In this article we’re going to cover A LOT about menopause, and how you can support your body through it.
I’ve broken it down into sections, so feel free to scroll down to any points that feel especially relevant.
Overwhelm is common midlife – the info is here to be useful and in one place, but not to add stress! As with many things, it can really help to just pick one or two points to focus on that you feel could make a difference for you. You can always save this post and come back to it at any point.
Also, feel free to get in touch if you have any questions after reading – drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org – always happy to help.
Here’s what’s coming up:
- What is menopause?
- Nutrition – what to eat to support your body through menopause and beyond
- Supplements that can help in perimenopause and menopause
- Exercise – the best things to do for health, fitness, strength, weight loss and bone density
- Dealing with hot flushes and night sweats
- How to improve sleep
- Can you lose weight during menopause?
This graphic is a quick summary of some of the points we’ll be diving further into.
Are you ready?
Firstly, what is menopause?
To keep things short: women’s ovaries have a fixed supply of eggs. And when they start to run out, usually anywhere from late thirties to late forties, perimenopause begins.
This is when estrogen and progesterone start to drop off and can cause symptoms such as hot flushes, mood swings and fatigue (plenty more listed below).
The point when you reach 1 year since your last menstrual period is when you officially have reached menopause.
The perimenopause phase is often not a very fun time (to put it mildly). But there is a lot that can be done to help your body through it, and we’ll discuss that in the rest of the article.
Common symptoms of menopause
These are some of the many symptoms that can be experienced when going through perimenopause…
Stress incontinence or urinary incontinence
Weight gain and slowed metabolism
Thinning hair and dry skin
Loss of breast fullness
Short term memory loss
Not fun. But like I said, there is a lot that can be done to help.
Let’s start with one of my all-time favourite topics: food.
What to eat to support your body through menopause
Food can give us so much nourishment to support our hormones, energy, bones, muscles, mood, and more.
To give yourself the best chance of feeling at your best, you need a balance of the three macronutrients – protein, carbs and fat. Plus a boat-load of veggies and some fruit for vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fibre.
Here are some guidelines:
Protein for fullness, maintaining muscle, and more
Protein is a hugely important part of managing your weight and having a strong, healthy body. It’s also something that most women don’t get enough of.
This nutrient is key when it comes to building and maintaining muscle. And the more muscle you have, the stronger and more toned you are, and the more calories you can burn throughout the day.
Protein also keeps you fuller for longer, and makes your body work fairly hard to process it (which is a good thing).
Around 25% of the calories you take in from protein will be burned off just during digestion.
Comparing this to carbs and fat, where around 2 – 5% of the calories are burned off in digestion (the rest being available to be used or stored as fat), you can see why it’s so helpful for managing weight and keeping you full.
Where do you find protein?
Great sources include all types of meat and fish, eggs, whey protein powder, Greek yogurt, tofu, tempeh, beans, and lentils.
More ideas are in the graphic above. Whey protein can be hugely beneficial for women in menopause, and is more natural than many people realise. Find out more in this post here:
How much protein should I eat?
Ideally, eat roughly a palm size serving of protein in each meal. This breaks your total intake into manageable chunks for your body to process. We become less efficient at digesting protein as we age, so regular intake is more beneficial for this reason too.
25-45g in each meal is a great amount to aim for – examples of this would be:
- A palm size portion of meat or fish
- 2-3 eggs
- 1 scoop of protein powder
- Around 200g / 1 cup of cooked lentils
Healthy Fats for healthy hormones, joints and more
We need quality healthy fats to help our body produce hormones, transport and use vitamins, and build strong healthy cells. They are HUGELY beneficial, especially at this time of life.
As your body reaches perimenopause, you may find that reducing your carbohydrate intake and adding more healthy fats into your diet brings a number of benefits.
Many women find that making this swap boosts their energy levels and keeps their blood sugar levels more stable. And this in turn can reduce cravings and overeating, leading to better weight loss too.
How much fat should I eat?
1 to 3 servings of healthy fats each day is ideal.
It’s important to look at portion sizes, and the context of your day as a whole, so that your calorie intake is around the right level for you.
