Many women over 40 blame sleep deprivation, weight gain, low energy and just generally feeling crummy on hormones that are out of whack. And they're right: low hormone levels are a huge part of the problem.
"Initially progesterone may decrease, and progesterone is the 'calm' hormone, the 'feel-good' hormone, so what happens is the progesterone goes down, they can't sleep as well, when you don't sleep as well you can crave more carbohydrates," said registered dietitian and exercise physiologist Susan Dopart, author of "A Recipe For Life."
Dopart says when progesterone plummets, women become estrogen-dominant, producing P.M.S.-type symptoms: bloating belly, breast tenderness and malaise.
"And then they get that 'menopausal middle,' that they call it, where they feel like they're out of control and they don't really know what to do," said Dopart.
Many look to alcohol, caffeine, and sweet and salty foods for relief. While these soothe cravings, they're the exact foods that can exacerbate symptoms.
"They need to manage everything on a daily basis. They can't really have all these 'cheat days' or 'cheat times,'" said Dopart. "Women in their 20s and 30s can run on fake energy and adrenaline, but once you get into your mid-40s to 50s, you have to run on real energy."
While that may sound overwhelming and daunting, don't despair. There is a way to get back your energy and boost your mood.
Here's the recipe for success:
- Make sure you have protein at every meal and snack. It could be an egg or yogurt for breakfast, or cottage cheese and almonds for a snack.
- When you eat carbohydrates, whether it's pasta, bread or pancakes, keep portions moderate and make sure they're always whole-grain.
- Pick produce like dark-green leafy vegetables. Think broccoli and kale. They're actually hormone helpers.
- Choose good fat. Look for nuts, seeds, olive oil, avocado and hummus.
While a couple glasses of wine may sound fine calorie-wise, that will cost you about 300 calories, and that sends the excess carbs to your liver, which can increase cholesterol.
"There's quite a few studies now that show that women that take in even an extra 30 to 50 calories a day during menopause can gain weight," said Dopart.
Do exercise every day, as it helps calm the system down. But don't overdo it, because your risk of injury increase as hormones decline.
Dopart says to make fitness and better food choices a daily habit. It's the balance of both that will help you stay sane.