What comes to mind when you hear the word menopause, perimenopause and post-menopause? Old age, becoming old? Illness? Goddess time? Rebirth? Renew? Another female time? Hot flashes? Mood issues? What about self-care?
What if you could use self-care or self-loving activities, to combat some of the most common perimenopause symptoms and develop a more loving relationship with our bodies. During this special time we for sure need an extra dose of self-care. Self-care can come in many forms. The activities I suggest here are to address some of the worst premenopausal and menopausal symptoms and they are easy, cheap, and fun.
Do a happy list
What activities make you happy? Do you like to paint, to sing, to sew, to garden, to ….? Think back to your childhood and develop a list of the activities that make you happy. This is for you, not for anybody else; it doesn’t matter if your kids or partner don’t like them. The cheesy phrase “do more of what makes you happy” is true and effective.
Pick some of them and try to do them. You have to write them down on your calendar and make them happen. If money is an issue, look for cheaper ways; if time is an issue, look for shorter activities; if energy level is an issue, try less tiring activities.
How will this help you? It increases good hormones and lowers stress. Less stress is less hot flashes and more sleep. Good hormones is more energy and happiness, less depression, sensitivity and irritability.
Discover your inner dancer
My favorite dance is belly dance. It can be hard on your knees, so it may need modifications in midlife. Dance is a great exercise and happiness booster during perimenopause and menopause. Dancing makes us feel sexy and feminine. Some women tend to let their femininity go down with age and responsibilities. It is important to keep our femininity up, because that is part of our power.
Dance is also exercise. The exercise helps us relax and eliminate toxins. Dancing is a powerful, easy therapy for women. Take some dance lessons (it can be free online) and dance.
There are many women after 40 who join dance groups to develop closer relationships while doing something so pleasant. If you prefer the gym, try Zumba or similar exercises.
Clear your mind of nocebo
Nocebo is the evil brother of placebo. In placebo, we believe that something does good to us and it does it, although it is not supposed to. For example, medicine and sugar pills; some people take the sugar pills and get cured because of the placebo effect. It is our minds telling our cells to get healthy. Nocebo is the contrary.
In nocebo, we believe that something has a negative effect in us and it does, although it is not supposed to. For example, if someone gets convinced that she has an allergy to gluten, although that person does not have it, every time she has gluten she gets sick. This is how superstitions also work.
If we believe that we will suffer hot flashes because it is common for women in their 40s or 50s, we will. Remember common does not mean normal. Hot flashes and other symptoms are not normal even if they are common. Many women like me don’t suffer them. Don’t expect them; your mind is very powerful, if you expect them they will come.
Every time a negative age or menopause stereotype comes to your mind, negate it with something positive. For instance you can say things like: age is just a number, I am healthy and strong, I love myself, everything is OK, etc. Create your own mantras and repeat them.
Don’t let books, magazines or websites tell you that you will get sick, that menopause is a terrible time in a women’s life. They are trying to grab your attention and scare you into buying something.
Track your symptoms
If you are experiencing any perimenopause symptoms, keep a diary. Write down what you eat, your emotions (example: angry in the morning, sad in the afternoon etc.) and the time and situation the symptom presents itself. This is especially important for hot flashes (or hot flushes, if you are in Europe). If you identify the triggers you can manage them and have less symptoms.
Look for good company
Avoid negative people. Avoid negative talk about aging and menopause. Don’t hang around in websites and forums discussing symptoms (remember, nocebo is powerful). Look for positive, uplifting company in real life, online and in books and media.
Elect the positive
Listen to your inner dialogue and try to change negative thoughts with positive or neutral ones. Worry and stress create addiction. Avoid becoming an addict to these negative emotions.
Feel beautiful as you are
Every time you catch yourself saying something negative about your body, change it to something positive.
The media is telling us to hate ourselves, because we are not … skinny enough, rich enough, elegant enough, sexy enough, strong enough, etc. Reject these negative manipulations. They only do it so you buy their products. Remember fear sells.
