I got a heart wrenching email last week from a reader who has been on Keto for almost a year and hasn't lost one pound. She' frustrated and has been reading that maybe Menopause and Low Carb Diets might not be a great combination.
I usually write recipes around here and leave the "Keto Science" to Thom the Keto guy. But, since this issue involves something he'll never experience (menopause), I thought I might weigh in.
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Menopause and Low Carb Diets:
Women's bodies are complicated. As soon as we're comfortable in our skin, our hormones change and evolve. We're on to the next phase....
Understandably, there is a ton of frustration about this subject. It's disappointing to work hard and stick to a low carb diet and not see any results or weight loss.
Sure, you'll get lots of advice from experts like:
- Eat less protein (check).
- Exercise more often (ok, this is reasonable).
- Sleep more (Uh, my sleep is interrupted by sweating but I'll try.)
- Cut out Alcohol (Done)
- Reduce Stress (LOL)
- Blah, Blah, Blah
I actually read on a popular Keto "Doctor" site to reduce fat intake on KETO to address the perimenopausal or menopausal weight loss stalls on Keto.
That kind of talk is starting to sound a whole lot like a low calorie/ low fat, starvation, hangry and irritated diet. Nope. I already made myself miserable with those ideas in my 20's. Thank you very much, I'll sit this round out.
I think what he actually meant to say was to make sure you have a calorie deficit. But he didn't say that and now a bunch of menopausal women are on his case.
Haha! Good! Of course they lashed out.
He CAN'T expect to address this topic without women getting irritated. You can't learn about this crazy hormone infused ride in a book or at school. You have to live it.
Of course you cant just eat an overload of fat calories and lose weight. We know that already!
Calories still count, even on Keto.
Thank you Doctor...we are aware.
What I wanted was answers as to why this happens to women over 40.
I don't need another pep talk about sleep and reducing stress. I think we all know about these. We do what we can.
But I think I found something that I have been overlooking...and maybe you have too.
What can be done to bust a weight loss stall during menopause?
I have been thinking a lot about this because the closer that I edge towards 50, the harder time I am having keeping weight off.... especially around my belly.
I watch Thom do lazy low carb and eating occasional treats and just maintaining forever. But if I veer off of the low carb path for a day you can see it under my chin, or in my muffin top.
So, what can we do without starving and making ourselves miserable?
I think the answer, or at least the possibility might be simpler than I planned on it being. In a word, fiber.
The truth about why you need to eat more fiber -
- Ninety- Seven Percent of people who participated in a study about weight loss in the US were deficient in their fiber intake. Ninety-Seven Percent!
Fiber is key in losing weight on Keto - especially for women. It's often overlooked during peoples excitement over being "allowed" to eat bacon and cheese.
The bacon and cheese diet is NOT REAL KETO. You have to consume fiber for this WOE (way of eating) to work.
And for women over 40....it's more important to your long term health than you might think.
But why? Hint: the weight loss is just part of it.
Why does fiber help you lose weight?
1.) Fiber - especially eaten before a meal can keep you full longer.
Fiber expands in your belly and makes you feel full.
This means you'll consume less calories. A calorie deficit is needed to lose weight so this is a good thing.
Okay, I know that you probably already know this....but I had to add it for those who don't. We are all in a different stage of this journey.
2.) Fiber aids in digestion.
I used to think that fiber was mostly important for those who had trouble with constipation, but there's so much more to it.
Why does it matter? Constipation isn't just annoying and painful.
It causes weight gain.
During perimenopause and menopause, the bodies metabolism slows. But, if your digestion is slow as well, this gives your intestinal tract more time to extract more calories from the food that is passing through.
Basically, this means you're getting ripped off! You'll gain more weight from eating less food than your counterparts who eat more fiber.
3.) Fiber is Natures Sponge
Both soluble and insoluble fiber acts like a scrubber brush and sponge that soaks up toxins in your intestines.
Without enough fiber, your food can sit in your bowels for days or even weeks.
This means that any toxins that come from food that's being fermented at 98.6 degrees is pooling in your bowels. Your body will try to extract as much nutrition as it can but the new toxins are being absorbed too.
Make no mistake, this doesn't just cause weight gain...this can cause illness and disease too.
READ THIS AGAIN: "Toxins from fermenting (rotting) food, "pool" in the bowels" and are absorbed back into your bloodstream.
This realization alone got my full attention. The food sitting there "fermenting" really means "rotting" at almost 100 degrees. It's a compost pile at this point.
I'm sorry if this seems graphic. It's a simple and logical concept that we have been trained to ignore.
I'm tired of all of the "fiber is good for you so just eat it" explanations that don't really point out "why".
I know that I certainly don't go out of my way to do anything that I don't understand "why" I need to do them. Do you?
If I'm not in pain, I assume all is well in my gut. But is it?
4.) Fiber feeds the good bacteria in your gut.
