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Menopausal Weight Gain: How Taste and Satiety Keep You Thinner

Hello and welcome to BrightonYourHealth. One of the popular topics on the blog is weight loss and weight control in adult women, especially women over the age of 40 thru menopause. This article is part 2 of Menopause and Weight Gain-What I Learned from French and Italian Women and it focuses on how to control weight gain before, during and after menopause by eating less while still meeting your nutrient needs and having more satisfaction in your daily eating plan. I invite you to read how enjoying foods with taste and satiety can control your menopausal weight gain.

How Taste and Food Satisfaction Help Slow Menopausal Weight Gain

menopausal weight gain

Most women will gain weight during menopause because of hormonal changes that affect appetite and calorie needs and not because they are eating more or exercising less. As women age, weight gain becomes more of a hormonal issue and independent from eating habits although eating too much or not being physically active can also add body weight. For most women, if there are no dietary changes during menopause there will be weight gain. That is the bad news.

The good news is that eating with taste and satiety can help slow weight gain or keep you weight stable. By eating nutrient dense foods that contain healthy fats and enjoying meals that satisfy your hunger you will feel mentally and physically better and have more satisfaction with your diet. I have listed below 8 tips to eat with taste and satisfaction, but first a quick summary on the metabolic changes as women approach and enter menopause.

Hormonal Changes Bring Increased or Decreased Appetite

Peri-menopause and menopause are stages of big hormonal changes including fluctuations with appetite-related hormones gherelin, adiponectin, leptin and insulin. During menopause, two main appetite and calorie burning hormones shift: ghrelin levels increase and leptin levels decrease. The hormone ghrelin increases your hunger and slows down fat burning metabolism. Leptin shuts down appetite and increases energy expediture. These hormonal changes lead to an increase in hunger and appetite and a decrease in calories expended. This results in weight gain. According to Livestrong,

Online research published by the journal “Menopause” in March 2011 found ghrelin and adiponectin increased in menopause, while leptin and insulin decreased in a sample of 200 overweight postmenopausal women. The decrease in leptin was the biggest predictor of weight gain.

Appetite can also fluctuate or decrease depending on the menopausal period; increased appetite is most likely to occur during peri-menopause (before menopause) because of higher levels of ghrelin. Decreased appetite is likely during post menopause because of lower levels of leptin.

These appetite hormone issues are complex and I haven’t even discussed the hormone estrogen!

Calorie Needs Decrease During Menopause

Starting around 45 years old, the daily need for calories lowers to between 1500-2000 calories while energy expenditure (how many calories the body burns) also decreases. This means a women doesn’t need to eat as many calories as when they were younger, and the calories they eat aren’t being ‘burnt off’ as efficiently. Still women need healthy nutrient-rich diets, with main nutritional needs that include adequate protein, calcium, vitamin D and fiber. To avoid weight gain while getting the daily nutrient requirements, women’s diets need to be highly nutrient dense and balanced with an emphasis on getting the maximum dietary benefits from calories eaten. (Read more here from Today’s Dietitian).

So all beautiful women out there, those empty calorie foods and drinks need be consumed in strict moderation, with a emphasis on eating ‘pump-up-the-taste’ nutrient-dense fresh foods.

Here are my eight suggestions on how to eat what you need (and not too much over), get your nutritional requirements and feel satisfied and good in your body:

8 Ways To Control Menopausal Weight Gain By Eating With Taste and Satiety

#1. Eat Fat. Taste and Satiety is linked with fat in food.

I recommend as the most important tip to eating with taste and satiety to add different types of healthy fats to every meal. Fat is what carries flavor and satiety in foods. Fat also carries calories (1 gram of fat=9 kilocalories), and if you follow my other 7 ways to eat with taste you will find that adding fat to meals will make the other tips #2-#8 easier to follow. Don’t be afraid to have fat in your meals, priority on eating healthy fats such as olive oils, good quality butter, nuts, seeds, Omega-3 fats (found in salmon), avocados. Fat as a macro-nutrient helps keep blood sugar stable during the day. My favorite type of eating plan is the healthy Mediterranean diet, which emphasizes vegetables, salads, lean proteins and the main sources for calories. (and this diet may even slow aging). I also start off main meals with a green salad topped with a healthy French vinaigrette.

(Note: Fat is important in a meal, but it shouldn’t be the focus of the dish. Fat should be present but not overwhelm the main ingredients. An example would be adding a vinaigrette to a green salad: the salad should be ‘dressed’ with the dressing; the vinaigrette should not be too heavy on the lettuce leaves to overwhelm the taste of the green salad).

#2. Avoid Empty Calories. Emphasis on Nutrient Dense Foods.

If you follow tip #1 that all meals should contain some type of fat, than it will be easier to follow tip #2 which is eating with an emphasis on nutrient dense foods and avoiding empty calories. When you eat with taste and satiety, the nutrient dense foods you eat fill you with more satisfaction and pleasure and you have less physical cravings to eat empty calorie foods such as sugared drinks, or less healthy foods such as potato chips, biscuits, cookies, or nibble on French baguettes because you are hungry and feel peckish. One of my favorite examples of a tasty nutrient dense dish is steamed broccoli that is then sauteed with garlic and olive oil and topped with grated Parmesan cheese. (Kids love this too).

