Nutrition For Women Over 50
Maintaining healthy nutrition, for women over 50, can be a real challenge. Before I started on the food plan I’m about to share with you, I struggled for a few years with calorie counting. I failed to lose a single pound even with limiting my diet to 800 calories per day! This extreme calorie limitation will never serve you well. I would get so frustrated I’d find myself binging on junk food all the time.
Then, I tried an all natural, organic cleansing fast for 10 days. I’m not suggesting you try that, but I will tell you I felt amazing! You should probably consult with your doctor before trying a fasting cleanse of this length, however. I did manage to lose 10 lbs in 10 days. It was no easy task, though, and I feared I’d gain it all back once I started back on my regular diet. (for more on safer cleansing, I recommend you read my article To Cleanse Or Not To Cleanse: Why You Probably Should.
Instead of going back to my old eating habits, though, I took a closer look at what I was eating daily and discovered what I instinctively knew were the culprits hindering my weight loss. I noticed a few things that really stood out: white rice, bagels, English muffins, coffee with cream, potatoes, cheese, alcohol, diet soda and packaged or processed foods.
What I did was eliminate all of those things from my diet, while keeping the good stuff: salads, fruits, raw veggies, water, lean meat and fish, Greek yogurt and as many organic foods as I could find or afford from my local grocery store. I lost 10 more lbs over the next 6 weeks and have managed to keep that off for close to a year, now.
I need to mention that I was also experiencing a tremendous amount of stress the last few years and have learned how to deal with that in healthier ways, as well. Through meditation and yoga, I have learned how to calm my mind and control anxiety, which can absolutely hinder weight loss (especially in women over 50). Over the course of this last year I’ve done some research and found that I was onto something; there were reasons why what I was doing worked, and why what I had been doing failed. That’s what we’re going to look at first, the physiological reasons behind what works and what doesn’t.
We all know that as the years go by, there are visible external indications of aging…wrinkles, gray hair, loose skin, excess weight in the midsection, etc. But, there are even more significant internal changes taking place that we don’t always consider. As we age, our metabolism slows down. These metabolic changes are the result of, not only hormonal changes, but also a natural progression that begins earlier in life: glycemic stress. In simple terms, from eating too many refined carbs…like, french fries, mashed potatoes, cookies, ice cream, soda, white bread, etc. This causes an immediate increase in blood sugar. This excess blood sugar causes inflammation in the lining of the blood vessels throughout the body, starting in the skeletal muscles. This is “glycemic stress”. If left unchecked, glycemic stress eventually results in too much belly fat, an increased risk for type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
These refined carbs make all perimenopausal problems, such as heavy bleeding, cramps, fibroids, and PMS, worse because of its adverse effect on hormone balance. This only reinforces the tendency toward excess fat around the waist and belly.
We start to slow down after 50, too. We aren’t exercising like we did in our twenties or thirties. Muscle mass gets replaced with fat, particularly belly fat.
There is also a connection between toxic stress and toxic weight gain. This is the kind of weight gain that accumulates around the belly and puts women at risk for premature death. Toxic stress can come from any daily challenge, but for women over 50 (or even 40), it’s especially common. I mean, we have so much more happening than we realize at this age…there’s relationship changes, empty nest stuff going on, loss, job stress, illness and don’t forget the effects of menopause. Think about the times when your perimenopausal weight really seemed to increase…was it during times of increased stress in your life? Chances are, it was/is. This is largely due to changes in our serotonin and cortisol levels. These are the hormones that help us cope with stress and to feel good. So, naturally, when these hormone levels are lowered or depleted, particularly in the late afternoon, we become more vulnerable to emotions that come from stress. And, when serotonin is depleted, we are more apt to over do it with the refined carbs to bring it back to normal. In other words, we pig out on chips and cookies to try to feel better.
It makes sense, then, that we want to focus on limiting refined carbs in our diet and keeping stress levels in balance. A high glycemic , refined food diet results in overproduction of insulin, deficiencies in omega-3 fats (necessary for the function of nearly every cell in the body), too many trans fats, deficiencies in vitamins C and B6, and magnesium.
Why is a Healthy Diet so Important?
I cannot stress enough how important a healthy diet is to our over all WELLNESS. Think about some of the issues you have faced since turning 50. Some of them probably include insomnia, lack of energy, dry skin and, of course, excess belly fat. With a good healthy diet, you will feel better almost immediately. Not only will you feel better, you will also be reducing your risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, arthritis and breast cancer, to name a few.