Can the Mediterranean diet be the answer to midlife weight gain and the dreaded midlife spread (AKA tummy fat)? It is for sure a strong contender and a very delicious one.
The Mediterranean diet or way of eating has been touted as the healthiest diet in the world. Is it true or not? A lot of scientists think so, but a lot of them have also ignored some important truths about this way of eating. Is the Mediterranean diet a good diet for you? Let’s find out.
One thing is for sure, the Mediterranean diet is delicious and includes a great variety of foods in all food groups.
What is the Mediterranean Diet?
It is not a diet. By Mediterranean diet we are referring in reality to the main principles that the people around the Mediterranean eat.
The Mediterranean is a diverse region that extents around the Mediterranean Sea from Portugal going around including Israel and Egypt all the way to the norther edge of Africa. The main study on the Mediterranean diet was focused on Italy.
However all these countries and peoples eat in a similar way: a lot of seasonal vegetables, fish, not too much meat, olive oil, some wine and natural sweets.
Beyond diet, people in these areas used to walk a lot, have good friends and take life easy. Currently this way of life has changed in the Mediterranean and the diet and lifestyle are starting to look more like ours. In this article when we talk about the Mediterranean diet we are talking about the traditional diet, not about current practices.
What do they eat in the Mediterranean?
If I tell you in Italy, it is Italian food. Then you may think, “Oh, I
also love pizza” and I do too. They eat pizza or flat breads often but
it is part of the meal. The rest of the meal will include a lot of
vegetables and some animal protein.
In short they eat a wholesome diet including tons of veggies, fish, fats, whole grains, nuts and seeds, cheeses, wine, fruits, a little bit of meat and butter. They used to eat local, seasonal foods. They don’t call it healthy, they called it just regular food.
I find that there is an aspect that is rarely discussed, maybe because it can be obvious, but it is so important that I want to spell it out: In the past people in the Mediterranean (and everywhere else) used to cook at home from scratch.
I find that there is an aspect that is rarely discussed, maybe because it can be obvious, but it is so important that I want to spell it out: In the past people in the Mediterranean (and everywhere else) used to cook at home from scratch.
Their vegetables are not carrots and peas or bad looking broccoli, neither do they eat a ton of salads. The vegetables are cooked in many ways, and because they are so fresh and flavorful, they don’t need a lot of additives to taste great.
Oh yes, they drink wine. I will tell you something, women don’t drink as much, in fact some women don’t drink at all or just dessert wines once in a while. Wines are nothing special in most of the Mediterranean, they are everywhere. But yes, wine is part of the mixture.
Cheeses and milk
They don’t believe that milk is evil. They eat cheeses and drink milk. However, they didn’t get the propaganda of 5 servings of milk a day, they only have a couple of servings and probably mostly cheese. Traditionally their milk was of the highest quality, naturally organic, pasture raised, 100% grass fed from animals that were treated almost like pets.
Fish and meats
Fish is a common food in this region; after all they are on the Mediterranean Sea. Meat is also eaten, but in the past they didn’t eat much. They eat the whole animal, including internal organs and they eat seafood.
They eat a lot of gluten. They eat a lot of grains and wheat. They eat grains, breads and pastas. But if we compare this to our bread consumption, the calories from bread type foods is lower than ours and of higher quality.
Lots of fats. Mainly olive oil and some butter and lard. The original study that highlighted the Mediterranean diet as very healthy compared their consumption of fats to Americans.
That study found that they were eating less saturated fat than Americans and they had a lower incidence of heart attacks. The study concluded that high saturated fat consumption was the cause of heart attacks. This study ignored other aspects of their diet such as low level of sugar consumption, a lot of walking and manual labor and lower stress levels. That study was the one that demonized saturated fats and promoted high carbohydrate consumption.
They eat a lot less than us. They don’t eat:
Sugary cereals in the morning (this is an American invention)
Soups, sauces and salad dressings with sugar for lunch
A ton of calories from desserts
They don’t eat a lot of sweets such as chocolate and candies often
They don’t drink a lot of sugary drinks such as sodas and juices
Traditionally there were no processed foods. They purchased some foods such as cured meats, pickles, pastas, oils etc. but rarely sauces or prepared foods.
