Lately, I’ve been feeling pretty frustrated with my body. It’s a song that most of us in our 40s begin to sing. One where we start to wonder what the heck is happening to our bodies. Why we feel so run down and why the belly fat is beginning to accumulate despite all the efforts we’re doing to stop it. Our cycles are all over the place - one month we have a 28-day cycle and then next it’s closer to 60 days. This month my breasts we so swollen and sore that I had flashbacks to those nights when my breastfeeding kids would unexpectedly sleep through the night.
Anyway, I bet a lot of you can relate. As you know, I’ve been really focusing on hormones and their effects on our health, especially during the perimenopause and menopause years, for a while now. I’ve found that many of the factors that keep us from living a life of play can be tied to how we feel - whether it be that we’re in pain, that we’re feeling depressed, or that we just feel like crap suddenly. Since my goal is to get us all playing again, and I know the importance of remaining active as we get older, it’s a natural place for me to land.
I’m going to start going much deeper into some of the factors that affect our hormonal health, and then also our physical and mental health, but today I just wanted to give you a few simple shifts you can make in your day to start feeling a little better.
Maybe try a couple of these if you feel ready to make a change. None of them are a quick fix and some of them you might feel pretty resistant to, and that’s OK. These are not black or white suggestions. They are simply some known shifts that you can try (and I hope you do). Let’s get into them.
5 Simple Habits to Start During Perimenopause
- Focus on Resistance Training. As we get older, our bodies naturally begin to break down muscle tissue and actually hold onto fat - especially in the belly area. Adding in 2-3 strength training sessions each week can help us build more lean muscle and slow down that catabolic process, and encourage more fat burning for fuel use. Experts have recommended short, intense HIIT training sessions (no more than 30 minutes) using as heavy a weight as you can, but traditional strength training workouts are good too. Start where you can - if bodyweight is it for now, that is fine. Try adding in additional weight as you get stronger. And remember - HIIT is high intensity, no high impact. If you have pelvic floor issues or joint pain, you can still get that benefit without having it add in the jumping moves. You can check out The Playground for a growing collection of my Fire & Ice workouts that are tailored to the needs of midlife moms.
- Cut Back on Carbs & Sugar. This was a hard one for me as you all know that I love my carbs, but the science doesn’t lie. As we get older, we need to focus more on protein (muscle building) and less on carbs (insulin triggering) in our diets. The reason is that we tend to get more insulin resistant as we get older and our bodies just don’t respond to the sugar as it did when we were younger. Gone are the days that I can eat a batch of Bisquick pancakes or a box of Mac and Cheese without seeing a change. Every woman is going to be different when it comes to the number of carbs and starch that her body can handle. It depends on your individual metabolism, your level of activity, and also how your body is handling stress. A good rule of thumb is try to get the majority of your carbs through colorful vegetables and go easy on the servings of grains, legumes, and white veggies. Following a Paleo or Mediterranean-type diet has been found very beneficial for women in perimenopause, and some women do well on a short-term ketogenic diet - about 14-30 days and then slowing adding back in starchy carbs.
- Self Care & Rest/Restore Habits. This one is so important to us as it helps us manage the stress that could be a root cause of our hormone issues. Most of us have sacrificed our identities and our needs to care for our families, and many of us have the combined challenge of raising our children while we’re also caring for again parents. That can leave very little time for ourselves. Exercise is one part of self-care, but we also need those fully restorative moments in our days. Most of us think of massages and spa days when it comes to self-care, and while these are great you don’t have to spend the money to get the benefits. Starting a simple meditation or journaling practice is a wonderful way to unwind. Taking a leisurely walk in the evening, out in nature if possible, is another. Some women prefer to do a Yin Yoga practice before bed. I love to just lay down with a good book. There are many options, but the key is to find the one that allows you to disconnect, possibly reflect, and just be nothing but attend to yourself for a bit. Find at least a few times a week to work these practices in, and work up to a daily practice if you can.
- Find Your Tribe. It could be a gaggle of girlfriends or just a few close confidants, but women need community in order to thrive. Science has shown that when women don’t have a community of female friends that they trust, their bodies will signal them to go and seek out that community. If she is rejected and cannot find that community, then it raises the level of stress in her body which then has negative consequences for her health. However, when she finds her tribe, stress is reduced because she has the support needed to thrive. I know that I’ve struggled in finding my tribe after my kids were born, and this is an area where I continue to work on. It’s especially hard right now with the fallout of COVID and quarantine, but no less important. While in-person relationships are so important, we can get similar benefits through an online community. So find that tribe. If you’re looking for one, I invite you to join us over at The Playground as we grow and developing these supportive relationships.
- Ditch the “Coffee and Wine” Diet. And no, I’m not asking you to totally give up either, but rather look at why you’re drinking them. If you can’t wake up without your coffee and can’t wind down in the evenings without your wine, then this can signal a cortisol imbalance that isn’t good. If this is you (it was me), then it’s time to look at revamping those habits. Start by looking at the amounts of each that you’re consuming during the day and try to reduce it. Can you have a cup of green tea or decaf (gasp) instead of the full pot(s) of coffee each day? Will one glass of wine that you enjoy while reading a book, taking a bath, or watching a show be enough to relax you? Or, can one of those activities accompanies by a cup of tea or maybe some kombucha suffice? If you’re having that 3 pm crash and starting another pot at that time, that is also a sign that your cortisol is a bit wonky. When our cortisol levels are balanced, we should wake up with energy and naturally be winding down and ready to sleep in the evening. One word of caution - be careful going cold turkey on either. You can, but get ready detox a bit and set yourself up for some liver support and a restorative week. For me, I started with one - wine. I’ve cut it out for the time being, but my coffee remains dear to me. Figure out what works for you. And remember, it’s all about moderation. It’s not that you have to cut it out completely, but we’re looking at what habits you’ve built around this daily routine and how we can shift those habits to be a bit more supportive of our hormonal health.
So there you go. I think you can see how we can go much deeper into these five suggestions and I have even broken the tip of the iceberg yet. Perimenopause is a crazy ride, but the good news is that the research is coming out to help us better understand what’s going on, and therefore giving us tools to navigate the journey in style. And we will.
As I’ve mentioned a few times, our new community, The Playground, is designed for women 35 and older who are making this transition to menopause, as well as those who have already arrived in style. It’s a space where you can find support on navigating the path and balancing hormones using a simple approach via nutrition, movement, and lifestyle, as well as connecting to women going through a similar journey. We’re small and growing right now, but that’s also the perfect time to join because you get the chance to help shape the group. It’s free to join and I hope that you will.