Menopause is when you have not had a period for over 12 months. The peri-menopause are the years leading up to this and in these years you can experience a myriad of symptoms. Peri-menopause usually starts in the 40’s and it can impact your weight.
Peri-menopause affect your weight in 4 ways;
- poor sleep making you tired and hungry
- a slower metabolism
- Altered Bowel
- Painful joints may limit you level of exercise
Our sex hormones are oestrogen, progesterone and testosterone and they fluctuate every month from the first period we get as girls. As a young girl you can feel really cranky mid cycle as oestrogen falls and progesterone rises, PMS. These fluctuations affect your mood, breasts, sleep, pelvic area and you may experience water retention, headache, tender breasts, mood change, migraine and spots. Roll on to the 40’s and 50’s.
Levels of sex hormones can fall off the cliff in our 40’s and quite dramatically in some women, literally a hormonal crash. It happens in waves, we tend to have great months with few symptoms and then suddenly a bad few months. Our diet and lifestyle and the amount of stress we have in our life, certainly exacerbates the symptoms. When you look at the myriad of symptoms we experience, it is clear that sex hormones engage with most cells all over our body so as they drop off, most areas of the body are affected
Symptoms of Peri-Menopause
Weight gain, especially around the middle
Heart beating quickly and strongly
Hot flushes to face, neck and sternum area.
Feeling anxious and tense
Disrupted sleep, sharp awakenings, racing mind before sleep
Irregular periods. Very light or very heavy periods
Difficulty concentrating, foggy brain
Difficulty with memory, recalling words
Feeling emotional, upset easily
Muscle and joint pain, hip and pelvic area
Restless legs and cramps in legs and feelings of tingles in lower legs
No interest in sex
Painful sex and dry vagina
Courser hair or less hair
Dryer skin and spots
Urine leakage when you sneeze, laugh
Getting up at night to pee, multiple times
Indigestion, heart burn, constipation/diarrhoea and overall, more sensitive gut
This is quite a scary list but what I like about it is, it can all be explained by fluctuating hormones. Also, there is an end in sight, the menopause, and we are not going mad!
How do fluctuating sex hormones affect Weight?
Falling levels of hormone bring an imbalance. Declining testosterone levels can slow our metabolism and reduce our muscle mass. Women who never carried weight, suddenly have to start watching it.
Tip: Strength training and resistance work helps to slow muscle loss. Planks, squats, lunges, press-ups in a bootcamp or yoga and pilates, all do the trick.
Tip: Tracking your food helps you see exactly how many calories you are eating and we can then manipulate the numbers and find a weight-loss formula for you. My younger clients, aged 20’s & 30’s lose weight at 1500-1600 calories but some clients need to be around 1300-1400. Clever meal-planning and experimenting with recipes empowers you. You can still eat tasty foods and fill up on them whilst maintaining a lean body and looking good.
Declining Oestrogen, progesterone and testosterone create an imbalance referred to by Dr Newson as a ‘deficiency’. Our body interpret it as a stressor and release stress hormone, e.g. adrenaline is a stress hormones and cortisol. These can make us feel more anxious and panicky or even quick to anger. Their job is to protect us and one method they use is to dump fats and sugars into our blood stream, thinking we need to flee from danger! If we are not active, these fats can be re-stored around our belly area. Add to that, our tendency to reach for sugary foods and processed foods when stressed, and the body becomes burdened e.g. sweats and flushing become worse.
Tip: A low carbohydrate or calorie controlled meal plan helps to reduce the burden. Improving your eating gives you a sense of control over at least this one part of your life.
Tip: Working on the mind using breathing exercises can reduce adrenaline and cortisol (stress hormones). Published studies have shown a reduction in blood pressure, hot sweats/flushes and chronic pain using breathing exercises. Mindful exercises such as the BodyScan and yoga have certainly been of tremendous help to me.
Tip: Moderate exercise (not flat out breathless) helps to bring cortisol levels down. A walk is the best answer when you feel anxiety rising and the walk helps to regulate your breathing. The breath is central to regaining calm.
Oestrogen affects the processing of Serotonin and this powerful hormone, Serotonin, regulates our mood, sleep, sex drive, appetite, gut motility & secretions.
