Menopause, the end of a woman's menstrual cycle, and perimenopause, the years before menopause, often mean gaining weight. Estrogen loss decreases muscle growth, allowing fat to take over and the metabolism to drop. By adding vegetables, fruit, multigrain breads and protein to your diet and eliminating fried food and other junk, you can lose the middle-aged spread.
Your body's hormonal changes during menopause affect your muscle growth. While menopause happens around age 50, women in their 30s lose a half pound of muscle each year. Muscle mass burns more calories than fat cells do. Once created, fat cells never disappear; they wait for new food to make them expand. When your body has more fat and less muscle, your metabolism downshifts. Packing on more pounds often starts during perimenopause, the 2 to 8 years before menopause. On average, women gain about a pound a year. Losing those pounds, often gained around your waist, requires a healthy diet and an exercise plan.
Americans spend at least $40 billion a year on diets and weight-loss products. Many dieters steadily regain the weight, and it's confusing to sort through all of the nutritionists' advice.
Dietitians often suggest healthy lifestyle changes, rather than following a one-diet-fits-all-menopausal-women plan. With a few changes to your eating habits, you can take about a pound off each week and keep it off. By eating less processed foods and adding more natural ingredients, such as whole grains, fruits and vegetables, you can drop those extra pounds.
Mayo Clinic dietitians say that if you're limiting calories to 2,000 per day, you should get 45 to 65 percent from carbohydrates. Carbs include whole grains, beans and nutrition-packed fruits. If you're perimenopausal and don't like to exercise much, though, limit yourself to 1,800 calories a day. If you eat less than that, you won't get the vitamins and minerals you need. Be sure to drink skim and low-fat milk or eat low-fat yogurt and cheeses for calcium, because menopause is when bones start losing their density and can break more easily.
What to Eat
Between 10 and 35 percent of your calories should come from protein. Eat more nuts, seeds, chicken, turkey and seafood, especially salmon and fish that's rich in Omega-3 oils, because they are packed with protein. Beans, lentils and soy are also rich in protein.
As you age, your body takes longer to digest food. Increasing your fiber intake pushes the food through your system more quickly and prevents constipation. Fiber, which comes from plants and isn't digested or absorbed in your body, is either soluble or insoluble. Vegetables, wheat bran and other whole grains are good insoluble fiber sources. Soluble fiber exists in oats, dried beans and some fruits, such as apples and oranges.
Nutritionists recommend smaller portions of meat, usually about 4 or 5 ounces each meal. Red meat has saturated fat, which can increase cholesterol levels. Choose leaner or fat-free meat or chicken without the skin, where most of the fat is concentrated. Bake or broil your meat to avoid vegetable oil fat.
Fried chicken, crackers, cookies, cake and donuts are definite no-no's, and you should also avoid candy, potato chips and other junk food. By reading the nutrition labels carefully, you can find food that has no trans or saturated fat.
Some dieters skip breakfast, but studies show that people who eat a healthy breakfast can concentrate better. Your breakfast should consist of whole grain breads, bagels, cereal or a low-fat bran muffin; protein-packed hard-boiled eggs, peanut butter, lean meat or fish; fruits; vegetables; and skim or low-fat dairy products. Wash it down with some 100-percent fruit or vegetable juice that lacks extra sugar.
If you love to nosh, eating five or six small meals daily may be the best advice. Carry some walnuts or almonds with you to munch on. Drinking water flavored with lemons or limes makes you feel less hungry between meals.
While it's hard to fight a craving for your favorite chocolate, learning to eat strawberries, apples and tangerines will satisfy your sweet tooth. And once you start eating more natural foods, you'll have more energy to tackle the mood swings and hot flashes that usually accompany menopause.