Did you know that what and when you eat can impact your sleep, mood, and menopausal symptoms? During an interview on Instagram live with Toronto based nutritionist, Tanya Stricek of @amindfulnutritionist we dove deep into this topic and discussed the common issues women in menopause face regarding their nutrition and sleep. Tanya’s mission of helping menopausal women stop calorie counting and live a healthy life with mindful eating is so necessary for the current women’s diet culture. Continue reading to learn some practical tips on how to improve your physical, mental, and sleep health through mindful eating during menopause below.
To watch the complete interview visit click here:
Dr. Val: Who is your audience and what are their one or two top pain points you see?
Tanya: Typically with nutrition, I work with women in their 40s and 50s and sometimes 60s. I would say top pain points are always body changes, — which is a broad category — definitely hot flashes and sleep anxiety, and digestion.
Dr. Val: And they all impact sleep! So let’s imagine a client that we probably see all of the time: a 52 year-old professional woman, who has one son in college and a daughter in high school, and works a busy job but is thinking of retiring. Out of nowhere, starts experiencing hot flashes during her meetings, can’t sleep, becoming irritable, her husband says she snores, and she isn’t able to lose the COVID weight she gained. Where would you start?
Tanya: Already as you described this person, I don’t want to know what she’s eating or any of that. I want to know how she is with her stress, because I’m sure you can relate — do you have children?
Dr. Val: I do have children.
Tanya: Even if you don’t have children! When you’re in your 40s and 50s, you’re juggling your job, your family, maybe some disconnect to what you chose as your career. You’re always go go go and maybe you’re also taking care of your parents. I bet you’re trying to go to the gym, too — you’re getting up at 5am right?
Dr. Val: Yeah so hearing that, my stress level is at a 9 out of 10.
Tanya: Okay, so how do you deal with your stress? What helps you relieve that stress bucket? What do you do? That’s what I would ask.
Dr. Val: My friend told me about this really good show on Netflix. I try not to do it during the week, but sometimes I just keep watching it. I want two or three episodes and then it’s midnight. Then I try to go to sleep, but sometimes I’m hungry so I go and grab a snack. What I have around the house probably isn’t the healthiest. I love chocolate, so I’ll grab Oreo cookies. I probably should eat dark chocolate and almonds, I think I’ve heard those are good for you. But, what do I do? Where do I start?
Tanya: That’s an excellent question and I’m not a judgy person, so I’m not going to judge you with your food. You should eat when you’re hungry, but let’s back this up a little bit because you’re telling me a lot here during this little session. You’re telling me you like to stay up late and watch Netflix. What is that for you? That’s a great coping mechanism for stress, but I want to know what else you are doing for me-time and self-care. Is Netflix you’re only go-to for self-care?
Dr. Val: That’s a really good question. At work, they started this walking program during lunch. It’s once a week, but I’m thinking about getting a few friends together and doing it at least three times a week. On the days I do that, I notice I’m not craving chocolate as much so I guess there is a connection between that stress and wanting to eat.
Tanya: Yes, and sleep. I think when we talk about sleep the obvious thing buzzing around is our blue screens and our phones and TVs. We do need to mitigate our screens because we’ve probably been on those all day long. So there is that; but you’ve got this hunger because you aren’t sleeping.
Your brain needs energy, it is an energy sucker. When you’re running low on blood sugar, your brain isn’t going to say go upstairs and prepare a salad with some lean protein at midnight, and maybe sprinkle some carrots and pumpkin seeds for magnesium. No. Your brain is going to go, oh those Oreos look good and that’s energy to me. Your brain doesn’t know whether or not you’re watching Netflix or you’re in a stressful situation where you can’t get food.
Dr. Val: That’s so true. So pumpkin seeds and carrots, tell me more about those. I know from my own research that high fiber foods promote better quality of sleep as do simple carbohydrates and avoiding sugar — those are associated with less arousals. What are your thoughts on snacking and intermittent fasting?
Tanya: Before we even talk about intermittent fasting, we’d talk about her health history. Are there any conditions? Is she diabetic? I’m assuming there is none, but nutrition is very specific to the person.
So, what are my thoughts on intermittent fasting? You know, it’s such a buzzword and it is out there for weight loss. I am not a diet nutritionist and I do acknowledge what it’s like to have your body change in your 40s and 50s and being uncomfortable in your weight and wanting to diet. But when it comes to intermittent fasting, there’s a few things.
Is the research supporting women when we start to look at clinical evidence behind intermittent fasting? If you have blood sugar dysregulation or low level thyroid issues that could be subclinical, should you actually jump on that bandwagon with all that dysregulation? What is the food that you’re consuming during your fasting period of say 12 to 8 looking like? Are you getting enough in to support sleep? If you’re waking up and having — and I’m guilty of it — the coffee, that’s going to shoot your blood sugar up, your stress hormones up, and then you’re going to crash. You may have cravings later.
