Friday, June 24, 2011

Moving Past Menopause Weight Gain

This article is also available on Nutrition in Motion's blog NIM Dish

Moving Past Menopause Weight Gain
Sarah Reid, RHNC

The most profound weight gain in a woman's life tends to happen during the years leading up to menopause. The hormonal changes of menopause play a role in gaining weight around your belly instead of your hips and thighs, for sure, but that is mostly a fat distribution shift. The actual weight gain, however, is usually related to lifestyle factors. Through changing your diet and adopting a healthy, active lifestyle, you can put the brakes on the “middle age spread” and even reverse course.

A lack of exercise and general activity often plague middle-aged individuals, and the additional demands on parents and grandparents by family, work and household duties tend to put a damper on time spent at the gym. Even the regular gym goers may notice a decrease in their muscle mass and tone – women entering or in menopause don’t build muscle tissue as well as younger women and their metabolisms tend to emphasize the generation of fat cells rather than muscle-feeding glycogen. Less muscle, more fat leads to an overall slower metabolism rate. Keeping the same diet and lifestyle you did at 30 will almost always create more weight. Keep your activity high (at least 30 minutes of physical activity daily) and balance between low-impact cardio, active stretching like yoga or pilates, and strength training. Activity can be anything from power-walking the grocery store with a loaded cart (do an extra lap of the perimeter) and putting the groceries away, to “pumping iron” with your shampoo bottles in the shower and stretching your arms, legs and back while gardening. Once you get into the rhythm of daily activity, you’ll see how much better you’ll feel and how easy it is to maintain.

Maintaining a healthy weight is ¾ diet. Just to maintain a premenopausal weight and body fat percentage (before even considering losing weight) — most 50+ women need 200 - 250 calories a day less than in their 30’s. Pay attention to what you're eating and drinking, and opt for a mostly low-fat vegetarian diet filled with fresh fruit, vegetables and whole grains. When picking protein, go for beans and tofu (stay away from commercially prepared soy analogues like veggie burgers as a rule), then head to the fish counter and stock up on salmon, halibut, and local, in-season fish. Chicken, when skinless and prepared without added fat or sugar, is another good choice. Make your bread, rice and pasta 100% whole grain (check the label) and try some of the other grains like quinoa or buckwheat. Dairy should be low-fat, but not entirely fat free, so you can absorb the vitamins and minerals. When cooking, choose oils like canola (and use less) while opting for unrefined flax oil for salad dressings. Unlike olive oil, which is higher in Omega-6 fatty acids than the beneficial Omega-3, these have the opposite ratios. High Omega-6 in the diet can lead to worsening hot flashes and headaches because of it’s pro-inflammatory nature.  Be careful with your iron intake once menstruation stops too – post-menopausal women often store more than they should (especially if they’re red meat eaters), and the liver takes a hit as a result.

Anyone carrying extra pounds, especially around the middle, has a higher risk of developing high cholesterol, hypertension and most permanently, Type II diabetes. If one of these syndromes develops, especially during pre-menopause and the first two years of “full” menopause, heart disease and stroke risks skyrocket. Being overweight also is a key factor in developing colon and breast cancer – gaining just 5 pounds during this time causes the risk of breast cancer to jump up 30%! Unfortunately, if you do develop cancers of any kind while overweight, you are 34% more likely to pass away from the disease, and with obesity (a BMI over 30) the mortality rate is 65% more. However, physical activity drops your chances by 40% and losing 20 pounds slashes the risk of developing cancer by over 55%. It’s clearly worth your while to make the change for a better tomorrow, today – before your body does it for you. Fill your world with people who support your efforts (or team up!), and enjoy being a vivacious vixen!

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I started my "working life" as a holistic and allopathic nutritional consultant with a love of cooking. Teaching the value of wholesome meal choices to families became close to my heart after I battled a long history of struggles with weight and health, and the passion for teaching led me into where I am now. My blog, which focuses on "bringing good taste to healthier food" through creative use of whole grains, fresh produce and acknowledging the importance of the occasional treat, also features a wealth of "specialty diet" friendly recipes for gluten-, egg-, dairy- and sugar- tree nut-free items that everyone can enjoy without alienating those who need them.

Overall, I want to bring back the desire for good quality, homemade, (mostly) healthy food into the hearts and kitchens of families so that the next generation will be less box-reliant than mine. I firmly believe that any “homemade” food, even when labelled as "naughty", is a more wholesome treat than pre-packaged, cookie-cutter junk. With the knowledge of good food (and how to cook good food) as a base, a healthy lifestyle can follow, and then anything is possible!