The beginning of menopause is very much a new and transformative season of your life. You're entering a unique phase of hormonal swings, a natural transition that every woman undergoes. This stage comes with its own nuances, but remember, each one of us experiences this journey differently, but all of us want to manage menopause to make life easier.

Menopause may require a few lifestyle adaptations, particularly dietary ones, which will help ease the transition and make this phase much more comfortable. And yes, it's all about the clever choices that you make on your plate.

Hippocrates once said, 'Let food be thy medicine,' and it has never been more relevant than in the context of this significant life transition.

In the following article, I'll deep-dive into three crucial dietary strategies that can help you adapt to the changes and challenges menopause may bring. These modifications aren't drastic; rather, they're gentle nudges aimed at aligning your diet with the new demands of your body. My goal here is to help you navigate this journey with grace and vitality.

It really doesn't do any good to worry about the common symptoms associated with menopause (more on those later), but it is important you take some action to make things easier for yourself. Let's dive in, explore, and put Hippocrates' wisdom in action!

First, Understand the Symptoms of Menopause

It's natural to experience changes as you step into this new season of your life. Menopause is a transition, not an illness, and recognizing the common symptoms can equip you with the knowledge needed to navigate it successfully.

The first high-profile companion of menopause you might encounter is hot flashes. These can often feel like a sudden heatwave that has mistakenly taken a detour through your body. Absolutely, it can be uncomfortable. Rest assured, you're not alone. This is a shared experience for many women in their menopausal journey.

Next, meet the infamous night sweats, an offshoot of hot flashes, that often choose to visit while you’re trying to immerse yourself in peaceful slumber. The disruptive nature of these nightly occurrences can have an impact on your sleep quality, but please remember that there are solutions out there designed to make these sweaty soirees less frequent and less severe.

Another well-documented symptom is the irregularity of menstruation (of course!). Your cycles may become unpredictable, sporadic, or remarkably different in flow intensity and duration. This is because your body is adjusting to new hormonal levels, and trying to find its balance. It's part of the process, and nothing to be alarmed about.

Menopause-related Weight Gain, Mood Swing and Low Energy

On top of cycle changes, you may also find that weight gain becomes more common during menopause. It's not that you're necessarily eating more or exercising less, hormonal changes can affect where your body stores fat. As a result, your body stores things, like sugar, differently than it did before. You might notice extra weight around your abdomen rather than your hips and thighs. While this may be frustrating, know that you're not alone. Many women experience these changes during menopause.

Additionally, mood swings are another symptom that can arise during this transitional period. Just like in your teenage years, changing hormone levels can significantly influence your mood. One moment you might feel on top of the world, and the next you could be hit with a wave of sadness or irritation. Yes, these can be quite disruptive, but remember, they're also a normal part of the menopause journey.

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Lastly, you might encounter bouts of low energy. It's not unusual to find that your usual tasks now leave you feeling more tired than normal. This is often tied in with other symptoms such as difficulty sleeping or night sweats. It's important to remember that it's okay to slow down and rest during these times. Your body is going through a lot of changes, and it needs extra care. Listen to what it's telling you and respond appropriately. Each woman's menopause journey is unique, but by understanding these symptoms, you can better prepare and take care of yourself during this time.

Three Steps to Manage Menopause Easier

1. Reduce Refined Sugar (but NOT all carbs) to Reduce Menopause Belly Fat

Have you ever taken inventory of the foods you eat in any given day that significantly increase your body's blood sugar levels? Do you know what it feels like when your blood sugars are on the rise? If you answered "no" to either one of these, it might be well worth it to simply jot down all the foods you're eating for just one day so you can see with your own two eyes if sugar (or refined carbohydrates) are a problem.

And let me tell you, you're not alone if you see that you're eating far more foods that jack up blood sugars than you thought you did. So many of us simply have no idea that a lot of the foods made available to use influence blood sugars.

But Why Are Blood Sugars Important When it Comes to Menopause?

When you consume lots of refined carbs, your body must produce insulin to manage these high sugar levels. Before menopause, the estrogen your body produces do a great job managing blood sugars. But as you go through menopause, your estrogen levels deplete. This is crucial because estrogen helps buffer the impact of blood sugar levels. With less estrogen, it's much harder for your body to moderate these levels. 