As an example, if you happen to eat out for breakfast and choose a full-works fry up, it makes sense to reduce your calorie intake later on to balance out that day. Taking out pre-planned healthy fat options is an easy way to do this, and that’s fine. Reduce fat (and maybe carbs too) later on, eat protein and veg according to hunger, and your day will even out pretty well.
Quality carbohydrates for energy, fibre and more
Carb cravings are VERY common at certain times in menopause.
Carbs aren’t bad for you, and they won’t cause you to gain fat so long as your overall daily calories are in check. But they can cause your body to store more water (which can make it appear that your efforts at weight loss are not succeeding). And they can play havoc with your blood sugar levels if you eat more than your body needs.
Quality and quantity make a huge difference, especially with all these hormone changes going on.
So what are the best carbs to go for? I like to think of it as anything you could have eaten 100 years ago.
Quality carbohydrate options:
- Sweet potato
- Beans, pulses and chick peas
- Wholemeal bread
- Wholegrain / basmati rice
All these options offer plenty of extra nutrients and a decent serving of fibre too. Fibre is essential for gut health, and important in reducing your risk of heart disease. It also helps weight loss by slowing digestion, keeping blood sugar levels more stable (reducing energy crashes and cravings) and keeping you fuller for longer.
Note: there’s nothing wrong with white rice and pasta (which still contain fibre and small amounts of vitamins and minerals) or even more processed carbohydrates such as cereals. They just offer less nutritional value than other options but are fine to include now and again.
How often should I eat carbs?
Around menopause, and if you are overweight, it’s likely that your body will feel better on a lower carb approach.
Most clients I’ve worked with have got on best with 1-2 servings of quality slow-release carbs each day. Combining this with 2-3 servings of healthy fats, and plenty of protein and veg, can help you feel at your best.
Vegetables and Fruit for feeling your best, inside and out
Fruit and veg can be classed as carbohydrates, but when we’re talking about menopause they deserve a category of their own.
All fruits and vegetables are awesome – generally the more the better. They will boost your energy, keep your immune system strong, help your gut function better, and reduce your risk of various diseases.
In menopause, as the body becomes less tolerant of sugar, it can help to aim for roughly a 4:1 ratio of veg to fruit. That way you get more fibre and less sugar.
But don’t worry if you don’t hit that; just aim to gradually increase your veg intake in small ways wherever you can.
Getting fruit or veg in your breakfast and lunch is a win, as is filling half of your plate with vegetables at dinner.
Lightly cooked veg tends to be best for retaining nutrients and being easy enough for the body to digest.
What about cake, chocolate and alcohol?
Of course, these are a very important part of life.
You can absolutely still fit them in – this is where good old balance and moderation come into play.
As a rough guide, aim for this:
80-90% quality nutrition. 10-20% other food and drink you enjoy.
Calories are always king (or queen), so if weight loss is your goal then your overall calorie intake matters most.
When you want to fit in some less-healthy-but-delicious goodness, swapping out some of your usual carb, fat or snack options can help balance out the calories.
Always aim to keep protein and veg intake high, and preferably keep some healthy fats in there too for optimal health.
It can also help to look at things over a week, rather than on a given day. If your calories are a bit higher on a certain day, no problem – a few little swaps or lighter choices on other days will balance it out.
Don’t fall into the trap of thinking ‘I’ve ruined it now, may as well keep eating and start again on Monday!’.
Consistency and balance will always beat perfection. Make your next choice a great one and keep going.
Calcium for bone health
Calcium is the building block for healthy bones and, alongside vitamin D and weight-bearing exercise (both mentioned below), it can significantly lower your risk of osteoporosis in later life.
Dairy products are some of the highest calcium sources, and low fat dairy contains similar levels of calcium to full fat. So if weight loss is a goal, low fat dairy can be very helpful.
Another excellent source is fish with bones – tinned salmon, sardines or whitebait, which provide a good amount of protein and healthy fats too.
Soy milk and tofu also provide some of the highest amounts of calcium, and tofu is another good source of protein.
How much calcium do I need?
