If you’re suffering from bothersome symptoms of perimenopause, such as hot flashes, irritability and mood swings, insomnia, fatigue, and weight gain, you may benefit from following a perimenopause diet. By focusing on the right foods – and eliminating the wrong ones – you can help balance your blood sugar and hormones, reduce cravings and feel satiated for longer periods of time, build lean muscle, and boost your metabolism, all of which are key to weight loss and maintenance. Keep reading for more information on perimenopause and how specific dietary changes can help make your symptoms more manageable.
What is Perimenopause?
Perimenopause is the period of time leading up to menopause in which a woman’s ovaries begin making less estrogen. Also know as ‘the menopause transition’, perimenopause usually starts when a woman is in her 40s and lasts about 4 years, but the experience is often very different from one woman to the next. Some begin noticing the telltale symptoms of perimenopause in their 30s, while others don’t notice any changes to their menstrual cycle until their late 40s. Perimenopause symptoms may only last a few months for some women, but can persist for up to 10 years in others.
Here are some signs you may be entering perimenopause:
- Irregular periods*
- Heavier than normal periods**
- Hot flashes
- Irritability and mood swings
- Vaginal dryness
- Low libido
- Difficulty sleeping
- Urine urgency and incontinence
When a woman has gone through 12 consecutive months without a period, she has officially entered menopause, and perimenopause has come to an end
*It’s important to note that even though your body is producing less estrogen and your periods are irregular, you can still get pregnant, so be sure to continue using birth control to prevent an unwanted pregnancy during this time.
**Heavier than normal bleeding during your period can be a sign of another medical condition, so always discuss changes in your period with your doctor.
What Is The Perimenopause Diet?
Periomenopause can also cause weight gain, particularly around your abdomen, hips, and thighs. Falling estrogen levels can cause insulin sensitivity, which can make your blood sugar levels more prone to spiking and crashing, making you crave high carb, sugary snacks. Our metabolism also slows down as we age, and some research suggests that peri- and postmenopausal women burn up to 300 fewer calories per day compared to when they were in their early 20s.
The good news is that weight gain doesn’t need to be an inevitable part of a woman’s perimenopause experience. There are lots of lifestyle changes you can make to maintain you figure, such as:
- Monitoring the number of calories you consume versus the amount you burn. If you’re not already doing this, I highly recommend purchasing a FitBit as it automatically tracks how many calories you burn throughout the day, and it connects to a user-friendly app you can use on your smartphone to input your meals and snacks to help you get a better handle on where you need to make changes.
- Monitoring your portion sizes
- Limiting liquid calories
- Increasing your cardiovascular exercise
- Adding strength training to your weekly exercise regime
- Getting at least 8 hours of sleep each night
- Managing your stress
If you’re already conscious about your weight, you’ve probably already heard of a lot of these suggestions and ideas, and may benefit from a perimenopause diet. By focusing on the right foods – and eliminating the wrong ones – you can help balance your blood sugar and hormones, reduce cravings and feel satiated for longer periods of time, build lean muscle, and boost your metabolism, all of which are key to weight loss and maintenance.
While a formal ‘periomenopause diet’ doesn’t exist per se, there is a lot of literature available online that supports the idea that certain dietary changes can help alleviate the symptoms of perimenopause, including weight gain. By focusing on the recommended foods below and making a conscious decision to abstain from foods that are devoid of nutritional value and exasperate your symptoms, you can create your own perimenopause diet for symptom relief and long-term weight maintenance.
8 Foods to Avoid on the Perimenopause Diet
If you’re interested in finding a perimenopause diet that will help you lose weight, reducing or removing sugar from your diet is my first recommendation. When we eat sugar, opioids and dopamine are released, which make us feel really good and crave it even more. It triggers the pleasure center of our brain, as well as the reward center, which makes it a difficult addiction to crack. Sugar consumption can lead to issues like weight gain, heart disease, diabetes, and cancer, and it can also wreak havoc on your hormones, and make you feel tired and sluggish. Beware of ingredients like sucrose, fructose, and pretty much any other words with ‘–ose’ at the end as they contain sugar. Use natural sweeteners like honey and maple syrup instead.
2. REFINED CARBS
Cutting back on refined carbs – foods like cookies, cakes, pastries, candies, fast foods, breaded or battered foods, sugary cereals, pastas, bagels, and pizza – has many health benefits, especially when it comes to avoiding perimenopause weight gain. Refined carbs are absorbed into the bloodstream quickly, causing spikes in blood sugar and insulin levels, which can perpetuate cravings for high carb, sugary snacks.
