Nutrition-focused approach to manage menopausal symptoms
By changing her diet, 52-year-old nutritional therapist Simone Burgon was able to manage the symptoms that arose when she entered perimenopause.
Menopausal symptoms come in all shapes and forms
Menopause refers to that time in every woman’s life when she stops having periods and is no longer able to get pregnant naturally. It generally occurs between the ages of 45 and 55. In the UK the average age to reach menopause is 51.
When Simone’s symptoms of perimenopause developed, these were so severe that, at first, she mistook them for Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.
“I thought I had Myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME)” she says. “I couldn’t get out of bed, I had chronic fatigue, depression, night sweats.” Hot flashes and night sweats are almost synonymous with menopause – although as Simone demonstrates, the severity of these is often downplayed. “I don’t mean where I was hot,” she reiterates, “I mean where I had to get up and change the bed sheets 3 times a night and shower.”
Simone also suffered with mental health issues during this period, stating that “Even though a lot of people say depression isn’t part of it, you get depressed.” She also gained weight – “I put on 4 stone going through perimenopause”- and recalls “itchy skin, not being able to sleep at night, frequently wanting to go to the toilet” among her many symptoms. Particularly distressing was her eye dryness: “When I opened my eyes in the morning, my eyeballs were stuck to my eyelids” she recounts, “I couldn’t see for about an hour.”
Symptoms of Menopause
You can find more information about the symptoms of the menopause from Menopause matters, the British Menopause society . You can also find out about other women’s experience in the following Feminine Vitae ‘s interviews and on the BBC Menopause week content, external article: ‘This Is What No One Tells Women About What Happens To Your Body In Your 40s‘.
The Menopause at Work
Although these symptoms are something that many women suffer with, workplaces are often unaccommodating, as menopause remains a stigmatised topic in these spaces.
“Women that I have spoken to have left their career, because their career was very masculine,” Simone points out. Frequently, women are reluctant to address symptoms of menopause, due to the lack of understanding and embarrassment surrounding it. This creates a culture in which women are afraid to speak out about menopause symptoms, for fear of not being taken seriously. Simone agrees: “A lot of women think it’s career suicide.”
“A lot of women think it’s career suicide.”
For more info on the menopause at work, refer to Public Health England and CIPD.
However, Simone is now able to manage her perimenopause symptoms through addressing her diet. Certain triggers aggravate the symptoms – Simone identifies “alcohol, caffeine and spices”, as “the main culprits.” Rather than forgoing these entirely, she instead practices moderation. “Party season’s coming up, I’m going to have a drink, as a social thing” she says, “I eat really well beforehand and eat really well afterwards and have a bit of fun in the middle.”This nutrition-focused approach is one that Simone sees as fundamental to overall health and wellbeing: “Your brain and your gut are connected,” she believes. Although she is quick to point out “I don’t like the term ‘clean’” in reference to the phrase ‘clean eating’ which has dominated food trends for the past few years, she does make a conscious effort to avoid processed food, stating “I just eat as many whole foods as I can. Probably 80% of the time I eat vegetables.” Eschewing traditional breakfast foods, Simone instead packs more vitamins in early in the day. “I eat vegetables for breakfast in the morning. I would have roast chicken and a lot of broccoli if I wanted to”. “I eat as many whole foods as I can.”
Vitamins and minerals are the foundation to Simone’s diet. “I might take chlorella because I can’t get it in my food,” she says “It’s full of B12 and magnesium, which is the kind of stuff we need at my age.” These can often be found through trying foods outside the usual comfort zone, as Simone admits “I wouldn’t say I love liver or anything, I eat it because it’s nutritious. I only eat 100g of liver – it’s full of Vitamin A and iron, and I need that kind of stuff.”To discover this new approach to her diet, Simone looked overseas to the eating habits of other cultures. “I researched and it kept taking me back to India and I just thought ‘I’m going to go to India”. From her experience in India, she speaks of their willingness to try herbal remedies to manage symptoms, stating “They go to the herbs and spices before they go down the medicine route. I think that’s key, for me.”
In terms of the support and advice Simone has for other menopausal women, she urges them to “Stop fadding, stop going on this diet and that diet and educate yourself and just go in one straight line with it.” She admits that this may be difficult for women currently in perimenopause or menopause, as “With my age group, after two decades of low-fat diets, we think fat is bad.” Rather than seeing this in black and white terms, Simone believes, we should not be afraid to try different food, as she explains “Fat is what I think cured my brain fog. I was given a shot of ghee every day and they said ‘this will give you clarity’ and it did. It’s a saturated fat, but it’s a good saturated fat.” These key differences in the nutritional values of foods can prove to have life-changing effects for sufferers.
“It has to be personal and your own journey.”
Most important is Simone’s emphasis on the process as deeply individual one. “What works for one will not work for the other. This is why it has to be personal and your own journey.” In embracing new changes in diet and lifestyle, women going through the menopause can discover how to manage their symptoms in a positive way. “Find what works for you and what you enjoy.”
Simone is a Certified Nutritional Therapist, Menopause Coach, Advanced Nutrition for Sports & Exercise and Weight Management Coach, DUTCH specialist, HTMA expert and graduating end of 2019 as a Functional Diagnostic Nutrition Practitioner. She is a member of the Nutrition Society, The Science Health Academy and registered and insured. Find out more about Simone at https://takeapause.co.uk/