Healthy Byte: Weight Management After Menopause

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Whether you’re currently going through the big M or have already gotten past it, you may have noticed that losing weight is more difficult—and “it’s not just in your head,” says Amanda Horton, MD, an OB-GYN at Johns Hopkins Medicine. “It really is harder to lose weight [during this period].”

Indeed, women gain, on average, 1.5 pounds per year in their 50s and 60s, notes Dr. Horton. That’s because low estrogen levels during menopause can alter the balance of leptin and ghrelin levels—the hormones responsible for managing hunger—and increase appetite. Thyroid issues, stress, sleep problems, and certain medications can also contribute to weight gain.

“All the things that lead to weight gain also make it difficult to lose weight. But we do know it’s possible. It just requires continued effort,” says William Yancy, MD, program director for Duke Diet and Fitness Center.

Women who are going through menopause also tend to store more belly fat and lose muscle mass. “Despite following the same diet and exercise routines they’ve had for years, they still gain weight. If you decrease muscle mass, you burn fewer calories at rest,” Dr. Horton explains.

That said, there are things you can do to help you lose weight post-menopause and offset the symptoms of lower estrogen levels. Keep reading to learn how.

Try interval training

When it comes losing weight through exercise, cardio workouts are still the gold standard. But high-intensity interval training (HIIT) has been shown to be more effective for burning fat and building muscle than low-intensity, steady-state (LISS) cardio.

Some studies suggest that HIIT can improve overall strength and increase endurance, especially in those 65 and older,” says Liana Tobin, CSCS, personal trainer coordinator for the National Strength and Conditioning Association. “For muscle mass, a combination of HIIT and strength training would likely yield the best results.”

Both Dr. Horton and Dr. Yancy recommend working out at least 30 minutes per day, five days per week—but if you’re doing intense workouts that leave you breathless, you should aim for three 20-minute sessions per week.

Healthy Byte: Perimenopause: Symptoms, Signs and Treatment

 

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Struggling with irregular periods, extreme bleeding, vaginal dryness, loss of libido or migraine headaches? All of these symptoms could spell the start of the perimenopause.

The precursor to the menopause, perimenopause is a time of transition for women, when the ovaries gradually start to produce less oestrogen.

While symptoms are usually less severe than the menopause, this phase can nevertheless see you suffer from very real symptoms, including irregular periods, changes in mood and hot flushes. Here’s everything you need to know:

What is perimenopause?

‘Menopause occurs when the ovaries stop releasing eggs,’ explains Aly Dilks, clinical director for The Women’s Health Clinic. ‘By definition, menopause is diagnosed in hindsight – the absence of periods for one year is diagnostic of menopause. But we all know our bodies don’t work like a switch – on one day and off the next.’

‘For a few years preceding menopause, our ovaries start running out of eggs, and release them on and off,’ adds Dilks. ‘Hence irregular periods are very common before menopause, and this period is known as perimenopause. There is no ‘golden age’ that perimenopause starts, as it’s more of a gradual process. The majority of women go into perimenopause less than five years before menopause.’

What are the symptoms of perimenopause?

Perimenopause symptoms can be similar to the menopause, albeit usually less frequent or severe. Abbas Kanani, pharmacist at Chemist Click, offers this checklist of symptoms:

  • Irregular periods: this is the most common sign of perimenopause, as your ovulation pattern starts to vary.
  • Insomnia: sleepless nights may be as a result of hot flushes, but can also be caused by emotional changes.
  • Decreased libido: lower levels of oestrogen during this time can mean you lose your appetite for sex.
  • Uncomfortable sex: this is due to a decrease in oestrogen levels, which means the vagina doesn’t lubricate well. TRY THIS!
  • Changes in mood: lower oestrogen levels means less serotonin (one of the ‘feel-good’ hormones), which can lead to your emotions being thrown off balance.
  • Increase in cholesterol: as oestrogen levels decline, HDL (good cholesterol) also experiences a decline, which can have a negative impact on cholesterol levels.
  • Hot flushes: these are not as common as they are in menopause, but they can still happen.

Can you treat perimenopause naturally?