Lets talk about a food plan…
- Eat at Least 3 Meals a Day – starving yourself all day and saving up calories for later in the day is never a good idea for a couple reasons. First, the metabolic rate naturally peaks at noon and decreases after that. So, when you starve all day and eat a big meal at dinner time, the food you eat will more likely be stored as excess fat compared to food eaten earlier in the day. Also, starving yourself will lower your overall metabolic rate over time, making it nearly impossible to lose any weight now matter how little calories you’re taking in. Starvation can also result in a decrease in beneficial lean body mass but not necessarily a decrease in body fat. Most perimenopausal women do best when they keep their blood sugar stable throughout the day by eating frequent, smaller meals. Try eating a little snack around 4:00 PM to help keep you from overeating at night.
- Concentrate on Portion Size, Not Calorie Counting – Nobody likes counting calories anyway, right? Try to focus on eating high quality foods in smaller portions.
- Protein Protein Protein – Eat protein at each meal. This includes eggs, fish, lean meat, dairy food, soy or whey protein, whole soybeans and tofu. The amount of protein you should be eating depends on your size and how active you are. So, the bigger and more active you are, the more protein you need.
- Cut Back on Refined & High-Glycemic-Index Carbs. This includes ALCOHOL. Benefits of stable blood sugar include more energy, endurance, clearer thinking, ability to build muscle, less hunger, fewer PMS symptoms, fewer hot flashes, softer and more radiant skin, less puffiness and dark circles around eyes, more restful sleep & better and more stable moods. It’s a win/win, really.
I should also mention that we should go easy on the whole grains, too. These don’t need to be completely eliminated, but should be limited. Some people find that eating whole grain products triggers binge eating. Whole grains include: whole wheat, whole rye, whole oat and millet flour.
WHAT CAN WE EAT
- Fresh Fruits & Veggies – strive to eat at least 5 servings per day. A serving is small, maybe 4 oz or 1/2 cup. Remember, the healthiest fruits and vegetables are the most colorful and are powerful antioxidants: broccoli; red , yellow & green peppers; dark green leafy vegetables like collards, kale & spinach; tomatoes. Blueberries have been found to have the highest concentration of antioxidants compared to forty other fruits and vegetables! Some of the benefits from consuming pigment rich foods are: help balance hormones, protect the skin from sun damage, keep the skin & eyes radiant, maintain the lining of the blood vessels, help prevent varicose veins, lower cholesterol, boost immune system and help the body to resist cancer & other degenerative diseases.
- Other fruits and vegetables like potatoes, corn and bananas have lots of nutrients in them, too, but you should remember that the more processed they are, the higher their glycemic index. For example, a baked potato is way healthier than a pile of french fries! And, fresh is always better than cannedHealthy Fats – Essential Fatty Acids or EFAs are necessary for human development and health. There are 2 essential types of EFAs: omega-6 fats and omega-3 fats. Omega-6 fats are in the foods we eat; however, omega-3 fats are harder to come by, especially in the American diet. Good sources of omega-3 fats include pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, flaxseed or flaxseed oil, hempseed or hempseed oil, organ meats, some fish or fish oil supplements, DHA supplements (docosahexaenoic acid). Nuts are also a good source, but in moderation…maybe a handful once or twice a day.
- WATER WATER WATER – Try to drink filtered water. We need lots of water to help our bodies eliminate the breakdown products of fat. Drinks lots of water and you will reap the benefits of soft, supple glowing skin. You won’t believe how pliable it’ll feel to the touch. I try to drink a gallon of distilled water a day. Feel free to slice up a lemon or a cucumber to add to your water, if you really hate plain water. Trust me, though, if you start drinking a gallon per day, you will actually CRAVE it. Just be careful not to over do it; there’s a thing called water intoxication. Though rare, it can happen and can be fatal. Remember, your size and activity level effect how much water your body needs. The bigger your frame and the more active you are, the more you need. Start by drinking at least 8 glasses per day. See how you feel. Any adverse reactions, like fatigue? No? Keep increasing until you hit an amount where you notice positive changes in your skin (softer, smoother, more supple). You’ll thank me later.
e-mail any questions you may have to Barb@healthandwellnessforwomenover50.com
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Source: The Wisdom of Menopause by Christiane Northrup M.D.