If you’ve lost your car in a parking lot, changed clothes in the middle of the night and begun to carry a battery powered hand fan in your purse, chances are you are experiencing the classic symptoms of menopause. In addition to forgetfulness, night sweats, and hot flashes, women often experience weight gain that seems impossible to lose.
Because, you know, menopause isn’t fun enough without gaining 20 pounds.
And while you’re tempted to say, “Fo-gettah-bout-it, pass the potato chips and that chocolate,” both traditional and alternative medicine experts agree that maintaining a healthy diet and even experimenting with different foods can provide some relief from symptoms.
Weight gain is attributed to the decline in estrogen that occurs during menopause as well as a by-product of the aging process in general as our lean body mass declines by about 1% every year if inactive. Some medical researchers believe that changes at the cellular level cause menopausal women to store more fat with a diminished ability to burn fat.
A menopausal woman’s nightmare outing: Hey, let’s meet for drinks at the Thai restaurant …
So, what can you do about it? A wide range of physical activity is helpful – from weight baring exercises to flexibility builders like yoga and Tai Chi. Certainly a balanced diet is always a healthy option; in menopause it’s even more important. And some of the dietary guidelines you’ve followed your entire life change. The experts concur that at this point in your life you need:
- Calcium (at least 1,200 milligrams a day), iron (drops from 18 to 8 milligrams a day) and fiber (about 21 grams daily) are key. Don’t feel obligated to make an immediate dash for the supplement aisle at the drug store. These daily servings are easily achieved through eating healthy. (Unfortunately, chips and chocolate are very LOW in these nutrients.)
- Doctors recommend more nutrients and less calories, so fruits and veggies are a go-to source! 1 ½ cups of fruit and 2 cups of vegetables daily … preferably without sodium-laced, fat-filled dressings and dips. Try a squeeze of lemon juice, a drizzle of olive oil and a dash of salt instead on veggies. Plain Greek yogurt is a great replacement but check the label for sodium and sugar levels.
- Protein is not bad. Repeat, protein is not bad. Lean meats and seafood, nuts, dairy … all necessary fuel for your body. A reasonable portion of meat should be about the size of a deck of cards. Dieticians suggest that proteins should be included in every meal and menopausal women would do well to make breakfast their largest meal.
- Drink it. You’ll read “eight glasses daily” … those are not Dixie cups. Some diet experts say take your weight, divide it in half and drink that many ounces daily. (That’s just another incentive to lose weight …)
- Limit cholesterol to 300 milligrams or less a day; fat should provide less than 30% of your daily calories (and saturated fat less than 7%).
- Foods with isoflavones like tofu and soy milk may help alleviate night sweats and hotflashes.
Spicy foods, alcohol and caffeine are often on the “avoid” list as they are known to trigger hot flashes. (Menopausal woman’s nightmare outing: Hey, let’s meet for drinks at the Thai restaurant …)
The best thing you can do is to educate yourself to the different nutritional needs of your body throughout different stages in life. The dietary needs you had when you were a 20-year old are substantially different than when you are a 70-year old. Proactively prepare for the changes menopause will bring, and you’ll be a healthier woman for it!