Women are no strangers to body changes. In our later years, we eventually come head to head with ‘the big M’. Whether you’re just starting perimenopause or are in the thick of menopause already, you’re not alone in feeling scared or underprepared.

It’s not a topic that tends to be brought up in casual conversation over the dinner table or in the lunchroom. However, menopause is simply a sign of your body stepping into the next phase of life.

With so much out of your control, it’s a great time to focus on taking care of yourself. Hone in on a healthy diet, fitness routine and body weight that’s sustainable for you. These things will work together to support you in the long run.

Still feeling overwhelmed? Let’s break down the basics.

What’s the difference between perimenopause and menopause?

Perimenopause is like waiting for the race to start. It’s the bit right before menopause when your body is getting primed for the transition.

As your hormone production starts to decline, you may start to experience ‘typical’ symptoms like irregular periods and hot flushes. Once you’ve gone 12 full months without a menstrual cycle, you’ve officially joined club menopause.

How does perimenopause affect you physically?

Big changes in your oestrogen levels mean big changes in your body. Most noticeably, a slower metabolism may see you gain weight around your middle, despite your best efforts with your diet.

Then there’s the list of symptoms you likely heard your mum rattle off when she was your age, including night

sweats, emotional changes, poor concentration, and muscle pains. You might also experience less outwardly visible changes, such as in your cholesterol and calcium levels.

It’s a scary-sounding list, but don’t panic. You’re not guaranteed every symptom, and you may even join the lucky few who experience next to none.

Ready to take control of your experience? Here are 8 tips to support you through menopause

Get meal planning

The female body doesn’t stop changing after puberty. Starting in your mid-30s, you’ll start to burn fewer calories due to a loss of muscle mass. If you haven’t adjusted your calorie intake by your 40s, your favourite jeans will probably feel a little tighter around your middle.

Whole foods are your best mates during this shift. Centre your plate around fresh produce and lean proteins,

cutting down on starchy, sugary, salty and highly-processed foods where you can. It’s not about eating less, it’s

simply about adjusting the way you approach mealtime.

Thinking ahead makes all the difference during menopause. Snackers, you’re in luck - as long as you plan and make healthier choices, there’s no need to cut them out. In fact, regular meals do wonders for controlling mood swings, fatigue and weight gain. If you’re a victim of an afternoon slump, a nutritious snack is your secret weapon.

Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables

Make sure your trolley is piled high with fruits and vegetables. Keep the fridge colourful and enact a golden rule of 50% of your plate being produce-focused, in alignment with current guidelines. Your body will thank you for all of the bonus vitamins, minerals, fibre and antioxidants.

The antioxidant properties in fruits such as dark berries can also play a key role in skin vitality. This is because they contain vitamin C, which helps to remove the free radicals that influence ageing. Glowing skin won’t fix your menopausal discomfort, but it definitely doesn’t hurt.

Increase your fibre intake

When you're in the thick of meal planning, fibre should be top of the list. It will help keep you full for longer, which is essential due to your overall decrease in calories. It’s also a key nutrient to help you battle bloating, slow digestion and constipation.

So what should your ideal fibre-filled shopping list have on it?

  • Whole grain foods: Search for your favourite kind of brown rice, whole wheat bread, barley, quinoa, or rye. You’re going through a natural shift and that’s best matched with natural ingredients, so swap out those ultra-processed items.
  • Plant-based options: Add your favourite vegetables, fruits, and legumes. Not only are they delicious, they can do wonders for your mood.
  • Healthy snacks: This is entirely up to your palate. Get experimental by adding a whole food powder to your favourite smoothie, or buckwheat flour to that tried and true muffin recipe.

Focus on calcium and vitamin D for bone density

Ageing sees us gain a lot of things (hello wisdom!), but we also tend to lose things, such as bone density. This kicks off around 35 and quickly decreases during menopause due to the loss of oestrogen. There are lots of nutrients needed to keep our bones healthy, but calcium and vitamin D are star players.

Let’s add some calcium-rich items to that shopping list:

  • Dairy products: Items such as milk, cheese and yoghurt are treasure troves for nutrients. As well as calcium, they contain phosphorus, potassium, magnesium and vitamins D and K.
  • Fruits and vegetables: Unsurprisingly, these are calcium and nutrient-rich. However, you’ll often find them in unexpected foods, like green beans and barley.

The sun also plays a vital role in keeping your bones healthy, as vitamin D allows our bodies to absorb more calcium. Take advantage of the rays and be sensible about your sun exposure.

Search for plant oestrogens

Plant oestrogens (phytoestrogens) act in a similar way to our own. By adding a hearty dose to your diet you may start to see mild oestrogen-like benefits, such as better-balanced hormones.

The list of things to look out for in the supermarket is long, including:

  • Produce such as broccoli, cauliflower, dark berries, chickpeas, soybeans, grapes and plums.
  • Nuts, grains and seeds such as peanuts, flax seeds and barley.

It’s not a quick fix, and those who do experience the benefits might take two or three months to see an outer glow.

Get started by eating small but plentiful amounts throughout the day.

Source quality protein

To round out that shopping list, focus on lean protein. It’s a game changer when it comes to body transformation and menopause is no exception. Because there’s a natural decrease in muscle mass and bone strength during this time, it’s important to load up on the good stuff wherever you can. Guidelines recommend that women over 50 eat 20-25 grams of high-quality protein per meal.

As a cheat sheet for your meal planning, high-protein foods include free-range eggs, organic meat, fish, legumes and dairy products.

Fish is particularly great due to its high quantity of Omega-3, which is crucial for overall heart health, mood

improvement and decreasing menopause symptoms. Hunt down oily varieties at your local fishmonger such as

salmon and mackerel, or sprinkle flax and chia seeds on your latest veggie masterpiece.

Choose a sustainable workout routine

Get moving in a way that suits you. Set aside 30 minutes a day for an activity you love and can sustain, be that a boogie in the lounge or a brisk walk with a friend.

We’re not all gym goers, but strength training should also be a part of your routine twice a week. Lifting a weight or two will slow down mineral loss in your bones and slowly build up any lost muscle mass.

Drink plenty of water

Last but not least, increase your fluid intake. As much as we all wish we had an ‘off’ button for a hot flush, being well-hydrated is the next best thing. You’ll also likely see many other benefits, like a decrease in hormonal bloating and your body having an easier time processing fibre.

As tempting as it is to reach for that glass of wine or espresso martini after a hard day, try to switch these out for water. Alcohol and caffeine can be a hot flush trigger.

Menopause is complex, but knowledge is power when it comes to management. You’ve got a long and happy life ahead of you, so focus on making sustainable changes.

Remember that you’re not in this alone. Your night sweats probably still won’t come up in casual conversation, but there are plenty of women around you who are going through the motions too. Be kind to yourself, and reach out for support if you need it.

If your symptoms feel unusual or are limiting your daily life, touch base with your doctor or medical professional. They’ll be able to offer you tailored support during regular appointments and gynaecological exams.

Your body has changed many times throughout your life. You’ll get through this new season, too.

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