There are many misconceptions around the menopause and weight gain, so we’re going to separate the myths from the facts, right here, right now.
Our resident nutritionist, Sophia Harris, explains the importance of your diet and exercise when you are going through the menopause.
Myth 1. Weight gain is not a symptom of the menopause
Let’s start by putting the record straight. Weight gain is NOT a direct symptom of the menopause. Yes, menopausal women can often put on weight during the menopause, but this is as a result of a change in their behaviour as they learn to cope with other menopausal symptoms.
For example, poor sleep, one of the most common symptoms, can lead you to eat more sugary foods, which will, in turn, lead you to put on weight, but weight gain itself is not a symptom.
Fat redistribution, however, can impact some women who are perimenopausal. This means that women who would generally store fat on their thighs and bum, end up storing it around their stomach instead. It is thought this is due to declining oestrogen levels, but more research is needed into this area.
Myth 2. Your metabolism slows down when you start the menopause
Nope, your metabolism doesn’t start to slow down until your 60s and even then, this is more to do with a reduction in muscle mass.
As we get older, energy expenditure and lean body mass reduce, meaning we lose muscle. This is often impacted because our priorities change - we have busy careers, family lives, and people to look after, which can lead to many of us having less time to exercise regularly.
Myth 3. Fat loss isn’t possible in the menopause
Not true. Many women struggle with their weight for a lot of their life, menopause doesn’t change that existing struggle, but it can make weight loss tougher because of the side effects you experience.
Symptoms such as lack of sleep, increased body temperature, low mood, anxiety, lack of motivation, memory problems, brain fog and vaginal dryness, can all make exercise and the motivation to eat well really tough. Fat loss is possible, but a correct and compassionate approach is absolutely vital, now more than ever.
The importance of maintaining a healthy lifestyle
First and foremost, we need to appreciate that our bodies go through a lot during the menopause. We all know we should eat healthily and exercise regularly, but as we’ve highlighted, some symptoms will fight against those good intentions.
Here are a few tips to help you on your journey:
Your well-being is your first priority
- Prioritise your sleep and work on a really robust sleep routine
- Manage your stress levels and mental well-being, using mindful techniques such as meditation, breathing exercises, journaling and focusing on the present will all help
- Gentle movement, such as yoga, stretching, pilates, walking and swimming, are all great for managing stress levels and will also help increase daily activity too
- Simply just being outside with nature is proven to reduce stress levels. Daylight exposure is super important for your cardiac rhythm and just 30 minutes a day can have drastic effects on your mood and overall well-being
- Take time for yourself - relaxing, rest, bubble baths and self care. Self compassion is about doing the things you know you need to do regardless of how you feel.
Planning, routine and structure
The saying goes “Failing to plan, is planning to fail” and that couldn’t be more key here. Preparation, routine, structure and accountability are paramount, especially when symptoms build up and become overwhelming.
Find what works for you - paper diary, to do lists, fancy stationery, outlook calendar, apps. Whatever you choose, plan EVERYTHING. Not just work commitments and social plans. Plan your downtime, plan your exercise, plan your self care, plan your cooking time. Trust us, you’ll thank us for it.
Resistance training is super important. Loosing muscle mass and a decline in bone mineral density are health risks as we age, but with oestrogen declining during the menopause, this becomes even more key.
This doesn’t mean you have to start smashing the heavy weights or hitting the gym every day - just two full body circuits a week can have a huge positive impact when it comes to retaining muscle mass and improving bone mineral density, alongside confidence, self esteem and body image.
Eating enough protein is important, now more than ever. A 30g serving in three meals a day is a great place to start and a really fab habit to get into.
Variety in your diet is key too - loads of different fruit, veggies and plant-based foods with a focus on fibre, is great because symptoms can have an impact on your digestive system too. Also, you want to keep up your calcium levels to help your bone health.
You should also consider your alcohol intake. It’s a coping mechanism for many, but unfortunately, any more than a few drinks occasionally can make symptoms worse, due to more hormonal fluctuations and leads to a further decline in mood and motivation. We’re not saying you can never drink again, just consider the amount and the frequency.
Are you struggling to keep the balance?
It is super important that you speak to a medical professional as soon as you think you may be experiencing perimenopausal symptoms, because the sooner you start looking at treatment options, considering your diet and exercise plan, the better.