Written by Erin Dresser
Maintaining a Healthy Diet During Perimenopause
Perimenopause can be a very challenging transitional time in a woman’s life. The symptoms can be overwhelming, confusing, and frustrating. While there are several methods that we can adopt to help alleviate some of the symptoms, diet may have one of the most impactful roles.
Maintaining a healthy diet is essential for overall health and wellbeing, regardless of the stages of life. However, each transitional stage of life requires slightly different diets. As we age, our bodies begin to reduce the production of estrogen and progesterone, which can affect several bodily systems and functions, including our metabolism and gut health. This can result in physical changes and symptoms that include hot flashes, mood swings, weight gain, reduced muscle mass, and reduced bone density.
By ensuring we are getting the right nutrients and the right amounts, we can aim to ease the transition during perimenopause as our bodies adjust to older age. We can also maintain a healthy body and overall wellness by ensuring we engage in mindfulness and regular physical activity, drink plenty of water, and ensure we get plenty of sleep.
Perimenopausal Weight Gain
One of the most common physical changes that occurs in perimenopause is weight gain. The fluctuating hormone levels that take place in our bodies can wreak havoc on our metabolism, which can make weight management more challenging. These hormonal changes can also encourage the redistribution of fat and cause it to accumulate more in the abdominal area.
Estrogen, which plays a role in the regulation of body weight and metabolism, declines during perimenopause and can affect appetite regulation, insulin sensitivity, and fat storage. Each of these factors, combined with possible decreases in physical activity levels, can potentially lead to weight gain.
What to Eat
Maintaining a balanced diet is key to overall health and wellness. Ensuring your diet is sufficient in macronutrients, micronutrients, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, water, and regular physical activity can help alleviate symptoms and encourage weight management.
Macronutrients are the nutrients you consume in large amounts – carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. Each of these nutrients is essential to healthy bodily functions. While not all macronutrients are created equally, ensuring that we are consuming an adequate amount of these nutrients is key in weight management.
Lean proteins, such as skinless poultry, fish, or lean meats can help increase satiety, support muscle health, and combat the effects of reduced muscle mass that occurs with aging.
Complex carbohydrates and fiber, such as fresh fruits and vegetables and whole grains, provide sustainable energy for our bodies to function properly and can help manage cravings, increase satiety, and regulate blood sugar levels.
Healthy fats, such as avocados, nuts, seeds, fish, and olive oils can provide essential nutrients and can aid in hormone production and brain health.
Micronutrients are nutrients that are vital to our health, but are needed in much smaller amounts. Key micronutrients to pay special attention to during perimenopause include calcium, vitamin D, and iron.
Calcium is a key nutrient for maintaining bone health. During perimenopause, the decline in estrogen levels can increase the risk of bone density loss (osteoporosis). By consuming calcium-rich foods, such as dairy, leafy greens, fortified foods, and supplements, can help maintain bone health as we age.
Vitamin D is an essential nutrient in hormone regulation and bone health. We can get vitamin D by spending time outside in the sun (but don’t forget skin protection!) or by including more fatty fish, eggs, and fortified dairy products in our diet.
One of the most obvious symptoms of perimenopause is changes in the menstrual cycle. The irregular bleeding patterns can affect the iron needs of our body. Consuming iron-rich foods, such as lean meats, legumes, and leafy greens can help prevent iron deficiency anemia and ensure we are meeting our iron needs.
Part of adjusting to your body’s changing metabolism and body composition is addressing your changing calorie needs. As we grow and age, our calorie needs fluctuate through the different transitional phases.
However, it can be difficult to determine what those needs might be. Consulting with a registered dietitian or other healthcare professional can help determine your caloric needs and they can also provide tailored recommendations and support throughout this phase.
Some common methods for maintaining portion control can include using smaller plates, practicing mindful eating, which is the practice of intentionally savoring and fully experiencing the process of eating and paying careful attention to hunger and fullness cues from your body. Mindful eating can help prevent overeating, emotional eating, and can help develop a healthier relationship with food.
