For many women, menopause can be a time where weight management becomes a challenge. We discuss how to naturally lose weight during this time.March 25, 2022 4:17 pm March 24, 2022 5:50 pm
Taking the first step
Firstly, congratulations on taking the first step. The first is always the hardest. In a society that constantly tells women how they should look and sets unrealistic standards for us, keeping a positive and proactive attitude is challenging to say the least!
But before we dive into it, an important disclaimer: you can be healthy even if you are carrying a few extra kilos. This is not to say that there are no health risks associated with overweight and obesity, but it is not always so black and white. In fact, some people are naturally smaller or larger than others due to genetics and other factors, so comparing yourself to anyone else is not only damaging but counterproductive.
Two women could follow the exact same diet and their bodies would look completely different. Having said that, if weight loss is something you wish to achieve, you can do so in a healthy and sensible way. Losing weight can feel like climbing a mountain, this is because our bodies are naturally made to hold onto every ounce of fat! If we think back to our caveman ancestors, they could have gone for days or even weeks without food, so the human body has learnt to “stock up” for times of need. Of course nowadays, our access to food is quite literally unlimited and omnipresent. In part, this is also why many people are consuming more calories than their bodies need.
Setting realistic goals
You may have short-term or long-term goals for weight loss, either way it helps when they are realistic and aligned with your individual abilities. Your long-term goal may be to lower and maintain your blood pressure at a healthy level, whereas your short-term goal could be to start walking for 30 minutes every day. It’s good to remember that even a seemingly very small change can lead to significant results in the long run. In fact, setting goals that are too ambitious and unrealistic can leave you feeling frustrated and unmotivated.
Being realistic about your goals also means accepting that setbacks are completely normal and will happen. Weight loss is a journey, and much like the journey of life, we come across obstacles that we must face. Setbacks can happen for different reasons, perhaps you are going through a stressful period at work, or you have gone through a big life change. When setbacks happen, take note of them and accept that they are a normal part of the process, then move on and re-focus on your goals.
By setting SMART goals you can increase your chances of success with some simple planning. SMART goals are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-Bound.
A Specific goal needs to be clearly defined, for example “I want to lose weight because I have high cholesterol and high blood pressure and my dietitian has advised that I can lower my risk of heart disease by lowering my BMI”, as opposed to a more vague: “I want to lose weight”. A Measurable goal is one that you can concretely measure, for example : “I want to lose 4kg”. An Achievable goal is realistic and attainable, losing 4kg seems more realistic to start than losing 10kg in a month. Moreover, Relevant goals should fit in with the bigger picture of your life, ask yourself if your goal will bring you closer to your ultimate outcome. Finally, Time-Bound goals have deadlines so that you are more likely to follow through.
An example of a SMART goal for weight loss could be : ”I will lose 4kg by August 10th by going on a 30 minute walk every day and having 5 alcohol free days per week.”
A support system is key
Losing weight can be a challenging and at times isolating experience. For example, if your social life heavily revolves around drinking, it can be difficult to let your friends know that you are on a weight loss journey. Having a few supportive friends or peers can make a big difference in achieving your goals. In fact, some people like to share their goals with friends or family so that they can keep themselves accountable.
A support system is also useful for those times when you feel like giving up and things seem to get too hard. A supportive friend or partner can encourage you to keep going if you’re having a bad day and who knows, maybe they can join you on the journey! In fact, for some people having a buddy system can greatly increase their chances of achieving their goals.
For example, if you don’t like walking alone or don’t feel safe in your neighbourhood, you could join a women’s walking group or a local gym where you can use a treadmill. Going on a walk with a friend or neighbour is also a great activity not just for your physical health but also for socialising and making new connections. Added bonus if you have a dog to walk, you’ll have the perfect excuse to get out of the house more.
Think about your eating patterns
It can be hard to pinpoint why you are struggling to lose weight. For some women, it’s one too many cocktails over the weekend, for others it’s our sedentary lifestyle which isn’t conducive to moving our bodies enough. However, assuming that you have been cleared of any medical reasons for your weight gain, it is most likely due to dietary patterns or physical activity level, usually a combination of both.
It’s useful to take a snapshot of your eating patterns, what have you eaten in the past 24 hours? Take a notebook and jot it down. It helps to look at a weekday and a weekend day, you might be surprised at how different a Monday looks to a Saturday!
Have a think about what you’re eating and why. For example, do you often find yourself reaching for the cookie jar or a chocolate bar around 3pm? Could that be because you skipped lunch? Or perhaps you like to wind down with a glass or two of wine every night before falling asleep? Is there anything else that could make you feel relaxed, for example a hot bath or watching a show you love on tv? Picking up on these patterns can help you identify what you could change to work towards your goal. Ideally, working with a dietitian can help you to decide which changes to prioritise and how to keep enjoying the foods you love without feeling deprived.
“Volume eating is all about not feeling deprived and eating nutritious whole foods that will keep you fuller for longer.”
A point about volume eating
There is a concept in nutrition called “volume eating” which as the name suggests, refers to eating a certain volume of food. This means that it’s possible to eat more food even if your goal is to lose weight! For example, a small packet of potato chips is much higher in calories than a larger bowl of boiled potatoes. Not only is one option much higher in fat and salt than the other, but it also won’t make you feel full. Volume eating is all about not feeling deprived and eating nutritious whole foods that will keep you fuller for longer.
Examples of volume eating include: instead of 80g of muesli with a few berries, try 40g of muesli with an entire cup of berries, or instead of 3 squares of chocolate, have 1 square of chocolate, a few almonds and 10 strawberries. It may not seem like a big change but even small tweaks such as these can add up, without feeling like you’re being deprived.
Two is better than one
Whilst diet is the major determinant of weight loss, exercise is also an important part of a healthy lifestyle. In fact, it is relatively difficult and unhealthy to out-exercise bad eating habits. It would take an average person about 1 hour of running to burn off a chocolate bar. And that is missing the point, because it’s not just about the calories, it’s about the nutrients your body needs to function at the best of its ability.
However, exercise and diet go hand in hand for a healthy mind and body so including some form of exercise can be a great addition to your weight loss journey. One of the most important things you can do is choose an activity that you enjoy. There’s no point telling yourself that you are going to take up jogging if you absolutely hate jogging. Walking is a great place to start if you are new to exercise, even just 30 minutes a day can significantly benefit your cardiovascular health. If you prefer more social activities you could sign up for yoga classes or any gym classes that might interest you.
Once you’ve successfully lost your target weight, the next step is maintaining your achievement! Keeping the positive habits you have developed during your weight loss journey can help you to keep the weight off. Following a healthy and realistic eating pattern is the best way to ensure that your diet is sustainable in the long-term.
Moreover, working with a dietitian to discuss healthy eating for a healthy weight can help you to keep the weight off for good. In addition, staying physically active is also important for weight maintenance. Again, much like during your weight loss journey, find something that you enjoy and are willing to do regularly, and you will be set up for success!
Finally, if for any reason you have a setback (which is also very normal!), speak to your support system, a friend, partner or colleague, hold yourself accountable and remember that no journey is linear. Enlisting the help of a mental health practitioner can also be useful if you have any psychological conditions that you would like to address and feel are holding you back in your weight loss journey.
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