Recently, I was excited to not only read, but interview, registered nutritional therapist and author, Jackie Lynch, about her new book, The Happy Menopause: Smart Nutrition to Help You Flourish. We talked about why menopause gets such a bad rap, how women can manage many of their symptoms through diet and lifestyle changes, and what Black women and women of color need to be particularly mindful of during this pivotal life stage.
Why did you write this book?
As an individual woman and as a health professional, I felt that we need to get information out there so women can make intelligent choices about their bodies and we need to do it in a way where we stop being embarrassed about something that is a natural stage of life… It was really to get it out there and break this taboo.
The idea of a “happy menopause” transition isn’t usually how we think about or hear women or health care professionals talk about this complex life stage. Why did you make this the title of your book? Why did you think it was important to frame it this way?
It was really deliberate because I was starting to see a lot of people moving into the space through the medium of horror stories relating to their experience. But actually, when we look at the stats, about 20-25% of women will have a bad experience, about 20-25% of women will sail through it, and then most us are somewhere in the middle, experiencing various ups and downs.
So, for many of us, it’s not this dreadful thing to be terrified of. Yes, it can be really rough for some women, but there are solutions. And I didn’t want women to think, “Is that it, then? We get to this age and it all goes to shit?”
Actually, it can be the most liberating time. Once your period stops you don’t have to worry about carrying around a load of tissue with you, for a start. You can relax and not worry about menstrual flooding or pregnancy. You can dare to be who you are because those reproductive hormones that have been governing your brain since puberty -- because we’re hard wired to reproduce and to nurture -- start to drop and you can reveal your true self and think about what YOU want and how YOU want the second half of your life to be.
Yes, the reproductive time of your life might be over, but your life is not over – it’s just something new. I wanted to help women look at the possibilities ahead and empower them to find ways to manage their own transition, whether through diet and lifestyle or through hormone therapy – or whether it’s a combination of both. Whatever works for the individual.
There are so many adventures we can still have during this phase of life and I wanted women to see it as something that could be incredibly positive.
Many of the things you advise that we avoid, are arguably some of the things we enjoy most, sugary sweets, refined carbohydrates, alcohol, coffee and colas – which have caffeine. How do you advise women who are struggling with the idea of letting go of these “creature comforts”?
It’s tough isn’t it? Because I think that we cling onto things… I mean, we all have our comfort blankets and it IS a challenge. But the reality is that diet can make a huge difference. The way you eat in your 30’s and particularly in your 40’s, will really make a huge difference in the way you feel as you transition through the menopause.
Stress is also a massive factor, which is why so much of the book is dedicated to how diet can help you be more equipped to manage stress.
When it comes to motivating women around this, the truth of it is, it’s difficult. Because until someone is motivated to make a change – and it has to come from within – it’s not realistic and there’s no point in me, when they come into my nutrition clinic, finger-wagging and saying to them “no caffeine, no alcohol, no sugar,” because it’s not that simple. Each of these things are incredibly addictive substances, and if you’ve relied on these things as comforts, your body will find it very difficult to withdraw from them.
So, it really does come down to the individual woman…and they have to feel that they WANT to do this. And then it’s about finding clever and smart ways to be successful – like reframing your idea of a treat. A treat doesn’t have to be a glass of wine at the end of the day, it can be a stop on the way home to have a reflexology session, or to get a new nail varnish, or downloading that movie you’ve been wanting to see.
We’re all different, but if you can think about ‘What do I like? What is a treat for me that doesn’t involve food or drink?’, then you can start to factor in those things as something to look forward to on a Friday night or as a reward when you’ve had a rubbish day. Reframing the idea of a treat is critically important.
Once you’re able to do that, then it starts to become a self-fulfilling prophecy, because eventually you’ll start to notice that you’re feeling better – not having as many hot flushes, sleeping better, perhaps even losing a bit of weight. When you notice these improvements, then you’re typically inspired to do more. Everything I do in my nutrition clinic is about me empowering women…encouraging them to try this approach – and if they feel better, they’re going to want to do it more. Experiencing the “cause and effect” is often a great motivator for many people.
As a Black American woman, I know that I’m genetically predisposed to certain health conditions, like Type II Diabetes and Vitamin D deficiency, which can have implications for how I experience menopause transition. Have you found that women of different racial, ethnic and/or cultural backgrounds experience menopause differently? Given these distinctions, are there particular nutrition and lifestyle modifications that you’d recommend for me that might differ from a White female counterpart?
