What I Do to Maintain an Optimal Weight, a Healthy Heart, and a Happy Mood
Luckily for us, we live in an age when there is ample information about just about anything you could think of available online. But sometimes the sheer quantity of info can also be overwhelming.
I’m not a medical professional, nor a hormonal health expert, but I am an armchair researcher and a real-life implementor. I’ve tried lots of things over the past few years to help me optimize my hormone health, feel better, lose some of that stubborn baby/midlife weight (double whammy when you have a baby at 46!), and stabilize my moods.
The tips below are the ten changes from which I’ve seen the most regular, consistent, notable results. Remember, I’m no pro, so always consult your provider to make sure any lifestyle change is right for your physiology!
*Note that this post contains affiliate links. When you click on a product link I may receive a small commission. That said, products I link on my site are always ones that I have personally used and recommend.
1. Protein Protein Protein
Protein provides essential amino acids for midlife women, and suppresses appetite by helping us feel full longer. It also helps to preserve muscle mass, and aids in preventing age-related muscle loss. I try to include a minimum of 20-30 grams of protein per meal. I recently added a protein shake to my routine too. This is the one I like because it’s clean and plant-based and also pretty yummy.
2. Daily Movement
There is all kinds of research touting the benefits of moving our bodies regularly. According to Healthline “Strength training, aerobics, walking, and other forms of exercise may modify hormone levels to reduce your risk of disease and prevent muscle mass decline as you age.” On the most basic level, I’ve found that I simply feel better when I’m active. My mind is more clear, I sleep more soundly, and everything just seems to work better. I’m not a gym rat by any stretch of the imagination and some days a simple 20-minute walk is the right thing for me. From my perspective, the most important thing is finding ways to move our bodies that feel good for us and that we look forward to, so movement feels more like a reward than an obligation. For me, that includes walking, swimming, bike rides with my family, and, yes, I have begun strength training this year (and it’s kind of addictive!).
3. Maintaining a Moderate Weight
When I got pregnant at 46 I was already approaching perimenopause. So while those pregnancy and breastfeeding hormones may have suspended that other hormone shift for a year or so, once they subsided I was left with a perfect storm of hormone irregularity: post-breastfeeding, postpartum, and perimenopause all at the same time. Wowsa! It’s a lot. I gained 20 pounds over the course of two years and I was left feeling tired, stressed, and not like myself. Over the last year I’ve made a conscious and considerable effort to lose some of that weight (17 pounds down so far!) mainly through following the other tips in this post. Maintaining my weight at a place that is ideal for me (there is no magic number here: if you pay attention to your own body you will know the sweet spot that is right for you) really has been a game changer in terms of helping me feel vibrant and healthy and able to reclaim my sense of myself.
4. Paying Attention to Gut Health
A healthy gut means that there are more good bacteria than harmful bacteria and that the harmful bacteria don’t overtake the good. The balance of bacteria in the gut flora can lead to many health benefits, including reducing inflammation that can lead to heart disease, lowering the risk of obesity, and modulating insulin resistance. It can also reduce symptoms like diarrhea, constipation, loose stools, gas, bloating, and abdominal pain. To help maintain my gut health I take a daily probiotic and also make sure to eat plenty of gut friendly things, like fermented foods (sauerkraut, kefir, sourdough), yogurt, almonds, olive oil, cruciferous veggies, bananas, and peas! I love this probiotic because it is from a woman-owned, menopause-support small business!
5. Limiting Refined Sugar
This one is huge for me. For the most part, I don’t eat any refined sugar in my daily diet. That said, I’m not an extremist and there is always one’s mental health to consider as well. If I’m out for dinner and one of the lovely things on the dessert menu is calling out to me, I won’t deprive myself in the name of principle. Like I’ve said before, moderation, and paying attention to your own body are key. But the benefits of eating less refined sugar are major: reducing weight and lowering our risk of diabetes, liver disease, high blood pressure, stroke, and heart problems. And the way I feel when I limit my sugar intake is the real clencher: I have more sustained energy without crashes, I am happier and less moody, and my mind is more alert.
6. Reducing Stress
Our bodies respond to stress in a way that activates production of the hormone cortisol. High cortisol levels can lower estrogen, which can result in the deposit of abdominal fat (the dreaded “menopausal middle”). Increased cortisol can also lead to feelings of anxiety, depression, and fatigue, as well as to gastrointestinal issues, headaches, and more severe physical health issues. Reducing stress in turn reduces cortisol. So how do I reduce stress? Over the last year I’ve made some major changes in the way I work in an attempt to decrease work-related stressors:
- I only schedule meetings two days per week. I was finding that having my days broken up between work time and meetings was causing me undue stress. Clumping my meetings into two days allows me to keep “meeting energy” contained, so that I can be more focused on the days I don’t have meetings.