All of our bodies have a "Microbiome" made up of microbes that contain all of the protozoa, fungi, viruses and bacteria that keep our bodies running. Most of them live in our guts and we depend on them for life itself.
Interesting fact: The microbes in our bodies out number our human cells by ten to one. It stands to reason that we should be concerned with keeping this "biome" healthy.
If your gut microbiome is off, it'll be difficult / impossible to lose weight without starving for nutrition. You can read more about the microbiome facts posted by Washington University here.
The Western Diet and Western Medicine wreak havoc our gut biomes. Everything from synthetic, zero calorie sweeteners like those in Diet Coke to ibuprofen and antibiotics have played a part in weakening our natural microbiome.
Back to the bacteria:
Keeping the "good" bacteria healthy helps them produce short chain fatty acids. These acids send signals to the stomach and large intestines that there is plenty of nutrition for fuel. No more eating or extraction is necessary for a while.
5.) Fiber binds to cholesterol and helps prevent Type II Diabetes.
This is especially important! Women over the age of 40 and entering menopause are almost twice as likely to develop high cholesterol and Diabetes.
- Fiber binds to "bad" cholesterol and moves it out of the intestines before it can be reabsorbed into the blood vessels and turned into plaque that damages the heart.
Again the longer the food sits in your digestive tract, the more time it has to re-absorb back into your body.
- Fiber helps prevent Diabetes by coating the intestinal lining and preventing sugar spikes and crashes because everything is absorbed more slowly.
As we age and stop producing as much estrogen, our metabolisms slooooow way down. Estrogen regulates blood sugar and keeps you from having insulin spikes.
Your body CANNOT burn fat when you have insulin in your blood.
Ah ha! There are the solid answers I was looking for!
All of these seem reasonable and I'll give eating more fiber a try. I'll add a salad or two to my meal planning right?
Wrong again. It'll take more than that....
How much fiber do women need?
There is some discrepancy as to how much fiber women need. Most sources say between 25 - 30 grams a day.
I am going for 30, mostly because of the "pooling" of toxins in reason #2.
And, there is certainly some misunderstanding about how much fiber is in the food we eat.
Even if it's "whole food", it might not contain as much fiber as you think.
Check this out:
Thirty grams of fiber doesn't seem like a lot but think of it this way, one cup of steamed broccoli only has 5 grams of fiber.
You might think..."Okay, I'll just eat salad to get my fiber in". Nope. One cup of romaine lettuce has 1 gram of fiber. A cup of raw spinach has .7 grams of fiber.
No one is going to graze on the equivalent of 30 cups of lettuce or 5 - 6 cups of broccoli every single day. That's insane.
Of course you can get fiber in a variety of foods, but I think you get the point. It's not as easy as it seems to get enough of the sweet, sweet fiber that we need.
How can you get enough fiber each day?
1.) You can turn to supplements if you need them.
It's best to get a mixture of whole food fiber through low carb veggies, nuts and seeds but it's hard to eat enough fiber and still stay under your macro needs sometimes. Supplements are called supplements because they are like a plan B.
I have found it almost impossible to get enough fiber without eating chia or hemp seeds and putting inulin in my tea. I have to make a conscience effort EVERY DAY. And you might need to as well.
This chia seed cereal is super easy to put together.
And, this Chia Pudding is like a burst of Pecan Pie dancing across your tounge.
If you have trouble eating enough natural fiber you can check out the inulin. It's a soluble fiber and has no color, virtually no taste and just a hint of sweetness. It's great in drinks and you can add it to any sauce or bread recipe.
2.) Try to incorporate a larger variety of Veggies in your Low Carb Diet.
I get bored of the same food over and over. Do I like broccoli? Yes. Do I want to eat it everyday? Nope. You could insert any food besides street tacos in that sentence and you'll get the same answer from me.
My tiny mountain grocery store has the exact SAME limited produce selection day in and day out all year long.
If I want something different I have to be prepared to travel. So, I started ordering veggies from a delivery service.
Their selection every week is fresh, amazing and you can pick your own food. The prices are much better than my local options and if you click this link, and use this code COOKWME-NI9ZYBMIIRG at checkout you'll get $10.00 off!!!
3.) Make an effort everyday to add fiber by cooking with high fiber ingredients.
Here are just a few:
- Keto Nut and Seed Bread
- Chia Seed Crackers
- Strawberry Jam with Chia Seeds
- High Fiber Bread
- Psyllium flat Bread
- Candied Nuts
I think that's all for my Menopause and Low Carb Diets Post....
The subject of fiber and health can turn into a book! I thought it would be a simple little note to let women experiencing stalls know what else they can try...
But, I thought it might be more helpful to explain why it's important to look to your fiber intake than just say "eat more fiber".
Because really, who among us needs one more thing to do without knowing why?
Cheers to your good health!