How Nutrition Can Guide You Through Menopause - And To A More Joyful Life

How Nutrition Can Guide You Through Menopause - And To A More Joyful Life

Sandrine Olmi knows her stuff. She is a champion of women prioritising their health and I’m so thrilled to be sitting opposite her today as she invites me to ask her all about the intrinsic relationship between menopause and nutrition.

Like many Nutritionists, she was led to the specialism not because she wanted to help others but because she wanted to heal herself. Ten years ago, having suffered from digestive issues for many years, she decided that enough was enough. She didn’t want to live every day anxious over whether she would be in discomfort or pain. Deciding that knowledge was power, she embarked upon a diploma with the aim of curing herself. She was successful. What she learnt changed her life, but in more ways than she had envisaged. Having gained back control over her body Sandrine felt compelled to help others struggling with IBS and other inflictions. She wanted to empower women with the knowledge of how to listen to and respond to the needs of our bodies. So she became a nutritionist.

How does this relate to menopause? Well, at first it didn’t. Sandrine focused on all sorts of gut issues and PMS-related digestive problems especially. Then she attended a conference where a speaker stated that women in their 30s who suffer from period pains should pay heed because their afflictions were only likely to get worse if ignored. 

This is when Sandrine realised that women’s bodies did not simply go through sudden changes. Usually, the signs are there all along and if we’ve experienced pain and discomfort in our youth we’re more likely to be hit hard by menopause. Particularly if we have an unhappy gut. But, Sandrine tells me, "the most wonderful thing about nutrition is that it is never too late to get started."

Many of us will have neglected to take care of our youthful, resilient bodies, thinking that they would be this way forever. Then we begin to age and we wonder whether it is all supposed to feel so much slower, achy and out of tune or whether we've been neglectful in taking care of ourselves. The truth, Sandine tells me, is it’s both.

“Perimenopause is a completely natural transition and it affects every woman differently. If we did not exist in a world so full of toxins and stress though, it’s quite possible that many of us would barely notice menopause occurring. Unfortunately, we live in an environment that makes all the symptoms so much worse. We are under more stress, surrounded by pollution and we don’t always get the exercise we need or consume the variety of natural foods we need to fuel us. So our bodies need a little extra help through the change because modern life has made it a more intense experience.”

Women with menopause hot flashes

I put down my pen and Sandrine and I take a few minutes to despair at how unfair it is that women in their 40s and 50s are probably the busiest of all people. Those who have had children have likely taken a career break, gotten back into the workplace and are making up for lost time in their careers. They’re likely to have children who are older but still need caring for and they may also begin caring for ageing parents at this time too, all whilst pushing for professional status. It’s a phase of life full of pressure. Even for those without children. They too are in that difficult push period of carving out their professional life and reaching that next step. And then along comes perimenopause.

It wasn’t always like this. In the past, menopause would reach us in a winding down period. Now the change hits like a tidal wave when we’re already going full throttle on what feels like (but really isn't) the final push for cementing both our home and work lives. We’re already under enormous stress and pressure and then perimenopause shows up to gift us a wide array of symptoms that make everything else so much harder.

But what exactly are these symptoms? I pick up my pencil and ask Sandrine, Many relate to menopause only like hot flashes but it is far more complex than that, she tells me.

“My clients suffer from a range of symptoms but the worst is anxiety. It’s what surprises them when they’re going about their everyday routine. They’ll suddenly be hit with a rush of fear and insecurity that cannot be explained but can be overwhelming.”

“Digestive issues tend to arise or get worse and sleep also becomes a major challenge. Some women will experience all of these symptoms, others one or two, and some won’t have these issues, but they are the most common.”

“There are also some symptoms that take women by surprise, probably because we don’t talk about perimenopause enough. One thing most of my clients are shocked by is that their immune system becomes far less effective.”

This makes sense really, considering that the body is preoccupied with so many other things. Brain fog, Sandrine tells me, is also one of the worst symptoms and can lead to loss of confidence and emotional instability. But why does all of this happen?

Perimenopause is a time when a woman’s body stops producing so much oestrogen and progesterone. These are hormones that influence fertility but also our mood. If you have suffered from regular period pains previously then it’s likely that your hormone balance is already off and this can make perimenopausal symptoms worse, which is why it’s important to address PMS and treat it seriously.

Women With Gut Pain During Menopause

“Many things can throw off our hormone balance,” Sandrine explains, “but the top causes are stress, a build-up of toxins and poor digestion. Cholesterol also has an impact on our hormones.”

