Would you run a marathon without doing any training or prep? You’d be mad if you did. You’d get injured, it would be a horrific ordeal and would drag on forever. And menopause is no different. You know it’s coming and, if you’re in your forties, it’s time to put in the training now. It’ll make all the difference. Here’s part 1 of the Menopause Training Plan courtesy of Kate Fisk, registered Nutritional Therapist and menopause gold medallist. P.S. It’s never too late to start training, so read on even if you’re already running the marathon.
Firstly, what’s the difference between perimenopause and menopause?
When people talk about menopause symptoms, the most common being hot flushes, mood swings, brain fog and insomnia (though there are over 35 recognised symptoms!), they’re actually referring to perimenopause symptoms. Perimenopause is the 2-12 years of hormonal and physiological changes leading up to menopause. It’s a temporary state whilst your body adjusts to changing levels of hormones. When you reach the point when you haven’t had a period for 12 months, you’ve officially reached menopause. Not quite the finish line sadly, but over halfway.
This 2-12 year period of perimenopause is a time of change, just like puberty. We have no choice but to accept it and recognise some habits that may have served us well in the past may not serve us quite so well now. For example, remember when you could drink way too much alcohol or eat junk food and feel OK? Now, not so much. And if we don't make changes, our unhealthiest choices will negatively affect us more and more. We're not aiming for perfect, let's be real. To use the marathon analogy, we don’t need to be Paula Radcliffe but we don’t want to be that guy in a Mr. Blobby suit being rescued by medics 6 hours in. But we can get some easy wins in place that will help balance our hormones, and make us strong and resilient, ready for the race ahead.
Let’s start with the three building blocks of your training
Get these habits established now as the baseline for all your training and they won't stop you from getting all the symptoms,of course, but you’ll be in much better shape to deal with the ones you do get.
Habit Number 1: Aim to include healthy fat with every meal.
Our cell membranes are made of fat, our hormones are made of fat, and even most of our brain tissue is made of fat. We also need fat to keep us warm and give us energy. We need healthy fats. And by now we all know eating fat doesn’t make us fat, right? Don’t be scared of good fats.
Our hormones act as messengers controlling and managing hundreds of bodily functions: they affect our digestion, mood, sleep patterns and energy, to name a few. But to work well, they need fat.
Without a steady supply, our brains will struggle to function well, making symptoms of brain fog and forgetfulness worse than they need to be. Our hormones act as messengers controlling and managing hundreds of bodily functions: they affect our digestion, mood, sleep patterns and energy, to name a few. But to work well, they need fat. There's no escaping that our hormone levels become more erratic during our perimenopausal years, but by providing our body with the building blocks of healthy fats it requires to function well, we may be able to minimise some of the effects of hormonal imbalances that contribute to perimenopausal symptoms. Think damage limitation!
Our bodies will use whatever fats are available from our diet. The lower the quality fat we eat, the worse our body will perform. A bit like cheap oil in a car engine. So make sure you’re feeding your body the best fats such as extra virgin olive oil, olives, oily fish (mackerel, sardines, anchovies), avocado, grass-fed butter, grass-fed ghee, coconut milk, coconut oil, nut butter, nuts and seeds.
The number one type of fat to avoid is trans fat. A type of hydrogenated fat used to prolong the shelf life of many products, including margarine, ice cream and baked goods such as doughnuts and cakes. Trans fats are known to contribute to chronic inflammation and disease. You’ll see them listed in ingredients as mono and diglycerides of fatty acids (under emulsifiers), partially hydrogenated oils/fats or shortening. Always read the label and, wherever possible, avoid processed or junk foods.
Other unhealthy fats to avoid include all the highly-refined vegetable and seed oils such as sunflower, corn oil, and of course, any products containing them such as processed, junk food and most takeaways.These fats can contribute to inflammation, which promotes disease and contributes to the perimenopausal symptoms we’re trying to avoid.
Habit number 2: Aim to include quality protein with every meal
Protein plays many essential roles in the body. It provides the building blocks for growth, repair of all tissues and contributes to the production of hormones and neurotransmitters. It also helps stabilise blood sugar levels and makes us feel fuller for longer. Not getting enough protein can contribute to low moods, fatigue and poor brain function. Definitely not what we need as we head into perimenopause.
What do I mean by good quality protein? In an ideal world, I’d recommend a combination of grass-fed meats and poultry, wild-caught fish and eggs from free-range organic chickens. Invest in quality because the cheaper, mass-farmed versions, are fed with pro-inflammatory grains and given antibiotics and growth hormones. Not to mention the ethical side of eating animal protein and choosing farmers that treat them well. Try looking online for suppliers of grass-fed meat boxes and go for the cheaper cuts such as brisket. A whole chicken which will stretch to several meals and you can make a bone broth from the carcass. Full of great nutrients and collagen.
If you follow a plant-based diet, your richest protein sources are tofu, tempeh, beans, pulses, nuts and seeds. Go for organic and swerve ultra-processed foods, including meat substitutes like Beyond Burgers, as much as possible; they’re generally loaded with inflammatory refined oils and other additives.
In addition to healthy fats and proteins, aim to fill around half your plate at each meal with a wide variety of vegetables, especially leafy greens, which are full of beneficial compounds.
Habit number 3: Aim to have a minimum of 4 alcohol-free nights a week
I know, it's boring, but there's no getting around the fact that alcohol is a toxin and, as such, is processed by our liver. Once our hormones have done their job, they get broken down by the liver and removed from the body. But if our liver is busy breaking down and eliminating alcohol, it's not available to process these hormones, which will then stay in our circulation, causing hormonal imbalances. And hormonal imbalances are going to aggravate any perimenopausal symptoms.
As we get older, we generally become less able to tolerate alcohol. We get drunk faster, and the hangovers get worse and worse. If this sounds like you, it’s a clear sign your body is struggling to process alcohol. So give yourself a break for at least four nights a week. When you do drink, make sure you’re well hydrated beforehand and try to drink an occasional glass of water throughout the evening.
Drinking alcohol also plays havoc with our blood sugar levels and raises our stress hormone, cortisol. Both of which disrupt our sleep. Disturbed sleep doesn't just make you feel lousy the next day but also has a knock-on effect on your immune system and can cause weight gain.
Read part 2 here.
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