Over 90% of serotonin is produced in the gut, controlling gut mobility and secretions. Gastrointestinal symptoms may worsen during the luteal phase of your cycle (days 14-28) when oestrogen is low. You will often hear women complain of certain foods and eating times that no longer work for them during the peri-menopause. It can be confusing to identify the foods. It is worthwhile keeping a diary and seeing if symptoms fluctuate across a month to see if sex hormones may be a cause of symptoms.
Oestrogen also affects the production of Nitric Oxide that relaxes smooth muscles in the gut and regulates the muscle tone of the lower oesphagus, potentially another reason for a change in a female’s gut health in their 40’s and 50’s.
Tip: Symptoms can ease in menopause and HRT may help to reduce symptoms on the way to menopause. Nutritional supplements such as 5-HTP along with a high-strength B complex (namely B3, B6) and a multivitamin (to include Vit C, Zinc, Magnesium) may help.
Many of these symptoms: sweats; flushes; racing heart and joint pain disrupt sleep. Sleep deprived people have lower levels of Leptin (a hormone that makes you feel full) and higher levels of ghrelin (a hormone that stimulates appetite). We know for definite that poor sleep makes weight-loss a very difficult challenge. SSRI medications or HRT may be considered by your GP. Some of my clients take a sleeping tablet to get through a very rough patch.
Tip: It really is worth reviewing your approach to sleep. Investigate every angle of sleep – bedroom lighting, bed clothes, 2 individual duvets on a bed for each partner, night wear, sleeping apps, timing of going to bed, smells in the room, herbal drinks, timing of meals and food choice before bedtime, 1 caffeine a day in the morning, no phone in the room or use of phone 1 to 2 hours before bed, list-making for the following day, reading, exercise and so forth.
When I wake in the middle of the night, I re-set by washing my teeth, going to the toilet and then if needs be, I listen to an old-fashioned BBC voice in a podcast which lulls me to sleep or a bodyScan meditation. I invested in an air purifier. I put a plant in my room to help my sinuses. Before sleep, I jot down some of my thoughts from the day on a journal beside my bed and make a list for the following day. Good sleep is critical to successful weight-loss.
Ideally at this time in our life, taking things easier would allow our body to adapt naturally to lower levels of sex hormones but we can’t just step away from work, kids and commitments. However we can take better care of ourselves. Women tend to put everyone before themselves and this just will not work at this stage in our life.
Tip: Improving your diet and exercise will definitely help you through this phase of life. Our bodies are more sensitive to alcohol as we age and more sensitive to sugar. You will struggle to party like your 30 year old self and will need to take greater care of your body and mind. Every client reports some improvement in symptoms after a little weight-loss and self-care. They feel more in control.
High sugar is inflammatory and spikes insulin which further upsets the sex hormone balance. Stimulants and stress intensify flushes. High calories adds weight to our body making us even hotter. Nutrition is not the magic bullet but it does help to smooth your pathway into menopause. Avoiding stimulants like caffeine, spicey food and alcohol helps to reduce the number of hot flushes and their intensity. Also there are supplements that just might help with night sweats e.g. phytoestrogens, sage, essential fats. Humour also helps and talking about it with friends.
Tip: There are a few CBT techniques that I will share with you to help some symptoms. (anxiety, flushes, stress)
Finally Joint Pain. This has plagued me over the last 6 to 7 years. Is it an old injury or is it hormonal? I have tried yoga, no exercise, a number of therapists, steroid injections and more recently going back to bootcamp to try tougher exercises after a long period of rest. Imagine if I started on HRT and within weeks, the pains left. This would be life-changing. However hormones have never agreed with me and this is why I hesitate. However I see friends of mine on HRT and doing very well on it.
Talk to your mothers, your girlfriends and a well-informed GP if you are experiencing any of the symptoms above. Take it in stages, starting with your diet, sleep and weight, getting fitter and addressing stressors. Ask for help in your home and your work. The quality of your life can be improved, explore all options.
In menopause, the symptoms certainly ease greatly. No more rollercoaster hormonal rides which I am hugely grateful for. No spots, bloating, mood swings. It is a good time in life. It is calmer.
Share this with your female friends in their 40’s and 50’s.
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