So, if your goal in exploring fasting is these benefits of cell death and cleansing of the body, I can get that. Again, where is the evidence long-term on any of these things? If it is just weight and this person has all the other stressors of running herself ragged, is the fasting going to be a stressor rather than adequate meals of protein, fat, and fiber. If you eat your Oreo, can you throw some nuts in there and maybe some carrots to actually stop the blood sugar surge and put some fiber into your body? Maybe start that way because for a lot of us to go from this way to way over there that way, it’s really hard.
Dr. Val: I love that. I don’t know much literature on intermittent fasting; but I love your point: do the studies support what you’re going through? You know, the 52-year-old woman with high stress, family issues, and career issues.
So what I’m hearing is, I can dip my Oreos in dark chocolate almond crunch and have that as my snack?
Tanya: So, you can do what you like. I like to pull in from a mindful eating concept is this blend of inner wisdom and outer wisdom. So if I know I’m going to make the choice to stay up late because it’s the only me-time I’ll have all week and darnit, I’m watching Yellowstone and I know I’m going to be hungry. I can use inner wisdom: I know I’m going to be hungry, I made the choice to stay up late. Outer wisdom says I shouldn’t eat. My craving says get me an Oreo. Maybe pairing the Oreo with chocolate almond butter with tons of sugar is not wise. So it’s pairing it with something else that can slow the spike, give you some nutrients (maybe those pumpkin seeds) that will help you sleep later. That could be optimal.
Dr. Val: Tell me more about the mindfulness of nutrition. You talked about inner wisdom, is there a framework you use with your clients?
Tanya: Yes, so I was trained in the Mindfulness-Based Eating Awareness program. It is one of the most research-based mindfulness eating programs out there and it works with body cues. So rather let the runaway train of your mind go through this “I shouldn’t eat past 7,” “I’ve gained 10 pounds,” or “I really shouldn’t have an Oreo,” and get to the other side of “I want all the Oreos and I don’t care anymore.”
It’s about understanding your hunger cues, your fullness cues, and your satisfaction cues, but also your emotional cues. When we talk about nourishment, I think we also need to look at emotional nourishment. It’s OK to nourish yourself with food and comfort food; but if Netflix and Oreos are your only form of coping, bringing in other things is important. But also, understand that present moment. Are you eating distracted? Are you stressed at your desk and breezing through your keyboard, not even paying attention to your food?
Dr. Val: That’s so true. It’s the context in which you’re doing the eating. There’s so many analogies I can draw up between eating and sleeping. Are you snacking in bed? Is your bedroom a sanctuary?
Curious about your opinion on carbs and sleep?
Tanya: So, what kind of carbs? Carks kind of get vilified and I think they’re very person dependent. There are some studies that say carbs can help you go to sleep and can be supportive to your blood sugar before you go to bed so you’re not waking up at 2, 3, or 4am in the morning. I love for people to explore this on their own and even track what happens: I had pizza at 8pm two nights this week and both nights I slept soundly, I was up, my stomach hurt, I was starving in the morning, or how late did I stay up? Things like that. I definitely think protein and a little bit of fat is a good idea.
Dr. Val: What are your thoughts on continuous glucose monitors?
Tanya: I don’t have a population where I put people on glucose monitors; however, I think this is an excellent topic because I saw a very well-known, very well-researched registered dietician slamming the glucose monitor and normal people shouldn’t be on the glucose monitor. I guess this speaks to what is your goal? What are you looking to measure with the glucose monitor? Are you actually worried about your sleep because when we start to get into sleep disorders that’s different.
Dr. Val: Like sleep hygiene versus a mental sleep condition?
Tanya: Yes! If you’re really concerned you have blood sugar issues and it’s not being picked up, then if you can afford it, get a glucose monitor. Check your levels and check it against what you’re eating. I know some people can spike with one thing and others won’t.
Dr. Val: Do you like to recommend the hunger scale? Eating between a certain number versus waiting until you realize you didn’t eat anything and want to eat it all.
Tanya: The hunger scale is great; but for like the initial patient you talked about, is she really tuned into her hunger if she’s intermittent fasting? The hunger scale is great, but I also use something that will talk about other emotions and triggers. So what other hungers (heart hunger, mind hunger, or cellular hunger) are you feeling? I do love the hunger scale though because it gets people to start thinking about their body over weight. Food is like a smile, it’s a universal connector.
Tanya’s Final Nutrition, Sleep and Mindfulness Tips:
We didn’t really touch on alcohol. Wine is marketed towards women as this girls night out but it depletes you of nutrients, messes up your nervous system, and messes up your sleep. I’m not a proponent of taking things out, but booze in your perimenopausal years…maybe that’s gotta go.
Feed yourself and release yourself from guilt. Find a blend of stuff that works for you. We have enough to stress about that’s affecting our sleep, so stressing about food isn’t helping. We just need to find what works for us.
If you aren’t following Tanya on Instagram yet her account is @amindfulnutritionist. To work with her please visit her website at: https://www.tanyastricek.com. She also has a podcast called, “Fullness Podcast, mindful eating and menopause health without diets” where you can learn more from her.