#3. Meal Discipline. Main meal with limited snacking.

This tip for meal discipline might be the most challenging one depending on where you live, if you live alone or with your family and how your appetite is. Here is how I use meal discipline (and I often speak about this on the blog if you are interested to read other articles about the French approach to weight and meal discipline). In France we eat the daily main meal at midday and the two smaller meals are breakfast and a late and light supper (around 8 PM). The midday meal is filling, well balanced and has the highest calorie and nutrient load for the day. It is the meal that has the main protein source such as meat or fish along with vegetables and a grain source. In order to keep the appetite for the biggest meal the breakfast is light and there is no snacking before lunch. The main meal is full of calories from nutrient dense foods and it carries a healthy fat source. Normally since I follow the other tips on this list, this taste and satiety meal carries me satisfied to the late and light suppertime when I start to get hungry again. Having the main calorie source at lunch keeps meal discipline to having regular nutrient dense meals and feeling full through the afternoon. Eating for taste and satiety doesn’t build any cravings to reach for an empty calorie snack. However, if I do feel a bit hungry in late afternoon, I reach for a small piece of dark chocolate to eat and that cuts my hunger just enough until suppertime (when we eat vegetarian, lighter foods).

If you live in a country (I am thinking of my home country the USA) where the main meal is in the evening, I recommend a balanced nutrient dense smaller lunch with a fat source (a green salad with raw tomatoes, grated carrot, etc. dressed with a homemade vinaigrette, topped with nuts or seeds, or a hard boiled egg or some cheese) that will keep you taste and satiety satisfied until the main meal at dinner.

Eating is ‘convivial’ and if you are eating with your partner or your family, you need to eat your main meal together. I like the French way to eat the biggest meal at lunchtime; my kids come home from school during some lunches, so this is a privileged moment to eat the main meal together earlier in the day.

#4. It is OK to Say No. Learn to Say No.

When I eat for taste and satiety, I feel more in control of my hunger and eat food to fill hunger and for pleasure. This is a real freedom to have no attachment to foods except that they taste good and fill my appetite. For this I don’t eat unless I am hungry and I don’t worry about saying no to food if I don’t have an appetite. It is okay to say no to eating outside meal times, if you are working and someone brings in cakes or chocolates, it is okay to say ‘no thank you’ to food offered to you if you are not hungry. It is okay to say no to second helpings or not finish your plate. Learn to say no.

#5. Exercise is Natural Medicine. Build Up An Appetite With Regular Exercise.

During peri-menopause and menopause energy expenditure decreases and calories burned decrease. The best way to boost up your slowing metabolism and increase calories burned is to physically move your body. If you appetite is slow, exercise can also increase your hunger. The exercise benefits for women are numerous and I recommend, suggest, implore you to add regular physical activity to your daily life. The best is walking: 30 minutes a day. Grab your dog, grab your walking buddy. Just do it.

#6. Emotional Eating. Recognize Your Emotional Links To Food.

As I mentioned in tip #4, it is okay to say no to eating empty calorie foods or say no to taking second portions, or say no to finishing your plate, if you are full and do not want to eat. One of the hardest habits to change that I have seen with many women I have counseled is breaking the link between eating emotionally and just eating. If you are ‘using’ food for filling an emotional void, or out of boredom, or just snacking habit, then eating with taste and satiety can help to break this habit because emotionally you feel more satisfied with the main meals you are eating. However, if you feel that emotional eating is an issue for you and stops you from losing weight or staying on a weight control track I suggest using an emotional food diary, or seeking some advice from a health coach, dietitian or psychologist who are trained to help with life changes.

#7. Mindful Eating. Take Time To Eat and Listen to Your Hunger and Full Cues.

Take a daily meal pause. Take time as a priority to sit at a table and eat. Eat slowly. Enjoy. Listen to your body and let it tell you when it is full. Stop eating when you are full. And wrap up your leftovers to eat tomorrow and enjoy a symbol (see #8) that your main meal is over and you are finished eating until the next meal.

#8. Chocolate or Coffee? Finish the Meal with A Symbol.

Here is my last way to eat with taste and satiety: enjoying a finish to every main meal. In Italy and France it is common to drink a strong small café or espresso after the main meal. This is the symbol that the meal is over and voila, time to get working again. The espresso helps to digest the main meal and keep you alert too, which are two other positive aspects on finishing the meal with style. I also adore the French habit of eating a mini piece of chocolate after the meal.

Whether it is a small coffee or a petit chocolat, finishing each meal with taste and satiety really helps to keep weight in control, meal satisfaction high, nutrient needs met and your health on the forefront.

Wishing you all

Bon Appétit!

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Mary Brighton

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One Response to Menopausal Weight Gain: How Taste and Satiety Keep You Thinner

  1. Serena May 10, 2016 at 23:32 #

    Excellent advice Mary. I’ve never really heard the coffee/chocolate cue. That’s an excellent tip.

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