Nutritionist Karen Newby on why she doesn’t like diets

My approach to dieting… is don’t! Focusing on feeling more energised, grounded and in control of cravings are far more important things to focus on than weight loss (although weight loss is a happy side effect).

On average, we go on four diets a year and as soon as we come off them, the weight goes back on. I also think that diets during menopause are the last thing we need when we are stressed and often spinning lots of plates.

We don’t want to feel like we are going without on top of all this! The more energised and grounded we feel, the more we will want to move and we can start to stay one step ahead of cravings too. This then leads to sustainable weight loss.

Here are eight small shifts that can help:

Eat more! But focus on more nutrient-dense foods vs energy dense ones.

Try to up your plant intake to 30+ unique plants per week (herbs and spices, nuts and seeds, fruit and veg, pulses all count). These will help fuel our energy levels, which will in turn help us sleep better so we feel more energised and are likely to move more. If we wake up feeling exhausted, we’re much more likely to reach for carbs and caffeine. Tray bakes and stir fries are my go-to low bandwidth meals (and require minimal washing up too).

Don’t skip breakfast!

The more we can eat at breakfast, the more fuel we give our body and brain at the time of day when it needs it. If you don’t feel hungry on waking (many of us don’t) then try eating your evening meal earlier so you feel hungrier first thing. Eating breakfast will help us to snack less and crave less caffeine to get us through the day.

Make your breakfast protein rich – protein increases satiety and balances our blood sugar eg eggs any which way, high protein and low sugar granolas (no dried fruit which are basically sugar lumps!) with full fat yogurt and berries, avocado on toast with grilled mushrooms and tomatoes or porridge with oat milk, ground cinnamon, grated ginger, a chopped pear and 2 heaped tablespoons of ground linseed for added protein.

Eat more protein

Protein (meat, fish, eggs, cheese, nuts, seeds and pulses etc.) gives us a drip feed of energy and helps us to feel satisfied. Eating refined carbs (like bread, rice, cakes, pasta, etc.) is like pouring petrol onto our energy fire – the flames burn super bright and then get much smaller… cue more cravings for carbs. Protein, however, is like putting coal onto a fire – the flames burn for longer and kick out more heat. This helps to ‘crowd out’ those cravings.

We need fat to lose fat!

It may sound counter-intuitive but eating fat is an important way to lose weight – but you have to make sure it’s the right fat. These include omega 3 fatty acids rich salmon, trout, mackerel, linseed oil for salad dressings, nuts and seeds and a reduction of processed fats found in cakes, crisps, biscuits, etc.

Start the day with hot water and lemon – and save caffeine for breakfast

Caffeine puts us into stress mode! It creates a high of blood sugar (it mobilises stored glucose from the liver as it thinks we are in survival mode and need to run away from a wild animal or fight it!) and then creates a low (that shaky, jangly, faint feeling or hanger – that need to eat NOW).

Lows in blood sugar levels create a strong need to refuel with more caffeine and refined carbs. Lemon in hot water is very hydrating (we’re dehydrated when we wake up) and the lemon helps to wake up the liver. Save your tea or coffee for breakfast – having caffeine with food will reduce its effect on our stress hormones and blood sugar.

Be mindful of sugar

Sugar gives a short term hit of energy to the brain, usually followed by a dip that can cause irritability, lapses in concentration, sudden hungry and sugar cravings. These are called blood sugar rollercoasters. Sugar excites dopamine – the reward centre of the brain that can then make us addicted to that feeling and to sugar, which is why it’s often so hard to get under control. Crowd out that need for sugar with more protein rich foods.

Try intermittent fasting

Fasting overnight for 12-14 hours is really important for the digestive system to help normalise blood sugar and give everything a rest. It is also great for weight loss too and insulin sensitivity. If you aim to stop eating at 7pm and have just water and herbal teas and then you can breakfast from 7am. It helps us become more mindful of snacking in the evening too.

Enjoy a little of what you fancy!

Instead of the 3pm cup of tea (which goes so nicely with a couple of biscuits), opt for peppermint or other herbal teas. Often fixing the cue helps us to change the reward. Opt for these protein rich snacks instead: falafels with hummus, flavoured nuts and seeds, a small ramekin bowl of high-protein granola with some full fat yogurt and berries if sweetness is required, an apple and a hunk of cheese.

Completely removing sugar from our diet is not realistic in the long term and can make us feel deprived. If you fancy some cake then buy the best you can afford – definitely a full fat version and enjoy it and take time to eat it mindfully and not on the go. Food should be seen as a celebration!

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We understand there’s a lot of information out there on the menopause. You can read through the NICE guidance on menopause management, as well as the NHS overview on the menopause.