By Diana Arundell – University Qualified Naturopath & Nutritionist
There are many topics to discuss regarding changes that occur during menopause and peri–menopause which is the phase leading up to menopause. Mood changes, sleep issues, vaginal changes, internal temperature changes, irregular periods – just to name a few, however body changes relating to weight gain and fat distribution is high up on the list for many women. When the body doesn’t seem to respond the way it used to and what seems to be uncontrollable weight gain, is big source of stress for many women in their 40s and 50s.
Many women feel as though they are losing themselves as their body changes through this natural phase of life. Weight distribution naturally changes as we age including increase in breast size, the loss of muscle mass density and an increase in fat storage around the middle. Some of these may affect insulin sensitivity, which can make weight loss more challenging.
There’s usually no need to check hormones in the blood around the time of peri menopause as reproductive hormones naturally fluctuate throughout the month and especially around this time of life, are more erratic. More often than not hormones will still be in the ‘normal range’, and this can be very frustrating for many women as they want some clarification as to why they’re suddenly feeling so different and their body is doing things somewhat out of their control.
Pathology that may be worth checking during this time include iron studies, thyroid function (TSH and thyroid output T4, T3), vitamin D, blood sugar and insulin. If not optimal, these things may directly/indirectly contribute to issues with weight gain during peri/menopause.
What can help? There is not one magic pill (sigh….)
PRIORITY – ADJUST EXPECTATIONS
You are no longer 20 or 30 years old so please don’t expect your body to look and behave like it. It is about feeling and performing at your best at this phase of your life.
If sleep is poor then this affects everything including energy levels to exercise and making good choices with nutrition. As insomnia affects 40–60% of women in peri menopause it’s important to address this. Supporting good circadian rhythm includes:
- regular routine
- exercising regularly and
- 1st thing in the morning getting outside in the sunlight. Eg. Eat breakfast, morning coffee or better still movement.
It may be difficult to get these started when feeling sleep deprived, however it will contribute to improved sleep over time. There are many other things that may be prescribed by a health professional to assist with this including melatonin, magnesium, herbal medicine, sleeping tablets or HRT (see below).
This age group of women is one of the biggest consumers of alcohol in the Australian population. Unfortunately increased alcohol consumption can lead to disturbed sleep, weight gain, fatigue and exacerbate low mood. Consider eliminating alcohol completely, otherwise no alcohol 4 hours before bed and opt for white spirits with soda/mineral water and fresh lime or a glass of red wine.
SELF LOVE/SELF CARE
Be kind to yourself. A lot of life has been lived to get to this point. Identify what you LOVE doing and what lights you up and allow yourself time and permission to include this in your life. Begin something you have always wanted to try, pick up an old hobby, join a women’s circle. Address self–worth issues NOW. Healthy food choices are also a form of self care.
HEALTHY FOOD CHOICES
Food is fuel and it’s all about balance rather than strict regimes. Crowd out the unhealthy options by filling up with the nutritious options. More leafy green and brightly coloured vegetables daily with lunch and dinner, vege juices – a Mediterranean based diet is a balanced approach for most people. Avoid eating at night after dinner – choose herbal tea instead and avoid eating in front of any screens at all. Rather than eliminating all treats (pizza, cake, alcohol etc), focus on going for quality over quantity and have your favourite thing once a week instead of perhaps several times.
As our body changes, so can do the type of movement it prefers. It can be disheartening when the body doesn’t respond the way it previously did to exercise programs – this may also be a signal that the exercise regime needs to change. It’s more about moving the body rather than whipping into a ferocious calorie burning regime, unless this feels really good. Consider exchanging running for fast walking and/or including different forms of movement such as yoga or pilates, dancing, bushwalking. Moving the body most days so increased heart rate is felt for 30 mins is ideal. Otherwise 3 hours a week minimum spread throughout week is a good goal.
HRT or bio–identical hormones may help with some issues faced with menopause such as flushing, insomnia, mood and possible weight distribution, but it’s not a permanent cure. Menopausal transition is a natural progression and we can’t stop it. If it helps women feel better about themselves, improves sleep and encourages them to get out and do more exercise, HRT it may be useful in the short term. However at some stage HRT will be stopped and then the body needs to go through the rebalancing stage any way.
We need to remember we are changing on the inside through this transition and successful weight loss may take many months. Being tempted by fast acting fad diets and ferocious exercise regimes to maintain a 30 year old body is often not sustainable and women will end up back at the same place in the end and feel miserable and exhausted. This natural transition of life is also an internal (mental and emotional) journey as well as physical. It is about embracing, accepting and loving this next version of the Self. Creating an environment for the healthiest version of you at this phase in your life is a wonderful health goal to hold.
For further information or to make an appointment, please contact Diana Arundell – The Avoca Naturopath and Nutritionist on 0410 465 900.
Diana Arundell is a university–qualified naturopath and consults from her Avoca Naturopath clinic. She has a special interest in fertility and pregnancy health, digestive health, immune function and family wellness programs. She was a nutrition lecturer at Macquarie University for 10 years, and is an accredited Journey Practitioner. For further information or to make an appointment please contact Diana Arundell at Avoca Naturopath on 0410 465 900.