Managing Menopausal Symptoms Through Nutrition

 

Hot flashes, weight gain, mood changes, and so much more begin to plague women in their early 50’s and some even in their 40’s. It all begins with the less talked about perimenopause. Perimenopause is where estrogen levels begin to decrease and the woman’s body begins to make the very much erratic transition to menopause. Progesterone, which is the female hormone that regulates ovulations and menstruation also begins to decline once menstruation ends. According to the Mayo Clinic, Perimenopause usually begins in a woman in her 40’s but can begin as early as mid-30’s. One year after the last period is when menopause officially begins. Hooray!

It is no secret that most women who enter menopause start to notice weight gain. This is mostly due to the decrease in estrogen. According to Colleen Keller, Professor and Director of Arizona State University’s Center for Healthy Outcomes in Aging, states that “due to a loss of estrogen, fat is metabolized differently. It’s actually laid down differently in the body as subcutaneous fat,” which is the deepest layer of fat.” So, what can you do to avoid this weight gain? Well, while you can’t avoid menopause, you can help reduce symptoms and weight gain through proper nutrition and exercise.

Of course, you want to consume a well-balanced diet consisting of foods high in vitamins, minerals, and other vital nutrients, but you might also want to consider adding soy into your diet. Soy has been found to reduce menopausal symptoms due to soy containing chemical compounds called isoflavones. According to Webster’s Dictionary, Isoflavone is a plant compound possessing antioxidants and estrogenic activity in the body. Once in your body, soy isoflavones essentially bind to the same receptors as estrogen. Because they mimic estrogen, soy might help reduce hot flashes and other symptoms that come along with menopause. Try consuming more foods such as tofu, edamame, soy milk, and even supplements to help alleviate the not so pleasant symptoms.

Next up is foods to avoid. It is no surprise that foods high in sugar lack nutritional value, but did you know they can actually worsen your menopausal symptoms? High blood sugar has been linked to higher rates of hot flashes. Consuming highly processed foods or foods with added sugars can rapidly raise your blood sugar levels, therefore, limiting your intake of added sugars from foods such as white bread, baked goods, crackers, chips, sodas, etc. can help reduce hot flashes. US guidelines recommend keeping your added sugar intake to less than 10% of your daily caloric intake – so, if you eat a 2,000-calorie diet, less than 200 calories should come from added sugars. Lastly, caffeine.

Studies have shown that caffeine can trigger hot flashes in women going through menopause. Another factor to consider is that caffeine is known to interrupt sleep depending on the timing of consuming. Depending on how much coffee you drink, it can take up to 8 hours for it to completely work its way through your system. We already know that women going through menopause have sleep issues, so I recommend eliminating caffeine to see how it affects your hot flashes and other symptoms.

Although diet is important to pay closer attention to when going through menopause, physical activity is as well. I would be remised if I ended this here without at least mentioning the importance of exercise. As you age, you lose bone and lean muscle mass and tissue. It is important to include weight training into your exercise routine to maintain muscle. Cardio is equally as important not only for weight management, but also for your mental health as well. Menopause can leave you with unstable moods, so incorporating jogging, walking, biking, and other activities into your routine can help stabilize your mood and weight at the same time.

My Top 6 Reasons Why Diets Fail

 

The term diet actually comes from an ancient Greek word meaning a mode of living. More recently it has taken on a new meaning that is to select or limit the food one eats to either lose, gain, or maintain weight. For the purposes of this discussion, diet is being referred to as a weight loss term. There are so many reasons diets fail. Of course, many of the reasons are person and situation dependent, however, they still hold true for the vast majority of individuals. So, here are my top 6 reasons diets fail:

