During this time in life, a woman’s body also begins to change. From a hormonal perspective, we enter menopause, a transition that is very gradual and involves fluctuating hormone levels and a wide range of symptoms for sometimes up to several years. For many women who are embarking on a newfound health journey to become their best self; this can be a discouraging time – as reaching weight loss and fitness goals can be a true challenge during this stage of womanhood.
Many women experience increased weight gain during menopause; and some even notice changes in the perimenopausal years. This transition is more than just physical for women, this also transitions us mentally, emotionally and spiritually.
If you feel as if I have been speaking directly to you in these past sentences. You should know that this stage is full of opportunity for you to reinvent your life. There is no better time than now to create positive changes. Just as we celebrate events that mark an important stage in our lives, that being birthdays, graduation and marriage. Menopause is another rite of passage, truly.
While there are countless “why’s” for weight gain, such as nutrition and lifestyle, the role of hormonal changes cannot be understated. As estrogen declines in menopause, this shift in hormone levels can throw other hormones out of balance, these hormones include:
Cortisol: This is our major stress hormone which is released by the adrenal glands. One of cortisol’s functions is to increase our blood sugar levels so that we have the energy to perform a physical task in a fight or flight scenario. While cortisol production can have you feeling like a rockstar with the temporary rush it provides, repeated elevation of cortisol can lead to weight gain and an array of other symptoms . Find out if you have any of these 9 Signs of Adrenal Fatigue.
Insulin: Responsible for maintaining healthy blood sugar levels after the ingestion of carbohydrates. When our pancreas cannot keep the demand for insulin, excess glucose can build up in the bloodstream. When less glucose is able to get into our cells, this leads to strong carbohydrate cravings, a ravenous appetite and greater potential for fat storage due to the high level of circulating blood sugar .
Thyroid hormones: Thyroid hormones control how much energy our cells produce and our body metabolism. When these hormones are out of balance, it creates a decreased ability to use stored carbs and fats for energy, leading to weight gain .
Leptin: This is your ‘satiety hormone’ which is produced by your fat cells. Leptin works to signal your brain that you are full. When leptin is unable to produce its normal effects, which naturally stimulate weight loss, this is known as leptin resistance. With leptin resistance, your food intake may be in excess because your body is literally signalling you to continue eating .
Hormones can be a tricky business. But with this, there is good news! A growing body of research is now showing that a ketogenic diet can be very effective for weight loss and for menopausal women .
How Ketosis Works
Ketosis is a natural state that your body activates in order to help us survive when food intake is low. In a ketogenic diet, the end goal is to encourage the body to enter this natural metabolic state. In a keto diet, our circulating ketone bodies become our main energy source.
While ketosis is a natural state that is activated during starvation. A ketogenic diet does not entail starvation of calories, but by the starvation of carbohydrates . By following a macronutrient ratio of around 70% fats, 25% protein and 5% carbohydrates for 2-7 days, with your daily net carbohydrate intake limited to 50g or less, your body will begin to use these circulating ketone bodies for fuel.
Benefits of Keto for Menopause :
- Reduces or eliminates your sugar intake
- Controls cravings and keeps you feeling satisfied
- Allows you to eat more healthy fats which keep you satiated
- Helps to reduce bloating and inflammation
- Promotes weight loss and increased lean muscle mass
- Adds more quality whole-food nutrients to your diet
- Mood stabilization and cognitive improvement
How To Begin A Ketogenic Diet
By lowering your intake of carbs and focusing on getting in healthy fats as your main source of energy, the body is forced into this state of ketosis, also known as your ‘fat-burning mode’. For menopausal women, a good macronutrient ratio to aim for would be 70% fats, 20% protein and 10% carbohydrates.
You can use this handy keto calculator to calculate your personalized macronutrient breakdown for each day (a.k.a how many grams you need to eat of what).
What to Eat on a Keto Diet
Fats will make up the majority of your daily caloric intake (70%) when you are following a ketogenic diet. There are a few different types of fat that are involved in a ketogenic diet and different foods usually have various combinations of fats, here is your guide to the best fats to include:
- Saturated Fats: You want these. Some examples are grass-fed butter, ghee, coconut oil, and lard.
- Monounsaturated Fats: You also want these. Some examples are olive, avocado, and macadamia nut oils.
- Polyunsaturated Fats: Naturally occurring polyunsaturated fats in animal protein and fatty fish are great for you, and you should eat these. Processed polyunsaturated fats in “heart healthy” yellow vegetable oils are bad for you.
- Omega-3: You should strive for balance between your omega-3 and omega-6 intake. We need to include more source of omega-3, which are naturally anti-inflammatory and we should limit foods rich in omega-6 which are pro-inflammatory when eaten in excess. The optimal ratio for omega-3 to -6 is be 1:3. Include more omega-3 rich foods such as wild salmon, trout, grass-fed beef and shellfish for their rich omega-3 and antioxidant content!
When it comes to protein sources, it is best to choose the high-quality pasture-raised, organic and grass-fed options. You should be mindful of protein intake on the keto diet, as too much protein on a ketogenic diet can lead to lower levels of ketone production and increased production of glucose . Remember the nutrient intake should be around 70% fat, 20% protein, and 10% carbohydrate.
