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.
Also feel free to get in touch HERE if you have any questions after reading – always happy to help.
Here’s the agenda:
- What is menopause?
- Nutrition – what to eat to support your body
- Supplements that can help
- 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?
Are you ready?
What is menopause?
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.
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
If you’ve been on various diets or just not paying enough attention to healthy eating, THIS is the time to get focused on making positive changes.
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:
A hugely important part of managing your weight and having a strong, healthy body. Also a nutrient that most women don’t get enough of.
Protein is key when it comes to building and maintaining muscle. The more muscle you have, the stronger and more toned you are, and the more calories you can burn throughout the day.
It also keeps you fuller for longer, and makes your body work pretty 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.
How often is best to eat it?
Ideally throughout the day, which 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).
20-30g 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
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 menopause, and also if you are overweight, you may find that reducing your carb 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, which in turn can reduce cravings and overeating, leading to better weight loss too.
Here are some healthy fats in their appropriate portion sizes:
- Half an avocado
- Tablespoon of olive oil
- 2 – 3 eggs
- 1 fillet of salmon or mackerel
- 25g walnuts or almonds
- 2 – 3 Brazil nuts
- 1 tbsp flaxseed
- 1 tbsp chia / other seeds
- 1 tbsp coconut oil
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.
By this I mean 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, and crack on as normal tomorrow.
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.
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 – essential for gut health, important in reducing your risk of heart disease, and helpful for weight loss.
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 them?
As I mentioned above: if you are overweight, it’s likely that your body will feel better on a lower carb approach, with 2-3 servings of healthy fats along with plenty of protein and veg.
Most clients I’ve worked with have got on best with 1-2 servings of quality slow-release carbs each day.
Vegetables and Fruit
These 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.
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 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.
Calcium for bone health
One mineral that’s very important to include in your diet as the body begins to lose the bone-protecting effects of estrogen.
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.
Foods high in calcium include: green vegetables (but not spinach, although that’s great for many other reasons), nuts, seeds, dried fruit, tinned fish with bones in, milk, yogurt and cheese.
If you struggle to get many of those foods into your diet, taking calcium as a supplement is worthwhile.
Speaking of which…
There are a few supplements that can make a difference. These are the ones I recommend for clients.
We need vitamin D to convert calcium into bone, so it’s especially important after menopause when osteoporosis becomes more of a risk. Also has benefits for brain health, immune system function, and potentially mood, energy and weight loss too. In the summer you can of course make it from the sun, however if you live in Britain, it’s often worth taking all year round.
Click here to view the one on amazon that I recommend to clients: VITAMIN D
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, but unless you eat at least 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) and a good option on amazon is here: MAGNESIUM
Exercise for a strong and healthy body
One of the best types of exercise you can do 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, feel like a badass, and protect your bone density too – muscles that are lifting weights pull on bones and cause them to also get stronger.
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.
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.
Hot flushes and night sweats
Two of the most common symptoms of menopause. Thought to be caused by falling levels of estrogen causing a hormonal imbalance in the hypothalamus (the body’s thermostat). And 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. 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, 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 health and happiness
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.
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
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
Here are some great articles and a couple of books that are worth checking out.
Also, for mindset around food and weight loss, I’d highly recommend the podcast ‘Thinner Peace in Menopause and Beyond’ with Dr Deb Butler – search for this in iTunes of your podcast app.