Easing Menopause Symptoms with Food and Exercise - Stella
Her story
5 mins

How Sabine eased menopause symptoms through nutrition and exercise

byClaire Sykes

Fifty-six-year-old Sabine talks by phone with me about hot flashes and hampered sleep – and how staying physically active and a few new dietary choices have made all the difference for her. She speaks from her 10-acre home in rural Washington state in the US, which she shares with her husband John, three horses, several chickens and ducks, and a couple of dogs and cats.

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How old were you when you reached menopause and what changed for you? What were your initial symptoms?

I was 51 or 52. Before menopause my periods had gotten heavier and heavier, which was a real headache. Once they stopped it was easier in some ways but then I started getting other symptoms. First I noticed that I had less tolerance for alcohol. This took some getting used to. 

Before I moved to the States about 30 years ago, I lived in Germany where I was born and raised in a wine region, and wine was very much a part of my cultural upbringing. I’ve always loved fine wine and was sensible about alcohol, but ever since menopause I haven’t been able to handle it as much anymore.

How does it make you feel now?

Even if I have just one glass of wine with dinner, it can ruin my sleep that night. I’ll wake up in the middle of the night and have trouble going back to sleep, because of night sweats too. Being sleep-deprived, I feel pretty crummy the next day. I don’t have any daytime hot flashes. But I get these weird intense hot bursts that feel like the nerves in my upper arms and torso are on fire, for 10 seconds or so. It’s a surprising jolt and I’d get them almost daily. 

I know so many women my age or older who can’t wait to relax with their evening glass of wine, but then they complain about hot flashes. I strongly believe there’s a direct correlation between those and alcohol. Sugar brings them on, too, for me. Once I hit menopause, I would also tend to feel tired. I knew changing what I ate and drank would help.

What dietary changes did you make?

I still drink a little bit of wine occasionally, preferably one with a lower alcohol content. But I can go weeks without any alcohol. I guess that’s my German discipline. And willpower. About five years ago, instead of wine I started drinking kombucha and making my own. That’s my go-to drink. And I love cherry juice mixed with bubbly water if I also want something a little sweet. 

I cut out gluten about a year and a half ago when I realised that’s what made me tired. That meant giving up non-alcoholic beer. I just don’t buy anything made with gluten or bake with it. If it’s not in the house I don’t eat it. Instead, I buy gluten-free snack bars and always have some in my purse. And I make chia pudding where I soak the seeds for five minutes in almond milk then add ground flax seeds and maybe some chopped hazelnuts, and a little monk fruit sweetener. 

Bread is harder. Being German, I could eat a lot! John isn’t big on bread, so that makes it easier to not buy it. But we both love pasta and we’ve found great gluten-free ones made from corn. I often make quinoa instead of rice because it’s healthier and easier for me to digest, since I try to stay away from too much starch in general.

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How are your menopause symptoms now?

I rarely have hot flashes at night and the intense hot bursts are almost gone, too. I’m sleeping through most nights and I have more energy. So I found that it really does matter what I put into my body.

Menopause often causes women to gain weight. Does your healthy diet help you manage yours?

Yes. What I eat, and especially drinking less alcohol, has a lot to do with keeping my weight down. When I was in my late 30s I was about 10 pounds heavier and that’s when I got into running. That got the weight under control. But still. I no longer have a narrow waist – and that’s due to menopause, I think.

What other exercise do you do? And how has that and running helped your menopause symptoms?

I don’t run as much as I used to. Now it’s twice a week. But I still get plenty of exercise. Every morning right after I get up, I feed the horses and muck out their stalls. Then there are the chickens, ducks, dogs, and cats that all need to be attended to and fed. By breakfast I’ve already done quite a bit of physical activity. I also do a lot of gardening and yard work, and I ride my horses and hike with the dogs. Being so active has kept my weight down and my energy up and also has helped me sleep better.

You clearly make a point to take care of yourself. What suggestions can you give other women going through menopause?

As you get older it’s really important to monitor what you eat so you can mitigate and avoid certain menopause symptoms. First ask yourself how much sugar and alcohol you consume. If either of those make you feel bad, be creative in replacing them. What’s delicious and healthy that you wouldn’t have considered eating? Maybe buy a plain yoghurt instead of a flavored one and put fresh fruit in it. You can retrain yourself. 

Read more about sugar and menopause.

What’s the biggest takeaway for you regarding your menopause?

It’s important that I stay on top of my health, because I can’t get away with things like I did before or I end up paying for it. It’s not worth it. But I do hope my menopause symptoms keep easing up. I’d love to be able to have that second glass of wine again every now and then.

Read more about menopause on our blog or in our symptoms library.

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