You've just experienced your third hot flash in one morning, forgot where you put your keys for the second day in a row, and inadvertently yelled at your family for, well, really no good reason at all. You're menopausal, and you're over it.
But before you give up on getting any relief from menopause's vicious wrath, there are some ways you can fight back and feel better. According to Brooke Aschidamini, a registered dietitian and nutrition therapist for Florida Aetna Community Care, the secret to alleviating some of those menacing symptoms is all about what you put in your body — and how often you're moving around. So, as you set out to conquer menopause, make sure you're following these sensible tips.
1. Eat a balanced diet
Fatigue is a common, not to mention annoying, symptom of menopause. But you can improve your energy levels when you get enough of the right nutrients. This means consuming all four food groups at each meal, says Aschidamini.
"One-fourth of your plate should be a whole grain like brown rice, whole wheat bread or pasta, sweet potato, or quinoa. Then you should also have one-fourth of a vegetable, one-fourth of a fruit, and one-fourth of a protein to fill up the rest of your plate," she says.
And don't worry, balance also means treating yourself every now and then, too.
"If you want your favorite piece of chocolate cake, go for it," she says. "Just don't do this every day. And don't beat yourself up if you don't end up following your goal to a 'T'. Rather, accept what has taken place and move forward in a more positive direction."
2. Take your vitamins
Food is the best way to fuel your body, but it might not be enough once you enter menopause. This is where taking a multivitamin can help.
"As we age, some nutrients, vitamins, and minerals aren't absorbed as well as when we were younger," Aschidamini says. "Taking a multivitamin provides a safety net to ensure you're getting what you need in case you aren't able to absorb all of your vitamin and mineral requirements from food."
Aschidamini also recommends getting plenty of omega-3's.
"When omega-3 is ingested, it turns into something called EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), and these can help with inflammation. You'll want to look for omega-3 supplements, like fish oil, that have these specific acids in them."
There are also certain foods that contain omega-3's, like salmon and walnuts. Aschidamini says eating them in addition to taking omega-3 supplements will ensure you're getting enough of these fatty acids.
3. Get your exercise
One of the most frustrating symptoms of menopause can be weight gain. "During menopause, estrogen levels go down and your metabolism slows down. This can cause a real weight struggle for any woman," says Aschidamini.
But just because your metabolism slows down doesn't mean you can't ramp it back up with a little physical fitness.
"The more muscle mass you have, the faster your metabolism. You should be getting some form of physical activity at least three times a week. This will help maintain the muscle we already have and lead to more muscle tone," she says.
So, what are some exercises you can do to maintain and build muscle? Aschidamini says strength training using weights will certainly help. But if pumping iron isn't your thing, she recommends swimming, walking, golfing, or any physical activity that you enjoy.
It's important to speak with your doctor to make sure certain exercises are safe for you. If you choose to lift weights, consult a personal trainer or exercise physiologist to make sure you're lifting properly.
4. Ignore the fad diets
We all want a quick fix to help us feel and look better. But Aschidamini warns that trying out whatever diet is making headlines that week probably won't get you the results you're looking for.
"These diets can sometimes temporarily work in the short term for quick weight loss. However, this usually ends up with the person going back to their usual eating behaviors and gaining whatever weight they'd lost back, or even more."
Instead, Aschidamini says, replace dieting with intuitive eating.
"Listen to your hunger and fullness cues to guide your eating behaviors. That, along with a balanced diet and exercise, can usually help you lose weight."
While it might take you longer to lose weight through intuitive eating, it's a sustainable method for staying healthy.
"Intuitive eating is a lifestyle — it doesn't have an end goal. It becomes how you eat for life, and therefore it's not painful because you're not restricting or starving your body," she says.
So whether you're battling hot flashes, need an energy boost, or just want to maintain a healthy lifestyle during menopause, you can count on these four tips to help you feel your best.
Rachel Quetti is a health care writer at Aetna with experience in senior wellness, Medicare, commercial health care, and consumer engagement. When Rachel isn't trying out new fitness classes, she is cooking up fun, (mostly) healthy recipes in the kitchen. Rachel lives in Watertown, Massachusetts and has a degree in journalism from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.