Well, yes…BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) women tend to be Vitamin D deficient. So, in addition to a good multivitamin, you should be adding some additional Vitamin D to your intake. Most multivitamins contain 400IU, and that’s more akin to a child’s dose, really. So, I think women should be taking about 1000 IU/per day, particularly if you’re of Black or Asian ethnicity because you’re going to be prone to genetic deficiency, because you don’t process it as well from exposure to sunlight.
When it comes to sugar and Type II diabetes, this is a big one. I’ve observed that it’s particularly Black women that tend to be more glycemically sensitive, so getting that blood sugar balance right is critically important. That’s because you’re more likely to be prone to fluctuations, and you’re more likely to get addicted to sugar, and therefore, you’re more likely to be carrying extra weight, which really exacerbates many of your menopausal symptoms, particularly the hot flushes.
You suggest that we try to eat 50 different types of food per week and 20 different types of veggies – for some women that can be overwhelming to attempt, whether due to accessibility or affordability…. What core nutritional staples would you advise that women navigating menopause transition start with or always have on hand?
If you’re only able to mix it up in one area, mix it up in vegetables. And pay particular focus on the variety of colors, because the different color of vegetables represents different antioxidants. So, the black in blueberries and eggplant is going to be different from the red in a tomato or a pepper, which will be different than the green in spinach, and the beige of the garlic and onion…and each of these antioxidants do different things and support the liver in different ways in terms of detoxification, which in turn, will support hormone balance.
If affordability is an issue, depending on where you live, fresh vegetables can be quite expensive, but frozen vegetables can be great options. Today, a lot of the frozen veggies are flash frozen immediately after they’re picked and will retain many of their nutrients – even more so than “fresh” vegetables, which often travel long distances and are subject to varying temperatures. So if cost is a real concern, you can get a lot of reasonably priced frozen vegetables that are nutrient-rich.
Another cheap and easy way of mixing it up is with your dry goods, like beans, lentils, and chickpeas, or grains like rice or amaranth or quinoa. Look for the stores that offer dry goods in bulk – you can often get a nice selection that’s quite affordable. The bottom line is go with what you can afford and mix it up when and where you can.
What are your “Top 3” tips for anyone going through menopause?
The first would be to eat more protein – because women aren’t particularly good at that. And to extent possible, you should make sure every meal is a protein-rich meal. Of course, with protein, it can be the meat and fish or eggs. But it should also include your plant-based proteins, like soya and lentils, chickpeas and your grains like quinoa, nuts and seeds… Really think about getting in your protein with every meal and snack. We need protein for so many different things and it’s crucial for balancing your blood sugar, which will help reduce your sugar cravings. So, anyone struggling with sugar addiction will find that if their getting in their protein-rich meals, they’ll be less likely to have the sugar munchies throughout the day.
We also need protein to support our muscle function and muscle tone, because after menopause transition, most of us have lost about 40% of our muscle mass, so protein will help with that. We need strong muscles to keep us fit as we grow older to help with balance and reduce our risk of falls, and also support our bone health.
Lastly, the amino acids in protein will create neurotransmitters, which, if you’re struggling with brain fog, low mood, poor concentration and memory, then you need those neurotransmitters to be working and protein will help with that.
Second, I would say eat your leafy greens – it’s important to have at least two handfuls each day – whether it’s spinach, or kale, arugula or watercress. Leafy greens are good for loads of things. They’re great sources of calcium and surprisingly rich in Vitamin C. They’re also excellent sources of magnesium, and calcium and magnesium work really well together. Magnesium is a good one because it’s nature’s calmer -- it calms the nervous system and regulates our response to stress; it really is an all-around good one to have in the mix.
The third one, is a bit broader and all it’s about self-care. You’ve got to be kind to yourself during this time. It’s like if you have teenage children and you’re constantly thinking about how they need to eat well, they need to sleep well, they need a fair amount of fresh air and to not be on their games too much, or constantly hunched over their phones. That’s all because you know that puberty is a really important formative stage of life – well, menopause is just like that and you need to start putting yourself first.
It’s important to make time for yourself – to make sure you’re getting enough sleep in…getting plenty of fresh air and exercise and not spending hours sitting at your computer. You have to make that time for yourself and if it can’t be every day, then try for an hour or two on the weekends. Whether you’re laying across your bed and reading a magazine or a good book. Or doing crafts or make art…or gardening or cooking or baking bread. You have to make time that’s just for you, because looking after yourself will help manage those stress hormones that can drive so much during menopause.
