How can menopause impact your healthy habits?
What is menopause?
As we begin to age, the reproductive system – which has been chugging along since puberty – begins to slow down. This causes the body’s oestrogen levels to begin to drop, resulting in a period that may become irregular and then eventually stop completely. Once menopause occurs, the ovaries will cease producing eggs for fertilization. The body begins to change, hormone levels start to fluctuate and the symptoms of menopause begin to rear their ugly head.
Menopause is a different experience for every woman, yet there are many aspects to this that are the same including nutritional implications during this stage in life.
- Irregular or skipped periods
- Hot flushes
- Night sweats
- Trouble sleeping
- Vaginal changes & discomfort
- Increased urinary or bladder infections
- Mood swings & changes
- Decrease in bone density & osteoporosis
Effects on weight management
The changes in hormone levels, mainly oestrogen, may influence body fat distribution. Many women in perimenopause and early post menopause years gain fat mass as their oestrogen levels drop. Women of childbearing age tend to store fat in the lower body (making them ‘pear-shaped’), while men and postmenopausal women store fat around the abdomen (‘apple-shaped’).
Apart from declining oestrogen levels, other factors that may contribute to weight gain after menopause include:
- Reduced physical activity and loss of muscle mass
- Number of children
- Family history of obesity
- Use of antidepressant or antipsychotic medications
- Lowered metabolic rate
Several factors play a role in weight gain around menopause, including:
- Hormone fluctuations. Both elevated and very low levels of estrogen can lead to increased fat storage.
- Loss of muscle mass. This occurs due to age, hormonal changes, and decreased physical activity.
- Inadequate sleep. Many women have trouble sleeping during menopause. Poor sleep is linked to weight gain.
- Increased insulin resistance. Women often become insulin resistant as they age, which can make losing weight more difficult.
To manage weight after menopause, try to:
- Eat a healthy diet. This will help to relieve and reduce some symptoms and ease the transition.
- Engage in regular and sustained aerobic exercise. This will give your metabolism a boost. Aim for at least 30–60 minutes of moderate physical activity on most days
- Build and maintain your muscle mass with strength training such as weight training or weight-bearing exercise such as walking (see your doctor before starting a new exercise program).
- Accept the changes to your body that are age related and work towards decreasing your risks by taking healthy lifestyle measures.
Nutrients to pay attention to
For some women, menopause may occur earlier than expected due to non-natural reasons, such as surgical treatments like the removal of the ovaries or damage from chemotherapy. Once the oestrogen levels have dropped, some women may be at a higher risk for developing other health issues such as osteoporosis and heart disease. Consequently, it is essential to maintain a consistent and healthy diet suited to the nutritional loss during this time. This includes:
- Calcium – found in dairy foods, sardines, salmon, broccoli and legumes.
- Vitamin D – aids in bone health and can be sourced through direct sunlight exposure or supplements.
- Iron – found in meats (primarily red meats) along with leafy greens and seafood.
- Fiber – maintains good bowel movements through beans, whole grains and brown rice.
Our take on menopause
During this stage in a person’s life, the decrease in oestrogen production causes a bigger ratio between oestrogen:progesterone resulting in a natural hormonal imbalance. Just like puberty, menopause is like a big hormonal storm that eventually ends/settles within a few years (usually 2-6 years). For many women, it can be easy to fall into a place of self-hatred and feel betrayed by their bodies in this stage of life.
At Body Balancing Nutrition we often see women trying to “control” or “balance” their symptoms through eating certain foods, however this is not the case. Additionally, some people might resort to unhealthy foods which only exacerbate symptoms, promoting an increase in weight. Despite this, the one symptom we CAN help with is weight management. Our dietitian and nutritionists know what it takes to manage these changes, with metabolism slowing down, reduced production of oestrogen, increased storage of abdominal fat and an increased “sensitivity” to sugars due to insulin resistance that occurs during menopause and as we age. Even small intakes of sugar still create weight gain and need to be reduced significantly. As fat burning slows down, a more precise regime needs to be implemented with blocks (combos and quantities) to achieve results.
At Body Balancing Nutrition, our nutritionists and dietitians are here to guide you through your journey. Learn the secrets to achieving balance and start feeling confident with us on your own health and wellness journey.