What they don’t eat?
They don’t have restrictions, they don’t eliminate food groups, they don’t demonize any foods. They don’t try to eat low fat or low carb or low calories, they don’t diet. They also don’t consume a lot of supplements. They don’t have super foods or fad diets.
They take the sun, but not to get tanned, they use hats and common sense to avoid it. They take the sun while out of the house. I mention this, because the sun is a source of vitamin D.
They drink coffee in moderation. The Venti size coffees (or very large) never were seen in the region until Starbucks arrived. Usually they drink coffee with milk in the morning and a cup of black coffee (no sugar) in the afternoon.
The cup size is small and in many places it is mostly espresso type coffee (no cream and mostly without sugar). The amount of sugar varies but it is seldom super sweet (looking at you Starbuck’s lattes).
No fast food
Normally people in the Mediterranean take their time to cook and to eat. Everything is slow. Eating while watching TV or worse while driving is unheard off. In fairs and now while out of the house, people have started to buy snacks and eat them while walking.
Things are changing
When we talk about the Mediterranean diet we are talking of the diet of the past. The study on the Mediterranean diet was done right after the Second World War. The current Mediterranean diet and lifestyle, as I said before, is starting to look more like ours. So we want to copy the previous diet and life not the current one.
Is it healthy?
Yes, the traditional Mediterranean diet has everything that we think in actuality to be healthy. It is a very balanced diet that includes all food groups in moderation and to that we have to add a lot of walking, laughing and communicating. Traditionally there was also respect for elders; being older didn’t mean being sick and useless.
Is it a good diet in midlife?
Most of the principles of the Mediterranean diet are healthful, delicious and easy to incorporate in our lives.
Something to keep in mind is that epigenetics is now pinpointing to the importance of our genetic makeup in nutrition. An example of this is:
People from countries like France and Germany traditionally have eaten a lot of saturated fats and they “might” process that type of fats better than someone from Mediterranean ancestry.
Epigenetics and the relation to nutrition is still being studied so we don’t have anything conclusive yet.
How to follow the Mediterranean diet at home?
Remember that is not only a matter of a diet, it is a lifestyle. It matters how you eat, slow, relax, calm and hopefully in good company.
The main principle of the Mediterranean diet is variety. Eat different foods, specially veggies and whole grains and seeds.
Low consumption of high quality red meats
Olive oil or other cold pressed oils
Natural foods, preferably local
Eat vegetables in season and lots of them. Add flavor
Eat delicious food. Learn Mediterranean recipes, they can be Italian, Greek, Spaniard, Middle Eastern, Portuguese etc. In the Mediterranean food is truly to enjoy it.
Eat slowly, preferably at the table, without stress
Low sugar. Don’t drink your calories and avoid added sugar. In the Mediterranean a lot of people tend to eat a little bit of sweet bread every day, but the portion is small and it does not have trans fats. They also have a small piece of seasonal fruit after a meal.
Don’t get full with bread and pasta and eat nutrient dense foods
Drink water instead of other drinks
Drink herbal teas
Some myths of the Mediterranean diet
One of the main myths is that it is low fat. It is lower saturated fat, but they use a lot of oil.
Olive and canola oil. Not true, they used only cold pressed oils, mainly olive. You may also use other oils if they are cold extracted. Canola oil is not cold extracted.
They don’t eat butter. Yes they do, not in high amounts because it is expensive there, but they use it. It is natural and from healthy animals. Here we have to look for pasture raised, grass fed, organic butter.
Wine. If you don’t drink don’t start because it is healthy, this is debatable. If you drink choose red wine and in moderation. For women max one glass a day, for men max 2 glasses a day (I recommend only one).
Low fat milk. The Mayo clinic, in their article about the Mediterranean diet, recommends low fat milk. The Mediterranean people don’t drink anything low fat. They drink full fat or 2% (they take some of the fat to make cream).