In the US, the recommended intake is 1200mg for women over 50.
In the UK, the NHS recommends 700mg daily, but up to 1200mg if you have osteoporosis.
Aiming for 2-4 servings of calcium-rich foods daily should provide what you need, and it’s best to get it from food if you can.
If you struggle to get enough, a calcium supplement can help, but it’s advised not to consume more than 1500mg daily.
Speaking of which…
There are a few supplements that can make a difference. These are the ones I recommend for most clients.
We need vitamin D to convert calcium into bone. So it’s especially important after menopause when osteoporosis becomes more of a risk. Vitamin D also has benefits for brain health, immune system function, and potentially mood, energy and weight loss. In the summer you can of course make it from the sun, but if you live in Britain, it’s often worth taking all year round.
Ideally it’s best to get your levels checked via a blood test to see what you need. However if this is difficult or you’re unsure, 1000-2000 IU is a good dose for many.
For healthy joints, reducing your long term risk of heart or brain diseases, and potentially boosting your mood, energy and weight loss efforts. We can get omega 3 from oily fish, and including salmon or other oily fish 2-3 times per week is highly recommended. But if you eat less than 3 portions per week, it’s worth supplementing.
Click here to view on amazon the one myself and clients use: OMEGA 3
If you suffer with migraines, aching muscles or trouble sleeping, supplementing with magnesium could help. I’ve had a number of clients find it helpful for each of those problems. From your diet, you can find magnesium in dark green veg, nuts, seeds, figs, avocados, bananas, raspberries, beans, chick peas, and oily fish.
Supplementing can be worth a try (take it before bed if sleep is an issue). Magnesium oxide is common in supplements, but this isn’t well absorbed by the body. So it’s best to look for magnesium citrate or glycinate.
Exercise for a strong and healthy body in menopause
One of the best types of exercise you can do, at any stage of life, is strength training.
As we get older, we lose muscle, and that rate of loss increases after menopause.
By lifting weights regularly you can dramatically slow that loss down, potentially adding years to your life as you reduce your risk of falls and fractures later on.
You gain strength, tone up, and protect your bone density too. Muscles that are lifting weights pull on bones and cause them to also get stronger, reducing risk of osteoporosis. Find out more about protecting your bones here:
Another benefit that makes many women (including me) very happy, is this:
The more muscle you have, the more calories you burn – you can eat and drink (a little bit) more without gaining weight.
I think we can agree this is a win.
To get the most from your weights sessions, focus on big exercises that work lots of muscle. We’re talking along the lines of squats, step ups, lunges, deadlifts, bench press, press ups, pulldowns, dumbell rows etc.
Working big groups of muscle means you burn more calories and gain strength all over.
Add in a few exercises that challenge your balance and co-ordination too – if you don’t use it, you lose it, but if you work at it, you can improve it.
As well as lifting weights, any exercise where your legs and feet support your weight is great for keeping bones strong.
Walking is one of the best and easiest forms of this, and walking outside daily has been shown to improve depression and mental health, as well as boosting physical health and weight loss.
Running, skipping, dancing, hiking are all great options too.
Boxing classes are great stress-busters, and, as long as you use safe technique, great for bone strength too. Any type of dance class can be brilliant for having fun with others and giving your brain a co-ordination workout too.
Essentially, find something you enjoy and make it a regular part of your life.
Exercise for Heart Health in Menopause and Beyond
After menopause, we lose the protective effects of estrogen, which increases our risk of heart disease.
But there is a lot you can do to keep your heart healthy and strong, and even exercising just 1-2 times per week can reduce your risk.
Ideally, doctors recommend at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise, or 75 minutes vigorous exercise, each week.
Any activity that increases your heart rate is great. These are 5 ideas that bring additional benefits too:
️♀️ Strength training
Helps maintain muscle, protect bones, and keeps your heart strong. At least 2 sessions per week is recommended.
Check out the last slide for some starting ideas. Plenty more on my page @hayleyplummerpt
♀️ Interval training
Short bursts of 20-60 seconds hard work, 30-60 seconds recovery, and go again, usually for a total of 10-20 minutes. You can do this with any activity you enjoy. A great way to boost fitness without taking up much time.
