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Dealing with Food Cravings after 50? Easy Tips from Doctors to Control Your Appetite


Have you ever caught yourself constantly checking the clock as mealtime approaches? Do you experience irritability, shakiness, or intense hunger in the hour leading up to a meal? Have you noticed that your friends and family tend to avoid you until after you've eaten?

I have personally encountered these difficulties in the period leading to menopause. I was 243 pounds and constantly hungry, which made me grumpy.If you can identify with this, you might be asking yourself, "Is this heightened appetite due to menopause, or is it a psychological phenomenon?" What is the primary cause behind it, if it indeed exists?

During the initial phases of menopause, numerous changes occur in your body simultaneously. One prevalent change that affects many women is an insatiable appetite. It becomes irrelevant how much you have already eaten or exercised throughout the day—you feel hungry and in need of food immediately. Hence, menopause indeed has an impact on our appetite. Nevertheless, this knowledge alone doesn't alleviate late-night hunger pangs.

To combat the hanger, it's crucial to comprehend why your body reacts in this manner and explore potential solutions to address it.

What causes hunger during menopause?

The regulation of our appetite relies on a complex hormonal system that must maintain a delicate balance to function properly. Under normal circumstances, when your body is functioning optimally, you eat until you feel satisfied, and the signal of hunger switches off. But things aren't always as simple as they appear.
When your hormones become imbalanced, they disrupt your appetite and hunger cues.

During and after menopause, the sex hormones estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone undergo fluctuations. In addition to these well-known hormones, there are two lesser-known hormones called ghrelin and leptin that play a crucial role in controlling our hunger and satiety signals. Ghrelin, produced in the stomach, travels through the bloodstream to the brain, signaling that your stomach is empty and it's time to eat, resulting in the sensation of hunger. On the other hand, leptin, produced in fat cells, informs the brain when there is an ample supply of fat available for energy.

A study conducted in 2009 on 40 women in pre-, post-, and perimenopausal stages discovered that some women experienced an increase in ghrelin levels during midlife, coinciding with a decrease in leptin levels. Essentially, their hunger hormones surged while their signals of having consumed enough declined.

This is one of the contributing factors to the weight gain that many women experience during perimenopause and menopause, which is also associated with an elevated risk of stroke and heart disease.

Although menopause itself may not directly cause weight gain, research indicates a correlation between hunger hormones and the menopausal transition. However, the story is not complete with just this information.

Cortisol and insulin: The untold hunger hormones.

Midlife hunger pangs can also be influenced by cortisol, a stress hormone, and insulin, a hormone responsible for regulating blood sugar levels.

Although not directly linked to menopause, insulin and cortisol can become imbalanced during midlife, leading to an increase in appetite. Research indicates that this imbalance contributes to cravings, often resulting in a preference for easily digestible, simple carbohydrates like those found in cookies.

Insulin and cortisol act as bookend hormones, controlling blood sugar and stress levels. By the time they reach midlife, a large number of women in our contemporary Western civilization suffer from serious cortisol dysregulation. What's more, since routine monitoring of cortisol and insulin levels is not common in mainstream medicine, many doctors are unaware of the connection between these hormones and changes in appetite during midlife. As a result, meaningful assistance can be challenging to find.

We often underestimate the extent of our hormonal imbalance until it becomes problematic. Consequently, we continue on the "stress train" of excessive work and worry, both of which further elevate cortisol levels and contribute to insulin resistance.

What I did to stop riding the blood sugar roller coaster.

Your body, in its attempt to protect itself, responds to imbalanced cortisol levels by driving you to consume more sugar. However, this short-term fix has detrimental long-term consequences.

I refer to this pattern as the "blood sugar roller coaster," which I experienced firsthand when I weighed 243 lbs. I found myself unable to resist cakes, cookies, ice cream, and other high-sugar, quick-carb junk foods. Despite knowing better, every day I struggled to avoid sugar. The solution lies in breaking free from this cycle once and for all and refraining from purchasing another ticket to the amusement park ride.

You might be wondering how to turn this intention into a reality. Here are some tips to naturally balance your ghrelin, leptin, insulin, and cortisol hormones, thereby regulating your appetite:

1. Make wise substitutions at home:
Remove sugary snacks from your kitchen cupboards, office drawer, handbag, and other hiding spots. Replace them with satisfying low-sugar foods like nuts, seeds, avocado, dark chocolate, nut butter, and berries.

2. Maintain regular meal patterns:
Consume regular meals every four to six hours, along with planned snacks. If you typically experience "hangry" episodes at 3 p.m., ensure you have a satisfying lunch and a healthy snack prepared.

3. Opt for protein, complex carbs, and healthy fats:
Include protein in each meal, as it provides essential amino acids and promotes a feeling of fullness. Studies indicate that consuming 20 to 30 grams of protein per meal reduces ghrelin levels and enhances fat-burning capacity.

4. Practice mindful meal habits and eat slowly:
Instead of eating on the go, designate mealtime as a special occasion. Sit down, pause work-related activities, and take several deep breaths to activate your vagus nerve, calm your mind, and aid digestion. Chew each bite thoroughly (about 30 times) until it becomes nearly liquid before swallowing. Although this may require concentration and lengthen mealtimes, it eases the burden on your digestive system and allows you to savor your food.

5. Avoid strenuous activity for at least 60 minutes after eating:
Give your stomach sufficient time to digest a meal before engaging in intense physical activity. Exercising immediately after eating can lead to poor digestion, bloating, and discomfort. Allow your body to digest peacefully.

6. Be cautious with intermittent fasting:
While intermittent fasting offers benefits, it may exacerbate initial appetite issues, particularly during menopause. Leaving too much time between meals can tempt you towards sugar cravings in this stage of life.

7. Consider nutraceuticals for blood sugar stabilization and hormonal balance:
Nutraceuticals encompass vitamins, minerals, and other food components that provide health benefits. Cinnamon is one food known for stabilizing blood sugar levels, and chromium is another beneficial nutrient.

8. Incorporate HIIT and strength training:
Integrating one or two high-intensity interval training (HIIT) sessions into your weekly exercise routine helps balance insulin levels and break free from the blood sugar roller coaster. Additionally, include strength training to build muscle mass, stabilize blood sugar and insulin levels, and increase your resting metabolic rate. With age, muscle mass naturally declines, making resistance training vital as you grow older.

9. Prioritize relaxation:
Practicing relaxation techniques such as meditation, deep breathing, and the Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) calms an overstimulated mind and nervous system. Set aside time for relaxation, journaling, and expressing gratitude to reduce stress and gradually lower cortisol levels.

By implementing these strategies, you can regain control over your hormones and manage your appetite more effectively during this phase of life.