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Menopause and Weight Gain

jenlar27 No Comments

Menopause. That notorious phase of life where one is prone to mood changes, fluctuating stress levels, anxiety, hot flashes, insomnia, food cravings and weight gain.

I counsel women about this topic all of the time. What I typically see is someone who is restricting calories, engaging in high intensity cardio multiple times per week, and not losing one pound. One of the most important things I want women to know is that there is A LOT going on behind the scenes during this time that is causing that stubborn weight gain, and much of that may not be your fault. And while a healthy diet and exercise are important, it may take more then that to handle the major fluctuation in hormone levels that can occur.

As your ovaries begin to decline in estrogen production, your body will try to compensate by producing estrogen in other ways. One way is through your fat cells. This is why it is so common for women to gain weight (especially in their abdomen) during menopause. Those fat cells are trying to produce and hold on to estrogen. Your body will make it much harder to lose fat then it will to gain it.

In addition, your adrenal glands (which regulate the stress hormone cortisol) will also try to support your declining sex hormones, essentially working overtime to help your body regulate itself. This is a problem because cortisol can then become out of balance, and run high or low at the wrong times. Normally, cortisol should be highest in the morning upon waking, giving us energy to start our day. Throughout the course of the day, cortisol should gradually decline and be at its lowest as we prepare for sleep. When cortisol becomes imbalanced, it can end up running high at night (causing insomnia) or low in the morning (causing fatigue). Or sometimes, cortisol will run high all day long. When this happens, it can cause your blood sugar to chronically run high, which can lead to increased appetite, food cravings, weight gain, and insulin resistance. Cortisol also plays a role in causing symptoms like hot flashes and night sweats.

So what’s a woman to do?

The following strategies can help…

Balance your plate

The first thing I typically recommend is to balance your blood sugar with plenty of high fiber non-starchy vegetables, complex carbs, lean protein, and healthy fats. Complex carbs include fruit, starchy vegetables, beans, legumes, and protein rich grains such as quinoa. For protein, I like to recommend wild caught fish, chicken, turkey, or grass fed beef. Healthy fats would include olive oil, grass fed butter, coconut oil, nuts and nut butters, seeds, and avocado.

Do not deprive yourself of calories

It’s important to note that while we are normally inclined to limit calories in order to lose weight, in times of stress we actually want to be cautious about going too low. When this happens, it can actually cause additional stress on your body. That’s why it’s important to fuel your body with the right amount of calories to support its needs. Calorie needs differ for each individual. Know your minimal calorie range and stick to it. Do not over restrict yourself.

Stick to a meal schedule

Eat small meals throughout the day, and avoid going long stretches of time without eating. I usually recommend fueling your body every 3-4 hours. This will help to stabilize blood sugar and optimize your energy levels.

Limit or avoid caffeine and alcohol

Caffeine and alcohol can raise cortisol, increase hot flashes and night sweats, and impair sleep. Many women report a reduction in symptoms when they cut these out of their diet.

Exercise

Exercise, on the regular, and include strength training. Strength training will help burn fat and build muscle, which is known to decline as we age. It will also help to slow down the onset of osteoporosis, which women are at risk of during menopause because of the direct relationship between estrogen and bone health. Avoid frequent amounts of intense exercise. This can actually raise cortisol levels which will make it harder to lose weight. Have variety in your workouts, such as strength training 2-3x per week, cardio 2-3x per week, and low impact exercise such as walking or yoga 1-2x per week to really balance things out.

Focus on Stress Reduction

Manage your stress! Deep breathing, yoga, laughing, being outdoors, and simply taking time for yourself are all things that can help support your adrenals and lower cortisol levels. You can also incorporate supplements such as Vitamin C or B vitamins to help reduce stress. Adaptogenic herbs such as Ashwaganda, Holy Basil, or Rhodiola can be especially helpful, but I recommend starting with these in the form of a tea versus a supplement, unless you’ve taken a cortisol hormone test and know what your specific levels are throughout the day.

Prioritize your sleep

Reduce the use of electronic devices after 10pm, keep your bedroom cool and dark, and practice healthy sleep habits such as meditating to help clear your mind and prepare you for restful sleep.

Acupuncture

Consider complementary therapies such as acupuncture to help with stress and hormone balance.