What does this mean for you? Bouts of high and low blood sugar can affect your energy, mood swings, and belly fat, some of the challenges we already associate with menopause.

So, while that sugary treat might seem like a good idea in the moment, in the long run, it's potentially affecting you more than you realize. A diet high in refined carbs can intensify menopause symptoms and make them harder to manage.

Consider this as another reason to pay attention to what you are consuming and be mindful of your refined carb intake. Menopause is a time of big changes, so every step you can take to better support your body is a positive one.

Examples of Common Refined Carbs

If you're wondering what you should avoid, here is a list of the most common culprits that influence your blood sugar level. If something has added sugars, try to avoid it. If something is particularly refined (even if sugar isn't explicitly listed on the label), it can still affect your blood sugars and should be avoided.

  1. White bread products (including wraps and pizza dough)
  2. Pasta made with "enriched wheat"
  3. Cakes and pastries
  4. Most breakfast cereals
  5. Sweetened beverages like soda and energy drinks
  6. White quick-cook rice (i.e. Minute Rice)
  7. Cookies and baked goods
  8. Chips and other snack foods
  9. Pre-made sauces and dressings containing added sugars
  10. Frozen meals often high in added sugars
  11. Candy and chocolates
  12. Commercially-baked muffins and donuts
  13. Ice cream and other sweetened dairy products
  14. Flavored yogurts (even low fat!)
  15. Fast-food burgers and pizzas

What Are the Best Carbs You Can Eat to Manage Menopause?

  1. Whole grains: Whole wheat, oats, barley, quinoa, brown rice, bulgur, farro, and other whole grains provide complex carbohydrates along with fiber, B vitamins, and minerals.
  2. Legumes: Beans, lentils, chickpeas, and peas are excellent sources of complex carbohydrates, protein, fiber, and various nutrients like iron, potassium, and folate.
  3. Fresh Fruits: Whole fruits such as berries, apples, oranges, bananas, and kiwis provide natural sugars along with fiber, vitamins (especially vitamin C), and antioxidants.
  4. Vegetables: Non-starchy vegetables like spinach, broccoli, carrots, bell peppers, and kale are rich in fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants while being low in calories and carbohydrates.
  5. Sweet potatoes: These root vegetables offer complex carbohydrates, fiber, and an array of vitamins and minerals, including vitamin A, vitamin C, and potassium.
  6. Whole-grain pasta and bread: Opt for whole-grain versions of pasta, bread, and other grain products to ensure higher fiber content and better nutrient profiles compared to refined counterparts. Aim for 4 grams of fiber per serving.
  7. Oatmeal: Rolled oats or steel-cut oats are rich in soluble fiber, which can help lower cholesterol levels and promote heart health.
  8. Quinoa: A complete protein source, quinoa is also high in fiber, iron, magnesium, and various other nutrients.
  9. Barley: This whole grain provides fiber, vitamins, and minerals, and it's particularly rich in beta-glucan, a type of soluble fiber that may help lower cholesterol levels.
  10. Bulgar: Also known as cracked wheat, bulgur is a whole grain made from cracked wheat kernels. It's high in fiber, protein, and various vitamins and minerals, including manganese, magnesium, and iron.

2. Take Time to Strength Train To Improve Healthy Estrogen Levels

As part of your menopause survival plan, let me introduce you to your new best friend - strength training. Yes, even if lifting weights wasn't part of your life before, it's time to give it a chance. And there's a very good reason for that. Strength training could be a savior for your estrogen levels, in particular, estradiol.

You might be thinking, what's so special about estradiol? Well, estradiol is a type of estrogen, the vital hormone responsible for regulating women's menstrual cycle before menopause. It's the strongest of the three estrogens and plays a significant role in maintaining bone density, skin health, mood balance, and yes, metabolism too. 

But here's the catch - As you transition towards menopause, natural production of estradiol declines, which can lead to a myriad of issues like bone loss, dry skin, weight gain, mood swings and even hot flashes. This might sound daunting, but that's where strength training steps in to save the day.