Can you lose weight with the Mediterranean diet?
Yes, but how much depends on how much you eat and where you are at. If you eat in moderation and you are currently eating a standard American diet you will probably lose weight and gain energy. If you have a lot of weight to lose, you will lose weight. If you are skinny and already eating “healthy,” you may not lose more weight, because your body is already in harmony.
Mediterranean diet and hot flashes
The Mediterranean diet and lifestyle can be very good to manage hot flashes (or flushes) and other peri-menopausal symptoms. A lot of the perimenopause and menopausal symptoms are aggravated or caused by stress, excessive sugar, lack of some nutrients (this affect the hormones) and some bad foods. A Mediterranean lifestyle can address some of those causes.
In Italy and other places in the Mediterranean women report less dryness and less hot flashes (or flushes) than in the USA.
After menopause the Mediterranean diet can be very healthy because it includes a lot of nutrients that will strengthen your organs and bones.
This diet has the very important bonus that it eliminates a lot of processed foods and excess sugar in other words toxins. With this we are eliminating health risks.
The dreaded menopause belly? As menopause approaches most of us start to gain weight or gain weight easier and faster than before. “But I am eating the same and I am gaining weight.” This is a very common experience among women approaching menopause or right after this. That was my case and intermittent fasting was a big part of my solution. Intermittent fasting is a great way to lose hormonal weight during menopause and perimenopause.
The most disturbing thing when we gain weight in perimenopause or menopause is the changes in our body’s shape. The good news is that it is possible to lose weight during this time and you don’t have to follow a strict diet or become a gym rat, intermittent fasting can help you.
My weight loss story
Let me tell you a little bit of my weight story. I was skinny and started to gain a little bit of weight in my forties, some weight accumulated, but I was still skinny. As I was closer to 50 the weight and the tummy skyrocketed and for first time in my life I was very close to the overweight level. My clothes didn’t fit and the type of clothes I used to wear were not flattering for my body anymore, because the tummy was growing very fast.
I tried to lose weight by cutting calories and working out more, but the weight continued to go up. After trying a couple of diets I was frustrated because the result was that I gained less weight than without the diet, but I still gained weight.
Suspecting that I may have hormonal problems I went to the doctor and he told me everything was fine. My hormones and health were fine, and that it was normal to gain weight at my age. I was not happy with the answer and I did a lot of research and even got certifications.
How I lost the weight during perimenopause?
Since the low calorie and low fat diet was not working I needed to change something else. So, I tried intermittent fasting and I started to eat more fats, and added more flavor and proteins. I was already eating a lot of vegetables and consumed low sugar. Now (and during my weight loss period) I eat more calories and more fat than before. How is that possible? Two words “Intermittent Fasting” or three “Time Restricted Feeding (TRF);” if you want you can also say time restrictive eating (I think it sounds better, but TRF is more common). TRF is a form of intermittent fasting (IF). There are more strict and complicated forms of intermittent fasting such as the 5:2 diet or the 800 calorie diet.
I do TRF 6 times a week; Saturday I don’t follow it. Time restrictive feeding or eating have worked for me and for my clients. Many people love intermittent fasting because it isn’t a diet, they have freedom to eat their favorite foods, and they can eat bread, pasta, pizza, ice cream and desserts.
Why intermittent fasting (or TRF) works?
Time restricted feeding helps to balance our hormones and accelerates our metabolism.
By only eating in a shorter time window, we allow our internal organs to do their job more efficiently. This is especially true for the liver, kidneys, pancreas and adrenal glands.
Energy levels go up
It reduces hunger. This doesn’t happen immediately, but after a couple of months your hunger level goes down.
Cravings go down. Especially craving for sweets.
It may produce autophagy. Autophagy is a Nobel Prize winning discovery about cell regeneration. Some people will tell you “it will” produce autophagy I am saying “it may” because the scientists are still trying to prove this. If this holds true, TRF may also help to keep us healthier and younger. .
How do you do time restrictive eating during peri menopause?