You should include a small amount of protein (20%), such as:
- Pasture-raised and organic meats
- Pasture-raised poultry
- Organ meats
- Sustainable fish & seafood
- Pasture-raised eggs
For carbohydrate intake, under 50g of net carbs (10%) is recommended for everyday dieting – the lower you keep your carbohydrate intake and glucose levels, the better your overall results. It’s a proactive idea to keep track of both your total carbs and net carbs (net carbs are your total dietary carbohydrates, minus the total fibre) for successful weight loss on a keto diet.
Carbohydrates on the keto diet should be coming mostly from vegetables, nuts, and dairy. On a keto diet; grains, sugar, most fruit, potatoes, and yams are avoided. Include a small amount of very-low-carbohydrate vegetables (10%), such as:
- Leafy greens
- Brassicas: broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, cabbage
Now that you have a basis of what to include, here’s a list of foods are not included on a ketogenic diet:
- Most dairy (except high-fat items like butter and certain cheeses)
- Beans and legumes
- Starchy vegetables (such as potatoes, yams, and sweet potatoes)
- Slightly-sweet vegetables such as winter squash, beets, or carrots
- Most processed foods (Trans Fats: Completely avoid. These are processed fats that are chemically altered (hydrogenated) to improve shelf life. Avoid all hydrogenated fats.
You can find many different resources for learning more on the Ketogenic Diet.
5 Final Tips for a More Vibrant You
While diet plays by far the largest role in both finding and reaching your best health. There are always other pieces to the puzzle. In addition to beginning on a keto diet, here are 5 Final Tips for a More Vibrant You:
Take Time to Recharge
So many of us put self-care at the bottom of our to-do list – until it is too late! If you have any of these 9 Signs of Adrenal Fatigue it may be time to rethink your stress levels and how you can better manage them. Can you add in some self-care practices to your day? Make time for journaling, a restorative yoga flow, a detox bath, quiet time with a good book, a massage, mindfulness and mediation. Bring back your energy, vibrancy and passion for life.
Poorly managed stress levels and the lack for quality sleep are both linked with higher levels of cortisol, decreased immunity, higher susceptibility to anxiety, weight gain and depression. To allow your body to recover from stress, control your appetite and improve energy, aim to get 7-9 hours of quality sleep every night .
Exercise should make you feel more energized, it shouldn’t make you exhausted and fatigued afterwards. While it is so important to move and sweat daily, the ‘best workout’ would be defined differently for everyone. Make daily exercise a habit, and don’t dread it! You don’t need a gym membership to move your body. Find your own jive; whether it be nature walks, bike rides, gardening, swimming or yoga. Whenever you are sitting, you should be thinking about what you can do to get moving!
Avoid Menopause Symptom Triggers
Packaged foods: The majority of our processed/packaged foods (even some organic versions) contain added sugar, preservatives, excessive sodium and additives. Coincidentally, packaged foods are also typically high in carbohydrates that can whack out our hormones even more!
Conventional meat: Conventional meat or poultry may contain added hormones that promote increased inflammation, antibiotics that damage our gut flora and many are laden with GMO’s from the animals toxic diet . Be sure to grass-fed and pasture-raised animal proteins whenever possible.
Added sugar: High intake of added sugar can cause weight gain, digestive issues, worsened hormone imbalances and candida, increasing hot flashes and other symptoms .
Inflammatory Oils: Foods cooked in highly-processed vegetable oils (sunflower, corn, peanut, safflower, soybean or canola oil) are high in omega-6 fats that can contribute to increased inflammation and other health concerns.
Carbonated drinks: Carbonated soda or other drinks may be able to deplete the body of calcium and contribute to osteoporosis and bone loss..
Alcohol: Many women find that drinking alcohol on a daily or even weekly basis can aggravate hot flashes and contribute to weight gain.
Get Menopause Relief
Adaptogen Herbs: These plants work to create balance in the body, they adapt to what you need!, Adaptogens include ashwagandha, medicinal mushrooms (chaga, reishi, lion’s mane, cordyceps), maca, rhodiola and holy basil.
Black Cohosh: Works to prevent menopausal symptoms, which includes hot flashes and night sweats. Black Cohosh may also help improve sleep quality, reduce hormonal imbalances tied to diabetes or fibroids, and even help women with fertility prior to menopause. Recommended dose is 80 milligrams 1–2x daily.
Natural Progesterone Cream: A natural way to reduce menopausal symptoms such as loss of bone density, vaginal dryness and fibroids. It has many benefits even for younger women (those going through perimenopause, for example) including offering protection from infertility, endometriosis and PMS. Using progesterone in topical cream form allows you to control and vary the amount of progesterone applied to your body with each use. Apply about ¼ teaspoon or 20 milligrams to the skin and forearms 2–3x daily .
Vitex (Chasteberry): Vitex has been clinically proven to relieve hot flashes. It also has many of the same hormone-balancing properties as black cohosh, helping to regulate hormones tied to sleep problems, fibroids, skin changes and irregular periods .
St. John’s Wort: This herb has been safely used for over 2,000 years. Commonly used for cases of anxiety, depression and sleep-related problems. St. John’s Wort may also work to stabilize your mood, reduce inflammation, improve your sleep and make the emotional/mental transition through menopause easier.
By Nicole Eckert