Tweaking My Diet After Menopause
When I turned 45, I felt the electricity that made me who I am was gone. I went to my doctor, and she said, “You’re in menopause.”
Wait. What? I’m only 45. How can I be in menopause?
Apparently, it’s possible. The average age for women to start menopause is between 45-55.
Over the next two to three years, I began to gain weight even though it felt like my diet and exercise stayed the same. I ate a healthy, whole food, plant-based diet and literally taught fitness for a living – “How can I be gaining weight?”
At that time, I didn’t own a scale, so it wasn’t until I stepped on it at my doctor’s office that I realized why none of my clothes fit. I had somehow gained 20 pounds, seemingly out of nowhere.
My OBGYN said that it “just happens” after menopause, and my Endocrinologist told me it would be “near impossible” to lose weight because I already had a good diet and I exercised regularly.
For a few months, I just accepted that it “is what it is,” but that didn’t last long. I didn’t particularly appreciate buying all new clothes and felt uncomfortable and sluggish. I also noticed that most of my weight was around my stomach, and it felt hard. This wasn’t subcutaneous fat but visceral fat -fat around my organs.
I knew about visceral fat dangers from earlier in my career when I was personal training. Visceral fat can lead to type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and even Alzheimer’s disease.
What I didn’t know was how to live in my new menopausal body!
My mother never mentioned it to me, and I had never heard anyone talk about it. So, I began researching and found that women in menopause gain weight (usually around their bellies) due to lower energy levels, muscle mass decline, and insulin resistance.
Hmmm, insulin resistance? I have pre-diabetic family members, so I knew insulin resistance causes type 2 diabetes.
Why is menopause a riskier time for us?
In my research, I found that insulin resistance is more common in menopausal and perimenopausal women. Hormonal changes affect how our cells respond to insulin, and our cells cannot easily take up glucose in the blood, thus leading to high blood glucose levels. If left uncontrolled, blood sugars elevate over time and raise the risk of metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, and weight gain.
In his book, he discusses how too much saturated fat is the cause of insulin resistance. This was the piece that I had been missing! I looked at my diet and realized that even though I was eating plant-based whole food, I could still tweak a few things.
“Fat in the bloodstream can build up inside the muscle cells, creating toxic fatty breakdown products and free radicals that block the insulin signaling process. No matter how much insulin we have in our blood, it’s not able to sufficiently open the glucose gates, and blood sugar levels build up in the blood. And this can happen within three hours. One hit of fat can start causing insulin resistance, inhibiting blood sugar uptake after just 160 minutes.”
Saturated fat is a type of dietary fat. It is one of the unhealthy fats, along with trans fat. Most of the time, these fats are solid at room temperature. High quantities of saturated fat are found in foods like butter, cheese, red meat, palm and coconut oils, and butter. I don’t eat animal products, but many alternative foods are produced from nuts, which are heavy in saturated fat.
Don’t get me wrong, a small amount of fat is essential to a healthy, balanced diet. Fat is a source of essential fatty acids, which the body cannot make itself, but too much fat can lead to major health risks and unwanted weight, especially for women over 40.
What I tweaked to help me lose 20 pounds:
I love my morning coffee with a splash (okay, maybe two splashes, but who’s really counting this kind of thing?) of almond milk creamer, so as painful as it was to give up my creamer, I switched to black coffee and started Intermittent Fasting.
Next, I looked at the vegan cheese I was putting on everything. Holy moly! 4 grams of Saturated fat and 60 calories per serving (who eats one serving of cheese?). If you are not vegan and eat cheese made from cow milk, the saturated fat might be even higher.
Finally, I had to let go of the olive oil. I used to sauté all my veggies in oil; now, I just use water. I don’t even notice the difference!
No more creamer in my coffee: -2 grams saturated fat, -60 calories
No more cheese on my food: -8 grams of saturated fat, -120 calories
No more oil: -4 grams, -240 calories
The result = deficit of -420 calories and -14 grams of saturated fat!
So, skipping the creamer, the cheese, and the oil reduced my calories by 420! I also reduced my daily saturated fat intake by 14 grams!
Do you know how long you have to exercise to burn 420 calories?
Creating a Calorie Deficit To Lose Weight
If you want to lose just one pound of fat, you need to create a calorie deficit of -3500 calories. By eliminating these items from my daily intake, I made a calorie deficit of 420 calories per day. Theoretically, I can lose a pound of fat in roughly eight days by eliminating 420 calories from my diet daily.
Even if you don’t want to create a calorie deficit but instead only focus on lowering your saturated and trans fat intake, you will still be lowering the amount of fat in your bloodstream.
By doing this, it will help you stay insulin sensitive (which is a good thing) and avoid a fat build-up inside the muscle cells that will block the insulin signaling process.
Nutritional Tweaks Rather Than A New Diet
Instead of drastically altering their diets, I advise my private clients and BYG Members who ask me for help managing their weight to make small, consistent modifications to their nutrition by removing or including things that would improve their general health. Huge drastic changes are tough to maintain.
If you want to try to create a calorie deficit while also reducing your saturated fat intake, here are two ideas to try:
1. Track an average week of eating. You can use an app tracker or write what you eat down on paper. The key is to be honest, and measure out your food. You don’t have to do this forever, just at first, to find out where you are consuming the most saturated or trans fat.
Track portions based on the label and write down how many calories and how much saturated fat. Look to see what items had the most calories and saturated fat. Then, swap out that food for something with less saturated fat or eliminate those items from your diet.
If tracking your food is triggering to you (which it is for many), there is another way to do this!
2. Make a list of the ten most common meals you eat. See if you can modify any of the high saturated fat items on the ingredient list for something lower in saturated fat. The foods you choose should contain no more than 2 grams (g) of saturated fat per serving.
For my non-vegans reading this, here are some examples of popular food items that contain saturated fat:
poultry, especially with skin
lard and cream
palm kernel oil
some baked and fried foods
For Vegans, examples of popular foods that contain high amounts of saturated fats:
According to the American Heart Association and the Cleveland Clinic, if you normally eat 2,000 calories daily, no more than 5-6% should come from saturated fat (no more than 13 grams per day).
A few other things I did while using the nutrition app tracker was to ensure I was getting 100% of my vitamins, minerals, and fiber through food rather than supplements.
Our body doesn’t function properly when deficient in vitamins and minerals. It can cause us to feel tired, lose our hair, weaken our immune system, get acne breakouts, and crave unhealthy foods.
Sound familiar? Some of the menopausal symptoms you have could be vitamin and mineral deficiencies.
Making these changes is all I did concerning changing my eating habits, and I noticed a huge difference without going on a crazy diet to lose weight (they never work anyway)!
I hope this blog helps you figure out where to make small changes to your nutrition that will have the most impact.
Next, I would love to help you learn how to increase your NEAT Calories (Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis) because staying active during the day also plays a crucial role in how your body uses the food you eat for energy.
Please check out my other blogs on Menopause and what has helped me through this time.
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I also have several programs that are designed for Menopausal women. FAST, Metabolic Movements, PERFECT10, and Strong & Bendy (out Dec 26th) will help you gain muscle, burn fat, and lower stress levels through yoga & meditation.
Try out any of of my programs for 30 days completely for FREE using the code MENOPAUSE.
I will keep sharing, so please let me know your questions! Remember that this is just my experience; every woman will experience this transition differently, but you are not alone.
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