If you gained weight after menopause, raise your hand.

It’s “kind of” inevitable, because post-menopausal bodies want to hold onto fat, which is where youth-preserving estrogen is stored, says Debbie Pepper-Dougherty of DPD Nutrition Consultants.

Debbie Pepper-Dougherty Submitted photo

She has been a nutrition consultant since 1992 and is affiliated with the Integrative Health Center of Maine based in Cumberland Foreside.

“If you’re just eating the same and not intuitively, you may gain 10 or 12 pounds per year as you get older,” she said in a recent interview.

That’s because our bodies need fewer calories (menstrual cycles burn 3,000 to 5,000 calories per month) but more nutrients, specifically more protein and calcium to support lean body mass and bone mass.

“You can’t eat like an 18-year-old male,” Pepper-Dougherty said.

Changing habits begins with a smaller plate, she said.

Half of the plate should be filled with natural color — fruits and vegetables — and at least a quarter with lean protein. One-eighth to one-quarter of the plate should hold grains.

“Start with the color,” Pepper-Dougherty said. “Put the salad, broccoli or kale on your plate before you put the chicken or potato.”

The healthful plate method begins with “natural color.” Fill half of your plate with fruit and vegetables. oprah.com

She said sweets and “crunchies” such as potato chips should be treated as garnish.

And don’t forget the calcium. It can be yogurt, milk or cheese from animals or plant-based milks such as oat, almond or cashew.

Dark greens, including spinach, kale and beet greens also are high in calcium, she said.

Staying active is a must: weight training two or three times a week (yoga counts), cardio at least 150 minutes per week to maintain weight. To lose weight, 300 to 450 minutes per week. This can include yardwork, gardening, walking the dog.

“Just get out,” Pepper-Dougherty said. “Park farther away, take the stairs.”

And for goodness’ sake, avoid products that promise fat-burning while you sleep and other snake-oil quick fixes.

“There are no regulations on those,” Pepper-Dougherty said. “We could put grass clippings in a jar and say it would help. There’s way too much nutrition noise out there.”

She avoids putting people on diets, but encourages them to make healthful eating a way of life.

“If I can’t do long term, I’m not interested,” she said. “The more you diet, the more difficult it becomes to take off weight. Look at what you’re eating and get rid of the clutter.”

She encourages people to create new patterns and pathways.

Do not go too long without eating, do not graze all day, eat a good balance of foods, close your kitchen two to three hours before you go to bed.

“It’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon,” she said.

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