The Fitness Zone

Managing perimenopause with exercise and nutrition

Feb 14, 2022 | by Network

Teresa Cutter, The Healthy Chef shares her personal experience with perimenopause and menopause, as well as the dietary and exercise strategies she has used to alleviate symptoms.

Perimenopause is a precursor to menopause, whereby the ovaries gradually begin making less oestrogen. It’s a natural phase in life and causes women to experience irregular menstrual cycles and fluctuations in hormones, along with symptoms like anxiety attacks, weight gain and drops in libido. Most women will start to experience perimenopausal symptoms in their 40s, some even earlier, in their mid-30’s. However, it varies from person to person based on their genetics and health issues. Menopause is officially recognised when you have not had a period for an entire year.

Growing up, I never really worried about my period. Not even in my 20’s and 30’s was I concerned. My periods were always irregular, but there were times when I would go one to two years without them. I attributed that to being into fitness and competing in fitness figure competitions at a low body fat percentage, which was not a healthy state, but that was my journey.

The author, Teresa Cutter aka ‘The Healthy Chef’

My mother and sister started perimenopause quite early, and I did too. Perimenopause and menopause have such negative connotations, but I have viewed it as a new beginning – accepting the changes in my body and embracing them as part of life. I try not to stress about menopause and deal with it the best I can.

Changes to the body

The changes happen over time. I get blood tests done twice a year to ensure I’m on track and to rectify any deficiencies, if needed. In the early stages of perimenopause, I noticed the falls of oestrogen, progesterone and testosterone in my blood levels. My periods had stopped entirely, and I became anxious and started to experience dry skin and low energy, followed by hot flushes, bloating and a lowered metabolism.

“Perimenopause and menopause have such negative connotations, but I have viewed it as a new beginning”

I was waking up at 3am most mornings for months, and therefore missing out on the quality sleep that my body needed. I was in the throes of menopause when I turned 50. My blood test results were quite abnormal compared to what I usually get: they showed a suppressed thyroid and massively elevated cortisol and adrenal fatigue. The hormone cortisol also often plays a role in weight gain. Women in perimenopause and the throes of menopause may experience high-stress levels, which can elevate cortisol levels, leading to increased fat storage.

Health-related conditions associated with perimenopause and menopause

It’s important to get a complete check-up with your health practitioner regularly, even if you don’t notice any symptoms. I do this religiously, even when I’m feeling well. Menopause is associated with increased risks of developing heart disease and osteoporosis due to drops in oestrogen. Metabolism also slows, as does collagen production, so if you are in this stage of life, it’s prudent to develop a routine for checking in with your doctor or health care professional for regular check-ups.

Can diet and lifestyle practices alleviate symptoms?

Lifestyle therapy (exercise and diet) can make a significant difference to your health and how you feel. I focus on eating a Mediterranean wholefoods diet rich in antioxidants, protein, calcium, vitamin D and healthy fats to help support my hormones, bone density, lean muscle and skin. According to research (Willett, 2006), making healthy food choices consistent with a Mediterranean diet, in combination with regular physical activity and not smoking, can help people avoid ‘over 80% of coronary heart disease, 70% of stroke and 90% of type 2 diabetes’.

The recipes in my cookbooks and the Healthy Chef App focus on a Mediterranean-based wholefoods diet. Personally, I try to keep my diet gluten-free as I feel better and bloat less. Including quality protein, such as wild-caught fish for omega-3 and supplementing with pure native whey protein isolate and marine collagen, helps balance my hormones such as insulin and support metabolism. My Healthy Chef App also includes a 28 Day Menopause Diet Plan to help you eat better, reduce insulin and balance hormones. The Healthy Chef Rejuvenating Menopause Diet can be easily fine-tuned based on your unique health requirements and needs.

“Lifestyle therapy (exercise and diet) can make a significant difference to your health and how you feel”

Exercise is important for managing several risk factors associated with menopause complications, including becoming overweight, having high levels of inflammation, getting poor sleep, experiencing bone loss or muscle wasting, and dealing with stress. I’ve adjusted my fitness regimen and diet to suit what my body needs. I’m fortunate that years of bodybuilding has built up my bone density, and I do yearly DEXA scans to monitor it.

Sleep is also crucial as it’s the time when the body repairs itself. If we don’t get enough sleep, it suppresses our immune system, affects our state of mind, and elevates cortisol, which breaks down collagen. Excessive stress and poor sleep are linked with higher cortisol levels, decreased immunity, trouble with work performance, and a higher susceptibility to anxiety, weight gain and depression. So, I try to get to bed by at least 9:30pm and take a spoonful of magnesium before bed as it helps me sleep better.

Supplements to help with symptoms

The main reason I started my brand, The Healthy Chef, was because I needed to find nutritional solutions to support my health, as well as that of my husband. I have protein, and marine collagen shakes most days as they are the building blocks to the body – protein and collagen help support hormone, skin, bone, immune and muscle health. Protein also helps to balance blood sugar and reduce insulin spikes. I usually make a strawberry smoothie, adding proteinmarine collagen, avocado and water.

I also make sure to saturate my body with vitamin C every day. Vitamin C is vital not only for immune health, but also for collagen production, supporting healthy bones and healthy skin. I love Healthy Chef Natural Immune Support and our immune spray. Both are rich in vitamin C, D and zinc to keep my whole body in good health.

Prebiotics and probiotics are also key in my nutritional supplementation. Studies show probiotic-rich foods may assist with the management of diabetes, obesity, yeast infections, urinary tract infections and gastrointestinal disorders. As well as foods such as yoghurt or kiwi fruit, I also add Everyday Greens to my smoothies or water to help boost probiotics and nourish my digestive system. 

The symptoms that accompany the  onset of perimenopause and menopause can be confronting, but making some strategic nutritional and lifestyle changes can help to significantly alleviate them. My mantra during this time remains the same as at every stage of life: Eat well, Move daily, Hydrate often, Sleep lots, Love your body.

Photography by Paul Cutter. Download the Healthy Chef App from the Apple Store and start a free 7-day trial.

Teresa Cutter

Founder of The Healthy Chef, Teresa is an award-winning and classically-trained chef, author, nutritionist and fitness professional. You can find more recipes, tips and products on her NEW Healthy Chef App, website, cookbooks, eBooks, Facebook and Instagram. / /

Network is an education subscription service that offers a broad range of upskilling courses for fitness and wellness professionals. Established in 1987, Network has played a pivotal role in the continual evolution of the fitness industry.

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