Perimenopause: P3 :: Nutrition as Medicine
With all that is happening to your body during perimenopause, it is hard to know what is right. All of a sudden, your body doesn’t look and feel the same way. You are gaining weight but not in the way you used to gain it. You have cravings but are super sensitive to the food. You seem to do everything right but still you body won’t cooperate.
Firstly, you have to let go and just let this happen. Like I said in my previous article, with all the hormonal changes happening, this is kinda like a second puberty and should be approached of as such; it happening no matter what and you just got find new ways to cope and work with the changes.
You are transitioning into one of the Wise Women of the world. This is a high honor and many people don’t make it. You are now one who holds great knowledge about life. Unfortunately, it comes with a few growing pains: don’t try to control your midsection with extra sit ups, don’t force extremely restrictive diets on yourself and don’t beat yourself up for not going as intensely at the gym.
Let you body do what it needs to do and support it how you can.
There are a number of steps you can take to make perimenopause and menopause much easier to handle. Fortunately, as with many diseases of today, this can be greatly aided by some nutritional fixes. People complain about diets and nutrition changes because they are a pain in the ass at first. But really, this is GREAT news. You don't have to see doctors or spend money on pills that will inevitably mess you up and have side effects. You have control of your health from your kitchen!
But please remember, if you are experiencing severe brain fog, energy loss, discomfort or overall feeling that something is WRONG, don’t let any doctor tell you that this is “just part of getting older.” If this pain or anxiety is unshakable, beyond uncomfortable and transitory, you need qualified and experienced help. Seek help in an ND or integrative/functional medicine specialist.
Foods to add to your diet
Proteins Proteins are the building blocks of life. Make sure you are getting enough in your diet. You need real sources of protein in every meal. Base your meals around a complete source of protein; meat, fish, poultry, eggs, and yogurt.
The protein yield in legumes is very small, almost negligent. Compared to fat and carbohydrates, it takes a lot of energy for the body to break down proteins. This means that by the time beans get processed, the amount of usable protein is very minimal. You need more than that.
Omega 3 The anti inflammatory oil! This is helpful to protect you brain and lubricates your joints from inflammation and inflammatory diseases. The best source of this is Cod Liver Oil. Plus, it is loaded with vitamin D. If you live in a grey and rainy place, one spoonful of CLO can save you lots of money and increase you overall vitality and health greatly.
Fat Your body needs fat to keep skin supple, keep joints and tendons strong and to maintain proper hormone function. I’m not saying everyone should go full keto, but I do think everyone would benefit from more fat in their diet. You will age much more gracefully with 40-70% of you caloric intake coming from fat.
In addition to keeping the body in working order, this will increase satiety. This is good news because during great hormonal shifts like pregnancy, postpartum, perimenopause and menopause, hunger will be all over the place.
In times of great stress or transition, we mistake a need for silence, a break, a nap or water for hunger. Eating becomes a coping mechanism for nearly all discomfort. When we have more nutrient dense foods, full of fat and minerals and vitamins, our bodies do not crave nearly as much junk.
Women who are extremely lean will often kick themselves into early menopause because of a lack of body fat. Hormones are made up of cholesterol, which is a fat. Weight loss and leanness can mess with us as we get older. The best bet is to stay in a 16-25% body fat range.
Dark foods More color means more nutrition. Plants like spinach, kale, blueberries, raspberries, cacao, eggplant, beets are jam packed with vitamins. Make sure to get many leafy greens and colorful fruits and veggies into your diet.
As the estrogen hormone drops during this period, it becomes more important to get sources of estrogen. Luckily, we can find plant estrogens (phytoestrogens) at our local grocery store. This is a chemical compound in the plant that act like estrogen in the body.
Soy is one of them. If fact soy is so powerful of a phytoestrogen, it is in pretty much every woman’s health supplement. This is why you should avoid giving soy containing product to boys, men, growing girls and women with excess estrogen problems.
