Menopause and Weight Loss: 3 Common Mistakes to Avoid
One of the most frustrating symptoms of the menopause is weight gain. Your body just wants to cling on to your fat cells, because they store oestrogen and many women find the pounds start to pile on, despite their best efforts. This is one of the reasons why successful weight loss can be difficult for menopausal women. If you’re having to work much harder to manage your weight than you used to, it’s important to make sure all your efforts aren’t in vain, so here are three of the most common diet mistakes to help you identify just where you might be going wrong and what you can do about it.
Beware of Sugary Smoothies and Juices.
One of the main culprits when it comes to weight gain is excess sugar, because it generates the release of the hormone insulin which encourages the body to lay down fat stores. You might think that fruit juice is a healthy option for a drink, but if you’re regularly grabbing a smoothie or fruit juice on the way to work then this could take a major toll on your waistline. Just a couple of glasses of juice per day can add up to a whopping 8 teaspoons of sugar, the equivalent of a can of Coke. Commercial smoothies are even worse, with just one small fruit smoothie bottle containing around 7 teaspoons of sugar.
Eat the whole fruit but avoid the juiced versions. Fruit is naturally high in fructose, which is fruit sugar, but it also contains plenty of fibre which helps to balance out the sugar. By eating the two together you can slow down the flow of fructose, allowing the liver time to process it and mitigating the potential harm it can do. The juicing process extracts the fibre from the juice, so that you’re only consuming the sugar which is where the problems start.
Although it might seem that smoothies get around this problem by blending the whole fruit, it’s important to realise that the sharp blades break down the cellulose in the fruit which makes up the insoluble fibre and slows down the absorption of the sugar, so the impact can be almost the same as with a juice.
If you’re keen to boost your vitamin and mineral content AND keep the sugar down, then go for a vegetable juice instead. Purists would advise focusing on green juices, as starchy root vegetables such as carrot or beetroot will eventually break down to sugar. However, they’re a great way to start if you’re a veg juice virgin and a much better option for your waistline than a mango and passion fruit smoothie, for example.
Don’t Skip Meals
Although there is some research into the benefits of intermittent fasting for weight loss, there’s a big difference between a carefully planned and controlled fast and an erratic diet where you don’t know when you’re going to eat next. The problem with skipping meals is that it confuses your metabolism and can generate an unhelpful hormonal response which could lead to more weight gain in the long term. Our eating behaviour is controlled by hormones and the relevant one here is leptin, which manages your appetite by informing your brain about the status of your energy stores and whether you need to stop or carry on eating. Short term fasting leads to a dramatic drop in leptin levels, indicating a state of famine to the brain. Within a short space of time, your nervous system has gone into conservation mode to protect you by increasing your appetite and creating sugar and carb cravings which will lead to a spike in insulin which can encourage your body to store fat.
Even just missing breakfast can generate an unhelpful hormonal response. Ghrelin is the hormone that manages hunger and it’s programmed to increase before a meal and decrease after a meal. Skipping breakfast may seem like a smart way to keep calories down, but some studies have shown that people who miss breakfast eat more at both lunch and dinner than people who regularly eat breakfast, because the ghrelin levels remain unchecked. As every menopausal woman knows, no matter how strong your willpower, you’re never going to win a battle against your hormones and in the long term the weight will simply pile back on.
Regulating the insulin response by limiting sugary foods and drinks and boosting your intake of fibre (e.g. wholegrains, pulses and vegetables) is the key to ensuring optimal leptin levels and achieving successful and sustained weight management. This will also help maintain stable blood sugar levels which is key for menopausal women, because it helps to reduce the production of stress hormones which can exacerbate hot flushes.
As for managing your ghrelin levels, one way to do this is to ensure your breakfast contains some protein: add a large spoon of pumpkin and sunflower seeds to your morning cereal or porridge, or have wholemeal toast with an egg or unsweetened peanut butter. It could make all the difference to your eating habits later in the day and reduce the risk of sugar cravings by keeping you fuller for longer.
Avoid the Low-Fat Trap
Assuming a low-fat diet is the best way to lose weight is a very common misconception and many a client proudly tells me that they only ever have low-fat fruit yoghurt or skimmed milk, for example. Dietary fat doesn’t make you fat – it does a number of other things, such as balancing hormones, supporting brain and cardiac function, ensuring the absorption of certain vitamins and producing sex hormones (crucial at this time of hormonal havoc!). It’s also responsible for much of the flavour in our food, which is why manufacturers add sugar to low-fat products, as the flavour has been stripped out along with the fat.
This is the real problem, as excess sugar is a crucial factor when it comes to weight gain. If you take a close look at the label of a small 125g Activia low-fat yoghurt pot, you’ll see it contains up to four teaspoons (16g) of sugar, so almost a quarter of the whole pot is just sugar. The crowning irony of low-fat products has to be the Starbucks “Skinny” Blueberry Muffin which contains just as much sugar (6 teaspoons) as the Classic Blueberry Muffin. Not only will it not taste as good as the Classic, but the high sugar content means that it’s far from the sensible treat that the marketing suggests.
Take a really close look at the labels of any low-fat products to make sure you’re not introducing excess sugar into your diet. A teaspoon of sugar is roughly 4g, so it’s simple enough to do the maths. If you don’t have the time or inclination to fiddle about with calculations, here are a few suggestions to get you started:
a). If you really want a muffin or a cookie, opt for something which is higher in fibre, such as a bran muffin or an oat cookie. They’re likely to be lower in sugar and the high fibre content will keep you going for longer
b). Avoid pre-packed sugary granolas from grab and go outlets – many of the popular breakfast pots contain up to 8 teaspoons of sugar and aren’t as healthy as they look. Try a porridge pot with fruit compote instead – the sugar content is much less, at around 3 teaspoons, and it has the advantage of being higher in protein and fibre to keep you going.
c). Keep away from fruit yoghurts – low-fat or otherwise – and opt for delicious full-fat plain yoghurt that you can sweeten with fresh berries or chopped fruit, which is a much more fibrous option and far lower in sugar.
If you’ve been struggling with weight management, you might benefit from a WellWellWell nutrition consultation. The right nutrition is crucial to help support a healthy weight. Contact me if you’d like to arrange a free 20-minute telephone assessment.