Briskly enough to get your heart rate up. An easy one to incorporate into any breaks in your day. Daily walking can have hugely positive impacts on physical and mental health.
♀️ Classes / sports
Exercise with the benefits of fun and community – a brilliant way to strengthen your heart and reduce stress. Impact exercise (like dancing or boxing classes) will boost bone density too.
Great for improving muscle strength, reducing stress and lowering blood pressure, all of which supports heart health.
Anything you enjoy is great, and the smallest amount of time still counts. It all adds up to make a difference.
Hot flushes and night sweats
These are two of the most common symptoms of menopause. They’re thought to be caused by falling levels of estrogen causing a hormonal imbalance in the hypothalamus (the body’s thermostat), and they’re not a lot of fun.
Some of these tips may be helpful:
- Keep track of flushes and look for your personal triggers. Sugar, alcohol, caffeine and spices can be common triggers and worth cutting down on.
- Large meals and high carb meals can generate heat or increases in blood sugar that can cause a flush. Smaller, slightly more frequent meals can be better, with protein to slow digestion and keep blood sugar levels stable.
- If you are experiencing a flush or can feel one coming, sipping cold water and running your wrists under a cold tap can help you cool down quickly.
- Keeping a small water spray in your handbag, and a damp face cloth in the fridge can also be helpful.
- Practise taking deep, calming breaths, and visualising yourself somewhere cool. Imagining yourself plunging into an icy pool of water can be helpful – really trying to see and feel the coldness washing over you.
- Regular exercise has been shown to reduce hot flushes too. Any activity is good.
- For night sweats – keep your bedroom as cool as possible, wear light breathable clothing and use cotton bedding. A glass of cold water by your bed and a cold gel pack beneath your pillow can help too – turn your pillow over whenever you need to cool down.
Sometimes falling asleep is the hard part. Sometimes you wake up in the night. And sometimes both are a problem. All of it makes you feel like a lethargic, sugar-craving, angry bear during the day ahead.
As well as keeping your room cool, these tips can help:
- Take a magnesium supplement (make sure it’s magnesium citrate or glycinate, not oxide, as this is absorbed better by the body)
- Eating slow-release carbohydrates in your dinner, or a small bowl of oats before bed. Having slow-release carbs in the evening can boost tryptophan and serotonin levels and help you fall asleep.
- Minimising stress – perhaps taking up yoga or meditation (‘Calm’ is a brilliant meditation app with a 7 day free trial).
- Keeping a notepad by your bed and doing a brain dump before you go to sleep – writing down any thoughts that are on your mind.
- Avoiding using your phone and any other electronic device in the last hour before bed.
- Wearing an eye-mask – this has hugely improved my own sleep, and many of my clients have found it helpful too.
Patience and perseverance with these tips is key – give them a good go (and know that things will improve as your hormone levels change).
Losing weight during menopause
You may have heard that once you hit menopause, you’re doomed to gaining weight.
It can be harder to lose or keep weight off around this time, but the overriding principles of weight loss still hold true:
Consistently take in less calories than your body burns, and you will lose fat.
What makes it more difficult?
Hormones, stress and tiredness become extremely powerful factors, and can (consciously or unconsciously) drive you to eat more.
It’s also a time where you’re potentially moving less due to a sedentary job, other life demands, and maybe feeling more tired.
If you’ve had years of gradually doing less activity, muscle mass decline will be noticeable by now too, meaning your metabolism is lower and you need less calories to maintain your weight.
You may also find that due to the changes in hormones, your body starts to prefer storing any extra calories you eat around your stomach (in case you didn’t have enough fun stuff to deal with already).
Oh and one more thing… water retention can become more of a factor. This is mainly due to fluctuating hormones and sometimes a decreased tolerance of carbohydrates.
What this means is that sometimes you may have lost body fat but won’t see any change on the scales because you’re holding onto more water instead.
Don’t get disheartened by the scales!
Use measurements and how your clothes fit to track your progress too (not forgetting other non-scale victories like more energy, sleeping better, feeling happier and healthier). If you’re not seeing progress over the space of a few weeks, that’s ok. It just means your calorie balance isn’t quite right yet.
