The peri-menopause can be one of the trickiest times for women to get their head around. One minute you’re 30, full of energy to do all the things you want in your life. Yes, there may be challenges but none of them seem unmanageable. Life – especially when you look back – seemed pretty great. All of a sudden it seems life and age have snuck up on you. You’re just not quite the same person you used to be. You notice you get tired more easily, some days you’re literally dragging yourself through the day, you’ve lost your get up and go for no reason, the weight you used to be able to lose in the run-up to an important event stays stubbornly in place no matter what you try, and you can’t seem to shift that foggy feeling in your brain. But it can’t be the menopause, right? You’re too young…
The menopause actually refers to a time when you haven’t had a single period for at least a year. The run-up to it can last for years and it’s called the peri-menopause. Think of it as the menopause transition. It can take eight to ten years! Women typically start to experience it in their 40s – and often the most obvious signs are that your periods go a little crazy – though for some it can even start in their 30s.
In the peri-menopause, levels of one of the main female sex hormones, oestrogen, rises and falls unevenly. The length of time between periods may be longer or shorter, your flow may be light to really heavy and with worse PMS than ever before, and you may even skip some periods – before they come back with a vengeance.
You might also experience some of the symptoms traditionally associated with the menopause, like night sweats, hot flushes, sleep problems, mood swings, more UTIs like cystitis.. Around this time, you might begin to notice that weight loss becomes trickier and your digestion gets a little shaky.
If you are really struggling with your energy levels, it’s also worth getting your thyroid checked, if it hasn’t already been because perimenopausal and menopausal women are at greater risk of thyroid dysfunction. Added to this, thyroid symptoms can mimic menopausal symptoms. The ovaries, uterus, adrenal glands and the brain require adequate thyroid hormones to function.
Whatever your specific symptoms are, a tailored nutrition plan can really help. I know you could do an internet search for ‘how to fix hot flushes’ or the like, but the truth is the answer lies not in fixing yourself symptom by symptom. In the human body everything is connected in ways you might not imagine. Looking at the whole of you rather than individual complaints is the way forward.
I work with women who are fed up with feeling a shadow of the person they used to be. I regularly run small-group hormone-balancing programmes, which are ideal to get you back on track, as well as working 1:1 with individuals.
But I want to give you something to help you get started right now. Maintaining a stable blood sugar level can help. To do this:
- Eat three meals a day at regular intervals.
- Eat a palm-sized portion of protein at each meal (meat and poultry, fish and seafood, tofu, eggs, beans, lentils, chickpeas, nuts and seeds – ideally nothing in batter or breadcrumbs).
- Don’t worry about healthy fats, like olive oil and avocados (the calories in vs calories out myth has been debunked now for a while).
- Eat a minimum of five portions (three heaped tablespoons) of non-starchy vegetables / salad per day. Always have vegetables / salad with lunch and dinner, breakfast, too, if you wish. There is no upper limit on how many vegetables you can eat. The ideal options are anything that grows above ground.
- Eat two portions of low glycaemic fruit per day, with meals – bananas are high in sugar, however handy they are to transport so try to stick to berries of any kind, apples, pears, plums, tangerines or similar, lemon and lime, peaches and nectarines.
- Ideally you should feel satisfied from your main meals and not require snacks though the day, however, should you feel hungry or if you are working out, you can have one snack per day – something like oatcakes with cream cheese, hummus, cottage cheese, ham and tomato, a small pot of natural yoghurt with berries, a Bounce ball, a handful of nuts and/or seeds, a matchbox-sized chunk of cheese with an apple, cut up apple and unsweetened nut butter.
You would be amazed at the difference a really good sleep can have on symptoms, partly because it helps managing stress levels.
On both counts, Epsom salt baths can deliver really good results. You’ll also want to put in place a proper sleep plan that limits screen time at least one hour before bed, has some wind-down time, involves a dark room (or eye mask) … I know you understand that on an intellectual level. But are you actually doing anything about it?
This is already a lot to think about so choose to work on ONE thing only this week. It doesn’t really matter what it is. Don’t take on too much at once. Get really good at getting an early night, winding down with a book and enjoying the benefit of good sleep. Or focus on getting in more veg into your diet. Or eating a good breakfast using the guidelines above.
Or even better, sign yourself up for my hormone-balancing programme, starting Monday, 1st March! (and if you’re reading this too late, email me to find out about the next one)