Perimenopause marks the transition from women’s reproductive to non-reproductive years. For many women it begins in their 40s, and can last anywhere from 3-10 years (or even longer!) before menopause begins. The transition is typically associated with hormonal fluctuations, changes in menstrual cycles, and can also cause fluctuations in weight and body composition. This can be a challenging time period, especially as individuals feel a loss of control and regularity.
Regardless of the changes that take place, there are many lifestyle and nutrition interventions that can help reduce the symptoms of perimenopause, and even that help support body composition goals and minimize weight gain.
Balanced Blood Sugar
Having balanced blood sugar is one of the most beneficial things women can do in perimenopause to help ease hormonal symptoms, especially hot flashes and weight gain. Because of hormone changes, womens’ sensitivity to insulin starts to change, so many women find that some of the higher glycemic foods they could enjoy previously tend to cause more glucose dysregulation – even when those foods are part of more balanced meals. This is one of the primary reasons why we recommend glucose monitors for individuals during perimenopause. Every individual is different, and will have different tolerances and responses to foods.
If you’re used to rushing around all day and in the habit of skipping meals as a result of a busy work schedule, now’s the time to ensure more stability and routine in meal timing! Consistency in eating is something that can support blood sugar stability. In addition, consistency in eating eases stress in the body – the impact of which we will discuss soon.
The plate method of balancing meals is a great method of visualizing nutrient support for blood sugar balance – aim for 50% of your plate to be full of non-starchy vegetables, 25% protein, 25% starches, and add 1-2 servings of healthy fat. For those who end up being more sensitive to starches, they may aim for closer to 60% of their plates to be full of non-starchy vegetables, 25% protein, 10-15% starches, and the addition of 3-4 servings of healthy fats. The amount of starchy carbs that are supportive directly depends on how active women are.
A few supplements may also help with blood sugar support in perimenopause. Magnesium, chromium, and berberine are all options to discuss with your health provider.
Ensuring adequate protein intakes are a critical part of the perimenopausal time period. Protein not only helps balance blood sugar, but also helps to maintain lean muscle mass. If you missed our recent article about the importance of protein, here’s the TL;DR edition. Aim for 0.8 – 1.0 grams of protein per pound of ideal body weight. As we age, those numbers may need to be closer to 1.2 grams per pound of ideal weight to prevent the loss of lean muscle mass. Determining protein needs is tricky, so we recommend working with a dietitian or knowledgable healthcare provider in determining what balance is right for you. To help get enough protein AND to improve blood sugar balance, we recommend aiming for at least 30-40 grams of protein with the first meal of the day. To achieve this goal, opt for savory breakfasts that are built around protein-dense foods.
Fatty fish are excellent sources of protein to include several times a week. In addition to the protein content of this food, fish like salmon and sardines also contain high levels of omega-3 fatty acids, which reduce chronic inflammation in the body, and also may help to reduce symptoms like hot flashes.
Strength training becomes even more important in perimenopause, especially for maintaining lean muscle mass. As women age, the potential to lose muscle and bone density both increase exponentially without intervention. This is where the concept of progressive overload is especially beneficial: increasing either the volume of repetitions, or the weight that you’re lifting. At a minimum, aim for 30 minutes of strength training three times a week.
While resistance training is the most beneficial for maintaining lean body mass, cardio is really important for brain health as we age. Because of varying hormonal levels and the effect that those hormones have on insulin and blood sugar, women are much more likely to face diseases like dementia and Alzheimer’s. However, cardiovascular exercise reduces the risk of these conditions by about 35%. Aim for 40 minutes of low-intensity steady-state cardio a couple times a week. Activities like jogging and swimming, and group sports like tennis are all great ways to engage in regular cardio.
Stress itself can cause fluctuations in blood sugar AND insulin resistance independent of glucose variations. Without intervention, chronic stress causes further imbalances on hormonal health and glucose regulation. So many individuals push through very stressful seasons and lifestyles until all the going and going finally results in the experiences of HPA axis dysregulation, fatigue, weight loss resistance, and worsening hormonal symptoms.
In addition, the life cycle change itself can often have an impact on existential stressors. Making peace with life transitions and speaking with a therapist about feelings like loss of control and overwhelm can help support your mental and emotional state in this period of life.
To help lessen stress, opt for consistency in nourishing meals – aim to set up a pattern of meal times and stick to it as much as possible. Tools like meditation and mindfulness exercises help alleviate stress when practiced consistently. We love NSDR and Yoga Nidra for stress support, and you can find many free videos on YouTube to try.
In summary, it’s important to note that every woman’s experience with perimenopause is unique, and there is no one-size-fits-all approach to nutrition during this time. Consulting with us here at STAT Wellness can help you develop a personalized nutrition and lifestyle plan that meets your individual needs and supports optimal health during perimenopause.