Spending a few weeks tracking your calorie intake is hugely helpful for this. Become a detective and get really accurate for a short time – actually weigh things out, and teach yourself more about what you eat. You’ll learn a ton and chances are you’ll discover a few easy changes you can make that will kickstart your progress.
Focus on physical and mental health first
In all honesty it’s not the best time in life to be trying hard to lose weight.
Your body has a lot going on, and more than anything it needs nourishment, care, and regular movement to feel at your best.
But it’s important for you to know that you CAN do it. If you are overweight or obese, even losing 5% of your current bodyweight can make a huge difference to your health and long term risk of various diseases.
The best way to lose weight is from a position of self-love, and in a way that’s sustainable for the long term.
Focus on small steps and gradual improvements:
- Eating mostly whole natural foods with plenty of veg and protein
- Managing stress
- Drinking 2-3 litres of water each day
- Prioritising sleep
- Keeping active daily
- Strengthening muscles through some form of resistance exercise
- Making time for you
The purpose of this blog is mainly to provide information around nutrition and exercise that can help any woman, regardless of whether you take HRT, bio-identical hormones, or nothing at all.
The road you go down with any form of treatment is very much a personal decision and whatever you do, everything I’ve written here can help you too.
More recent analysis has shown that the increased cancer risk from HRT is smaller than previous studies were thought to have shown. When starting before age 50 risks are extremely small, and for all women taking HRT, any risk of cancer appears to return to normal 5 years after stopping. This quote from Making Friends with the Menopause book by Sarah Rayner (link in references below) sums things up:
‘Drinking two or more units of alcohol per day or being overweight are greater risks for diagnosis of breast cancer than taking HRT for 5 years after the age of 50’.
If you are struggling with menopause-related symptoms, I’d encourage you to do your own research (plenty more information in the two books listed in the reference section below) and chat to your GP.
Edit: a recent book that I highly recommend checking out, which discusses HRT and many other menopause topics is: The M Word by Dr Phillippa Kaye
Whatever you decide, taking great care of your physical and mental health through nutrition, exercise and self-care will make a huge difference.
Mental Health in Menopause
You’ve spent decades looking after other people, now it’s time to look after YOU and do what makes you happy.
If you’re under stress…. how can you reduce it?
What could you delegate or stop doing?
What support and self-care routines do you have in place?
Anxiety and depression are very common in menopause and if you experience this, it’s very important to speak to someone, see your GP, and know that you are not alone.
Even if you feel ok, this is the time to focus on you – your health, your body, and what make you feel at your best.
Some ideas for taking care of mental health:
- Take up yoga – a weekly class or you could practise at home
- Use a meditation app such as Calm, and try a few minutes of meditation or deep breathing each day
- Walk in nature whenever possible
- Use a journal to keep track of your thoughts and daily wins
- Treat yourself to colourful nutrition-packed meals
- Join a class to make new friends
- Sign up for a fitness challenge or event that excites you
- Book an experience or trip you’ve always wanted to do
To sum up How to Help your Body through Menopause
For some women menopause is a really tough time. Others get through with relatively few problems. Either way, there is a lot you can do to take care of yourself and your amazing body, and feel at your best.
If you struggle, know that things will improve as your hormones settle down, and try out the recommendations above.
Menopause can be a great time to reassess, and start an exciting new chapter in life.
No more periods – that is a win!
You can get fitter, healthier, stronger, slimmer, happier as you get older. You can do anything.
The best place to start: by keeping it simple.
Healthy eating, a little of what you fancy, daily movement, having some fun, and taking care of yourself because you deserve to feel good.
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References and Further Reading on Menopause
Here are some great articles and books that are worth checking out.
Also, for mindset around food and weight loss, I’d highly recommend these podcasts:
‘Think Healthy with Hayley’ – Hayley Plummer (that’s me!). Check out this episode in particular –
Menopausing – Davina McCall (click the image to find it on amazon)
Menopocalyse – Amanda Thebe (click the image to find it on amazon).