The problem with the menopause is that it tends to be something that creeps up on us: We all know it’s going to happen, but when the day the first hot flush happens, it often takes women by surprise.
But, the good news is that a lot of the more uncomfortable symptoms can be managed by diet and exercise, as well as a few simple life changes: “I was eating a lot of pasta, fries, pizza and sugary cakes and biscuits,” Lisa Blake, 48, tells Lumity. “I wasn’t exercising, at all, and I was running my own business so every single day was packed with stress from the moment I woke up until I went to bed.
“One day last year I had this hot flush and felt as though I was going to pass out. It didn’t even occur to me that it could be the menopause but a trip to my doctor confirmed that it was. Suddenly it made sense: I was having trouble sleeping, I was waking up in the night and sweating, plus I was often anxious and annoyed or sad and down. I vowed to make it my mission to do everything I could to feel as great as I could.”
Lisa says that she bought as many books on menopause as she could, as well as booking sessions with a health coach, going to the gym and hiring an assistant to ease her workload: “I didn’t want to take HRT although I am not against it in principle. I was passionate about doing as much as I could naturally and working with my body instead of punishing or ignoring it as I had been for years. First, I worked with a health coach to change my diet.”
On the list of items to go were alcohol, sugar, caffeine, spicy foods, which can trigger hot flushes and aggravate urinary incontinence (another common problem during the menopause years), increase mood swings, and increase bone loss, according to experts: “I did it gently and cut back slowly,” Lisa says. “I adopted the ‘better than’ rule. If I wanted chocolate or cake, I would have dark chocolate and I learned to make healthy desserts. So I had chia seed puddings, or cacao and avocado mousse which satisfied that urge for something sweet. If I really wanted a coffee I would have one but often I opted for a green or ginger tea. I do love spicy foods, but I became hooked on adding turmeric and ginger to meals instead which are anti-inflammatory. Before long, it became second nature. I didn’t miss alcohol but if I really wanted a drink I would have one, but for the most part, I cut right back. I never felt as though it was all or nothing, it was more of a ‘most of the time’ thing.”
Lisa adopted a low calorie diet which was rich in leafy greens and low sugar fruit: “I was so addicted to pasta that I never imagined for one second that I would end up loving spiralised courgetti or having spaghetti squash noodles as a swap,” she says. “But the more I researched it all, the more fun it became and before long I was on a diet of low fat healthy foods with whole grains and lean protein. My weight dropped substantially within a few months, and I didn’t even calorie count.
“What I ate in a typical day would be along the lines of: porridge with overnight oats, topped with chia and flax seeds plus goji berries and blueberries for breakfast with almond milk. For lunch I would have an omelette with a huge salad with a spoonful of quinoa or brown rice, then for dinner I would have lean chicken breast or salmon with spiralised courgette, a huge helping of spinach and perhaps some mangetout, with a chia pudding for dessert. I drank lots of water and kept snacks to a minimum. I had the odd green tea and started drinking kombucha because probiotics are so good for you. And to get Vitamin D, I spent twenty minutes sitting in the sun relaxing with my phone off whenever I could.
“I didn’t miss the things I ate before as I felt so incredible and a year later I’m on the same diet and still feeling fantastic”
Lisa underlines that she decided to set firm boundaries with her work schedule and hours she worked, started working out regularly doing cardio and weight training, plus she had regular acupuncture sessions along with yoga for stress relief – which also makes menopausal symptoms worse: “I can honestly say that I weigh less and am fitter, healthier and less stressed now than I was before menopause in my thirties,” she says. “Don’t feel as though you have to grapple this huge monster alone, go out and talk about what you’re going through to your friends as well as the experts.”
Doctor Thea Vivona says that Lisa’s plan of action was perfect: “Lisa’s diet is rich in fibre, low in empty calories which have no nutritional value, full of Vitamin B, flax seed, whole-grains iron and calcium and Vitamin D from the sunshine,” she says. “It’s absolutely what I would prescribe, along with the stress management and regular exercise, but also I would add that if symptoms are unbearable then see your doctor – we can help with everything and it depends on the individual’s needs so please don’t suffer through menopause in silence. A lot of women sail through this time of life so never feel worried or as if there aren’t solutions available to you.”