About Jackie: After many years in senior corporate roles in France and the UK, Jackie left her high-powered job and spent 4 years studying nutrition. In 2010, she qualified as a Registered Nutritional Therapist and set up her WellWellWell nutrition clinic where she specializes in women’s health and the menopause. Jackie is a regular contributor of nutrition features for a range of print and online media, and is often featured as a guest expert on TV and radio programs. In addition to her new book, The Happy Menopause: Smart Nutrition to Help You Flourish, her clinical work has inspired her to write a regular blog and to publish 2 books: Va Va Voom: The 10-Day Energy Diet and The Right Bite: Smart Food Choices for Eating on the Go. She is also host of the popular podcast, The Happy Menopause.
In my ongoing pursuit to better manage my own struggles with perimenopause, I’ve been much more focused on seeing how many of my related symptoms can be managed through diet and lifestyle change. It’s not that I’m opposed to HRT and other pharmaceuticals to manage my symptoms (though admittedly, I have been biased to fear by some of the negative reports associating its use with breast cancer), but I do think it’s primarily my responsibility to at least try to improve my situation by making behavioral and lifestyle changes that provide a strong foundation for my overall well-being.
That’s why recently, I was excited to not only read, but interview nutritional therapist and writer, Jackie Lynch, about her new book, The Happy Menopause: Smart Nutrition to Help You Flourish. I mean, she had me at “The Happy...”, because let’s be real, when it comes to the typical thoughts and conversations we have about menopause, they’re rarely associated with happy.
A Registered Nutritional Therapist since 2010, Jackie is also the founder of the WellWellWell nutrition clinic in London, where she’s been specializing in women’s health and menopause for the past several years. In 2019, she launched The Happy Menopause, a diet and lifestyle podcast, so that she could reach more women with information they could consider – whether as alternatives, or in addition to – a medicalized approach to managing their menopause transition. And this month – well-timed to coincide with World Menopause Month – she hopes to reach even more women, with the publication of a new book inspired by the insights and guidance shared through her clinical work and popular podcast.
The book is written to be a practical guide to managing menopause transition through nutrition and lifestyle modifications. While the guidance Ms. Lynch offers isn’t necessarily new or ground-breaking, I found the book to be not just informational, but easy to understand and more important, useful to me. Like most working women who are managing chaotic households, I don’t have a lot of time to dedicate to reading books, even of the “self-care” sort, so I really appreciated that Ms. Lynch acknowledges pretty early on, that women in midlife are BUSY and that her book doesn’t have to be read sequentially or in its entirety (woohoo, my kind of book). Rather, she’s laid out a “pick-and-mix approach” to help readers easily find the symptoms and corresponding information most relevant to them.
Because I’ve experienced or am currently experiencing several symptoms (i.e., more than three) -- and because I knew I’d be interviewing the author -- I did read the book cover-to-cover and was pretty glad I did. Overall, it was easy to follow and understand, and it was clear how I could pretty easily apply many of the tips and suggestions offered. The information is clearly laid out, with each of the symptom sections following a consistent format, highlighting what the symptom is, why it happens, and how nutrition can help – including which foods to eat and which to avoid.
For each symptom, she also includes callouts for practical lifestyle modifications and recipe suggestions. As I was reading, I found myself thinking that this would be a great book to have handy as I’m writing up my grocery list, or to have around the kitchen as a recipe guide for all of the protein and nutrient-rich snacks and meals I’ll be making.
Balancing your blood sugar is a fundamental premise and recurring theme throughout the book – and if you only read one chapter from start to finish, make sure it’s “Chapter 2: If You Only Do One Thing”. While I had a general sense before reading the book, that too much sugar can exacerbate many of my perimenopausal symptoms, I didn’t really understand the “why” of it, nor did I have a full appreciation for how crucial balancing blood sugar is to our overall health and well-being – both physical and cognitive. So…what’s my primary take away? BALANCE YOUR SUGAR!!!
I definitely recommend this book – particularly for women who are managing multiple symptoms as they navigate their own menopause transition. Personally, as I sit down to write my grocery list for the week, I can already see how it will be a frequent “go to” guide among my growing library of useful resources. Here’s to happy reading, and more to the point…here’s to a happy menopause!
Jackie Lynch is a registered nutritional therapist and author. Her books are available for purchase at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and select independent booksellers. She's also the host of the popular podcast, The Happy Menopause. You can follow Jackie on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram@WellWellWellUK.