I posted a tip on menopause, in which I shared my experience. Menopause occurs at least 12 months after a woman's last period, and marks the end of her reproductive years. I recently experienced a renewed intensity in one symptom and the onset of another. I decided to research. I am sharing my findings in this blog.
Menopause is typically experienced by women in their 40s or 50s and is characterised by a decline in their reproductive hormones. Hot flashes are probably the most talked about menopausal symptom. Many assume that it is inescapable. I have good news. It is not experienced by all women. I have not experienced them and know others who have not either.
Some other symptoms of menopause are :
•Irritability and mood swings
•Loss of memory
•Weight gain and reduced metabolism
•Thinning hair and dry skin
• Change in breast size, usually an increase
This is by no means an exhaustive list. These symptoms are also experienced to a lesser extent, by some women during peri menopause. This is the period before menopause. I was not aware of any symptoms at this phase of my life. These symptoms and their intensity vary. I will elaborate only on those that I have experienced.
My most intense menopausal symptom was with food cravings, especially for sweet foods, resulting in weight gain in my mid-section. It seems this area, the bust, chin and upper arms are the ‘chosen’ spots for menopausal weight gain, causing many women to experience the muffin top appearance, evident around the waistline area when dressed, larger breasts, a double chin, and jiggly arms. Yikes!
I was mainly affected around my stomach area and I quickly got this under control. I first of all used scripture to intentionally deal with the return of sugar cravings. I had struggled with bingeing on sweet overly processed foods 30+ years ago, prior to my decision to get healthy. I will discuss the reason for the return of these cravings below.
Never underestimate God’s Word. They have life and the power to change. Our spoken words also have power. Please do not be dismissive of this notion. I recently shared a tip titled ‘Spoken words matter’. You can change your experience with the words you speak.
Philippians 4:13 has been a tremendous help with these cravings for me.
Philippians 4:13 KJV
I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.
Philippians 4:13 AMP
I can do all things [which He has called me to do] through Him who strengthens and empowers me [to fufill His purpose. I am self-sufficient in Christ’s sufficiency; I am ready for anything and equal to anything through Him who infuses me with inner strength and confident peace.]
When we believe, His Word will do what He says He will do. As soon as I would start to have seemingly out of control cravings I would immediately say…’through Christ who strengthens me I can resist this craving’. It worked, as God’s Word has the power to change our circumstances.
It seemed that all was under control. I did not experience any sugar cravings for months…I thought that was the end of those cravings. Alas not so. I have to say it was a tough experience. I depended on God’s Word again, not as quickly this time though. It somehow did not occur to me to use God’s Word for a while this time. Perhaps it was because I was now beginning to experience an additional symptom…insomnia. I share my experience with insomnia later in this blog. Philippians 4:13 was helpful again, when I used it to control my cravings.
Can you imagine having strong cravings for sugar and fighting hard to resist them. It is certainly not a walk in the park. I dread to think what could have happened if I was not intentional about using His Word. I believe that this first and my passion and desire to help others on their wellness journey encouraged me to fight these cravings. Even before I remembered to use Philippians 4:13 again, I kept on thinking…I cannot afford to have my healthy lifestyle gains of 30+years get derailed. I had to continue ‘walking the talk’. A good thing I did. Succumbing to these cravings could have caused me to gain weight, reduced my fitness levels, caused depression, etc.
I have to say that I now empathise and understand why many women struggle and typically put on weight in this phase of life. I imagine that the reduction in activity for many as they age, also does not help. Thankfully I had been exercising and very active for over 25 years and never felt inclined to stop. I discuss exercise later when I share my experience with insomnia later in this blog.
The intensity of the cravings I experienced caused me to research on its cause. Let me quickly explain my experience. I would eat a wholesome meal like I had done for over 30 years, but find that I was hungry very soon after. I would like to add here, that I was not mistaking thirst for hunger. Trust me when I say that I was actually hungry. I know this as I would drink a glass or more of water, without any change. I would only feel better after eating some more food.
