Three years ago, I was struggling. I had some extra hormonal weight that wouldn’t shift, as well as insomnia, brain fog and low energy levels. Intermittent fasting helped me turn around these and other menopausal symptoms.
Here’s what happened: I was scrolling through a Facebook group for menopausal women one day when I stumbled across yet another thread about how to tackle the creeping weight gain that so many of us menopausal and peri-menopausal women experience. Several women mentioned intermittent fasting (IF), and one person recommended a book called Delay, Don’t Deny by Gin Stephens.
I only wanted to lose about 10-15 pounds, but I wasn’t happy with the direction in which things were heading. The old strategies that I always turned to for dropping any extra weight, like eating a bit less and exercising more, suddenly weren’t working.
But really, I was just interested in feeling better since I felt like I was about 100 years old. After reading the book over a weekend, I decided to start IF on the following Monday.
I won’t go into all the details, but here’s a summary: I started with 16 hours of fasting and an 8-hour eating window (aka “16:8”) and pretty much stuck with that for the next year or so. Most of the weight I wanted to lose came off within the first few months.
When it plateaued, I bumped up the fasting to around 18-20 hours, with a 24-hour fast thrown in occasionally. I think I did one 36-hour fast, but decided extended fasts weren’t for me. That kickstarted the last bit of weight loss.
There was a period of a few months where I gave up sugar and refined carbs (pasta, bread, etc.), but over the past two years and nine months that I’ve been doing IF, I’ve mostly eaten what I wanted. I generally eat two meals a day. As for exercise, I walk every day and do some core and strength workouts, but I’m not into any serious training.
I’m now 53 (ten years post-menopausal as I had an early menopause), 5’4” (162.5 cm) and I weigh 130-135 lbs (59-61 kg) depending on the day. My starting weight in July 2018 was 145 (over 65 kg).
As for my other symptoms, my mind feels much clearer, I’m sleeping better and I have more energy. Blood tests show lower cholesterol, inflammation (c-reactive protein) and average blood sugar levels (A1C). My hay fever symptoms have improved, my vision is better and my plantar fasciitis is no more.
I’m still a work in progress, but things have vastly improved. I can really see a difference when comparing a photo of myself in 2017 (left) vs 2021 (right).
For full disclosure, I also take hormone replacement therapy (HRT), which has helped a lot. I know that HRT isn’t everybody’s choice, but I fully embrace an approach for myself that combines both natural healing and conventional medicine, when needed.
IF: the foundation for a healthy menopause
On average, women reach the menopause (when periods cease) around age 52. The main hormones at play are oestrogen, progesterone and, to a lesser extent, testosterone. They decline rapidly in peri-menopause, which can start a decade before the menopause.
Oestrogen impacts virtually every part of a woman’s body, including your brain, muscles and joints, cardiovascular system, urinary and sexual function, as well as your hair, skin and nails. When your body isn’t in the best health to begin with, menopausal symptoms can be exacerbated when your oestrogen begins to plummet.
That’s why I believe that approaching the menopause from many angles – with IF at the foundation – is a great way to live well in this chapter of your life. IF helps your body heal itself, thus giving your hormones the greatest chance of stabilising and letting all of the interconnected systems function at their best.
Keeping this in mind, I highly recommend that menopausal IFers also pay attention to what you eat (not just when), your lifestyle and your mindset – all of which are essential for health and wellness.
In menopause, we can become more sensitive to certain foods and beverages as it gets harder to metabolise them. Alcohol is a prime example. Sugar and caffeine are also common culprits that can exacerbate symptoms. I’m not telling anyone to completely cut these things out, but just to be more aware of how you feel when consuming some foods/drinks and adjust accordingly.
It’s also important to make sure you’re getting enough protein, fibre, healthy fats and complex carbohydrates into your diet. The breakdown depends on your individual body, so I couldn’t possibly begin to say what regimen is optimal for you.
One thing I can say: intermittent fasting intuitively guides you towards the foods that make you feel best. It can even turn you into a bit of a food snob!
Reassessing and tweaking your lifestyle choices (sleep, movement, stress reduction, self-care) can also be beneficial as you move into the menopause. Isn’t it typical that this is most important at a time in your life when the shit is hitting the fan for many of us?
Ageing parents, mid-life crises, stressful careers, kids who may still not be completely independent, relationship breakdowns, pandemics…
This is where intermittent fasting comes into its own. Getting a good night’s sleep is essential to feeling well and keeping your hormones regulated, but declining oestrogen levels can negatively impact your sleep. IF may not be the cure-all for insomnia, but I know I’m not the only one who feels that their sleep improved after starting this way of eating.
Of course, stress will also affect your sleep. A lot of IFers comment that they’re able to manage stress better. Incorporating more movement and self-care into your life can also dramatically reduce stress. Even five minutes of movement or self-care can benefit you and have a significant effect on menopausal symptoms if you do it consistently.
Going for a walk around the block, getting up from your desk and stretching every hour, or doing a quick meditation in the morning are some easy ways to incorporate movement and self-care into your day and cut down on stress.
A negative mindset can often be the toughest obstacle to overcome, especially in menopause. We may tell ourselves that we’re too old, too overweight, too unfit, too busy, too this or too that to ever feel well again. We may repeatedly sabotage our efforts to get healthier.
Or we may fear that we’ll lose our identity, or alienate certain people, if we change our lives for the better. It’s hard to break out of this cycle, particularly if you’re suffering from anxiety and/or depression. But it’s not impossible. What can we do?
Everybody has to find what works for them, but I’ve found it super helpful joining support groups like The Fasting Highway, Delay, Don’t Deny: Intermittent Fasting Support and The Menopause Support Network.
Another mindset-shifting technique that I’ve used is tapping (emotional freedom technique), which short-circuits your negative thought processes and replaces them with positive ones. You can find loads of free YouTube videos that can teach you how to do it in minutes and there are apps, too.
Practicing gratitude and incorporating positive affirmations into my life have also been helpful in beating back those nasty negative self-talk gremlins.
I’ve been able to make great strides with the support of wellness coaching, too. A coach can help you to break out of old habits and beliefs that no longer serve you, while supporting you to put new actions in place so you can achieve your goals.
If you’re peri-menopausal or menopausal and have any questions about how IF may help you to feel better, please get in touch in the comments below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.