Menopause Diet Plan: Tips for Combatting Weight Gain
Janine Delaney, Ph.D.
If you are constantly battling weight gain especially around your midsection during perimenopause or menopause, you are not alone! I can’t tell you how many middle age women reach out asking for guidance when it comes to reducing belly fat and getting their curves back (especially at the start of the New Year!). It seems that for many of us, our metabolism dips. This was a big year for me- I recently turned 50 in September- and I can tell you that I’m no exception to this trend. Many women gain an average of 5 pounds after menopause.1 You may look at my exercise videos on Instagram and think to yourself “how is she going through menopause and still able to have abs?” I will tell you it’s not easy, but I have some simple tips when it comes to following a metabolism-boosting diet that will surely help you look and feel your best. The key here is consistency, following a nutrient-rich meal plan and listening to your body. So what can you eat? There is evidence that certain foods may help relieve some symptoms of menopause, such as hot flashes, poor sleep and low bone density. Below are some great menopause superfoods to help get you on track this New Year:
Dairy – As women reach menopause, our estrogen levels decrease which can lead to bone fractures. Dairy products - such as milk, yogurt, and cheese, which contain calcium, phosphorus, potassium, magnesium and vitamins D and K - are essential for bone health. One of my favorite forms of dairy is Chobani Vanilla flavored Greek Yogurt. I have this for breakfast every morning with a handful of blueberries and almond butter. Not only is it yummy, but it fills me up and gives me a great energy boost to start my day.
Healthy fats – Most women think fat is bad, but that’s not true. Good fats are critical for growing hair and nails (both of which seem to slow down in growth during menopause) and for healthy brain functioning. Some of my favorite healthy fats include almonds (which are also a great “on-the-go” snack), salmon and, of course, avocado. Aim for two servings of healthy fats a day. I like mine at breakfast and lunch, to help power me through the day. I find that incorporating these into my diet also allow me to sleep more steadily. Foods high in omega-3 fatty acids like fatty fishes (such as mackerel, salmon and anchovies), and seeds (such as flax seeds, chia seeds and hemp seeds) are also great sources of healthy fats that provide a quick energy boost. If you aren’t getting enough omega-3s in your everyday diet, I recommend adding a supplement.
Whole grains – Whole Grains are important because they are so high in vital nutrients, including fiber and B vitamins, like thiamine, niacin, riboflavin and pantothenic acid. Whole-grain foods include brown rice, whole-wheat bread, barley, quinoa and rye. Look for “whole grain” listed as the first ingredient on the label when evaluating which packaged foods contain primarily whole grains. I can’t stress enough the importance of reading labels - it is a good skill to have and will ensure you only put good, clean foods into your body.
Fruits and Vegetables – How can we forget fruits and veggies? Everyone has their favorites. Some of my go-to fruits include blueberries, apples and bananas and I love seasoned grilled vegetables any time of the day. One of my favorite tips is having these on hand for a quick snack. This can help curb tendencies to munch on junk any food that might be in the house, while also ensuring you are getting the nutrients your body needs while undergoing menopausal changes. I personally try to avoid buying food that isn’t good for you - if it is not readily available in your house, you will be less likely to eat it!
Phytoestrogen-Containing Foods – Phytoestrogens are compounds in food that act as weak estrogens in your body which can help relieve hot flashes or other menopause symptoms. Foods naturally rich in phytoestrogens include soybeans, chickpeas, peanuts, flaxseeds, barley, grapes, berries and plums. I love incorporating these into my diet through salads -they make great salad toppers! Green and black tea are also excellent sources of phytoestrogen containing foods. So sit back and relax with a nice warm cup of tea to soothe those menopausal symptoms.
Quality Protein – Protein is so important for women going through menopause because it helps maintain our bone and muscle mass. I try and eat 0.45–0.55 grams of protein per pound (1–1.2 grams per kg) of body weight daily — or 20–25 grams of high-quality protein per meal. I learned this during the time I was competing in figure competitions. It is important to spread your protein intake out during the course of the day to keep the body constantly fed to build muscle mass and bone strength
Collagen – I started taking collagen when I first started experiencing perimenopause symptoms. I take a scoop in water every morning with my vitamins. It has absolutely helped my skin, hair and nails while also assisting with muscle recovery. The benefits of collagen are so wonderful that I recommend it for women of any age, not just those going through menopause.
Now in contrast, here are foods I would caution against as you’re looking to lose weight and feel better. Menopause weight gain causes include:
High Sugar Foods – Try to avoid sweets and other high sugar foods. They tend to cause what I call a “sweet cycle” which just makes you crave more. When I first began experiencing menopause symptoms, I was eating ice-cream every night. One scoop became two scoops and then eventually two scoops became a pint (yes, believe it or not!). I noticed my abs were bloated and I lost definition in other areas of my body. I had to stop cold turkey. It wasn’t easy, but eventually the cravings went away. You can do it too.
Alcohol – I find when I drink on a daily basis, I retain water around my midsection and feel dehydrated. Now I limit myself to one glass of wine once a week when my husband and I go out to dinner. If I want to switch it up and drink something a bit stronger, I make a point to avoid sugary drinks and opt for a vodka with seltzer and lime.
Fatty Cuts of Meat – Try to select leaner cuts of meat when possible. Fatty meat is high in calories and will weigh you down. Opt for white meats - like chicken or turkey - when possible. If you are a steak lover try a nice filet mignon, which can be leaner than other cuts of red meat.
While all the above tips can help you to feel and look your best, the key is consistency. Aim to eat 3-5 small meals per day. Remember it is okay to have a “cheat meal” once a week -it is a way for our bodies to kick start our metabolism - but remember to only indulge in moderation. I believe a clean diet incorporating the food groups above, along with a good exercise routine, at least 8 hours of sleep per night and a positive attitude will help you get through the bumps of menopause with a better outlook. Check out an example of my daily diet below that helps keep me on track!
6 16oz glasses of water
Coffee with one packet Stevia
1 Cup of Oatmeal with water and a dash of cinnamon
¼ cup blueberries
1 teaspoon Cashew Butter
Cup of Arugula with Lemon and Olive Oil Home-made Dressing
½ cup Cherry Tomatoes
1 Honey Crisp Apple
10 Raw Almonds
6 oz Chicken Breast
1 Cup Steamed Spinach
1 Sweet Potato
Total Calories: 1,800
- Polotsky H.N. et al. “Metabolic implications of menopause.” Semin Reprod Med. 2010; 28(5):426-34.