When I was in my mid-forties I started experiencing a number of seemingly unrelated symptoms – weight gain, brain fog, sore joints, and fatigue. I tried all sorts of one-off fixes – diets, exercise programs, and magic pills – without success. It wasn’t until my period started changing and I experienced hot flashes that the penny dropped and I connected everything to perimenopause. Did it happen like that for you too?
Perimenopause (and menopause) is the bookend to puberty, the reproductive part of our lives. So it includes a lot of hormone changes as the reproductive hormones – primarily estrogen and progesterone – naturally decline.
But the real challenge comes with how those changes impact our wellbeing. Like mood swings, inability to sleep, extreme fatigue, joint pain, digestive issues, hot flashes, night sweats, low sex drive and weight gain. What’s up with all that? Why can’t we just wind up our periods and call it a day?
There are two paths for getting help with perimenopause. The medical path and the lifestyle path. Unfortunately, many doctors are not well equipped to help. The American Association of Retired Persons reports most medical schools and residency programs don’t teach physicians in training about menopause. To make matters worse, a recent survey found that just 20% of ob-gyn residency programs provide any kind of menopause training.
When asked, 3 out of 4 ladies reported they did not get adequate treatment when they brought perimenopausal and menopausal concerns to their doctors. And 84% of women say their symptoms interfere with their lives and some are even debilitating.
One of the main areas where doctors should be able to help is in prescribing Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT). Even though treatment has changed dramatically over the past decade, many doctors are unaware. The new body identical treatment is administered in patches or gel and poses none of the earlier health concerns for breast cancer and heart disease. The topical delivery method means that the liver is completely bypassed, and that absorption through the skin dramatically changes the health risks. Dr. Louise Newson, The Menopause Doctor, goes so far as to encourage women to consider taking body identical HRT for the protections it provides against heart disease, osteoporosis, diabetes and Alzheimer’s.
The other path to get help with the symptoms of perimenopause is through lifestyle. There is a lot that lifestyle habits and behaviors can do to demystify the changes. It turns out the healthy practices of diet and exercise that ladies maintained before perimenopause are unlikely to suit them very well once they enter perimenopause. As our nutrition needs change, so does our digestion. We no longer need all the protein we used to eat, and our sensitivity to sugar and processed foods heightens. Bloating, brain fog, joint pain and weight gain result.
And with hormonal changes to our muscles and joints, the type of exercise and movement that is beneficial also changes. Even if you have always been athletically active, the fatigue and joint pain can make ambitious workouts very difficult. In fact, high impact and anaerobic exercise can cause stress to the system and result in the production of cortisol, the stress hormone. The timing and type of movement you choose take on new importance.
Hormonal changes impact sleep, especially when combined with food choices and stress. So figuring out new sleep hygiene habits are vital to being able to restore the body each night with quality sleep. As we sleep, the body is busy removing dead cells burning fat and rebuilding tissue. The brain catalogues the day’s experiences and builds up memories. Without adequate sleep, the body is stressed when it cannot carry out these maintenance functions and produces cortisol in response. That in turn stimulates appetite, which produces more insulin leading to fat production (and stubbornly stored around the middle). So getting enough good sleep is vital to being able to adapt through the changes of perimenopause.
And finally, mindfulness – getting your head in the game is so important. As it happens, the mind can only focus on one thing at a time. So if you control some of the things you tell yourself and make them positive things, you will benefit from that. Rather than tell yourself that you’re a lazy slob or beat yourself up because you don’t have enough willpower, you tell yourself that you’re an intelligent woman and the goal is achievable. Meditation is a great way to calm the mind, focus on positive things and create endorphins. This can really help to create positivity, reduce cortisol levels and help with sleep.
Are you satisfied with the support your doctor has been giving you for the symptoms of perimenopause? Some symptoms are best resolved using HRT. But many more can be resolved by taking a lifestyle approach.
The beginning of my perimenopausal journey didn’t go well, and I’m determined to help ladies navigate this chapter of their lives so they can take control of the next decades and live their best lives.
To find out how you can navigate the symptoms of perimenopause, click the button to book your free call with Dyna Vink, Health and Nutritional Coach.
There are several things that can go wrong when undertaking a low-carb lifestyle. Most of them are easily resolved. Here are some of the most common mistakes.
Weight Loss Stall After First Week
It’s common that people start the program and after the first week of weight loss, they experience a weight-loss stall. What happens is that as the body starts to adapt to the food changes, the liver releases a significant amount of water, and this presents as a dramatic initial weight loss. However, after that initial loss is sustained, the body rebalances and a weight-loss stall can result.
Not Drinking Enough Water
Carbohydrates retain water and sodium in your body. When you cut back on (processed) carbs, the water and sodium are excreted. This means that people on a low-carb diet need to drink more water compared to other diets. The body needs extra water to hydrate the brain, organs, digestive system and skin. Without this flushing action, the dead cells and debris will be stored away and weight loss will stall.
It’s recommended that a person drink 8-12 glasses of fluid a day. This includes all beverages such as coffee, tea, and carbonated or lemon-flavored water. Some doctors have been a bit more prescriptive and said that you should drink half your weight in ounces of water. So for a 160-pound person, you’d drink 80 oz or 10 cups of fluid.
Most North Americans do not drink enough water on a regular high carb diet, so when they switch to a low carb diet, this lack of hydration can become quite a problem. Headaches, lethargy, and constipation can result. Fortunately, there’s an easy solution. Drink more water!
Cramps and Headaches
Many people experience muscle cramps, headaches, and nausea when they change their diet. These symptoms are usually connected with inadequate water and mineral deficiency. A magnesium deficiency will bring on muscle cramps, headaches, nausea, and listlessness.
Low Carb Ingredients
Many people can get off-track by eating foods that are not low-carb-friendly. And it’s easy to do because there is a lot of misinformation out there. Many foods say they are low carb when they are not. These tend to be foods that are more processed and frequently contain a sort of sugar that spikes insulin and adds poor nutrient fillers. Many products are trying to get on the low carb/keto bandwagon, but not all have selected good ingredients. They may be low carb, but if some of those carbs are insulin spiking (like artificial sweeteners), then they are not good choices.
A common mistake that people make is to think that simply eating low-carb foods is all they need to do to achieve their weight loss goals. Then when they don’t lose weight, they are puzzled and disappointed. Unfortunately, portion control is an important concept, as it is with food plans of any kind. As our body ages, we lose muscle mass, bone density and our liver shrinks. That combined with a slowing metabolism means that we don’t need as much food as we did in our 20s and 30s.
It does mean accepting a mind shift that the often the recommended portions will look very different. No more filling the plate, for example. Your protein intake will likely go down. Too much protein will convert into glucose, and that spikes insulin, which we don’t want. So the trick here is accepting that the contents of your plate will change. Using a smaller plate can help to trick the brain into thinking there is more. This can help with the transition from an unsuccessful low-carb eating experience to a successful one.
Not all exercise is good for mid-life ladies. High impact and anaerobic exercise can place too much stress on the body and that results in cortisol production. This means that sore muscles recover very slowly and there’s an overall feeling of exhaustion. It’s much better to do aerobic exercises like walking, swimming or yoga. Resistance exercises are highly recommended using light weights to strengthen muscles and build bone density.