3. PROCESSED FOODS
Processed foods such as deli meats, bacon, sausages, potato chips, and microwave meals are definitely convenient, but they tend to be high in sodium and sugar, which can lead to bloating and water retention. Avoid these foods as much as possible!
While a glass (or 2) of wine may help you relax at the end of a tough day, alcohol can actually make the symptoms of perimenopause worse. Alcohol consumption raises your internal body temperature, and can lead to an increase in hot flashes and night sweats. It can also interfere with sleep, and trigger or worsen feelings of anxiety, stress, and depression. Most alcoholic beverages are high in calories, and many people find it harder to abstain from mindless snacking and eating after a couple of drinks, which can have a negative impact on your waist line!
If you’re not sleeping at night due to perimenopause-induced hot flashes, you’re probably relying on your daily cup of jo even more than normal to help you get through the day, but did you know you’re likely just perpetuating the problem? Caffeine can also increase feelings of anxiety, so it’s a bad choice all around. If you absolutely must have your daily caffeine fix, try to limit it to one cup in the morning.
It’s no secret that salt causes bloating, water retention, and puffiness, but we often don’t realize just how much sodium is added to the foods we eat. While we may abstain from adding salt when we cook at home, processed and pre-packaged foods tend to be really high in sodium. Restaurants also add a lot of salt for added flavour, so be sure to check your labels and counterbalance your sodium intake with extra water when needed.
7. SPICY FOODS
Spicy and hot foods can make your hot flashes worse, so think twice before adding hot sauce and jalapeños to your meals!
8. FATTY FOODS
While nuts and fatty fish are excellent sources of vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids and should be eaten on the regular, other fatty foods (think: fatty cuts of beef, fried foods, cakes and pastries, and pretty much anything loaded with butter) should be avoided. Some studies have shown that fatty meats in particular can decrease serotonin levels, which in turn can cause us to feel more irritatable, so indulge with caution!
7 Foods to Eat on the Perimenopause Diet
1. VEGETABLES, ESPECIALLY LEAFY GREENS
We all know that increasing our vegetable intake is important for weight loss, but did you know leafy greens like kale, Swiss chard, collard greens, arugula, and bok choy can also improve your bone health, boost your energy, and improve your mood? These superfoods are high in fibre, calcium, magnesium, and B vitamins, and should be a staple in your daily eating plan.
2. HIGH FIBER FOODS
Consuming adequate fiber is a great way to manage your weight in your peri- and postmenopausal years. You should be eating at least 25 grams of fiber a day to reap the benefits. Fiber helps with your digestive health, disease prevention, weight control, and foods high in fiber help you feel full for longer. To increase your fiber, eat foods such as lentils, black beans, peas, broccoli, raspberries, pears and oatmeal.
Berries are full of fibre and packed with antioxidants, which improve blood flow. Improved blood flow delivers oxygen to the muscles, making it easier for your body to burn fat. Berries also contain less sugar than most fruits, making them a great snack to help curb sugar cravings!
4. FATTY FISH
As mentioned earlier, fatty fish like salmon, sardines, and tuna are rich in vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids, and they are said to decrease inflammation, reduce night sweats, improve mood, and help with depression, which many peri- and menopausal women experience.
Protein such as eggs, lean meats, and tofu help keep you full for longer so you feel satisfied and are less likely to snack between meals. Protein reduces hunger, helps curb cravings, and also protects muscle mass, which is important if you want to boost your metabolism. If losing weight is your goal, high-protein foods are a must at every meal!
Legumes, including peas, beans, and lentils, are high in protein and fiber and will help you feel full, which can be very beneficial to those battling perimenopause weight gain. Legumes are also high in iron, calcium, phosphorous, magnesium, and B vitamins, and can stabilize blood sugar levels and decrease mood swings.
We all know H2O does the body good. From keeping us hydrated so we feel energized, to flushing out toxins and improving our complexion, to boosting our immune systems, water is where it’s at, but what few people realize is that it’s a fabulous tool for weight loss as well. And it’s free! Keeping your body hydrated can also help ward off hot flashes, so drink up!
If you’re suffering from bothersome symptoms of perimenopause, such as hot flashes, irritability and mood swings, insomnia, fatigue, and weight gain, I hope the ideas in this post help you understand how specific dietary changes can help make your symptoms more manageable.