An increase in hormones during puberty and pregnancy often bring mood swings, weight changes, hair growth and increased appetite. Decreasing hormone levels throughout perimenopause and menopause often create fatigue, unexplained weight gain and difficulty losing weight for many women. Often these transitional periods and the symptoms related to them create dietary confusion.
Weight gain during menopausal years is very common and complex. Women have the potential to gain weight due to hormonal changes, food sensitivities and often times lack of energy consumption. When women begin gaining weight, the first reaction is usually to decrease calorie intake or increase calorie burn (exercise). The belief is if less calories are consumed or more calories are burned; more weight will be lost. Women become frustrated when they have restricted calorie take, eliminated food groups, along with adding excessive and sometime unsafe intensity and hours of exercise. Mathematically, calorie counting makes sense, however, humans are not math problems, we are individuals.
I often discourage my patients from counting calories. Because food companies, authors and lots of advertising rely heavily on calories, we have somehow confused and transformed the meaning of calories into something bad. Not only do people begin grouping or seeing foods as good or bad based on their calorie content, but also the amount of calories a food contains does not describe its ingredients, nutrient levels, glycemic value or volume.
Scientifically, a calorie is the energy value of food or the energy needed to raise the temperature of 1 gram of water through 1 °. Energy or calories are required to maintain a healthy metabolism. Food is energy, energy that we require. Just as weight is only one factor to health, calories are only one form of measurement in a diet. A diet measured by calories alone, especially if calories are restricted, is not guaranteed to be healthy.
Many women who struggle with losing weight, especially during menopause, blame their weight gain on a “slow metabolism”, while not realizing they have slowed their metabolism themselves.
When calories and nutrients are limited for a long period of time, the speed of one’s metabolism may be affected. Think of your metabolism as a fire; without proper kindling, the fire will go out. When a body is deprived of calories, the body may transition to a state of fasting. When a body is in a long term state of fast, no matter how much exercise is included, it will begin reserving fat for energy instead of maintaining a regular “burn.” More times than not when a person returns to eating a diet that provides proper nutrients and calories, weight loss returns. In order to maintain weight loss, our bodies must trust that we are going to provide them with the proper foods. You must eat to lose weight.
I have provided some tips to help ensure your metabolism remains healthy through all stages of life.
- Eat a diet rich in natural foods including fruit, vegetables, nuts, seeds, whole grains and lean proteins.
- Rely on “real” food when possible. Avoid regularly using processed shakes and bars that are marketed toward weight loss, muscle building etc.
- Avoid going long periods of time without eating. Eat every 3-4 hours when possible.
- Participate in a healthy exercise routine that is at least 150 minutes long each week. A mix of intensity and type of exercise (stretching, cardiovascular, and strength training) is recommended. Avoid extreme fitness trends and durations.
- 6-8 hours of sleep each night is recommended.
- De-stress. Whether the stress is stemming from problems at work, home or internal, try using stress management techniques like deep breathing, yoga, tai chi, infrared sauna or meditation.
- Avoid dietary gimmicks or strong health claims. Adding large amounts of capsaicin (found in peppers) to your diet will not increase your metabolism to the point of losing weight.
- Seek help. If you struggle with losing weight, please seek a medically-trained individual. The Couri Center specializes in We seek to find the root cause of women’s health-related problems. Whether you struggle with hormone imbalance due to menopause, weight loss or just want to learn more about your health, I encourage you to schedule a free consultation to discuss our many customized integrative wellness options.
Leslie Rusch-Bayer, RD, LDN, CPT