For intermittent fasting to be effective during perimenopause and around menopause we need to start slow. TRF simply means that you eat in a specific time window.
That eating time window can be anywhere from 14 to 7 hours even 6. Some people do it in a shorter window, but I don’t recommend that during peri and menopause. Let’s say that you start with a 12 hour time window. That means that you can eat your breakfast at 7 AM and your last bite or drink of food will end at 7 PM. After 7 PM you will not eat or drink anything with calories until the next day at 7 AM.
The ideal time window should be 8-7 hours. But during perimenopause / menopause or if the person has prediabetes it is better to start with 12 to 10 hour window. For example you can eat your breakfast at 7 AM, have your lunch at your convenience and dinner or after dinner snack at 7 PM for a 12 hours fasting, or at 5 PM for an 8 hours fasting.
Every week or every two weeks, you will reduce the window by 15 or 30 minutes to reach 8 to 6 hours. That will mean that you can have a very late breakfast or skip it as most people on this diet do, or have a very early dinner or skip it. For me and my clients the easiest way is to skip breakfast.
Wait, isn’t breakfast the most important meal of the day?
Considering the source of that statement no, it isn’t. It was created by Dr. Kellogg (yes, the one from the cereal company). There have been many studies proving that Dr. Kellogg was right, but at a closer look those studies don’t compare apples to apples so their findings are wrong. The studies compare people who eat breakfast to people who don’t (the ones who rush in the morning) but then they drink sugary, creamy coffee, and right after, go and eat a snack.
In TRF we consciously don’t eat breakfast, but we have proper meals. During fasting time anything with calories will break the fast and it isn’t allowed. Diet soda although doesn’t have calories is also not recommended.
There is some debate as to whether black coffee/tea without sugar is acceptable, and while some strict believers drink only water and nothing else, a large number of people, including myself, do have a small cup of black coffee without sugar in the morning. It is said that if you want autophagy only drink water.
The weight comes down slowly
Unless in addition to the TRF you also follow a healthier lifestyle or another diet the weight will come down slowly. This is usually not a big problem for most people. One of the most popular combinations is intermittent fasting and Ketogenic diet; with this combination the weight comes down super-fast.
What can you eat?
In theory you can eat what you eat normally. However, during perimenopause and menopause I recommend that you lower your sugar consumption, watch for sugary drinks and breads. Try to eat natural foods preferably made at home. Include veggies in your food because we need those nutrients and drink plenty of water or herbal or green teas.
I believe not all diets and lifestyles are for everybody, so TRF or intermittent fasting may not be the best for some people. The reasons I picked TRF for myself and for most of my clients are that it is easy, effective and healthy.
In addition to weight management Time Restrictive Feeding has other benefits such as:
Intermittent fasting helps to management blood sugar levels.
It helps to eliminate toxins from the body (this makes estrogen more available)
Intermittent fasting helps to control leptin and ghrelin (these hormones control hunger levels)
It promotes heart health
TRF and IT lowers inflammation levels
It promotes lean muscle
In addition to those benefits some of my clients report better sleep, more energy and more concentration. To my clients I also recommend supplements and the diet includes nutrient rich foods, so the effects maybe the results of everything combined.
And working out?
What we eat will have a larger effect on weight than working out, but working out is super important for our health. I do 30 minutes 5 times a week. I recommend my clients to do at least 30 minutes 4 times a week. It doesn’t need to be heavy exercise. It can be walking, trampoline (I do this), yoga etc. The best would be twice a week weight training and 3 days some light aerobic with some flexibility exercises (to keep nimble and avoid falling down).
Should you try Intermittent Fasting with Time Restrictive Feeding?
If you don’t have any medical conditions to preclude you from it, it is super easy; it’s a well-studied diet with lots of research and it has worked for a lot of us. You can start doing it 3 times a week and increase it to 4 or 5.
I will try to publish a free ebook or mini-course in the next few weeks; if you are interested please join the mailing list. If you have questions comment below. You may read the first part of this series: Why do we gain weight during menopause
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