In your 30s, you may have picked up on some clues that things were shifting with your hormones. And by the time you are in your 40s, your body may be changing in ways that you may not have expected or wanted. Specifically, fat storage in your midsection, or less affectionately known as menopause muffin top.
If you are struggling with:
- Mood swings
- Weight Gain
- Brain Fog
- Low Libido
- Vaginal Dryness
- Hair Thinning and Skin Changes
You are not alone. You are not broken. AND You do not have to suffer through it.
Perimenopause or Menopause?
The symptoms that you may experience between your mid-30s to 50s are under the transitory phase of perimenopause. This phase which leads up to menopause can last 5-10 years. As a brief aside, menopause is a milestone rather than a phase. It’s defined as one year after your last menstrual period. Everything after this milestone is the phase post-menopause. Perimenopause occurs due to a significant decline in your sex hormones; estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone. These hormones have been fluctuating throughout your life. However, in perimenopause, the shifts are more extreme. As your body no longer produces sufficient sex hormones or balances their levels.
The decline in hormone production and the relative imbalances created by fluctuating hormonal levels are the source of a wide range of symptoms. Women may experience fatigue, bloating, sleep challenges, and joint discomfort.
What is Going On With Your Hormones During Menopause?
Below are some of the symptoms that are associated with low levels of your sex hormones.
Symptoms of Low Estrogen
- Irregular periods: Estrogen is one of the main hormones driving the menstrual cycle. Low estrogen may lead to irregular or missed periods.
- Hair thinning and sagging skin: Estrogen plays supports collagen formation and production of hyaluronic acid. As a result, it promotes hair growth, yielding luscious locks and a supple complexion. Low levels lead to wrinkles, sagging skin, and thinning hair.
- Vaginal dryness and painful sex: Estrogen also supports vaginal health. It ensures that the vaginal secretions are adequate and vaginal tissue is hydrated. Low levels of estrogen will lead to vaginal dryness, atrophy, and as a result, painful sex.
- Mood swings and depression: Estrogen also increases the levels of the mood-boosting chemical serotonin. Therefore, low estrogen levels may cause serotonin to decrease, contributing to mood swings, depression, or anxiety.
- Hot flashes: Low levels of estrogen can trigger vasomotor symptoms. Vasomotor symptoms consist of hot flashes and night sweats.
- Brain fog, memory loss, trouble concentrating: Declining estrogen hinders short-term memory, critical thinking, and brain function.
Symptoms of Low Progesterone
- Irregular Periods -Like estrogen, progesterone plays a role in regulating your period. As progesterone levels start to decline in your mid-late 30s, your cycles may become irregular and unpredictable.
- Headaches and Migraines – While there are various causes of headaches fluctuating levels and the decline of estrogen may be a contributing factor. A drop in estrogen can trigger headaches as it causes the dilation of blood vessels and water retention.
- Anxiety– Progesterone is considered the great calmer since it has an intricate relationship to the brain chemical GABA. GABA helps create a sense of calm and relaxation. Low levels of progesterone can contribute to anxiety, insomnia, and irritability.
- Weight Gain – Progesterone supports thyroid function; thyroid hormones are responsible for the body’s metabolism. As progesterone levels decline, the thyroid gland does not have sufficient support to produce thyroid hormone. As a result, metabolism slows down contributing, to weight gain.
Symptoms of Low Testosterone
Testosterone plays a role in protecting the nervous, musculoskeletal, and cardiovascular systems. It also maintains energy, mood, and our sense of wellbeing.
Low levels of testosterone can lead to:
- Hair loss
- Increase fat
- Loss of muscle tone and strength: testosterone plays a crucial role in maintaining muscle integrity. Low levels lead to sarcopenia, which is a progressive loss of muscle mass and strength.
- Lack of motivation and self-confidence
- Low libido
- Moodiness and irritability
Each woman may experience the transition from perimenopause to menopause differently. The key to thriving during this stage of life is to give her body the extra support it needs.
Managing Your Menopause Symptoms
Rather than beating yourselves up for the shifts in your body, here are some simple suggestions to support your overall hormone balance and a healthy weight.
Here are five practical and actionable tips that can help you navigate this journey:
I. Workout Smarter Not Harder
The adage of no pain, no gain, or more is better is old news. Tuning into your body and moving in a way that feels good; serves your body just right. Are you a cardio junkie? Or pushing hard with high-intensity interval training? If your workouts exhaust you and your waistline is not budging. That’s a sign that it’s time for a time out.
Being active is so important for overall health and longevity. And choosing the type of exercise to do during menopause is very personalized. It can change from daily. It is essential to tune into your body, your energy, and your needs. Menopause is changing your body. So it is time to get to know the new you. That is the key to working out smarter not harder.
High-intensity workouts put more stress on your body, leading to increasing levels of stress hormones. The rise in stress hormones prevents weight loss. Opting for more gentle forms of exercise like walking, pilates, yoga, or strength training can help rev up your metabolism. It supports your heart health without wiping you out. Some days you may have more energy to increase the intensity. But on other days, you might not. So don’t just push yourself. You will still benefit from moving your body more gently.
II. Stress less about stress (no way to get rid of it, but there are ways to manage it)
Stress has so many effects on the body, including contributing to weight gain and making it harder to lose weight. During stressful moments, we often tend to grab food that soothes us. Most of our comfort foods are high in carbs and sugar, which leads to an increase in blood sugar, insulin levels, and fat storage. Additionally, this is compounded by the effects of stress itself because stress triggers the release of cortisol.
