Maintaining a healthy diet during perimenopause is incredibly important, because what we put into our bodies influences how we feel and can impact our daily quality of life.
If you’re curious to learn more about the connection between perimenopause and nutrition or are looking for some insights and recipes to incorporate into your own routines, we encourage you to read on. Here we feature some thoughts and advice from Linda Fears, certified nutritionist, and women’s lifestyle expert.
Stepping Into the World of Women’s Health and Nutrition
As a longtime women’s magazine editor, I spent decades researching, writing, and editing articles on health, fitness, diet, and nutrition – in addition to beauty, fashion, and family life. My readers were always the most interested in food and health content, and so was I. At a time when everyone was counting calories and eating low-fat everything, most Americans were overweight or obese. Something was clearly wrong, and I became interested in the connection between food and health—specifically, how what you eat can either keep you well or make you sick.
I wanted to learn more, so six years ago I enrolled in Cornell University’s Nutrition and Healthy Living certification program. Taught by the chair of the nutrition science department, the 7-month course forced me to remember biology class –I hadn’t thought about mitochondria or the Krebs cycle since college. It reminded me that if our cells aren’t strong and vital, neither are we. As I dug deeper into how various foods impact the body, and became convinced that a whole food, plant-forward diet is the key to health and longevity, I knew I needed to spread the word. So, I started my nutrition business, Goodfoodrx, and began consulting with clients.
Correcting Misconceptions Around Perimenopause and Weight Gain
One of the first people I worked with was one of my neighbors. A professional woman and mom of two in her mid-forties, she contacted me after a frustrating doctor’s visit. She had told her internist that even though she was exercising and not eating more than usual, she had gained 20 pounds. She asked her healthcare provider for weight loss advice and was told that because she was in perimenopause, putting on pounds was inevitable and there was nothing she could do about it.
That made me really angry, and I assured her that it was not true.
Yes, there are reasons women tend to gain weight during the menopause transition—mostly due to hormonal shifts, stress, and a lack of quality sleep—but there are ways to avoid it, and even reverse it. The problem is that you won’t get that information from your healthcare provider because medical students are not provided with a thorough education in nutrition. Providers tend to tell patients who want to slim down to “eat less and exercise more,” which isn’t the most helpful advice.
Why Perimenopause Can Correlate with Weight Gain
Perimenopause hits women at the most hectic time of their lives—when we’re juggling work, raising tweens and teens, running a household, and often handling the needs of elderly parents. It’s a super stressful time when we need to be fit and well rested, and yet we’re dealing with wonky periods – not to mention bloating and irritability, sweaty, sleepless nights, and daily to-do lists that are impossible to keep up with.
Oh, and fitting in exercise? Forget it.
When we are chronically stressed and exhausted, two things happen: we crave simple carbs and sugar that provide instant energy, and those foods – think bagels, muffins, chocolate, cookies, chips, pumpkin spice lattes – cause our bodies to release insulin—otherwise known as the fat storage hormone. Insulin clears glucose from our blood, stores it as fat, and because those refined carbs you ate don’t contain protein or fiber to keep you full, you’re hungry again two hours later.
Weight Gain During Perimenopause Isn’t Inevitable
I’m here to assure you that perimenopause and menopause do not mean automatic weight gain. If you avoid ultra-processed foods and stick to a Mediterranean diet, you’ll be able to manage hormonal fluctuations, avoid sugar cravings, have more energy, sleep more soundly, and lose those extra pounds.
In the coming months keep an eye out for some nutrient-packed recipes, and nutritional advice regarding how to keep your gut healthy, avoid bloating and inflammation, practice mindful eating, end sugar cravings, and much more.