WHAT HAPPENS TO YOUR BODY DURING THE MENOPAUSE
Navigating Menopause with Confidence: Understanding Your Body's Transformation
The Menopause Journey: Embracing Change and Prioritising Health
Sorry guys this blog post is for the females. Although if you have a female in your life – then you might want to understand that trying to lose weight as a post-40 female isn’t as straight forward as eat less and move more.
As we hit our 40s suddenly weight can become more of a problem. However, this doesn’t mean that we should give up or use it as an excuse not to lose weight. You just need to firstly understand why your body is becoming more sluggish at losing weight and then look at doing things differently in your 40s and beyond. What worked in your 20s and 30s isn’t the same as what will work for you now.
What is the menopause? Menopause itself refers to your final period and for the average women this occurs at the age of 51. A GP will need a period of 1 year with no menstrual cycle to term you as post menopause. The period leading up to the menopause is referred to as peri menopause and this can last up to 10 or 15 years in some women. Some women will sail through it while others will suffer dreadful symptoms. This is not a disease or a medical condition. All women will go through the menopause. Over the years the number of eggs in our ovaries becomes depleted and the functionality of our ovaries decreases. With these changes comes reduced oestrogen, progesterone and testosterone. However, the hormones don’t all decrease at the same time and the same rate – and it’s the ups and downs and overall decline in these hormones that causes the problems.
Falling oestrogen When the oestrogen starts to reduce then your body compensates by producing oestrogen from the adrenal glands and fat cells. So that’s why the female body often has a layer of fat around the middle during this time – those fat cells produce a little oestrogen. Now if your adrenal glands are under stress – from disordered eating (too much or too little), large amounts of stress in life, not enough sleep – then your body will lay down more fat as alarm bells will be ringing and thinking stores might run out. A little bit of fat around the middle is actually not a bad thing during this time in our life – the oestrogen helps to preserve bone density and helps to support other functions in the body such as the brain. However, while a little fat is ok – it’s important not to let this get out of control. Too much fat can drive sugar and carbohydrate craving and increase appetite even more. It’s very common when going through the peri menopause and menopause to experience blood sugar issues and so it becomes vital that you follow a blood sugar balancing eating regime such as the plan at GreggWallace.health.
What can I do? At this time of your life, you need to rethink how you eat and move. In our 20s and 30s we could do lots of cardio and eat a higher level of carbohydrates. However, as our metabolism shifts and our body wants to layer on fat around the tummy area, we need to look at reducing our intake of sugar and white refined carbohydrates such as white bread, white pasta, white rice, cakes and muffins and shift to a higher protein diet. Menopause is associated with muscle loss due to decline in the hormones that support protein synthesis. Inadequate protein and a sedentary lifestyle can increase this risk.
Another switch would be to make sure that you are not overdoing the cardio exercise and focus on more strength, or bodyweight exercises. These will help to boost the metabolic rate and support insulin sensitivity. Weights or strength are also good to stabilise our joints and muscles as we get older. At this time of our life HIT or high cardio can stress our adrenal glands. This can cause an increase in the hormone cortisol which puts the adrenals under stress. As above the adrenals work at oestrogen production and you don’t want stressed adrenals as you go into the menopause as your body will just layer on fat. It is important to strike a balance with exercise during this period. If you are doing intense exercise then you need to make sure that you balance this with less harsh forms of exercise such as yoga, walking or meditation. These shouldn’t be seen as not as effective. They all help to calm the adrenals and need to be nourished during this time.
1) Moderate intake of carbohydrates. Aim to have 1 meal a day without starchy carbohydrates such as good quality protein (meat, fish, eggs, beans, cottage cheese, tofu) alongside half a plate of non-starchy vegetables. For instance, for breakfast have a veg packed omelette without any toast. For the rest of the meals focus on complex or slow carbohydrates – sweet potato, oats, brown rice, buckwheat or rye bread over the simple or fast acting carbohydrates.
2) Manage your stress and exercise schedule. Consider adding meditation or yoga into your day if you are particularly anxious or stressed. Look at exercises that also build muscle. Also consider some deep breathing exercises to combat stress levels.
3) Move! Avoid sitting around for hours at a time. Get up every hour, consider a standing desk, go for a walk at lunchtime and aim to get your 10,000 steps in a day.
4) Look at your alcohol intake. As we get older our ability to detoxify alcohol deteriorates. What we could consume in our 20s or 30s is not the same in later life. A high alcohol intake during this time can affect sleep, stress and cause some of the menopausal symptoms to increase.
5) How much coffee are you drinking? Too much caffeine can make menopause symptoms worse and can also mess with our blood sugar levels. In some people a cup of coffee will spike blood sugar levels in the same way that sugar does.
6) Understand that your body needs nourishing during this time. The worst thing you can do is go on an extreme diet in a bid to lose weight. This will just stress your adrenals and cause problems later down the line. The plan at GreggWallace.health is not an extreme diet – it’s just not sustainable.
Food to include
1) Phytoestrogens. These are plant compounds with oestrogen-like properties. The chemical structure is similar to oestrogen and appears to exert an oestrogen or anti- oestrogenic effect depending on the circulating oestrogen level. Flaxseed has been proven to help with menopausal symptoms. 1-2 desert-spoons of freshly ground flaxseed a day. Always keep flaxseed in the fridge as it goes rancid when exposed to light and heat. It can be sprinkled on yoghurt, porridge or salads.
2) Healthy fats. These help to support your cholesterol balance as well as getting your cells to listen to hormone messaging. You want to aim for 2-3 portions of healthy fats a day such as extra virgin olive oil, avocado, nuts, seeds and oily fish such as mackerel, sardines and salmon.
3) Calcium rich foods. Up to 30% of postmenopausal women are estimated to have osteoporosis. Calcium balance deteriorates at menopause when there is a decline in intestinal calcium absorption and/or an increase in calcium excretion. In postmenopausal women, there is evidence that a high calcium intake and adequate vitamin D will slow the rate of bone loss and may help reduce the risk of fractures. Calcium-rich foods include tofu, sardines, salmon, egg yolk, green leafy vegetables, tahini, almond and brazil nuts as well as dairy products.
4) Excessive sugar cravings can also indicate a vitamin C or magnesium deficiency. Some of the best sources of vitamin C are rocket, red peppers, guava, kale, parsley, turnip greens, broccoli and brussel sprouts. The best sources of magnesium are kelp, wheat bran, almonds, cashews, buckwheat, brazil nuts and dulse.
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Author: Katherine Bright MBANT, CNHC