Nourishing ourselves during peri-menopause and menopause
Nourishing ourselves during our “Second Spring”, as it is called in Chinese medicine, in a woman’s life is an important time of transition which can be challenging in the midst of work, family, children and elder parents. But, this is an important time to take stock and re-group. In Chinese medicine this is a time to re-create, regenerate, nourish and renew ourselves as we enter this third stage of our lives. Yet many women in the west, up to 85%, experience discomfort and symptoms related to this important hormonal transition that are disruptive and confusing obscuring the opportunity for inner change.
For years in my 30s I listened to my patients describe peri-menopausal symptoms with a bit of dismay hoping I would never have to go through it. So when those pesky symptoms of hot flashes, fluctuating moods, sleep disruption, lower libido started I was not prepared. Who had ever talked to me about it? Nobody, except my patients and I still did not believe it would happen to me! In this post I want to share some thoughts on how to nourish ourselves during this transition.
First, it is important to understand that our hormonal balance hinges on many things; lifestyle habits that include how we sleep, eat, move as well as past trauma and long standing stress. It is this natural change in our estrogen and progesterone levels that also reveal underlying health issues that we can begin to address through changes in our nourishment and lifestyle. These intentional changes can set the ground for good health as we age.
What follows are recommendations for nourishment
There are many beneficial diets available to help women during this time to reset hormones, lose weight, etc. What I propose rather is a way of nourishing ourselves that is flexible, doable, delicious, dynamic and sustainable.
- Remember, this is a time to nourish your whole self.This challenging time is an opportunity.
- This is a time to take stock and learn new self care skills. There are obstacles to feeling better and those obstacles are opportunities to pay attention how and what we feel in our bodies and our state of mine. Having support brings great benefits.
- Consider these areas of your life: overworking and overextended ( do you take on TOO much responsibility? Hard to say no?), stress, excessive alcohol (which taxes our liver,is inflammatory), what are your self care habits, sleep habits, emotional issues that are arising.For many women this is also a time when our children are growing up, they may be leaving home and we are examining our own lives without children at home.
- Meals are not math problems. Food is nourishment on many levels.
- This is a time to find new lifestyle habits – qi gong, yoga, meditation, keeping a journal, dancing, therapeutic help and support.
- Go for a feeling of flow. Move in ways you enjoy to defuse tension and get some endorphins into your system
- Easy does it. This is not a time to push and overdo anything!
- Take care of your digestion. Our digestive capacity and functions starts to change.
- If you need extra help bio-identical hormones can help you through. Be sure to meet with a doctor who has experience helping women through menopause.
Meals are not math problems to be solved
We eat each and everyday. Each of us has our individual flavor preferences based on culture, upbringing and our own physiology. Honor them and find ways to eat that is delicious and nourishing.
Here are some ideas:
- Make sure to eat dark leafy greens everyday. Boil, steam, stir fry, sautee, puree, bake ( yummy kale chips!). Greens are a great form of mineral nourishment and are packed with chlorophyll, good for the liver
- And don’t forget sweet vegetables such as : carrots, beets, winter squash, yam and wild yam.
- Fish is rich in omega-3 oils which benefit brain function and are naturally anti-inflammatory. Cut back on heavy meat dishes, which can be hard to digest.
- Include easy to digest whole grains such as: rice, millet, oats, or job’s tears, a marvelous and nutty like gluten free barley.
- Kitchen herbs and spices which are NOT spicy bring flavor and delight to all dishes including: cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, nutmeg, oregano, basil, sage, cumin, fennel, coriander, mint, shiso leaf, dried tangerine peel, goji berries are all great additions that are so beneficial.
- Fragrant flowers are great additions to teas, herb rubs, beverages and are also beneficial to help reduce stress and tension: rose, jasmine, gardenia, lavender and chrysanthemum are some ideas.
- Herbs for beverages include: lemon balm, peppermint, nettles, chrysanthemum or hibiscus.
- Why not create an herbal Formula in a dish: Xiao Yao Wan: Make a vegetable soup and add in herbs that help to regulate qi: ginger, mint (or basil), parsley and/or tarragon, bai shao, cooked spinach, carrot and celery. You can add tofu or chicken for protein.
If I had to do peri-menopause again I would do it differently. I ate very well, I meditated, I exercised, I had a supportive husband yet, peri-menopause was hard: I lost sleep ( you know the 3-5am wake up), I felt hot, irritable, more depressed, my libido was dropping, my heart was racing and all I wanted to do was go to a small cabin on a beach – but I had to make breakfast, lunch and dinner, do carpool, organize all things home related, while running a clinic and at the same time my dear step mother died and my dad was deteriorating across the country. can you relate?
I wanted relief! I just did not know how ….. I was not prepared nor understood how all the stress I had been holding would come to a head. If I had only known that I did not have to do it all! If I had only known that stress would affect my peri-menopausal symptoms.
Ah yes, the if only……..I could take what I know NOW and transfer it to my being I would have taken space for myself, I would have asked for help in managing my clinic, my home, childcare. I WOULD have taken time away from the family every 6- weeks. I would have put myself first more often. But conditioning is hard to change and I did the best I could………… we all do.
Some times we need stronger medicine – bio-identical hormones, herbs, etc. And that really helped me.
In closing, as women, we know that talking to our sisters in blood and of choice, to our moms and to each other can be a balm in stressful times. I hope this post brings that to you and gives you some breathing room.
Call me to set up a consult if you want some support and help in making the transition.