This is news to me! Cholesterol has always felt like a bad thing, something to avoid, but Sandrine tells me that there is good and bad cholesterol and, during menopause, we need to be ensuring that bad cholesterol doesn’t spike (as it can be prone to do) but that we are helping our body produce good cholesterol through the foods we eat. Spurred on by this revelation, I decide it’s a good idea to get Sandine’s top tips for nutrition during perimenopause so that we can share them with you. Here they are -

Sandine’s Top Tips For Nutrition During Perimenopause

  • Good fats - keep your good cholesterol up by consuming the omega 3s which include oily fish, walnuts, chia seeds, etc. This can help with hormone building which can help bring your body back into balance.
  • Bad fats - should be avoided more than ever before. Many women are not aware that cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in postmenopausal women and a spike in bad cholesterol is often a major contributor. As it is not being used to produce oestrogen, bad fats can find their way into other parts of the body so it’s worth reading more about this at Harvard Health Publishing.
  • Colourful food - collagen production plummets in perimenopause which can affect our skin especially. We need to help the body by consuming collagen and this is often found in fish, poultry, meat, eggs, dairy, legumes, and soy. Eating colourful plant foods will also assist with the production of collagen in the body. Lots of leafy greens, tropical fruits and vegetables are a great place to start so focus on the adage ‘eat the rainbow’.
  • Macca - is a root which can be helpful for PMS and during perimenopause. Why? Studies show that the root has had some success at rebalancing hormones and may even restore sex drive because ladies, I’m really sorry but libido may well exit the room during perimenopause.

Menopause Nutritionist Sandrine Olmi

As a nutritionist, there are also supplements that Sandrine would recommend. However, she urges women not to view supplements as a complete solution:

“The important thing to know about supplements is a lot of people are wasting their money because if your digestion is poor then supplements are probably not being absorbed. Only a well-functioning digestive system is capable of extracting what is needed from supplements so work on addressing diet and stress levels first, then you may consider using supplements to aid you through perimenopause.”

Stress During Perimenopause

We know there is a deep and complex relationship between the gut and our emotional state. They feed one another in many ways and so it is essentially impossible to maintain emotional wellbeing if our gut is unhappy. Likewise, stress affects the gut in a big way. Unfortunately, perimenopause can see us experiencing additional stress. Due to fluctuations in hormones, we may release more cortisol which is our brain’s flight or flight reactor. It was designed to help us run away from sabre-toothed tigers but now it often pops up when we receive an unwelcome email or realise we’ve forgotten to buy washing-up liquid. When this reaction happens in the body it shuts down what it perceives to be our less necessary functions. So whilst heartbeat and blood flow will increase (so we can scarper), our digestion can grind to a halt.

Chemical imbalances cannot be controlled completely with changes in our behaviours and habits. However, lifestyle changes can go a long way towards reducing stress which is going to be essential for your gut to be fully operational during perimenopause.

Sandrine recommends feeding your gut with predominantly healthy food, keeping portions reasonably small and ensuring you’re consuming a wide variety of food types.

“Eating late in the evenings is not recommended because you’re asking your gut to continue working into the night and this can affect the quality of your sleep. We also have to keep our diet highly nutritional to help the body rid itself of toxins. But, that’s not to say you can’t have a treat now and then. Don’t deprive yourself of a bit of cake or chocolate if you want it. Just ensure it’s not too regular, that you’re still consuming all the good things and that you make sure you really enjoy it.”

A Nutritious Lifestyle During Perimenopause

“It’s all well and good telling women to spend more time working out the foods their bodies respond to, but we’re speaking to incredibly busy women, many of whom are responsible for feeding more mouths than their own,” Sandrine emphasises.

I agree. All too often women neglect looking after themselves because they’re prioritising the needs of their family or avoiding taking a proper lunch break at work. So how does Sandrine manage to help her clients adapt their lifestyle so they have more time and energy to focus on nutrition during perimenopause?

“We get excited about food,” she tells me. “It’s wonderful to realise all these new ways of cooking, preparing food and feeding ourselves and it’s even better to feel the effects on the body. Sometimes it’s possible to make the same food for the whole family, sometimes not. When it’s not there are ways around this. Having a nutritious lunch works well for women in their menopause, because that’s quite often a time when they’re only feeding themselves. In terms of eating more healthy food though, if you can get the whole family onboard then it would benefit everyone.”

What’s so refreshing about talking with Sandrine is how she keeps emphasising that it’s never too late to change your diet which can change the whole way your body functions. Those who address digestive issues before perimenopause are less likely to experience intense symptoms but even for women in or post-menopause, learning to listen to our bodies can be transformative.

“Everyone can do something and it’s never too late. We can find the triggers, the foods, the habits, and even the feelings that affect our gut health and we can make the changes we need to heal. That’s the best thing about nutrition. It’s all about listening.”

After my talk with Sandrine, I'm feeling surprisingly upbeat. I'm wondering if menopause might be a time to heal old health issues and learn to prioritise our wellbeing. There are so many times in our lives when women feel at war with their bodies. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if, instead of menopause being another battle, we could learn to listen again? To sink into the quiet and allow our bodies to tell us what it needs.

Woman Taking Care Of Her Body During Menopause Empowering Perimenopause Health

About Sandrine Olmi

Sandrine is a registered Nutritional Therapist and a Certified Mind, Body, Eating Coach. She helps women who are fed up with feeling hormonal, bloated and tired all the time to feel at their best. Everyone deserves to feel amazing. 

Sandrine is a graduate of the College of Naturopathic Medicine in London. She is a member of the British Association for Applied Nutrition and Nutritional Therapy (BANT), which is the regulatory body for Nutritional Therapists and she is on the register of the Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council (CNHC). She also trained as a Certified Mind, Body, Eating Coach at the Institute for the Psychology of Eating, the world’s leading school in Nutritional Psychology.

Find out more about Sandrine’s nutrition plans and support at 

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