Dietitian Nigel Denby unveils his evidence-based diet for menopausal women – the M Diet.
Most people relax in the bath on a lazy Sunday afternoon, but recently dietitian Nigel Denby found himself growing ever more angry as he scrolled through the seemingly endless diet advice being given to menopausal women on social media. From his frustration his new menopause diet was born.
“Menopausal women have had so much crap information thrown at them and I thought I’m not going to have this anymore. I’m going to take the evidence-based approach I know and have developed over 25 years, and I know works for menopausal women … and I’ll give it a name, the ‘M diet’.”
And it’s surprisingly simple. There is no fasting, no weighing food or counting calories, and you don’t even have to cut out entire food groups.
Instead, you focus on three key things that will become part of your lifestyle for the rest of your life, because as Nigel says, we have a good few decades of living ahead of us as menopausal women, so it has to be enjoyable and sustainable.
“A menopausal woman needs a lifestyle approach,” he says. “My basis is a 500 calorie a day deficit – that is, find 500 calories a day you can cut out. Increase your aerobic exercise, such as your 10,000 steps a day, plus find 15 minutes of weight resistance to tackle your big muscle groups and improve your metabolic rate.”
Nigel has written numerous books on diet and has worked with menopausal women for many years, and he’s seen the swings and roundabouts women go through as they struggle through endless fad-diets. They may lose weight, only to find it piles back on afterwards, which is disheartening and a confidence killer.
He’s also seen how women struggle with their self-worth and mental health in the lead up to and post menopause – and how the thickening middle can be the final blow to an already faltering self-worth.
Because of that he says the key to success at this stage of a woman’s life is support and being in the right frame of mind. To achieve that there needs to be a holistic approach, so he’s gone to work to build a team of professionals to help women through this phase.
His network includes a GP who specialises in menopause, Dr Naomi Potter, as well as an exercise specialist and coaches on mental health as well – so you can find your solid base. And there’s a Facebook group “Harley Street at Home” which has classes and a growing number of women who are supporting each other on their menopause and weight loss journey.
“If you’re on your knees with menopausal symptoms, then let’s get that sorted first. Then we can start building up your confidence so you’re ready to tackle this. It’s about so much more than just diet. It’s about giving women the tools they need to manage their lifestyles for the next 40-50 years of their lives,” Nigel says.
And given the decades ahead, Nigel’s priority is to ensure you future eating habits are enjoyable and sustainable.
“I love food. I was a chef. No one wants to live in a dietary purgatory. You have to learn how to eat the things you like in a way that doesn’t make you gain weight, or it’s just not going to work.”
Where to Start
So, once you’re in the right frame of mind – where do you start?
Nigel says keeping a food diary is an excellent way to see what you’re really eating. It can help you identify things you may not even notice that you’re doing – picking as you cook dinner, having an extra helping when you’re not really hungry or an extra glass or two of wine after dinner along with a bit of chocolate.
Nigel says many of those ‘extras’ can easily add up to 500 calories a day. A 250ml glass of red wine for instance is 228 calories and four squares of Cadbury milk chocolate is about 100 calories (and let’s face it – no one only eat four squares!)
“Most women in their mid 40’s know how to put together a reasonably healthy meal. Most people know they need to have some proteins and carbs and fruit and veggies and sometimes they might get the proportions wrong. And we can tweak that.
“And if you’ve got some foods appearing in your diet too frequently, then we can changes that too. That doesn’t mean that you’ll never eat them again,” Nigel says. “Some people will find that chocolate or crisps are their ‘big thing’ and they might say I’ll leave them out for a while because they wont feel confident enough to say ‘I’ll just eat two squares and leave it at that’ – so we’ll work on that until they get to a point where they can eat the things they like in a controlled way.”
Some useful tips according to Nigel is to avoid the things you can’t say ‘no’ to when you’re hungry.
Instead he says, and only have them when you know you’e going to enjoy them.
Crisps for example – take a small bowlful and savour every mouthful.
“Eat them is a way that is conscious so you can enjoy every bite and every sensation. Not while you’re watching TV, not while you’re reading a book, but when you can really appreciate every bite without distraction. And when you’ve had them you’re going to move on to something else that is nice so you don’t go for another bowl.”
And don’t be too hard on yourself.
“No one I’ve every worked with is greedy or lazy, it’s all about learnt behaviours and associations. It’s Friday night, let’s put the Netflix on and grab a bag of crisps – and that’s what we’ll work on – those associations.”
“It’s an emotion that leads to an action so we need to disassociate it and that’s where it starts to become lifestyle issue,” he says. “If you’re eating crisps every night then you may be feeling like you’re a bit of a failure, but I’ve never worked with anyone who is a failure. We can do this.”
But How? Finding Your Motivating Force
The big questions are:
- why are you doing this and
- what will be better if you aren’t eating this way and you lose the weight.
“I might be concerned about your waist circumference and and the risk of heart disease, but for you it might be that you want to look good for your son’s wedding, or look good in clothes, or boost your confidence, or that you want to be able to run about and play with your grandchildren.
“It will rarely be any use if someone – a doctor or a friend – has just told you ‘you’ve got to lose weight’. It’s got to be about you and something that means something to you. Then we can find the miles stones that get you along those journeys,” Nigel says.
The daily walks and resistance exercise are important too. The walking burns calories and is vital for your bone strength. The resistance training – that can be with weights or using your own body weight as in squats or push ups, helps rebuild the muscle we lose as we age and an increase in muscle mass will help you burn calories faster. (Exercise can also help with your mental health.)
And it’s about setting realistic goals. The fad diet that saw you drop 5 kg in two weeks when you were 25 isn’t going to work now and it just sets you up to fail again.
But when you have a personalised diet, your exercise plan and a support group, you’re on your way to achieving your weight loss goals and maintaining it for life.