What are the healthy habits of menopause?

Three healthy habits for menopause

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I’m a menopause dietitian so I should probably fill this blog with nutrition inspiration on how to eat for menopause and how to use food to manage your menopausal symptoms. Indeed, you can find out more about diet and menopause elsewhere on the blog.

Healthy eating is a key habit to support us through menopause, but I think the habits that don’t get talked about enough are the ones that have the most power, so today I’m going to talk about what I believe are the three healthy habits of menopause.

What are the three habits that can help us most through menopause?

By a habit, we mean a behaviour that becomes automated, so it’s repeatable with ease. Habits are associated with our subconscious brain and require little concerted effort from the human brain to make them happen.

They are our brain’s way of making shortcuts to enable us to function. If we had to actively think through everything that was in service of our survival, we’d never get anywhere, so we develop behaviour loops and use neurotransmitters like dopamine, to make us repeat behaviours that serve a purpose.

We may scold ourselves for habits that feel at odds with our true desires, but if we take a moment to pause and get curious, we often see that that behaviour has become habitual because it is servicing a need. Getting clear on what that need is, is helpful and we can then ask ourselves whether there is another way to meet it.

So, with clarity on the definition of a habit, let’s look at the three healthy habits of menopause that can help us most.

1. Getting into the habit of tuning in (aka attunement)

How we tune into and answer the needs of our body, can be a difficult task when there are so many things that disrupt us in midlife. Menopausal symptoms are so variable for different women, but common ones, such as disturbed sleep, increased anxiety or mood fluctuations will alter how we function and our food preferences day to day.

The menopausal wellness industry often turns us against ourselves and guides us towards its supposed solutions. Our bodies are failing us, they’re changing shape overnight, they’re not behaving, they’re stopping us from doing what needs to be done today – and the demands on us are greater than ever. Sound familiar?

We seek ‘buy now’ solutions in the form of supplements or ‘oven-ready’ diet plans. We turn on ourselves and trust erodes. And yet, our body is the only thing unique to us, and therefore the only thing that can truly guide the way.

Our interoceptive awareness can become our midlife lifeline to improved wellbeing. How do you rate your ability to clock the connections between body, mind and feelings? If we’re not more deeply aware, we lose an opportunity to truly understand.

Food is a common and often powerful strategy to cope with emotional dysregulation – which may involve eating in ways we later regret. There are also many other strategies that switch us off from ourselves.

Foraging these connections is so foundational to healthy food relationships and ultimately our emotional health and fitness.

Build this habit now by investing in The Pause to Nourish Programme and chunk it down into a really doable half an hour twice a week. Or take a Pause Power Hour to get more confident with other healthy habits for menopause. The Messy Mindfulness for Midlife Masterclass for example explores self-compassion in more detail. 

2. Getting into the habit of being nice (aka self-compassion)

Also linked closely to emotional well-being (and in turn often our food habits) is the concept of self-compassion. If they actually taught us how to administer this, I swear we’d be better at it. For some reason, looking upon ourselves with kindness is associated with words such as lazy or weakness. Far better to give ourselves a good talking to, dig deep into the will power bucket and plough on. This is especially true when it comes to eating and exercise habits. Judgement calls the shots, which in turn can leave us feeling like a hamster on a wheel – going nowhere fast.

Berating ourselves for not doing better can help in the short term to get us back on track, but if we repeat this and it becomes habitual, it can soon make us feel quite drained. We’re so terrified of failing, we feel paralysed and the thought of another metaphorical or real-life Monday morning looming, fills us with dread.

Self-compassion allows our true humanness to emerge. Reflecting with curiosity and compassion on our behaviours, helps us understand them, right back to their roots and with this enhanced knowledge comes power. We get to make change from a place of positivity and growth. My clients say it feels gentler and more playful and they simply can’t believe it’s not meant to feel like hard work to make healthier lifestyle choices an easy reality.

Realigning ourselves with what good enough looks like and to realise, especially when it comes to eating, there is no such thing as perfection. Luckily, research backs this up. There is no perfect diet. If there were, it would make the assumption we’re all exactly the same.

The ‘ultra-processed food is evil’ drums are banging ever louder – but I call for perspective, shifting the focus to what we put in, rather than draining our reserves in trying to keep lots of things out.

Practising self-compassion has also been shown to alter our brain chemicals and take us out of reactive, stress mode. We no longer feel ‘attacked’ so our sympathetic nervous system doesn’t need to respond. This is better for health and probably helps us make better food choices too.

3. Getting into the habit of flexible planning

We start each day with a different level of fuel in the tank. Applying this curiosity allows us to assess what is likely to work best today. If for example we’re trying hard to follow an Intermittent Fasting Diet, but we wake up after a rough night’s sleep feeling drained, today we may benefit from eating something sooner. If we’re trying to reduce carbs, but we have a big meeting and we need to make sure we’re focussed and concentrating, then providing our brain with more carb fuel today is going to benefit us. No diet, no matter how tailored, can account for daily fluctuations in hormones, stress levels and the metabolic impacts of less sleep or more activity for example.

Planning often feels like a chore, it’s dull and too much of midlife is already a little dull. But I believe it’s how we sell it into the child within us. Planning is not about rigid structure that even as we create the meal plan, we know in our hearts we’re going to ignore, it’s about setting us up to win, giving our future selves an ‘I’ve got you’ type feeling.

So in summary, the three healthy habits of menopause that I believe can make all the difference to us in midlife are:

  • Knowing our pitfalls, and foreseeing our pinch points;
  • Applying our self-compassion and attunement habits to gently create some intentions for the days ahead, whether they’re related to meal choices, or commitment to move or rest;
  • Planning flexibly on our own terms, acknowledging and expecting curve balls.

The traditional stuff you read about moving more and eating well still counts too, but sometimes there’s so much to gain from looking at the bigger picture.

Remember the Pause to Nourish Programme guides you through a roadmap to doing that, and I’m always here for 1-1 support if you need it.

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Fancy getting some clarity around what to eat and easing the stress in your head?

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