Diet and Other Symptoms
Maintaining a healthy diet not only helps maintain a healthy weight and metabolism, but can also help improve some of the other symptoms experienced during perimenopause, such as hot flashes and night sweats, mood swings or irritability, and bone health. While it’s unlikely to avoid all perimenopause symptoms with diet changes, it may be possible to help alleviate some of the symptoms by making certain choices and avoiding certain foods.
Hot Flashes and Night Sweats
Hot flashes and night sweats may be managed by limiting or avoiding spicy foods, caffeine, alcohol, and excessively sugar foods. Additionally, incorporating cooling foods that are high in water content, such as cucumbers, watermelon, and leafy greens, as well as soy-based foods like edamame and tofu, may also reduce the frequency of hot flashes and night sweats.
Mood Swings / Irritability
To reduce mood swings and irritability, try incorporating serotonin-boosting foods, such as turkey, eggs, and nuts, which are rich in tryptophan. These foods can aid in serotonin production and can help improve mood. Additionally, consume foods that are rich in omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants, including fresh fruits and vegetables, fatty fish, and nuts. These foods have been associated with strong cognitive function and improved mood.
Ensuring you are receiving adequate nutrition is essential to ensure your bone health during perimenopause. Consuming foods high in calcium, such as dairy products, fortified plant-based milks, and leafy greens, and ensuring you are getting enough vitamin D, can reduce the risk of osteoporosis. Additionally, ensuring you are getting regular physical activity, including weight-bearing exercises, such as walking, dancing, and strength training, can further reduce the risk of osteoporosis.
As you progress throughout this transition of perimenopause, it is important to consider other factors that affect your overall health and wellbeing in addition to ensuring a healthy diet.
Engaging in regular physical activity, managing stress, and ensuring quality sleep are all essential complements of a healthy diet in ensuring overall health and wellness. Regular physical activity helps to manage weight, improve mood, and reduce hot flashes, as well as aids in overall health and reducing the risk of chronic diseases.
High stress can also exacerbate symptoms during perimenopause, and has been linked to the development of certain chronic diseases, such as heart disease. By engaging in stress management techniques, including mindfulness, yoga, deep breathing exercises, and therapy, you can help improve your mood as well as your overall health and quality of life.
Establishing a quality, regular sleep routine can improve mood, support hormonal balance, improve energy, and aid in weight management during perimenopause.
Bypassing Road Blocks
It can be incredibly challenging to overcome certain roadblocks in weight management during perimenopause. Two common roadblocks include dealing with cravings and emotional eating and coping with metabolic changes. While these roadblocks may seem insurmountable, there are ways to overcome them and improve your success in weight management.
Identifying triggers for cravings, practicing mindful eating, and finding healthier alternatives to unhealthy foods can help manage cravings and reduce emotional eating.
Additionally, it is important to recognize that perimenopause causes many changes in the body, one of which is a reduced metabolism, which means slower weight loss. By adjusting your expectations for weight loss accordingly, you can maintain your motivation during this transitional period.
It is highly recommended to focus on overall health and wellbeing, rather than numbers on the scale. By finding alternative ways to measure your health, such as the way your clothes fit, improved strength and endurance, and how you feel, you can maintain your motivation to continue these lifestyle changes and wellbeing practices, resulting in greater success and quality of life.
Finally, consult with a registered dietitian or healthcare professional who specialize in women’s health. These individuals can provide tailored advice and support throughout perimenopause to help alleviate and manage symptoms and improve overall health. The hormonal changes that take place during perimenopause can be overwhelming and affect weight, metabolism, and overall well being. Incorporating a healthy diet, engaging in regular physical activity, managing stress, and ensuring regular, quality sleep, can help alleviate symptoms and support overall health and improve quality of life.
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