Have you ever experienced hunger and tried hard to ignore it? If you have, you will understand when I say it is very difficult. It seemed like my appetite was comparable to that of a high school athlete. I was ravenous. At these times, I really wanted to take a quick trip to the sweets (candy), ice cream etc aisles at the grocery store. I am so thankful that I had learned to stock my refrigerator and pantry with only healthy foods 30+ years ago and so never have access to these temptations at home. Please take a look my ‘Grocery Shopping’ tip in the Tips section. I also write about this in my book Moderation Is Key'.
Another great help for me has been eating healthy snacks. It’s not a good idea to feel starved. Snacks guard against us becoming overly hungry between meals. Prior to menopause I really did not need to snack.
I am very intentional about my snack choices. They are often veggies, like a bowl of fresh cucumbers and carrots, a handful of nuts, carrots and hummus etc. On a day when I have worked out hard, I sometimes have a couple of squares of dark chocolate. It’s all about moderation not deprivation. Moderation is key.
From my research, my findings were:
More fibre can make us feel fuller for longer, and so helps curb cravings. Some women at this stage of life struggle with constipation. This is another good reason to increase fibre enabling bowels to move, like they should.
More protein keeps us satisfied longer, and so helps reduce cravings and the need to snack.
More veggies. They contain high-fibre, are nutrient-dense and are ideal in maintaining a healthy weight.
These foods are very beneficial at this stage of life, indeed throughout life. These foods are typically whole-foods, like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds, and good quality proteins especially fish.
I had been eating this way for over 30 years, so was somewhat alarmed that I was experiencing menopausal cravings nonetheless. I researched further and found that eating more of these foods would likely help:
Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and cauliflower
Dark green leafy vegetables, especially spinach and kale
Flax and chia seeds
Oily fish like salmon, mackerel, and tuna
Chickpeas and other legumes
Blueberries and other dark berries
Soybeans or foods like tofu, tempeh, and soy milk
Dairy products like yogurt, cheese and milk
I already ate many of these foods. I found that being more intentional with these suggestions really helped. If you have read my book ‘Moderation Is Key’ you will have gathered I had become cautious with dairy products. Very briefly, these products rob our bones of calcium. Please read ‘Moderation Is Key’ for more details.
I have to say that I have happily reintroduced moderate amounts of cheese to help me through this phase of my life. I am mindful that many cheeses are quite salty and can also increase cholesterol levels. I continued eating Greek yoghurt despite the dairy products warning, as it is a good source of probiotics, which contribute to a healthy gut.
For my menopause eating plan I have enjoyed adding berries and/or flax or chia seeds to my Greek Yoghurt and oatmeal. I also will sometimes have a small portion of yoghurt with berries or a little honey and a squeeze of lemon, or a small piece of cheese and an apple etc. Let me add a reminder here, for those with lactose intolerance…be mindful with dairy products.
Drinking more water curbs the feeling of hunger, as it helps you feel full. Staying hydrated also helps curb skin dryness caused by the decrease in oestrogen levels. Thirst is sometimes mistaken for hunger. At these times a glass or more of water is actually all that our body needs.
Now, let’s take a look at the cause of the increased cravings. Generally, as oestrogen declines during peri menopause and menopause, appetite increases. It is these hormonal changes that are to blame for strong sugar cravings. This will result in weight gain, if there is no commitment to eat intentionally. Intentional eating involves paying attention to the quality and quantity of what we eat.
Allow me to interject here…many see calories as the be all and end all for weight loss/management. Please read my tip on calories. During menopause, it is more complex than a calorie count. At this stage, hormones should also be paid attention to for successful weight loss/management. Actually this is good practise for ladies from mid 30s to early 40s, during peri menopause menopause and beyond; as there are changes to oestrogen and progesterone.
During this stage of life, there is a decrease in both of these hormones. The decrease in oestrogen can cause weight gain. Before peri menopause and menopause, oestrogen and progesterone levels are in balance with each other. A reduction in progesterone levels does not actually cause weight gain, but water retention or bloating. This can certainly give the feeling of weight gain. The decrease in oestrogen is also linked to lower muscle mass and increased fat storage.