Cortisol raises blood sugar and increases insulin levels. As a result, several downstream effects occur. These effects include impairment in your body’s detoxification capacity, adding belly fat, and accelerated skin aging. A high-carb diet plus high levels of cortisol equates to weight challenges.
Simple stress management techniques that you can implement right away include:
- Listen to comedy; laughter is the best medicine!
- Yoga and meditation
- Taking a walk outside and tuning into the sounds, smells, sights, and sensations you experience along the way
- Putting on your favorite song, and having your very own dance party
- The most simple and most powerful one of all: JUST BREATHE.
Breathwork is the fastest way to reset your nervous system. It takes you from the fight or flight stress response to the rest, digest, and relaxation response. Simply breathing can restore your energy, improve well-being and create a sense of calm.
There are many breathing techniques you can use. One of my favorites is coherent breathing because of its simplicity. Take a deep breath in through your nose for a count of five. And then exhale through your mouth for a count of five. Repeat this cycle a minimum of 3 times. It is a game-changer. I promise!
III. Focus on food quality, not quantity
Estrogen is produced and stored in fat cells. The more fat we have, the more severe menopause symptoms will be. A crucial element to managing these symptoms is to focus on what and how we eat.
Whole foods are nutrient-dense. They brim with hormone-loving support that your body needs to thrive. Go for healthy fats like avocado and omega-3 fatty acids. Consume lean meats that are pastured and grass-fed. And opt for healthy carbs and fibrous vegetables instead of highly processed, high-carb foods. Including nutrient-dense food in your daily meals makes it easier to lose weight without trying.
Create every meal with a combination of healthy fats, fiber, and protein. This simple change will support the function of your gut and liver. It will also improve your stress response which will significantly improve your menopause symptoms.
Top tips to help boost metabolism, minimize midlife weight gain and support weight loss include:
- Minimize (ideally avoid) caffeine and sugar
- Reduce or eliminate alcohol (especially in the evening, as it can exacerbate hot flashes and disrupt your sleep)
- Eliminate bad dietary fats (hydrogenated, saturated), increase good dietary fats (olive oil, avocado oil)
- Boost your fiber (with a daily goal of 35 grams)
- Increase cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, Brussel sprouts) to help your body better metabolize hormones
- Power your plate with phytochemicals (rainbow of vegetables)
- Consider doing a food journal for a week to help identify food sensitivities that can contribute to inflammation and bloating
IV. Prioritize Sleep
It can be challenging to get a good night’s sleep with those hot flashes. But there are things you can do to minimize the frequency and intensity of those sweaty nights. Sugar, alcohol, and caffeine are triggers for hot flashes. Cutting back on this trio or better yet, avoiding them altogether can help.
Sleep also plays a role in either whittling your waist or packing on the pounds. Leptin is a hormone that affects metabolism by signaling us to feel full. Leptin increases during sleep.
When we do not prioritize sleep and get enough of it, this leads to low leptin levels, which slows metabolism. It is a double whammy because as leptin levels fall, ghrelin and cortisol rise. Ghrelin is the hunger hormone, and cortisol, the stress hormone. The rise in both drives us to eat more and store excess fat. The body perceives lack of sleep as a source of stress. The elevated cortisol levels tell our body to store fat, especially around our middle. That is why chronic stress can contribute to stubborn fat, making it harder to lose weight.
Setting your bedroom up for sleep success and less stress is key:
- Wear blue-blocking glasses to minimize junk light
- Dial your bedtime back by 15 minutes until you are in bed by 10 pm
- Keep your room dark (cover all outlet and appliance lights)
- Keep your room cool
- Use your bedroom for sleep and sex only (no TV)
V. Mindfulness is the key to better sex
I think it is pretty clear that stress can make menopause symptoms worse. From skin issues to weight gain to sleep challenges. It also messes up your mojo. Physical, mental, or emotional stress alerts the body to produce stress hormones like cortisol, adrenaline, and noradrenaline. And when the production of stress hormones is a priority, the production of sex hormones gets put on the back burner. During menopause, the production of sex hormones is already low. Therefore, stress will have a more significant impact on the body.
In addition, when stressed, you are either worried about the past or fretting about the future. And the one thing that lacks your attention is the present. But it is the present where life takes place. It is in the present moment where you experience pleasure, joy, calm, peace, and orgasms. And ladies, who would not want to experience orgasms?
How To Practice Mindfulness
Being mindful is nothing more than taking a moment to push pause. Bring an intention to pay attention to your thoughts, emotions, and sensations. Just observe them. Allow them to be what they are without trying to change them or wanting them to be different. There is no right or wrong way to do it. Simply allow yourself to receive. Being present can help you tap into or reignite your sensuality.
A helpful technique that will boost your ability to be more present starts outside the bedroom. With practice, you will be more comfortable. With comfort comes skills, skills that you can bring to the bedroom.
For example, while taking a shower, try this and tune into your senses. The sensation of the warmth of the water. The feeling of the soap sliding across your skin. The smell of your shampoo. The taste of water on your tongue. The sound of water hitting the shower floor. The sight of shampoo bubbles running through your hair.
Observe how you feel physically, mentally, and emotionally as you practice this mindful exercise. With time and practice, you will become comfortable with this exercise. You can then bring this level of awareness and attention into your intimate interactions with yourself and/or your partner. By focusing on all your senses, you naturally crowd out the negative self-talk. The body image worries. And all the other thoughts that often can slam the brakes on your sexual desire and arousal.
Instead, by tuning into your sensations, you can become more fully present. You will have a greater capacity to not only get turned on but turn up your experience of pleasure.
By following these five steps, you can more easily manage the symptoms of menopause. If you need more personalized support, schedule a FREE consultation HERE.