The hormone activity faced during perimenopause and menopause can lead to unwanted weight gain.
But, eating to support your hormones and manage your weight is easier than you think, says Peppy’s registered nutritionist Kylie Hendrikse.
- Diets can trick your body into starvation mode, so you feel hungrier.
- Eating protein at each meal can help keep you full.
- Cutting back on refined carbs and sugar can help midlife weight goals and control weight gain.
- Try lower-carb alcohol choices such as gin, vodka and dry white wine.
If you only do one thing…
Avoid eating after dinner – studies show it can help overnight fat-burning.
Many perimenopausal women have complained about how much harder it is to shift weight gained now, compared to your pre-menopausal years.
If that sounds like you, it’s not your imagination. Declining oestrogen makes it harder to maintain a healthy weight, which is why your go-to methods for losing unwanted pounds may no longer work the way they used to.
But that doesn’t mean nothing will. By taking steps to support some of the ways your body maintains hormonal balance – like choosing the right foods, of course, but also the right times to eat – you can achieve your weight goals.
Here’s a rundown:
Eat protein at each meal
As you get older, you lose muscle mass. As muscle burns more calories than fat at rest, this can slow down your metabolism, making it harder to lose weight. That’s why eating more protein as you get older is so important, because it helps to build and repair this lost muscle.
But eating a meal containing protein doesn’t only help replenish muscle stores. It also makes you feel fuller than a meal based around carbohydrates which means you’re less likely to experience food cravings between meals.
Make the change: Try to include some protein at each meal. This could be lean meat, fish, eggs or dairy and if you avoid animal products, beans, lentils, nuts, seeds, tofu, tempeh, nut butters and high protein grains like quinoa.
Eat healthy fats
Many of us grew up having the low-fat message drummed into us. But eating fat doesn’t make you fat. In fact, healthy fats stimulate your metabolism, increase fat-burning and help you feel satisfied after eating.
Research shows that eating more healthy fat combined with a low-carb diet promotes healthy weight loss.
Make the change: Include healthy fats at each meal. Avocado, olive oil, olives, nuts and seeds, oily fish like salmon, eggs, coconut oil, butter and full fat dairy are great sources. Try and avoid vegetable oils as these can make it harder to lose weight.
Cut back on sugary treats
It’s hard to resist the lure of a 4pm cupcake or piece of chocolate. But eating too much sugar leads to blood glucose ups and downs that can cause your body to accumulate fat, leading particularly to weight gain around the abdomen.
Make the change: Check food labels and opt for choices containing 1 tsp (4g per 100 grams on labels or less of sugar (or none at all if you can manage it).
If sweet treats are your thing, you don’t have to deprive yourself. Try opting for a square or two of dark chocolate instead of a bar of milk (Lindt 70% is satisfying on a sweet tooth but less binge-worthy).
If you’re heading back to work, and you know that colleague’s home-baked muffins will come calling, have fruit handy like satsumas or apples to satisfy your sweet cravings. It works.
Reduce bread, pasta and rice
Your body treats refined carbohydrates like bread, pasta and white rice in the same way it treats sugar. So, too many can lead to weight gain.
Make the change: Try and pile your plate high with vegetables of all kinds, along with protein and healthy fats and slowly reduce your intake of refined carbs. The vegetables, protein and fat together will fill you up and ensure a good supply of nutrients too.
You can also make healthy swaps, for example, opt for sweet potatoes or new potatoes instead of regular potatoes, as they have a more stabilising effect on your blood sugar.
Eat real food
When you’re busy, cooking a meal from scratch can often feel like yet another chore on a never-ending to-do list. But where you can, try and eat as much whole, real food as you can so you know what’s in it.
In one study, people who ate home-cooked meals more than five times a week consumed 62.3 g more fruit and 97.8g more vegetables. They were also 28% less likely to be overweight. Now, cooking at home five times a week may be a stretch. But even if you can manage to cook one meal more this week than you did last, it’s a step forward.
Make the change: Take short cuts to real food. Aiming to make Jamie-Oliver worthy meals every night is setting yourself up for failure. So, make it easy.
This could mean sautéing some vegetables in olive oil and adding salt, pepper and lemon juice (surprisingly tasty). Then, grilling chicken breast with a marinade of peri-peri sauce you bought at the supermarket.
Or, try making a mountain of fresh vegetables and topping them off with a ready-made pasta sauce and a little grated Parmesan cheese. See? Real food (mostly) and real taste.
Don’t eat too late
If you’re in the habit of eating late, this can make it harder to maintain a healthy weight. In one study people who ate dinner at 10pm decreased their overnight fat burning by 10%, compared to those who ate dinner earlier.
Make the change: Ideally, aim to eat your last meal of the day no later than 7pm. Try not to eat anything after dinner as eating before bed can cause the body’s metabolism to slow as it quiets down its functions at night to prepare for sleep.
Try to avoid late night eating, especially if it’s food that’s high in carbohydrates, as this can make it harder to digest and result in weight gain. Make sure you eat enough lean proteins, vegetables and healthy fats during the day to help beat late night cravings.
Make smarter alcohol choices
With so many of us using alcohol in lockdown as one of the last pleasures allowed, this isn’t going to be welcome news. But alcohol is a source of extra calories that offer no nutritional value.
The liver can’t metabolise too much alcohol properly and this ends up damaging liver cells, so they start to build up as fat. Plus, alcohol tends to be high in sugar which can lead to blood sugar imbalances and food cravings.
Make the change: Try lower-sugar, lower-carb choices if you’re going to drink. For example, dry white wine instead of Prosecco, gin or vodka and soda with a squeeze of lime instead of sugary mixers.