Around age 50, women go through inevitable hormonal changes. For most women, menopause comes with hot flashes, night sweats, mood swings, irritability, and sleep disturbance. The stress caused by menopause in addition to other conditions associated with the aging process such as decrease in muscle mass, increase in fat mass and lack of physical activity can make it difficult for a middle-aged woman to maintain her optimal weight. In fact, it is common to see weight gain during this time, particularly in the abdominal area. So, what can you do to keep yourself healthy and prevent weight gain? Here are some tips:
- Avoid extra calories coming from “energy dense” snacks or desserts. Remember that a person not sleeping enough or going through stress tends to eat more calories through snacking. Ice cream, popcorn, chocolate candies, salty or crispy snacks are popular “comfort foods” and they pack hundreds of calories in only a few bites. Remember that as we age, we need fewer calories.
- Drink more water or plain tea. Avoid high calorie drinks. Also, be careful with coffee and alcoholic drinks. For some people, caffeine, spicy foods, and alcohol can disturb your sleep and aggravate the symptoms of hot flashes.
- Eat a balanced meal three times a day, a meal containing lean protein (egg, fish, chicken breast or turkey, lean meats, or seafood), 1/2c to 3/4 c of whole grain, 1 tbsp oil or 1/3 avocado and plenty of non-starchy vegetables. Fruits, vegetables, and whole grains will offer more fiber which will make you more satiated and help you to snack less between meals or after dinner.
- Try to incorporate more plant-based foods in your diet and avoid highly processed foods. You can start with a once-a-week meatless day. There are many health benefits to a plant-based diet, and it is almost certain that you will lose weight in this way.
- Try to use less sauce, salt, cheese, butter, or gravy on food. Plain foods will not increase your cravings. Have you noticed that the more sauces you have, the more you eat? Take an example of curry sauce with large amount of rice. Or how about eating nuts without salt?
- Before reaching out to snacks, drink a glass of water. If you are still hungry, grab a piece of fruit. Avoid packaged or processed snacks as they tend to have more calories and make you feel hungrier sooner. In general, highly processed foods do not satisfy your hunger and tend to increase your cravings. Whole foods are always a better option.
- Take calcium and vitamin D for bone health. After menopause, women tend to lose more bone. Take about 1200 mg calcium a day. If you are not getting enough from your diet, take a calcium supplement.
- Work with a personal trainer or participate in exercise classes at The Alaska Club. Aerobic exercise and resistance training can help increase your muscle mass which can boost your metabolism, make your bone stronger, and increase endurance and stability. It also is one of the healthiest ways to distress yourself and socialize more with others.
- Find or create a support network. Team up with people that understand and encourage your efforts to eat healthy and be more physically active.
You may not be able to make all these changes at once. Try to make one change at a time; for example, cutting down the snacks after dinner. Each little success will raise your confidence and motivate you to take the next step. Eventually menopause will end, but the healthy lifestyle habits that you achieve during this phase will improve the quality of the rest of your life. For more information on eating healthy, talk with a registered dietitian.