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Menopause and weight gain often go together. Some people will tell you it's simply a matter of eating right and exercising more. This is not exactly accurate. There are many issues that can contribute to menopause and weight gain, from hormone imbalance, to taking the wrong kind of hormones, to thyroid dysfunction and eating what mainstream health writers call a “healthy” diet.
Exercise is important for health, but the other factors I have mentioned are critical. You can have your hormones in balance and your thyroid functioning optimally, but if you're eating poorly, the weight will stay on. Or, you can be eating right, but if you have low thyroid function, or your hormones (estrogen/progesterone/testosterone) are out of balance, it will be difficult if not impossible to lose weight.
For example, calcium channel blockers and beta blockers (drugs used for high blood pressure and other heart problems) may lower melatonin levels. Melatonin is a hormone your body makes that regulates other hormones and also “helps control the timing and release of female reproductive hormones” (UMM).
If your thyroid stops working and you don't replace the hormone, you will eventually die. Hormone-related diseases include diabetes, hypo- and hyperthyroidism, growth disorders, adrenal gland disorders, and many more.
For more information about hormones, see the following pages:
If you have low thyroid that is undiagnosed, or if you are being treated for low thyroid but the treatment is not optimal, you will find it much harder to lose weight for two reasons: your metabolism is too slow and you may be depressed, which could lead to overeating or eating the wrong foods. For more about low thyroid and menopause, see thyroid and menopause
My idea of a healthy diet for menopause and weight gain is NOT low-fat, low-calorie, with lots of whole grains and fruits. I have been following a less traditional idea of a healthy diet for quite some time now. I found out about this diet from my contacts in the herb world.
It's main principles came from a dentist, Weston Price. Dr. Price traveled around the world in the 1920's and 1930's, studying groups of people still eating their native diets, with no modern influences in the diet. He studied groups of people living on islands off the coast of Scotland, the South Sea islands, Alaskan Eskimos, Australian Aborigines, and more.
What he found was that
people have “perfect physical form and perfect health generation after generation only when they consume nutrient-dense whole foods and the vital fat-soluble activators found exclusively in animal fats.” (Weston A. Price Foundation)
He found that people eating healthy diets don't have cavities or crooked teeth. Not one of the people eating their native diet needed braces.
He published photos of some of the people in his book, Nutrition and Physical Degeneration. It's quite amazing to see. In 1999, the Weston A Price Foundation was formed, with a mission of disseminating the research of Dr. Price.
Although you may not yet have heard of these ideas, like eating more fat as long as it's healthy fat, and the idea that butter is good for you, there are more and more doctors and other health professionals incorporating these ideas in their dietary advice.
According to Chris Masterjohn, a nutritionist and former vegetarian, “it is actually polyunsaturated fats, not saturated fats or cholesterol, that contribute to heart disease, cancer, liver damage, and aging.” (Masterjohn, C.) A thorough and outstanding review of the research on saturated fats and heart disease, along with research on obesity and diet, is in Gary Taubes' book Good Calories, Bad Calories (see below).
What I have found in shifting my diet more toward these principles is that eating healthy fats is not only satisfying, but gives me energy and improves my health. I have finally completely eliminated trans fats and drastically reduced Omega 6 fats in the form of vegetable oils. I didn't think I was eating that much (a little mayonnaise here and there, bottled blue cheese salad dressing), but since I have stopped eating those two items, I have been able to lose weight like a normal person: 1.5-2 pounds a week. Before that, I was lucky to lose a half pound a week, even after I quit eating sugar in any form.
For menopausal women wanting to lose weight, the first and most important step you can take is to reduce the substances making you fat, and they may not be what you think: vegetable oils, sweets and other refined carbohydrates, especially high-fructose corn syrup, and finally, the fake flavorings. Do you know that there are factories that produce “flavorings” specifically designed to make you eat more? Hard to believe, but true. To find out more, read or listen to Fast Food Nation. Watch Sally Fallon, the Founder of the Weston A. Price Foundation, talking about these dietary offenders,
I have also severely reduced my grain intake, partly because I have become sensitive to wheat products (a gift from menopause!), but also because I wanted to eliminate refined carbohydrates as much as possible. What I do eat, almost every day, is a baked potato with lots of butter, which I love and is very satisfying. And yes, I am losing weight doing this!
My latest favorite book for dietary guidance is one I found out about from the WAP website, Perfect Health Diet, by Paul Jaminet, Ph.D. and Shou-Ching Jaminet, Ph.D. What these two have done is put their 5 years of research conducted in order to cure their own chronic diseases into a highly readable and effective format for improving your health and losing weight at the same time. The changes in my diet that I have implemented from their book have been easy, satisfying and effective. You can buy the book below, along with Gary Taubes' book, Good Calories, Bad Calories.
For more about menopause and weight gain and natural remedies, see the following pages:
Menopause Weight Loss Supplement Supplements that actually work to increase metabolism and control cravings for menopause and weight loss success.
Menopause Diets Find out which foods to eat and which to avoid, more about Weston Price, and why it's a good time to create new healthy habits to avoid menopause and weight gain.
Menopause Belly Fat The reason so many women gain belly fat at menopause, and how to lose it.
Diet and Depression Influence of fats, allergies and other foods that can contribute to depression, supplements that can help.
Menopause Foods The importance of vitamin A for thyroid health, how it's not the same as beta-carotene, protein does not cause calcium loss, and the importance of digestion.
Losing Weight During Menopause Supplements that don't work and some that do.
Perimenopause Weight Gain Why all the things you did in your twenties to lose weight don't work anymore
Causes of menopause weight gain, including hormones from estrogen to cortisol, stress, poor diet and thyroid.
Weight Loss After Menopause Menopause and weight gain: Which approach do you need? Hormone balancing, the right diet, stress reduction?
Reduce Insulin Resistance Supplements for reducing insulin resistance.
Masterjohn, C. Cholesterol – Your life depends on it! Retrieved August 11, 2011 from http://www.cholesterol-and-health.com/index.html
University of Maryland Medical Center. Retrieved August 10, 2011 from http://www.umm.edu/altmed/articles/melatonin-000315.htm
Weston A. Price Foundation. About the Foundation. Retrieved August 10, 2011 from http://westonaprice.org/about-the-foundation/about-the-foundation