’s a common belief that menopause slows down metabolism, potentially leading to weight gain if you maintain your previous eating habits.
But the research is unclear about it, with some studies highlighting that metabolism remains relatively stable between the ages of 20 and 60.
Nevertheless, many women report weight gain during menopause, despite not changing their diets. So, what’s really going on here?
Oestrogen levels play a role in where fat is stored and the balance between muscle and fat in the body, known as body composition. When oestrogen levels drop, fat tends to travel upwards to accumulate more around the waist instead of the hips. And lean mass decreases, affecting the volume of muscles.
While these changes can explain shifts in body shape, they don’t entirely explain why so many women feel like the pounds are accumulating during this period. We need to look beyond oestrogen and into other menopause-related factors that can turn your lifestyle and eating habits into key suspects.
Weight isn’t a one-dimensional game; it’s a multifaceted puzzle.
Genetics, physical and mental health, environment, and lifestyle all play their roles. Even a subtle shift in one of these variables can tip the scales. Now, during menopause, many of these factors are shifting.
It’s no secret that sleep becomes a bit elusive during menopause. Around 22% of women in this phase report experiencing insomnia. Lack of sleep often leads to increased cravings for calorie-rich foods and can reduce motivation for high-intensity exercise.
While anxiety and stress may not be primary symptoms of menopause, they are commonly experienced during this life stage, especially with the added stressors of work, teenagers, or ageing parents.
These feelings can be exacerbated by menopausal symptoms, leading to episodes of overeating and a decline in motivation for self-care and exercise.
But it doesn’t have to be this way — weight gain shouldn’t be a fatality. You can take control and navigate through these changes with a few tricks up your sleeve.
It’s time to embrace the shift. Instead of chasing a youthful body reminiscent of your twenties or succumbing to the unrealistic ideals often propagated on social media, embracing the fact that your body has changed can be liberating.
Focus on nourishing it, keeping it moving, ensuring it gets ample rest, and monitoring your health.
Make a commitment to your well-being, and let your body be your partner in living life to the fullest.
Leave those detox diets, meal-replacement shakes, and outlandish fitness goals behind. They might promise quick fixes, but they often lead to frustration and exhaustion, and any lost weight seems to find its way back swiftly.
The key is to cultivate a varied and nourishing diet, making sustainable, small changes that you can maintain. Choose one or two health behaviours to tweak and stick with them for three to six months. Here are some ideas:
Make room for more fruits, vegetables, legumes, herbs, spices, nuts, and seeds into your diet. These foods provide essential nutrients, dietary fibre, and antioxidants, supporting various aspects of health.
Aim to fill half your plate with colourful vegetables, and diversify your choices. This will help with satiety, digestion, and menopausal symptoms.
Keep a regular intake of protein throughout the day to maintain muscle mass. No need for giant steaks; a palm-sized portion at each meal does the trick. Protein also keeps you feeling full for longer, reducing the urge to snack between meals.
Your body loves a schedule. Keep regular mealtimes, and don’t skip meals, as this can lead to increased fatigue, irritability, and eventually overeating.
If you’re not particularly hungry, opt for smaller portions rather than skipping a meal. Ensure your plate remains a balanced mix of veggies, protein, and grains.
Stay active as much as you can. No need for gruelling workouts; choose activities you enjoy, whether it’s a leisurely walk, yoga, gardening, or a lively Zumba session.
Keep that body moving and feel the magic it creates. Staying active helps maintain muscle mass, boosts your mood, and improves sleep.
Even if you weren’t active before, it’s never too late to start and experience nearly instant benefits.
During this chapter of life, your diet plays a crucial role, not only in managing weight but also in supporting your long-term health, especially bone and heart health.
Calcium becomes even more crucial during menopause. The recommendation? Aim for 1,200mg/day for menopausal women, slightly higher compared to the 700mg/day for adults.
Dairy products are a great calcium sources, but if they’re not your cup of tea, make sure your dairy alternatives are fortified with calcium (around 125mg/100ml) and aim for 3 – 4 portions a day.
Don’t forget to keep vitamin D on your radar with a daily supplement (10mcg or 400IU).
The key to heart health is a plate packed with plant-based foods (veggies, fruits, legumes, whole grains, nuts, and seeds), with lots of poly- and mono-unsaturated fats (found in nuts, seeds, olive oil, and avocado) and good sources of omega‑3 fatty acids.
Meat is fine but avoid the high fatty and highly processed types (e.g., charcuterie, sausages), and limit all saturated fats (think butter, cream, processed meats, palm oil), refined sugars, and alcohol.
If you need inspiration, look no further than the Mediterranean diet – it’s not only good for your heart but also delicious!
Armed with these insights and a commitment to your wellbeing, you can navigate menopause, focusing on overall health and living life to the fullest.
Whether it is weight management or long-term health that is our driver, what health behaviours would you consider tweaking for this new chapter of life?
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