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According to nutritionist, women’s health and hormones expert, and author Nicki Williams, changing hormones can cause middle aged women to gain weight, especially belly fat. But, fortunately, by focusing on their diet and exercise, there are ways for women to avoid this.
Nicki, who is also the founder of Happy Hormones for Life and author of It’s Not You, It’s Your Hormones, explained: “Increased stress in midlife, as well as changing hormones, can increase cortisol levels, and this can create stubborn belly fat that is very hard to shift.
“As oestrogen levels decline, the body switches production to the adrenals and fat stores. A bit of extra fat is beneficial for the body for extra oestrogen so it can try to hang on to it.
“Women going through peri-menopause and menopause are more prone to insulin resistance and weight gain.
“This is due to metabolic changes related to adrenal, thyroid and sex hormone fluctuations, and increased difficulty in tolerating carbohydrates.
“Whether it’s due to a slower metabolism, increased fat to muscle ratio, being less active or more stressed, we just can’t handle carbs like we used to.”
Nicki also stressed that a good night’s sleep is essential for health and wellbeing, but can also help women to lose weight.
She said: “Poor sleep not only makes us tired and cranky the next day, but it’s also a major risk factor for weight gain due to increased Ghrelin, which is your hungry hormone.”
However, focusing on what you eat is a good way to start your weight loss journey.
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Nicki continued: “Unfortunately, there is no ‘one size fits all’ diet for every woman but I’ve seen time and time again how food can transform your health. And it’s the same for hormones and the menopause transition.
“Hormones need a steady stream of nutrients for them to work efficiently. Without the right nutrients your menopause symptoms can worsen, and your natural instinct is to go for a fast fix with the wrong foods, making things even worse.
“We need to start focusing more on the nutrients in foods, not just calories.”
The nutritionist went on to list which foods are best to eat to try to avoid weight gain during menopause, saying: “Fill your plate half full of vegetables – the more colourful the better. These are healthy carbohydrates that will supply plenty of plant nutrients to your hormones and are also great for your gut bacteria.
“Fat is your new friend. Good healthy fats are essential menopause foods. You need them for hormone production, absorption of fat soluble vitamins, and keeping blood sugar stable, filling you up so you are not hungry between meals.
“The best fats to add to your diet include coconut oil, olive oil, grass fed butter, avocado, nuts, seeds, oily fish.”
Protein is also essential for a healthy, balanced diet. Nicki said: “Go for good quality meat, fish, eggs, dairy, beans, lentils, chickpeas, quinoa, nuts, and seeds.”
As for foods to avoid, Nicki recommended that slimmers limit their intake of “sugar, refined carbohydrates, processed foods, and alcohol”.
She continued: “In addition, limit or avoid any foods that cause bloating, fatigue, headaches or any other symptoms you notice after eating them.
“Common culprits include gluten and dairy. Try eliminating them for three to four weeks then re-introduce one product at a time and notice how you feel.”
Nicki also went on to advise: “Avoid snacking between meals. This just encourages more insulin production.”
“Try to leave four to six hours between meals, this encourages your body to use up the sugar stores and start burning fat for energy,” the hormone expert added.
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