The Menopause Diaries: How to stop the middle age spread

Helen Seymour is in Peri-Menopause, or at least she thinks she is. In her new weekly column we follow her on her journey towards the Menopause, learning as she does all about the big M

Last week, after working ten straight days in a row, I came home and made myself spicy chorizo cheesy nachos. From scratch. Ottolenghi would have been proud. After that, I rooted in the freezer and unstuck half a tub of Crunchie ice-ream. There followed a good twenty minutes of pleasure and reward, as I hacked away at the frozen honeycomb, high-fiving my taste buds every time I extracted a significant chunk of chewy gooey chocolatey good stuff. Then I remembered something I’ve been trying very hard to forget ever since I read it a few weeks ago. Women in Menopause should be eating 400 calories LESS per day.

Damn my conscience. The fact is that many women gain weight around the menopause, partially because we’re at an age where our metabolism naturally slows down, but what we also need to understand is that when we’re in Menopause there are two main issues. The first is that the minute your hormones start to change, that is going to stress your nervous system. And what happens with a stressed nervous system? The body releases Cortisol. And one of the things Cortisol does, is it makes us crave sweet things. And because our nervous system is permanently stressed, we suddenly find that we are permanently craving sweet things.

Related: Six tips for preventing weight gain during the menopause


The other thing that happens because of this permanent stress, is that the nervous system decides “I need to have a store of energy for emergencies. I need to be ready for stress.” And the one place that’s easiest to store it is around the middle. So the body will start to put down a layer of fat underneath or just around the abdominal wall, and this is where the spare tyre starts to happen.

What you DON’T need to do is DIET. The body will go into panic. It thinks “this is an emergency. I’m going to slow the metabolism down even more.” And so you end up putting on more weight even though you’re cutting calories.

What you DO need to do is EAT WELL. And this is where I need to take my own advice and ditch the Crunchie ice-cream. You need to get really smart about what you eat. Support your nervous system. Take a magnesium supplement, and get loads of magnesium-rich foods into the diet. Magnesium calms the nervous system, aids sleep and reduces sugar cravings. Take a Vitamin B supplement as well. Drink herbal teas and plenty of water.

Related: I'm hoping Carole Vorderman's doctor will help with the Peri-Menopause headache

Eat lean proteins, plenty of vegetables, and good carbohydrates, like brown rice and grains. Eat oily fish like salmon and mackerel, and plenty of fruit, nuts and seeds.

Ditch foods that trigger the nervous system. Tea, Coffee, fizzy drinks, alcohol, high salt and sugar foods. These all switch on your nervous system very quickly, and compound the problem. Please note, as a sugar and caffeine junkie, and former wine devotee, I know that this is ridiculously hard. But this is the paragraph we all need to circle, and work on.

Full disclosure. I have not one, but TWO spare tyres around my middle. And that’s despite working out pretty much every day. I’ve managed to ditch caffeine and alcohol, and I am now going to take on the hardest one of all: SUGAR. It’s officially more addictive than crack cocaine, and I am banging up all day, every day. Crunchie ice-cream is just the tip of a very sugary ice-berg. So this is a huge challenge for me.


Final note. There are lots of other things you can do to help your nervous system, and I’m going to write about them next week. This is definitely something we can tackle from several angles, and some of them you might actually enjoy.

Related: The Menopause Diaries: The dreaded dryness down under


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