Nutrition Advice from the Peri-Menoverse

by Ann Marie McQueen 


No matter our age or stage, every single bite we eat is having an impact on our hormones.

This is an awesome responsibility at the best of times, but now it’s more important than ever.

This isn’t about some social media argument on whether it’s possible to “balance hormones”, (I don’t know why people fight about this… compare how you feel when you are on a free-for-all to when you are consciously nourishing your body. The evidence stares you in the mirror).

This is about taking steps to support yourself through perhaps the most powerful transition of your life.

But if you are like me, it took until recently o’clock to really understand the sheer necessity of accepting this challenge of figuring out how to eat right down to our cells. This is all about taking radical responsibility, which is exactly what this heroine’s journey is calling us to do in all aspects of our lives. And if you are still figuring it out, I hope it doesn’t take a health crisis to bring the need on home to you.

Feeling better now and living a healthy life, now and for longer, are the rewards.

The challenge: insulin resistance

Something everyone has to watch out for these days, no matter where their reproductive journey is at, is insulin resistance. This happens when cells in our body become less sensitive to insulin, meaning they have to take up more glucose from the blood, prompting the pancreas to make more insulin. This not-great loop serves as a warning signal, because it is a precursor to pre-diabetes, diabetes and indeed many diseases.

There are a number of causes of insulin resistance, including a diet high in processed foods, vegetable oils, carbohydrates and sugary foods, and juice. Lack of sleep and a sedentary lifestyle contribute, as do genetics and a range of other factors. And in peri-menopause, as New Zealand-based naturopathic doctor and author of hormone repair manual Lara Briden writes, women are particularly vulnerable because progesterone starts to fall, estrogen starts to rise and fall – and both have been responsible directly or indirectly (for example, in interacting with testosterone) in regulating how insulin works in our bodies. There are also links to insulin resistance in PCOS and hormonal birth control, other good-to-knows.

Now: what to do about it?

Eat (and move) to beat insulin resistance

The obvious ways are to cut down on processed food, rice, potatoes and bread, as well as sugar, fruit juice and even fruit. This isn’t about eating eliminating them, just being smarter about it. Abu Dhabi based integrative and functional dietitian Farah Hillou recommends a few other easy steps for avoiding or reversing insulin resistance, and prediabetes too. These include increasing your body’s energy demands by going for a walk (or just getting up and moving around) after meals, eating vegetables first, followed by fat and protein, then carbs, stopping eating several hours before bed, experimenting extending the time that you don’t eat to 12 hours or beyond, and making sure to food-pair with fat and protein so you aren’t sugar bombing yourself with a brutal combination, particularly early in the day. When I interviewed Ali Hashemi, a doctor and founder of the Dubai-based metabolic program Zone.Health, he told me his slim wife Zeina actually developed prediabetes during Covid from her daily breakfast of oat milk and All Bran, which she thought was healthy.

Regular walking, weight lifting and NEAT (Non-exercise activity thermogenesis) movement works here too. Studies have shown that drinking some apple cider vinegar (with mother) in a glass of water before eating also reduces blood sugar significantly, and in addition to all of the above, this was one of the recommendations made by my own doctor, Dubai-based Norwegian homeopathic and integrative physician Dr Sofie Skogen.

Focus on what you can add, not subtract

This is definitely not about eating less: many of us have been doing that off and on our entire adult lives. Karen Newby, nutritionist and author of the 2022 book Natural Hormone Methods, says often women are eating low-nutrient food, low-protein food, and foods that are low in phytoestrogens, such as tofu, tempe, edamame, linseed and flaxseed.

By shifting the emphasis to adding a range of therapeutic, nutrient-dense foods, eating for perimenopause becomes more about fuel and less about deprivation. And here’s a trick: focus on them from breakfast. Adding more protein from the start of the day, for example, will reduce sugar cravings throughout.

“If we have 80 percent helpful foods, we can deal with 20 percent rubbish,” Karen told the Hotflash inc podcast.

Take a pro-metabolic view of your body

Many women hit peri-menopause with decades of bad habits, having punished their bodies with dieting, over-exercising and major amounts of stress for years. Untangling this and learning how to support the body – by eating enough, for example, or figuring out sleep – is the approach that Kate Deering, a personal trainer and holistic nutritionist based in San Diego takes and shares in her book How to Heal Your Metabolism. Taking an energetic approach means shifting to how best to support energy production in your cells. When they are producing adequate energy, then all your body systems have the right fuel to function. In this case, learning how to manage or reduce stress and get better sleep can be just as important as eating more nourishing foods.

Cut back on ultra processed foods

Ultra processed foods are by their nature refined. That means we can eat a lot more of them, unlike fiber-rich vegetables. As nutritionist Karen Newby says, they destabilize our blood sugar, sparking lows – including irritability and mood swings – that cause more cravings. And when we are low in blood sugar, our cortisol, adrenaline and noradrenaline all rise, having a vasodilatory effect and altering our ability to regulate mood. We have hot flashes during peri-menopause because our estrogen is dropping, impacting our thermoregulatory centers. But a lot of women find that when they cut down on processed foods and sugar, their hot flashes improve, and when they eat them, they worsen.

They are also full of chemicals that overload our already taxed-to-the-max liver, which has been working overtime to process everything we’ve thrown at it in our younger years (and may be fatty, to boot). Focus on nutrient-dense, fiber-rich whole foods, protein and healthy fats, and see what happens.

Ditch diet culture

Clearly this is not the time to become even more restrictive. In fact, one of the key things women can do to have better hormone health is to realize what pressure they’ve been under to be thin, and reject it outright. This is the message that Jenn Salib-Huber, a Canadian registered dietitian, naturopathic doctor and intuitive eating coach, offers to her 42k followers on Instagram.

“I know it’s such a hard thing for people to grasp, especially for people who have been in diet culture forever, because I was there too,” she told me on the Hotflash inc podcast. “And I really believed that food had power over me. And that I needed to, you know, craft this willpower of steel to be able to only say yes to something once in a while.”

Jenn’s advice is to regularly have food that we enjoy, rather than believing it is possible to eliminate them from our lives – only to binge when we get the opportunity.

Intuitive eating, and body acceptance, is an important shift for women to make around food, and their bodies, one that involves releasing fear and learning how to trust ourselves again.


Ann Marie McQueen is a health and wellness journalist and founder of Hotflash inc, a podcasting/newsletter/social media-based platform that provides a broad spectrum of evidence, experience and expert-backed information, entertainment and inspiration about the perimenopause, menopause and midlife experience.