When should I start preparing for menopause? (it's earlier than you think!)
Nutritional Therapist Claire Foss is the founder of FOSS Nutrition. Specialising in women's health using her 4 key pillars - Food, Offline, Sleep and Stress, Claire often works with clients who are already taking HRT but are still struggling with menopausal symptoms such as crippling anxiety, unwanted weight gain, brain fog, fatigue, vaginal infections, and painful joints.
When should women start preparing for menopause? Well the simple answer is probably - now.
I have worked with hundreds of menopausal women, and it is becoming more evident that lifestyles before the menopause years are often a contributing factor to common menopausal symptoms.
With processed and convenient ‘health’ foods now at our fingertips, we find ourselves reaching for them when we are busy and stressed. But combined with a sedentary job and lifestyle it can play havoc on our whole body, impacting our hormones, blood sugar, energy, brain health, vaginal health, thyroid and more.
It is interesting that from around the age of 40, many women start to feel the subtle effects of menopause without realising that it's actually the start of a significant change within their bodies. These initial symptoms present as increased PMT, background low anxiety, heavy and/or irregular periods, weight gain and low mood.
As menopause progresses, so do symptoms such as hot flushes, night sweats, and poor sleep. This is usually when women turn to HRT and although some relief is often found from taking HRT, many women discover they are still gaining weight, feeling exhausted, suffering from brain fog, with angry and emotional outbursts.
There is no doubt that HRT can be a suitable option for some to replace lost hormones, but it does little to resolve the metabolic changes that are happening in the background, and this is why it is important to start focusing on your health before menopause really kicks in and knocks you sideways.
At this life stage, women are often juggling work, kids, elderly parents, and more. Feeling overwhelmed and exhausted are familiar traits but there are a few things we can do that can easily be implemented into a busy schedule without causing additional stress.
My top three nutrition and exercise tips for preparing your body for menopause (which I recommend for women around the age of 40) are:
- Reduce starchy carbohydrates.
- Increase protein.
- Start doing weights.
Reducing carbohydrates: Our bodies see big changes in the early stages of perimenopause and can become ‘insulin resistant’ – a fancy term that means, our cells stop responding to insulin. When we eat carbohydrates (such as porridge, breakfast cereals, bread, pasta, biscuits, cakes) they get broken down into sugar.
The sugar is now floating around in our blood, which at high levels, can be dangerous. Our body needs to release insulin to move the sugar from our blood and push it into our cells, where it can be used for energy.
However, during perimenopause and beyond there appears to be a glitch in the system.
During this time, our cells are no longer responding to insulin, but our body needs to move the sugar out of the bloodstream, so as a protective mechanism to keep it away from our heart, it stores the sugar as fat cells, usually around the tummy, thighs, and bum area.
The result? Often unwanted weight gain, that you just can't shift, no matter what you do, and it gets progressively harder as we approach midlife as our cells become more and more resistant to insulin as time ticks on.
This is why I often advise clients to start reducing starchy carbohydrates and instead replace them with vegetables and salads. For example, this could look like avocado and scrambled eggs as breakfast, roasted chicken with salad for lunch, and baked salmon with roasted vegetables for dinner.
If I am addressing this issue with 1:1 clients we would also introduce food supplements that help with cell sensitivity.
Shop Claire's Recommendation:
Increase Protein: I hear all the time about cravings from my menopausal clients and very often it can be due to not eating enough protein in meals. A rough and easy way to ensure you are getting enough protein per day is to aim for 1g of protein per kg of body weight (if you want to lose weight, then use your ideal body weight).
Protein helps you feel satisfied and full and will help squash the desire to snack on unhealthy processed foods, such as starchy carbs in the form of cakes and biscuits.
Getting on top of this style of eating in our early 40s, establishes the healthy habit that we can maintain to support your body as it transitions through menopause and beyond.
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When our bones and muscles are weak it impacts our day-to-day lives, restricting our ability to live a full and active lifestyle. It makes sense to get ahead of the game and gain some lean muscles whilst you can, which makes it easier to hang onto once menopause arrives and passes. Having lean and strong muscle tissue also supports our metabolism, so unwanted weight gain becomes less of an issue too!
Every woman's menopause is unique to them, but these foundational nutrition and lifestyle habits should help smooth the journey. Understanding more about your metabolism puts you back in the driving seat of your midlife health.