But when we are going through a phase of dropping estrogen levels, soy products can be a great food medicine. Tofu, tempeh, miso and soy beans are great. Other sources, but not nearly as strong, include:
flaxseeds sunflower seeds sesame seeds almonds walnuts apples carrots pomegranates strawberries cranberries grapes yams lentils alfalfa sprouts mung beans Sprouts bourbon beer red wine olive oil Jasmine oil
What to avoid
Sugar Everyone should try to eliminate sugar from their diet. Yes, eliminate. That doesn't mean you can’t have a wedding cake or Christmas pie, but daily doses of sugar add up in the health impact column.
Sugar is highly inflammatory and has been linked to all kinds of diseases. Also, there are studies that show it is more addictive than cocaine. Having been in AA and now a nutrition coach, I can tell you that people have a much harder time quitting sugar than they do party drugs. You may think that one square of chocolate isn’t a big deal, and comparatively, its not. But if you NEED it every night, what does that say about your sugar addiction?
I can tell you that the women I have worked with who don’t consume sugar and processed products have a much easier time going through perimenopause and menopause. I’m talking nearly no hot flashes, memory lapses, depression or weight issues.
Vegetable and seed oils There is some controversy about this one. I am of the mind that processed seed and vegetable oils are bad. They are full of inflammatory Omega 6 and chemicals. The process that creates them is full of bleaching, deodorizing agents and other harmful endocrine disrupting chemicals. Many scientists hypothesize that it is the cause of such prevalent autism rates. 50 years ago, vegetable oils were not used that much.
Now they are in nearly everything that comes in a package. If you would like to read a good and thorough argument for this, pick up the book DEEP NUTRITION.
Caffeine I have written about the negative effects of caffeine quite often. Let me just say, how you react to caffeine is genetic. There are fast and slow metabolizers of caffeine - which is why the research on coffee being good or bad is pretty much split down the middle.
I don't think consuming caffeine regularly is good for women at all. Honestly, I don’t think its good for anyone but women seem to have a greater hormonal response to it. Caffeine is a psychoactive drug that crosses the blood-brain barrier and directly effects the central nervous system. It raises cortisol, a hormone, and also blocks the progesterone receptors.
Caffeine will affect you more potently during times of hormonal shifts and stress because of this progesterone block. It is for this reason I suggest that women cut out caffeine for 30 days and see how they feel. If you miss coffee, you can always drink WATER PROCESSED decaf - not regular decaf because it has formaldehyde in it and still a bit of caffeine.
I found out it was coffee that was making my energy so inconsistent. Many women have reported the same. I highly suggest you to take these steps.
Highly processed food If it comes in a package, don’t eat it. Processed foods have chemicals, sugars, dyes and vegetable oils. They are skimpy when it comes to nutrients and designed to make you addicted and crave more. So eating packed food is just feeding a vicious cycle of cravings and damagining food. Just don’t do it or learn to make your own treats.
Alcohol Yes, alcohol has some phytoestrogens but don’t become one of those lame women telling me you are fighting cancer by drinking wine. Alcohol often has sugar and chemicals in it that are just no good for you. If the wine costs less than 20 bucks, I can almost guarantee you there aren’t many grapes in the bottle. If you do drink, drinks like whiskey and tequila on ice is the better way to go. Just reduce alcohol to about 2-3 drinks a week. Better yet, like sugary treats, don't drink until a special occasion.
Be accountable for your eating
Many women think they are doing the right thing and eating well. They believe they are 80-90% on their diet and their bodies are still rebelling against them.
We often overestimate our adherence to health and fitness practices, but the truth is, we could all tighten it up a bit. You need some accountability with your eating. Get a coach, a food log or a scale and a plan. It is always a big eye opener to log EVERYTHING your put in you mouth for a week and see what is really going on.
Get on a program and be careful with it. It doesn't have to be complex or hard but you do have to REALLY know what you are putting in your body. We often underestimate the amount of calories. It's easy to go from 200 calories to 400 calories with foods like nuts and peanut butter. Spend 30 or 60 days tracking and measuring food. Download an app to help with the numbers.
Remember the perimenopause and menopause doesn’t have to be a near death experience. We can change the conversation around this topic and put out good information. We can also have good experiences during this transition into wisdomhood. Embrace it and do right by your body.