The good news is with just a few simple lifestyle adjustments you can sail through this phase of your life. Kanani offers the following advice:

🔹 Exercise

Lower oestrogen levels can cause ‘feel-good’ hormones, such as serotonin, to drop. Fitness can have a positive impact on your mood and help to stabilise your emotions. Regular exercise can also have a positive impact on your sleep quality, as well as helping you to feel re-energised.

🔹 Eat well

Not only will eating a healthy and balanced diet help to reduce your cholesterol level and provide you with the right nutrients, but it will also help you feel good about yourself. Certain foods, such as caffeine and alcohol, can trigger hot flushes and affect your mood, so try to avoid these.

🔹 Meditation

This is often undervalued in perimenopause, but you are essentially entering into a new stage of your life where your body is experiencing changes. It’s important to recognises this, so take a few minutes each day to meditate and change your frame of mind. Coming to terms with these changes increases your chance of winning the mental battle. Being still and focusing on your breathing allows your thoughts to settle, helping you to feel calmer and in control. Meditation can also have a positive impact on your sleep.

However, if you’re attempting to ease symptoms naturally with no luck, you are not alone.

‘Exercise, staying fit and healthy, and avoiding refined sugars can help with symptoms,’ says Dilks. ‘However, if the symptoms are severe and are affecting your quality of life, lifestyle modifications are not likely to help. Many herbal medications are available over the counter, but caution should be taken before using them, as some may contain unopposed oestrogen.’

Healthy Byte: Menstrual Cycle Fueled Cravings

NOTE: It took me a very long time to figure out why once I month I became completely reckless in my eating. Ever since I noticed the pattern of euphoric binge eating in line with my cycle, I have been able to temper it because I know what it is and have found substitutes to temper the cravings. Sometimes simply being aware is enough.

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Food cravings in the week or two preceding your menstrual period are common for many women, but could be getting in the way of reaching your desired weight or eating in a healthy manner. Whether you crave chocolate, potato chips or baked goods, identifying the cause of your cravings at that time of the month can help you control them so you stick to your healthy diet throughout your menstrual cycle.

Blood Sugar Issues

A fluctuation in blood sugar levels is a common cause of cravings and compulsive overeating, according to licensed nutritionist Darlene Kvist. Willpower is not enough to control your food cravings if the cause is physiological. Eliminating sugar and refined carbohydrates from your diet and eating fewer processed foods can help you stabilize your blood sugar levels and prevent cravings from occurring before your next menstrual period. Trade your usual breakfast of corn flakes, milk, sugar and orange juice for a hearty bowl of steel-cut oats mixed with raspberries and plain yogurt. Base your lunch and dinner on blood-sugar-stabilizing non-starchy vegetables; protein from chicken, fish or nuts; and healthy fats from avocado or olive oil.

Magnesium Deficiency

If you often crave chocolate before your period, you may have a magnesium deficiency, although more hard evidence is still needed to support this theory. Chocolate is one of the richest food sources of magnesium, a hard-to-get mineral many American women are lacking. If chocolate is your most common craving, opt for dark chocolate with at least 70 percent cocoa to keep your sugar intake low. Discuss with your doctor the possibility of taking a magnesium supplement for a few weeks to see if it helps you better control your cravings.

Low Serotonin

Cravings at any time of the month can result from low serotonin levels, according to Julia Ross, a pioneer in the field of nutritional psychotherapy. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter your body produces from certain amino acids to help you feel relaxed. If you are deficient in these amino acids and cannot produce enough serotonin, you may experience strong carbohydrate cravings, which may translate into eating potato chips, French fries, bread, cookies or soft drinks. Although carbohydrates can temporarily elevate your serotonin levels and help you feel better during your pre-menstrual period, eating more carbohydrates to elevate your mood creates a vicious cycle of cravings. Eat foods rich in tryptophan, found mainly in animal protein as well as soy protein, to boost your serotonin.

Healthier Alternatives

If none of these techniques works, your cravings may simply be the result of the normal hormonal fluctuations that occur during your menstrual cycle. Try to find healthier alternatives to satisfy your cravings without getting off track with your diet. For example, try a sugar-free smoothie with fresh fruit and plain yogurt, a few pieces of fruit with nuts or flavorful cheese. Healthy fats from a salad of avocado and tomato drizzled with olive oil or raw vegetables dipped in a homemade mayonnaise or guacamole can also help decrease your cravings.

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