It is also worth noting here briefly, that increased oestrogen levels is a contributory factor for weight gain. This can be caused by some of the foods that we consume. This increase in oestrogen causes a hormonal imbalance often referred to as oestrogen dominance. This is basically too much oestrogen relative to the counter-hormone, progesterone. A high consumption of red meat, processed foods (with various preservatives, additives, etc.), dairy, and refined grains are linked to higher oestrogen levels.
It becomes more difficult to lose weight without reversing this food related elevated oestrogen. This is the reason why obesity rates have more than tripled in the past fifty years for women over 35 years around the world. If the truth be told overly processed foods are detrimental for males and females at whatever age. For weight loss/maintenance to be successful in these women any hormonal imbalances must be addressed. The desired results are more easily attainable when oestrogen levels are at or near normal levels. It is safe to conclude that hormonal imbalances (upwards or downwards) will likely affect our weight.
If you have been reading my blogs and have read my book ‘Moderation Is Key’, you will know that I have been super cautious with highly processed foods for over 30 years. Yet, the menopausal cravings I experienced, were for these very foods. I am not kidding when I say that the cravings were not only real, they were very intense too. I dread to think what could have happened if I was not intentional.
Ghrelin and leptin are two other hormones that are impacted at this stage of a woman’s life. Ghrelin is a hunger-stimulating hormone, which increases. This results in many women finding themselves frequently hungry during this phase. Leptin which promotes a sense of fullness decreases during peri- and post-menopause. This too will increase hunger pangs.
As I mentioned earlier, depending on His Word helped me survive the temptations caused by the changes in my hormones. I also tweaked my meals some as discussed earlier in this blog. I have no doubt that I would have been unable to control these intense cravings without this two-fold approach.
I did initially focus solely on increasing the intensity of my exercise routines without tweaking what I ate. I did not achieve the desired results. It was only when I tweaked my meals and was able to resist the cravings that I got the results I wanted.
Many menopausal women cut back on food and increase exercise. This approach, causes an increase in cortisol which results in increased weight around the belly area. The key is in eating moderate amounts of nutrient dense foods and exercising moderately too. I found that there was no need to increase the intensity of my exercise routines when I was eating the right foods.
The second symptom that hit me hard in menopause, is fatigue. It took a while, about a month before I made the connection between my insomnia experience and this stage of life. During peri-menopause and menopause, the change in hormones can impact sleep.
The fatigue I experienced was real and exhausting. I had not previously struggled with sleep. My disturbed sleep had an impact on some of my exercise sessions. On some days I had to really dig deep to exercise and sometimes had to cut down on my planned routine. I had exercised and enjoyed it for years, and so was determined to continue. It would have been very easy to give in to the fatigue that I was experiencing. Thankfully I remained acutely aware of the benefits of exercise, and was determined to stay on track.
As we get older, we typically become more sedentary. It is always beneficial, to exercise. Muscle building is very beneficial for women after 40. Weight training is particularly beneficial to build muscle. Unfortunately many shy away from this form of exercise. I recommend that women should exercise with weights from as early as their twenties. Please see my tip titled ‘Weight training’. There are also feel-good benefits to be derived from good stretching routines.
Poor sleep can also cause hunger. I discuss all this in Chapter 10 of my book ‘Moderation Is Key’. I turned to my Bible again, and meditated on this sleep related scripture, which helped.
Psalms 4:8 TPT
Now, because of you, Lord, I will lie down in peace and sleep comes at once, for no matter what happens, I will live unafraid!
As with my menopause cravings, I did research on its effects on sleep. These are some of my findings:
•Soy-rich foods are high in a chemical that gives the same benefits that oestrogen has on the body. This can help manage this hormone imbalance caused by menopause. Examples of soy rich foods are tofu, soy milk, soy flour, edamame (soy beans) and tempeh.
•Develop good sleep patterns. Learn to wind down before a regular bedtime, without your telephone and other gadgets. It is not a good idea to watch TV in bed. These are useful tips for good sleep at all stages of life.
