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10 easy diet and lifestyle changes to combat menopausal and perimenopausal weight gain

Putting on weight around our middle is one of the most frustrating things about midlife and it can happen so suddenly too. Equally annoying is turning to our tried-and-trusted ways of shifting the pounds only to discover they don’t work anymore – agh! So what’s going on? And what can we do about menopause weight gain? Here nutritionist Karen Newby explains all.

Weight gain during the perimenopause can be down to a few reasons. First, at perimenopause, the rollercoaster of oestrogen  – the highs and the lows – starts to affect our insulin resistance. This can also make us very tired which means we’re more likely to crave sugar and caffeine.

Secondly, perimenopause hits at a time when our stress levels tend to be super high as we’re often spinning lots of plates (work, family and so on) – which triggers an increase in the stress hormone cortisol which can also cause weight gain (and explains why this weight gain is often called the ‘the worry waist’).

The hunger hormone ghrelin also increases at perimenopause, so hunger and cravings increase too. Our sleep can also be affected during perimenopause (due to anxiety, hot flushes and night sweats as well as aches and pains) and a lack of sleep is also a stressor which means more cravings for stimulants the next day.

Finally, oestrogen dips trigger more insulin production to process sugar in our diet which subsequently means we put on more weight.

These hormonal roadblocks are often why we struggle to get rid of this bulge however much calorie restriction or cardio we do.

Thankfully there’s plenty you can do and here are 10 simple ways to help:

1. Focus on more nutrient-dense foods such as vegetables, fruit, nuts, seeds, pulses and legumes

Try to up your plant intake to 30+ unique plants per week (herbs and spices count too!). These will help fuel our energy levels and our thyroid which will in turn help us sleep better so we feel more energised and are likely to move more. If we wake up feeling exhausted, we’re much more likely to reach for carbs and caffeine.

2. Eat more protein

Protein (meat, fish, eggs and pulses, etc.) gives us a drip feed of energy and helps us to feel satisfied. Eating refined carbs (like bread, rice, cakes, pasta, etc.) is like pouring petrol onto the energy fire – the flames burn super bright and then get much smaller … cue more cravings for carbs. Protein, however, is like putting coal onto a fire – the flames burn for longer and kick out more heat. This helps to ‘crowd out’ those cravings.

For breakfast try high protein granola with organic soya or coconut yogurt, berries and ground linseed; for lunch Shakshuka (baked Turkish eggs), kedgeree, avocado with grilled mushrooms, tomatoes and scrambled tofu are all great options.

3. Eat good fat

It may sound counter-intuitive but eating fat is an important way to lose weight – but you have to make sure it’s the right fat. So plenty of salmon, trout, mackerel, avocado and nuts and seeds and a reduction of processed fats found in cakes, crisps, biscuits, etc.

4. Start the day with hot water and lemon

You may think that having a cup of tea or coffee first thing in the morning is a great way to kickstart your system but actually caffeine can lead to weight gain because of the way it affects our blood sugar balance. It creates a high (it mobilises stored glucose from the liver) and then creates a low (that shaky, faint feeling or hanger (hungry and angry – that need to eat NOW) we can sometimes get). Lows in blood sugar create a strong need to refuel with more caffeine and refined carbs. So switch to the natural zing of lemon instead. Let a slice of lemon steep for a few minutes before drinking. And stay away from the sugar!

5. Save caffeine for breakfast

If you really can’t give us your coffee fix, stick to one and have it first thing. Having it with food will also reduce it’s effect on our blood sugar.

6. Make eating healthily easy

Save leftovers for lunch the next day – you’ll still be benefiting from the nutrients plus it will stop you from over-eating!

7. Try intermittent fasting

You’ve probably heard all the buzz about this – and that’s because it works. Fasting overnight for 12-14 hours is really important for the digestive system to help normalise blood sugar and give everything a rest. It is also great for weight loss too and insulin sensitivity. The other advantage is that it can stop you from eating late at night, a habit which can lead to weight gain.

8. Increase your phytoestrogens to help with hormonal rollercoasters

Dips in oestrogen can lead to sleep disturbance (anxiety, hot flushes, aches and pains) which increases our stress load and cravings for caffeine and carbs. Phytoestrogens help top up our oestrogens in a very weak form to help support insulin sensitivity and other metabolic changes. You can find them in soya-based foods such as tofu, tempeh, miso, edamame beans and soya yogurt (stay away from high sugar ones) as well as ground linseed, broccoli, cabbage, sprouts, cauliflower, alfalfa, fennel, sage, red clover tea.

9. Exercise first thing

This will increase fat burn as it will get your metabolism going.  You don’t have to sign up for boot camp – even a brisk walk around the block will work wonders.

10. A little of what you fancy – because life’s too short!

Be mindful with every mouthful and really enjoy it.

 

You can reach Karen here.

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