Beat menopausal weight gain

“Sunshine, sleep and vitamin D help me keep my weight under control,” says Dr Christiane Northrup, a bestselling author and practising doctor in the US who has made empowering women through good health her goal in life. She has two grown-up daughters.

Ideal weight? It’s constantly creeping up and I have to work at it, but around 9st 3lb is a good weight for my 5ft 4in frame. It was believed that after the menopause it’s normal to gain up to 30lb. But it’s not inevitable – I’m lighter now than I was in my thirties.

What helped you lighten up? My divorce! At 49, I was going through that and the perimenopause. My weight had ballooned to 10st 7lb due to stress. When you’re in that kind of state, you release the stress hormone cortisol, which puts the body into an emergency mode and it holds onto fat for dear life! So I stepped up the exercise and made it a big part of my life.

Exercise plan? It’s not so much a plan, more a way of life now. I exercise five to six days a week, working out on my elliptical trainer for 35 minutes a day followed by some stretches. Then I take a 45-minute walk two to three times a week and I do some Pilates.

Do you diet now? I always watch what I eat. I rarely eat potatoes, rice or bread and it’s no big deal for me to skip them. It’s easier to avoid food because I don’t have to cook for a husband and two children any more.

Do you ever fall off the wagon? Oh yes, when I’m travelling, I’ll eat whatever they give me. Or when I’m visiting my daughters and I find myself eating dinner at 10pm.

How do you put things right? I snooze! Cortisol holds onto the liquid pound and sleep metabolises the stress hormone better than anything else. Get in a good 12 hours and you could wake up 3lb lighter.

Best diet tips? Up your vitamin D – new research suggests we need more of it. Fish oil is a good source and so is the sun. From March to October I sit outdoors for ten to 15 minutes a day – a little longer in July and August. But you must never burn. Also, learn to slow down. When you’re on the run, grabbing a doughnut and a cappuccino is the quickest way to anti-depressant chemicals. So get your highs in other ways – exercise, meditation and sex. Women who are having their best sex are often in their fifties and sixties. Finally, be happy. It makes you less stressed. I’ve worked hard at my work-life balance and I’ve learnt how to say no.

For a diet plan that supports hormone balance and counteracts menopausal weight gain, check out Dr Christiane Northrup’s book The Wisdom of Menopause (Piatkus, £18.99).

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