  • Unrealistic Goals: You cannot possibly expect to change all of your eating habits overnight and expect lasting change and results. Too often people want a magic pill to just make the weight go away over night or that quick fix. This is what mass marketing takes advantage of with diet teas, diet pills, and all the popular fad and yo-yo diets out there. It is sad, but true that lasting change takes time and if you truly want change then you need to be patient and trust in the process. It is unrealistic to think that you can lose, for example, 20lbs in 1 month, but that is what a lot of people want and expect. Fast results in as little effort and time as possible. Set more realistic, achievable, and sustainable goals at the start and that will almost certainly set you up for success. Start by making small changes, such as limiting your soda consumption or making an effort to exercise consistently. And notice how I said limit your soda and not eliminate soda all together. And that brings me to reason number 2 of why diets fail.
  • Restrictiveness: Most mainstream diets deprive us or even completely eliminate certain nutrients unnecessarily. This deprivation is simply not realistic, sustainable, or even healthy for that matter. Restricting nutrients from your diet can lead to not so nice side effects such as headaches, fatigue, grogginess, brain fog, dizziness, irritability, and the list goes on. This is likely due to not eating enough calories or even not getting enough carbohydrates. I say carbs specifically because that is the go-to macronutrient most eliminate or limit when losing weight because the belief is carbs make you fat and are bad. Well, that is simply not true and you can check previous posts on this very topic, but I will let that die here for this particular discussion. The bottom line is this: being hungry does not necessarily equate to losing weight. The goal here should be to find a plan that works for you, your body, and your goals and of course a plan that you can stick to for the long haul. You should choose foods that have a higher thermic effect and will leave you feeling fuller longer such as lean proteins, good sources of fat and of course fiber. Stop skipping meals!
  • Too Much Counting: Yes, calories are important in that when you are trying to lose weight the goal is to get yourself in a caloric deficit. But being overly strict and obsessive about counting and tracking can lead to anxiety, stress, and ultimately failure because it just becomes too hard to keep up with and manage. Counting calories accurately is extremely difficult, even for seasoned professionals, and if you are eating out, it gets even harder with all the “hidden calories” there may be. While it is important to decrease the number of calories you are consuming when trying to lose weight, it is even more important to consume the nutrients your body needs to function optimally. Of course, you should be aware of the calories you are consuming, but don’t let that be the only and final decision maker. The quality of food matters just as much, if not even more if your ultimate end goal is to lose weight and achieve optimal health.
  • Inadequate Sleep: Sleep is often overlooked when it comes to health and wellness. Sleep actually plays a vital role in your physical and even mental health. Getting enough good quality sleep, recommended between 7-9 hours a night, helps you maintain a healthy balance of hormones such as the hunger hormone, ghrelin, and the fullness hormone, leptin. I am sure you all have experienced increased cravings and lack of will power when you get inadequate sleep. That is because when you don’t get enough sleep, your ghrelin levels increase while your leptin levels decrease; this results in you feeling hungrier than you normally would be if you were well-rested. Further, sleep deficiency is linked to increased risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, obesity (for the reasons just described), as well as depression. Ensure sleep is a priority and aim for between 7-9 hours a night or at least most nights and you will be golden!
  • Consistency: Consistency when starting anything new is key. Building new habits and improving your overall health is not going to be easy and is going to take a lot of time and effort. When starting something new, start slow then gradually advance. The tendency is to essentially come out of the gate too hot and quickly realize that the pace you set for yourself is simply too much and you can’t keep up. Find a pace that works for you and your lifestyle at the very start when it comes to diet and exercise. Once you get in a rhythm it is important to hold yourself accountable. It’s easy to skip workouts or eat unhealthy foods, so it is important to hold yourself accountable and keep yourself in check, especially in the beginning. A good tip is to maybe have an accountability buddy in the beginning because no one wants to disappoint someone else. Lastly, set rules for yourself and stick to them! For instance, one of my rules is to never go more than two days in a row without working out. So, set similar rules for yourself for both exercise and your nutrition plan. Something you can stick with and is sustainable.
  • All or Nothing Mentality: Stop starting over! With this all or nothing mentality, it is very easy to get discouraged or even give up or fall off the wagon the second you feel you “messed” up. It is important to realize that no one is perfect and no one is asking you to try to be. Take each situation you consider a setback as a lesson and something to learn from. Then brush yourself off and get back at it! “The task ahead of you is never greater than the strength within you.” Cheesy? I know, but applicable nonetheless.

There you have it. My top 6 reasons why diets fail. There are probably more that can be added to the list, but I think these are the most common. In order to be successful on a diet is to slowly make it a part of your daily lifestyle and habits. Lasting results don’t come from quick fixes or crash diets. Lasting change comes down to incorporating habits and small adjustments that become second nature and are sustainable for the long haul. Start slow and gradually add as you feel you are able. I will leave you with this: daily action ignites the momentum that creates lasting change.