Hormone Replacement

Talk to your doctor about hormone replacement therapies such as compounded bio-identical hormones. Your doctor will be able to discuss options and help you determine if this is something right for you.

Finally, recognize that this is a journey and that it may take time to see your body respond to some of these changes. Set goals, stay consistent, and be patient.

For more ideas on how you can manage menopause and weight gain, contact me here

Photo by Jennifer Burk on Unsplash

Healthy Eating For the Holidays: 8 Tips on How To Avoid Those Extra Pounds

jenlar27 No Comments

It’s that time of year again… the holidays!

This is by far one of the most challenging periods for many people in terms of staying on track with their nutrition and exercise goals.

While the coming weeks are meant for celebration and spending time with family and friends, the holidays tend to bring with them unwanted weight gain. Most often this is a result of parties and events that include an abundance of high calorie appetizers, dense meals, sugary baked goods, and extra alcohol.

If that’s not hard enough, studies show that individuals tend to be more stressed and/or depressed during this time of year, which can lead to binge eating, less motivation to exercise, and poor sleep – all of which can lead to extra pounds.

So how can you stay on track with your goals yet still take part in the festivities?

Here are 8 tips that I recommend:


1. Don’t skip meals – If you have a party or event to attend, I always recommend sticking to a regular eating schedule versus “saving” all of your calories for that one big meal. Chances are, you’ll arrive at the party starving and you’ll eat way more then you intended. Skipping meals leads to an uneven distribution of calories and macronutrients, blood sugar imbalance, and cravings. Instead, have balanced meals and snacks throughout the day that include protein, healthy fats, complex carbs, and fiber. You’ll arrive steady and clear focused, with the ability to stick to proper portion sizes.

2. Bring a “safe” dish – Think of this as an insurance policy that at there will be at least one healthy dish available, and that is because you will be the one bringing it. Offer to bring a green salad, a veggie tray, or maybe a low carb appetizer like deviled eggs with avocado. Whatever it is that you bring, fill up on it if there are no other healthy choices available.

3. Step away from the table – A common mistake that we are all guilty of is standing next to or near the buffet table as we talk and socialize. This can lead to mindless eating as we continue to reach down and load our plate over and over and over. Instead, fill your plate and walk to another area of the room to socialize. That way, if you want to go back for seconds you will have to excuse yourself from the conversation and consciously walk back to the table for more. This will make you much more aware of your overall intake. 

4. Exercise before you go – Getting some physical activity prior to a big meal can be a great way to stay motivated and acquire some discretionary calories. Hit the gym, go for a run, take a brisk walk, whatever you can do to get a workout in. You’ll feel so much better that you did.

5. Portion your indulgences – Allow yourself to indulge in moderation, but don’t lose site of portions. Being mindful of portion sizes can go a long way in terms of keeping off those unwanted pounds. At main meals, balance your plate with two servings of vegetables, 4-5 oz of lean protein, about ½ cup of complex carbs, plus 1-2 servings of healthy fats for an optimal combination. For simple carbs like bread, alcohol or dessert, decide which ones you will include versus which ones you will forgo, and portion them appropriately. For example, 1 serving of wine is only 5oz.

6. Be mindful when you eat – This means slowing down, avoiding distractions, limiting stressful circumstances, sitting at the table, chewing thoroughly, and savoring your food using all of your senses. You will get the most out of your meals, and will likely feel more satiated causing you to eat less. 

7. Breathe – When stress gets the best of you, don’t forget to stop and breathe. Deep belly breathing can be a great way to reduce oxidative stress, calm anxiety, and help you focus. The best thing of all is that this can be done anywhere. Allow yourself at least 5 minutes each day to breathe deeply. This can be especially helpful if you find that stress is dictating your food choices.

8. Don’t skimp on sleep – Studies show that individuals who get less then 7 hours of sleep tend to have a harder time losing weight and are at a higher risk of insulin resistance. Prioritize your sleep by setting a bedtime each night and sticking to it. Proper sleep will help to ward off cravings, and will provide you with the energy needed to stick to your workouts.

Try these tips to help you successfully navigate through the holiday season and stay in balance.

For more information on nutrition counseling services, contact me here.

 

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