Have you been wondering why you are suddenly hungry all the time now you are in menopause? It’s like that premenstrual hunger but it never lets up? And you want to know what you can do about it because you actually like those new jeans you bought last season but if you keep eating like this they’ll never fit again. Read on my ravenous friend.
You just finished a nutritious healthy lunch. You're back at your desk and the thought of something sweet and sticky pricks the edge of your conscience. You have just eaten, how can food be filling your thoughts again? Now that you are in midlife and grappling with perimenopause or menopause, why does your appetite resemble that of a teenage track star about to try out for the Olympics?
There are a few things to consider here and the research is thin so if there are changes you are concerned about consulting a doctor to check that there is nothing else going on for you.
First things first,
Don’t wait until the tank is completely empty to eat again. It’s a fine line between slightly hungry and ‘hangry’ when rational thinking completely deserts us.
This is when you are likely to find yourself, fork in hand, demolishing the second half of a cheesecake that you forgot was in the back of the fridge.
And what’s that in your other hand? Is that a bottle of Hershey’s Chocolate Sauce your squidging all over each next bite?
If you plan and prepare something to eat before hunger has completely taken over then you are ready and waiting with something healthy that will provide the nutrition and energy you need until your next meal.
For more on honouring your hunger and see this post How To Eat To Improve Your Digestion
The hunger-stimulating hormone ghrelin increases in the hormone turmoil that comes at this time of life and while that is increasing the hormone leptin decreases. Leptin lets us know when we are full.
Like leptin, estradiol, a form of estrogen has been helping to keep a lid on our appetite. As the hormone estrogen is on the downward slide through perimenopause so is estradiol along with its ability to help keep a leash on the hungry bear in you.
This same hormone craziness that descends during perimenopause can also impact your sleep thanks to the night sweats, hot flushes, anxiety and a whole host of other symptoms that this time of life throws our way.
When we don’t sleep the hormone cortisol makes an appearance. Cortisol will cause your insulin to rise which then lowers your blood sugar levels and boom!
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There is a reason for that. When estrogen decreases it struggles to keep cortisol under control and the effect is the same as getting no sleep.
Watch out for the no sleep, more stress vicious cycle. With bad sleep comes stress and with more stress comes bad sleep. I urge you to see your doctor if you are struggling with either. Going down the no sleep high-stress path can lead to other more serious health issues such as coronary disease and diabetes.
Muscle mass is declining at a rate of 0.5-1% per year once you hit menopause at around the age of 50. This might not be a significant number but together with the fall off of physical activity that is common at this age, and that many women will eat less protein this shrinkage of brawn is accelerated.
Our muscles may be withering away but our appetite definitely is not. And the calories have to go somewhere. Welcome to middle-aged spread. For more on how to win that battle go to How To Win The Battle Of Your Middle-Aged Spread
This type of hunger doesn’t come from our stomachs telling us it is time to eat. It is born from emotion.
Where physical hunger is usually a slow build and we can feel it coming on, a hunger that happens due to an emotional trigger is usually fairly sudden and may even come immediately after eating.
Psychological hunger is usually connected to certain events or triggers. Feeling sad, happy, grief, anxious even bored can all trigger hunger.
You may have had an extra-long and busy day, or some major event took place. You arrive home and your mind plays tricks and whispers in your ear that you absolutely deserve to eat a huge slice of chocolate cake after the day you’ve had. It will definitely be a tastier compensation than the emotion you’re suppressing with it.
This sort of hunger can also be about replacing something that you feel is missing in your life. In the search for something you can’t quite put your finger on you found the chocolate cake. The feeling of seventh heaven it puts you in is fleeting so you find yourself craving something similar again and again.
What were you feeling at the time? Had something just happened? There should be absolutely no judgement. You are just looking to answer questions that will help you see a connection or pattern?
Dinner’s over. You settle in front of the T.V. and that’s when the snacks, chocolate, chips, soda or whatever come out.
You can’t remember a time when you didn’t have a snack at this time. We are now in the realms of habit. Breaking a habit such as this is not easy.
There is a staggeringly huge mess of advice out there. I recommend that you do your research and speak to your doctor. Be kind to yourself. It is not easy to maintain a healthy weight in midlife and you may have to try various strategies before you see success.
It makes you feel fuller for longer, helps carry toxins away and will keep the midlife-evil of constipation at bay.
Protein is good for keeping you feeling fuller for longer.
Good protein doesn’t have to come from animals. Eggs, nuts seeds and legumes are all good sources.
The last three on this list also contain plenty of fibre so you’d be killing two birds with one stone.
High in fibre, vitamins and minerals, they fill you up with far fewer calories. And your gut is going to thank you by making your digestion run like clockwork.
Think lots of leafy greens and rainbow colours.
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TAKE AWAY THE GUESS WORK ABOUT WHAT TO EAT
And you know for certain that you’re not going to die from hunger anytime soon then think about taking your mind elsewhere.
Go for a walk in the park, do some yoga or meditation, phone a friend, journal, have a cup of tea. Anything that moves you away from the feeling.
A combination of aerobic activity and strength training.
The aerobic part can be as easy as a bike ride or walk. Challenge yourself a bit and walk up a hill.
Strength training works to replace the muscle that you are losing. Muscle burns more energy than fat so you're doing double duty.
The bonus is you’ll look toned and your friends will want to know what your secret is.
Another super benefit is you will be adding bone mass. Bones become brittle as we age and strength training helps to counteract that.
Put in place some good habits to help yourself.
Switch off screens at least an hour before bed. Dim lights, journal, meditate, do an easy yoga routine, practise some breathing techniques, have a cup of chamomile tea.
Make some or all of these things routine so your brain equates them as a time to start feeling sleepy and ready for bed.
Often thirst can be mistaken for hunger. Have a glass of water before you eat and give it a few minutes then see how you feel.
Water will also help with digestion by keeping our gut healthy and flushing through toxins.
Constant stress is the big boss of bad health. So many health issues can be traced back to stress. Do what you can to lose the stress. Everything that I have mentioned in the previous 7 points will help with this.
My own personal holy trinity of destressing is to use breathing techniques, practice meditation and GET ENOUGH SLEEP.
For a great post on losing menopausal weight read this How To Lose The Weight You Gain In Menopause
Putting on a little weight in midlife does not exclude you from some sort of elite group. Your aim is to be as healthy as you can without turning it into a crusade to live up to some sort of unrealistic expectation of what women should look like as we see in so much of the media today.
Feeling hungry in menopause is a natural thing to have happen. Put some strategies in place to help yourself through it.
Enjoy the process and feeling you get from eating well, exercising and being mindful. And don’t forget to treat yourself from time to time.
If you would like to see a video all about this hunger I found this for you to take a look at. Does menopause make you eat more?
Hi, I'm Jane. I'm the author of the janelamason.com blog. Hitting midlife and menopause can be challenging. I write these posts to highlight my own experience for other women to read about and to give tips that might help to make their path into this time of their lives a little smoother.