- I only work during my son’s preschool hours. This means I have had to be vigilant about planning my workdays and sticking to my plan to ensure I complete what needs to be done. But it’s reduced my stress considerably because I’m no longer feeling guilty or anxious about wanting to be with him when he’s at home and needing to also work.
- I’ve discovered calendar blocking. Getting hyper regimented about exactly how I spend my working time has taken some work unto itself. But putting in place tools like calendar blocking has helped me to consistently stick to my own schedule and achieve goals like the two bullets above. It’s such a seemingly small thing – blocking everything out on your daily calendar – but it has been a powerful change for me.
Because I work for myself, and at home, I have enough flexibility to implement these kinds of changes in my own schedule. I understand that the same things may not be possible for everyone. The important thing is to zoom out and look at your own routine, identify areas where you are experiencing stress, and consider the changes you can make to reduce or even remove those stimuli.
7. Saying Hello to Healthy Fats
Without enough fat, the body has trouble absorbing important vitamins, such as vitamin A, D, E and K. Fat also helps us feel full after eating and contributes to energy production. But not all fat is good fat. Healthy fats such as those containing omega-3 fatty acids help increase insulin sensitivity, reduce inflammation and pro-inflammatory markers, and lower stress by reducing cortisol. I have always eaten a diet high in healthy fats but this year as part of my effort to become even more proactive about my hormone balance, I incorporated a few new things, including adding flax meal to my routine. Flax is very high in omega-3’s, flax is also rich in fiber, and has been shown to lower cholesterol, reduce blood pressure, stabilize blood sugar, and help with weight management. I purchase this flax meal on subscription and I add it to my smoothies, oatmeal, protein shakes, and more!
8. Prioritizing “Sleep Hygiene”
We all know that horrible zombie-like feeling of being sleep deprived. But it’s not just tiredness making us feel that way. Poor sleep can have a real effect on the hormones that are essential to midlife wellness. According to a National Library of Medicine study in otherwise healthy adults, 5 nights of sleep restriction led to decreased insulin sensitivity, increased hunger, and increased stress hormones. Some things that have helped me get better sleep:
- Getting into bed earlier so I can have a longer wind-down time and still get enough hours of sleep
- Taking melatonin (not right for everyone but for me, a low dose of melatonin has been a good nudge to help me fall asleep and stay asleep longer). I currently take this melatonin. It’s available in several dosages. I take the 5mg variety.
- Stopping water intake after 7 pm. I drink a lot of water throughout the day but as I’ve aged I’ve found that it leads to many more wakeups during the night. I still drink just as much water, but I stop drinking fluids earlier to help minimize the need to go potty during sleeping hours.
- Using an app to track my sleep. I don’t know how accurate it is, but tracking my sleep (and wake) time on my FitBit has helped me feel like I at least have a general sense of how I’m doing from night to night, and it also helps me to see patterns (i.e. does my sleep quality change with my cycle?) so that I can be prepared and also make subtle adjustments accordingly.
9. Increased Fiber Intake
Fiber helps keep cholesterol in check, keep our hearts healthier, and manage blood sugar levels– all super important things for women at midlife. Studies have shown that fiber also increases insulin sensitivity, reducing blood sugar spikes and helping to keep our blood sugar stable. I’ve always eaten a diet rich in vegetables and whole grains. But over the past couple of years, I’ve been even more intentional about ensuring a high daily intake of fiber-full foods, like whole fruits and vegetables, legumes, whole grains, and seeds.
10. Following the Mediterranean Diet
I’ll preface this last tip by saying that I don’t adhere strictly to any one way of eating. I believe the most critical thing is to pay attention to how food makes us feel–whether it increases or depletes our energy, improves or worsens our moods, leaves us satiated or still craving more, etc. And then to make choices based on what is optimal for each of us. But for me, eating in line with what has now been deemed “The Mediterranean Diet” checks many of these boxes. We utilize olive oil as the predominant cooking oil in our household, and I consume a proportionately high amount of unprocessed whole grains, legumes, fruits and veggies, and a moderate amount of fish, dairy, and lean meat. Eating this way makes me feel strong, energetic, mentally clear, and helps me to keep my weight balanced.
There you have it! 10 things that have helped–and are helping–me to keep my hormones in check. I hope they give you some ideas and inspiration to find hormone-balancing solutions that are right for your body and your lifestyle.
Here’s to happy hormones, mama, and for mental health hacks, check out my 25 Affirmations for a Year of Intention and Self-Love!