It’s a little strange, but I find that most women don’t talk about a very important topic - perimenopause, or the menopause transition. Perimenopause can last 8-10 years starting typically in our 40’s, but some women experience signs in their late 30’s. Menopause is officially when we haven’t had a menstrual cycle for 1 full year and our ovaries stop releasing eggs.
As we go through this transition and through menopause, we can often experience the struggles and impact of the hormonal imbalances occurring in our body. You know that feeling when you’re feeling a little out of whack?
This happens because hormones regulate most major bodily processes. I’ve got good news -- YOU are not crazy! Your hormones are just being a little whackadoodle!
Hormone imbalance typically shows up with various symptoms like:
Hot flashes/night sweats
Hormones literally rule the roost, because each hormone has a direct relationship to the next and affects each other in a ripple effect. So you can’t just go straight to trying to put a bandaid on estrogen issues, if you haven’t looked at getting your insulin and cortisol in balance, for instance.
I believe there is a hierarchy to hormones and you need to think about ALL of them to feel better, so let me show you how. (Also, if you'd rather listen to me chat about this info, find the YouTube video link at the end of this blog.)
Here are some simple lifestyle tips in order of importance that you can do to support each of these hormones naturally:
The must-have starting foundation. This is the love and feel-good hormone. As they say, “Love conquers all!” Oxytocin drives our social relationships, behavior and mood. It also has a positive influence on stress, anxiety, and pain.
LIFESTYLE TIPS: Increase doses of oxytocin daily by hugging loved ones, petting your animals, smiling, showing someone unconditional love, being kind to yourself, practicing daily gratitude, increasing your positivity, and sexual pleasure.
This is our main stress hormone. Cortisol is who you can blame for that lovely belly fat and it works closely with both oxytocin and insulin. We can become stressed from our emotions/reactions, environment/toxins, extreme workouts, lack of sleep, and trauma. Cortisol is good for our natural flight or flight response, for danger, but when it’s kept chronically high, it wreaks havoc on our body!
LIFESTYLE TIPS: Focus your efforts at night on quality sleep for 7-9 hours in a dark, cool room. During the day include 2-10 minute stress breaks. These could include deep breathing, a short walk, watching something that makes you laugh, meditation, reading, etc.
Stop excessive long cardio and hour-long workouts. They are not necessary in the perimenopause years and later and could be keeping your hormones out of balance. Use the principle of exercising smarter, not harder with 25-30 minute full-body strength circuits 2-3x/week. Adding one 20-minute HIIT cardio session is plenty if desired, but feel free to do as much outdoor walking as you can.
This is our fat storing hormone and associated with a lot of our cravings. Insulin controls our blood sugar levels and increases most when we eat sugar, refined carbohydrates, and processed foods. Insulin is also impacted by cortisol. So, if you eat these types of foods all the time and/or are chronically stressed, your insulin will remain high. When insulin remains elevated, your body stores more fat than you need, causing you to be overweight. This is called insulin resistance.
LIFESTYLE TIPS: Start by educating yourself on how many carbs you currently eat. This is usually an eye-opener to most. Try an app like My Fitness Pal or Carb Manager and log what you eat for 3-4 days. See what your average carbohydrate intake is. Many women on average, are eating around 150-200 grams of carbs. In my opinion, most 40+ women tend to be a little more stressed and can’t handle this many carbs on a daily basis and still burn fat. Carbs are not bad, but there is a time and place for higher amounts of them. On most days of the month, my clients tend to do best between about 45-75 grams of total carbs, depending on the person.
Start decreasing your total carbs by limiting them from one meal at a time. Instead focus on protein, healthy fats and fiber. When you feel you’ve gotten consistent switching up your breakfast options from cereal to eggs, for instance, move on to the next meal.
Leptin is sometimes referred to as our “fat burning hormone”, because it controls our satiety and is supposed to prevent us from both starving and overeating. It is produced in our fat cells and tells our brain how much fat storage we have to use for energy. Leptin works opposite of Ghrelin, our "hunger" hormone.
Because this hormone is based on fat cells, those that are overweight/obese have much higher levels of leptin than those that are lean. However, if your leptin levels remain elevated, just like insulin, you can become leptin resistant. When this happens, the communication between our brain becomes broken and your brain no longer picks up on the amount of leptin you actually have. So even though you already have more than enough fat stores for energy, it keeps making more leptin and tells you to eat more.
LIFESTYLE TIPS: Leptin resistance is associated with high inflammation and poor sleep. So, to start, you’ll want to reduce the amount of carb-rich processed foods and inflammatory oils you eat, like canola oil or soy oil. Start by swapping out one processed food you typically eat daily for a single-ingredient or whole food instead.
Next, to help with appetite, research has shown time and time again that the amount of protein you eat helps keep you more sensitive to leptin. Protein helps regulate your appetite, so include 25-30 grams of protein with 3 meals on most days.
Estrogen and progesterone are female reproductive hormones. (Testosterone, the male sex hormone component, also makes an impact on our muscle mass and libido.) These two female hormones are like sisters and depending on the time of the month they raise and lower.
Estrogen is the “busy body” sister and makes important things happen, like preparing our body for conception, regulating our period, growing breasts and pubic hair, and keeping our bones strong. However, our body can be tricked into thinking we have extra estrogen by chemicals called xenoestrogens, which can mimic structural parts of estrogen. These come from the toxins found in the environment like plastics, heavy metals and cleaning or beauty products we use.
Progesterone is the “chilled out” sister. She has powerful anti-anxiety powers and acts as an antidepressant, diuretic, and is essential if you want to access fat reserves to burn for energy. If you don’t have the right amounts of progesterone in your body, you will always burn sugar (carbs) as a fuel and this may result in your body having to break down muscle for energy—(even if you have plenty of fat reserves).
LIFESTYLE TIPS: If you are over 40 years old, please stop following the Instagram plans or nutrition tips of the 20 or 30-something influencers. I know they are fun and super cute, but what works for them, is most likely not going to work for us. As adorable as these ladies are, they just don’t have the same fluctuations with estrogen and progesterone month to month as we do in perimenopause and beyond.
You’ll see lots of marketing of them eating “clean” foods and healthy carbs -- which don’t get me wrong is WAY better than a bunch of junk! But, if you truly want to transform your body over 40, you need to switch from being a sugar burner to being a fat burner. That happens by eating enough protein, not being afraid of healthy fats, and cutting down your everyday carbs along with strategically eating carbs according to your menstrual cycle status. Carbs can do wonders for hormone symptoms -- at the right time!
Secondly, to decrease those pesky xenoestrogens from lurking around, support your body’s defense by eating cruciferous vegetables daily like broccoli, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts. In addition, start swapping out the toxic products you’re using regularly. I’d start with the beauty products you use on a daily basis one by one. I recommend scanning your products with an app like Think Dirty or EWG and try to use products that score a 3 or less, which have limited to no toxic ingredients.
Hope that helps you feel FIRED UPP!
P.S. Grab my FREEBIE Balanced Hormones Cheat Sheet for more tips: http://eepurl.com/gGf6xv