Some weight gain is hormonal and usually inevitable at menopause and progesterone as a diuretic will help shed some of these extra pounds. However, sadly it is not all down to your hormones entirely.
The sugar factor
We all mostly like sweet treats, particularly at menopause when we may be feeling anxious and stressed while trying to deal with the changes to our body and our emotions. Unfortunately we do tend to reach for a sugary snack to boost our mood and we know what that can do to our weight and energy levels.
Nutritionists like Patrick Holford have warned about the dangers of sugar, whatever the source whether it is the sugar in drinks or from chocolate, biscuits, sweets and desserts.
Also if you think that substituting artificial sweeteners and switching to ‘sugar free’ will help I am afraid that in a recent article by US naturopathic doctor Andrew Weil it is clear the evidence is that they actively put weight on, not help you lose it.
How many forms of sugar do you have in your diet?
Sugar comes in many forms from ‘pure’ white to dark brown and with different names so the ones that are best avoided are
* Glucose (syrup) * Dextrose * Malt * Honey * Sucrose *Fructose
Of these, fructose has half the effect on your blood sugar as sucrose, which has almost half of the effect of glucose. So fructose is the ‘best’ if you are still using sugar.
Chocolate is not all bad, but stick to small amounts occasionally of ones with 70% cocoa solids and avoid milk and white as they have plenty of sugar as well as other additives.
Obviously fruit is a good option, but not unlimited fruit juice and always dilute it by at least a third or a half with water to reduce the sugar content and make it no more than two a day.
Why cutting down will help your hormones
Women are used to a rollercoaster of hormonal fluctuations and too much sugar leads to blood sugar peaks and troughs. If you have a sweet tooth, and wondered why are so tired all the time, then you are apparently also more likely to also reach for caffeinated drinks and other stimulants to counter the sugar drop. That is then a vicious cycle that needs feeding with more sugar and/or caffeine as you attempt to break out of the tiredness.
The most common complaint women want help with at menopause is putting on extra weight so rebalancing with progesterone helps, but sugar is directly related to weight gain so tackling that will make a big difference.
Other menopausal health issues such as anxiety and depression, diabetes and heart disease also have an increased risk, in part because of the weight gain but also the role that sugar has in stimulating dopamine and endorphins. This leads to what is known as reward deficiency, where you just keep wanting more of the same substance, no matter how much of it you have.
The next issue that often arises is anxiety and mood swings, so again those are associated with too much sugar. The reason why sugar works is that it causes a release of insulin, and insulin carries tryptophan in the blood into the brain, where it can be converted into serotonin. This is probably why you crave sugar when you’re feeling low, and from childhood on that becomes a habit.
Cutting down is a great start, but if you actually want to quit then take it slowly and with nutritional and hormonal support. Stopping suddenly can make you feel more tired and low and lacking in motivation.
Blood sugar levels don’t rebalance overnight, it takes about a week for these symptoms to recede and for your blood sugar levels to adjust to the lack of a constant, daily fix.
Patrick Holford has written an excellent book if you want to quit, and you will find it here with some useful articles to help with the effects of sugar excess: