I always say that eating high quality food is one of the easiest ways to create health on a daily basis. Yet, in many ways nutrition has become synonymous with diet and weight loss in this country. Many women find themselves gaining weight at midlife, even if they have not changed their eating or exercise habits — or because they have not! Other women find that their body shape changes, with fat accumulating around the waistline, hips and shoulders. While this is a natural process, I know firsthand that it can be frustrating, and I’ve seen many women compromise good nutrition in an effort to be thin.
In fact, poor nutrition is a major reason why many women find it so difficult to lose weight. We have become accustomed to eating low-fat diets that include high-stress, low quality foods, such as the refined flours and sugars found in processed foods (think pasta and low-fat cookies). It’s important to remember that the human body has evolved over millennia to assimilate foods that are found in the natural world. Therefore, we function best when we eat these natural foods, not imitations.
But, there are also other factors at work at midlife: First, women experience a metabolic slowdown of about 10–15 percent at midlife compared to earlier in life, making our bodies more efficient at taking in and storing fat. Nature designed us this way in order to help us survive on less food as we get older and potentially less able to fend for ourselves. Body fat also helps us produce estrogen and androgens when our ovaries no longer produce them at the same rate. That’s all well and good for a hunter–gatherer lifestyle, but today, our culture is constantly telling us we can never be too thin.
The good news is that there are ways to negotiate this midlife metabolic shift and rebalance your hormones without any significant weight or fat gain — and you can do it without compromising good nutrition. The key to this lies in understanding all of the elements of total nutrition, which include emotional nutrients, energetic nutrients and physical nutrients, and not just the right amount of protein, carbohydrates and fat. Understanding these will help you change your attitude about self-nourishment. When you do this, your body composition and your self-esteem will be transformed as well. This is the only way I’ve found I can be both well nourished and successful in managing my weight.
That being said, what I have found works best for me and for many women is a hormone-balancing food plan. At midlife our bodies begin storing fat in order to retain estrogen. That’s why I have written an in-depth menopause food plan in my book, The Wisdom of Menopause, but there are many books out there that can help you learn which plan works best for you. Some of the following contain meal plans and recipes that have helped thousands of women lose weight and balance their hormones, as well as insulin and eicosaniod levels.