•Wear 100% cotton night clothes and sleep with 100% cotton bed linen. This is particularly important for women who experience hot flashes.
•Regular exercise can help improve sleep. The timing of exercise is important though. Please read Chapter 8, in ‘Moderation Is Key’.
•Some women have found that acupuncture helps improve their sleep and general wellbeing.
Adequate sleep is not only refreshing, it is important for our overall health and wellbeing.
Answers to frequently asked questions
The answer to the question…’Is it ok to give in to sugar cravings?’. Here’s what I have sometimes done. I satisfy my sugar cravings with a couple of squares of dark chocolate containing very little sugar. Dark chocolate contains high concentrations of cocoa. I enjoy chocolate with 60% cocoa. They typically contain healthy plant compounds known as polyphenols, which contain antioxidants and are anti-inflammatory.
Some people find fruit to be a good sweet tooth buster. Recommended fruits are bananas, apples, mangoes, pineapples and oranges. A word of caution, if you are thinking these won’t satisfy your cravings and would rather try some cookies and candy etc. Please be careful! I am being super cautious. I just am not sure I can trust myself with just a few cookies etc., as I did in the past, so I am staying well away from them.
•Hormone replacement therapy (HRT)
The answer to the question…’Is hormone replacement therapy (HRT) advisable?
HRT has been found to help improve sleep quality. It is however apparently associated with potential health concerns, such as an increased risk of ovarian and breast cancers. Starting this therapy is a serious decision and it would be wise to involve your doctor in the process.
•Is it ok to eat spicy foods?
These foods often trigger hot flashes. If you experience them, I advise that these foods be avoided.
Do I need any vitamin/supplements?
These are a few recommended:
Do I need to see a Doctor?
It is true that menopause is a completely natural and normal part of the ageing process for women. Have you tried managing your menopausal symptoms? Have you researched and discussed with women you know to get tips. A friend of mine mentioned that washing her mouth helps suppress her sugar cravings.
My advise is that if you have tried and are still feeling anxious, unable to cope and generally unwell, then perhaps you need help. Please do not suffer in silence. I recommend that you go see your Doctor, who will hopefully help you cope better with whatever life changes you are experiencing.
Ladies! I think it is worth taking time out to research on menopause even before you become peri menopausal. I certainly wish I had. I would have been more prepared for the onslaught of sugar cravings. Like I mentioned earlier, the only symptom I was very familiar with was hot flashes. I had been around a few ladies as they experienced an episode, sometimes referred to as a ‘personal summer’.
The malady of changes experienced at this stage of life by women can be stressful. This can cause many to overeat, often making some fairly poor food choices. Usually fatty, high-sugar, salty comfort foods. I learnt many years ago not to see food as the go to comforter when stressful situations arise. This has served me well. I have found taking nice long walks when possible very helpful at these times.
Stress must be managed during menopause and indeed always. Managing stress goes a long way toward maintaining a healthy weight. It is worth remembering that it is typically more difficult losing weight gained at this time. Slowed metabolism, less activity and changing sleep patterns are all contributory factors.
Through my menopause experience I have become acutely aware that maintaining a healthy weight in midlife requires different strategies from those used earlier in life. A weight loss/management plan during peri-menopause and beyond must address different issues. These will include the inevitable hormonal changes experienced by women, the stresses of life, and the other unique challenges of midlife. These often complicate the way women eat and feel. Plans that do not address these, will likely be futile and frustrating too.
Clearly the menopause experience is an individual one. There are different symptoms experienced by women and at different ages. Some as seemingly late as their mid-late 50s. To be well informed is to be equipped for this journey if you are blessed to live beyond your 40s. Let’s remember that many do not…
We must not be hard on ourselves and see weight gain as a personal failure. Our goal should focus on a healthy weight, rather than on a desire for unrealistic weight loss as often influenced by social media. Our bodies are extraordinarily complex. We must not hesitate to see our Doctor if we cannot cope.
Would you like to share your experience?