When you engage in strength training, your body is encouraged to naturally increase estradiol production. It's like a free ticket to masking menopausal havoc. Working with weights offers other benefits too. It can help you combat weight gain, build strong bones and muscles, and most importantly, enhance your mood. Studies suggest that women who perform strength exercises have better mental health and sleep patterns, two important aspects often disturbed during menopause.

So put on your favorite workout gear and start lifting! Remember, it's never too late to start strength training.

How to Start Strength Training Over 45?

If you're worried about starting strength training, there's no need. A simple 10-minute bodyweight workout could be the perfect place to initiate. Try the following routine three times a week:

  1. Start with a warm-up. Do 2 minutes of marching, jogging in place or jumping jacks.
  2. Then, do bodyweight squats squats. Stand with your feet hip-width apart. Lower your body as if sitting on a chair, while keeping your chest and head up - do this for 1-minute.
  3. Next comes push-ups. If a regular push-up feels too challenging, start with wall push-ups. If wall push-ups feel too easy, do push-ups on your knees. Perform for 1 minute.
  4. Transition into lunges, alternating each leg for a 1-minute interval.
  5. Switch to a 60-second plank. You can drop to your knees if your lower back still needs to develop some strength.
  6. Finally, take time to cool down with a 2-minute slow walk and stretching.

Remember, it's never about speed, but about gradually building strength in a safe and sustainable manner.

3. Think of Sleep as Food to Manage Menopause

Just as we've established the crucial role of diet and exercise during menopause, sleep should not be left out of this health equation. Adequate rest is a superfood for your whole system, but even more so when you are transitioning through menopause.

As you may have already experienced, menopause can significantly disrupt your sleep patterns. Hot flashes can wake you up at night, and hormonal shifts may leave you tossing and turning. But remember, your body needs this rest period to recover, repair, and manage these new changes more effectively.

Consider this: While you sleep, your body goes into an intense housekeeping mode. It repairs cells and tissues, renews your energy, and even aids in regulating hormones and body weight. Some health experts refer to deep sleep as the 'fountain of youth', precisely because of its restorative effects on the body.

Quality sleep is also pivotal for mental health. Poor sleep can spike stress hormones such as cortisol, which can exacerbate menopausal symptoms, trigger mood swings, and may lead to weight gain. On the other hand, a good night's rest can promote a more stable mood, lend more energy for physical activity, and even improve your overall sense of well-being.

So, in the same way that you would regulate your diet, carve out time for exercise, it's essential to cultivate good sleep habits. Aim for 7-8 hours of quality sleep every night. Consider creating a sleep-friendly environment and routines: keep your bedroom cool, block out noise and light, develop a calming pre-sleep regimen such as reading or meditation.

Indeed, if sleep were to be placed on the menu of your menopausal management plan, it would probably be the most nourishing dish there. So, serve yourself a full plate of quality slumber every night. Your menopausal body will thank you.

3 Ways to Get Quality Sleep (even if you feel it's impossible)

Continuing with our discussion on managing menopause by prioritizing sleep, let's delve into three practical strategies to enhance sleep quality, including moderating screen time, mindful eating habits, and steering clear of alcohol.

Firstly, consider embracing a screen-free period before bedtime. The blue light emitted by electronic devices plays havoc with your body's melatonin production – the hormone that helps regulate sleep. By switching off screens, like those on smartphones, tablets, and TVs, you allow your body to naturally prepare for rest. Aim for at least an hour free of screens before you hit the sack.

Secondly, rethink your dinner time. When you consume meals too close to bedtime, your body is focused more on digestion than rest, consequentially skewering the production of Human Growth Hormone (HGH). HGH plays a crucial role in physical recovery and sleep quality. So, give your body a hand by wrapping up your last meal at least two hours before you plan to sleep.

Lastly, while a glass of wine might seem like it helps you wind down, the reality is alcohol can distort your sleep architecture. Even if you fall asleep quickly, alcohol can interrupt sleep cycles, reducing the overall quality of sleep. Refraining from alcohol, particularly close to bedtime, can greatly enhance your sleep experience and ultimately, your overall wellbeing during menopause.

By embedding these sleep-friendly habits into your nightly routine, you can set the stage for better, more refreshing sleep, making it easier to manage your menopause journey.