As women approach menopause, many experience weight gain. The culprit is often the hormonal shifts that occur during perimenopause and menopause. But there can be other factors at play too.
Weight gained due to menopause often shows up around the abdomen. Hence the term “menopause belly”. Seeing the scales creep up may affect your self-confidence levels. Also, the added weight gain can contribute to health complaints.
But there are steps you can take to regain control of your wellbeing and maintain a healthy weight.
In this article, we’ll look at weight gain during perimenopause and menopause, why it occurs, and why it can be so hard to shift. We’ll explore diet and lifestyle changes to help you lose weight, improve your health and gain increased vitality.
Why am I gaining weight in menopause?
During a woman’s middle years, the transition to menopause begins. The median age for perimenopause is from 45 to 55. Perimenopause can last anywhere between 7 and 14 years, before reaching full menopause when your menstrual cycle ceases. Yet, this can be earlier or later, depending on your individual body.
During perimenopause, your estrogen levels decline. As this happens, you may experience some of the following symptoms:
Many people find that maintaining their preferred weight in this phase of life can be a challenge. Often, all the tried and true ways you used in the past just don’t cut it anymore.
Studies suggest that reduced estrogen can lead to loss of muscle mass, strength, and bone density. Which can then lead to increased levels of visceral fat.
The decrease in estrogen you experience in menopause may affect your weight by:
Research indicates that estrogen can affect hunger signals. So when estrogen declines, it can be more difficult to feel full.
Disrupting your sleep
Studies suggest lack of sleep may contribute to weight gain, affect your metabolism, and elevate stress hormones. This may cause your body to enter “survival mode” and hold onto fat stores.
Increasing fatigue, headaches, bloating, and joint pain
These symptoms can make you feel less than great. And feeling blah could dampen your ability to engage in regular physical activity.
Weight gain as you age
Studies show that, as we advance in years, we develop sarcopenia, a decrease in muscle mass. This is true for anyone of any gender. Loss of muscle can cause your metabolism to slow down. This is because, the higher your muscle mass, the higher your energy expenditure rate. You’ll naturally burn more calories with more muscle.
Entering your 40s can usher in a time of peak responsibility in your life. Workplace stress, caregiving roles, and all the obligations that come with middle age can increase tension. These responsibilities can eat into your spare time for activities like exercise.
When stress hits, it’s easy to get into the habit of letting diet and exercise fall by the wayside. Not to mention that studies suggest increased levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, may contribute to weight gain.
Add in the hormonal changes of perimenopause and menopause, and you’ve got a perfect recipe for putting on weight.
How menopause weight gain can affect your health
Studies suggest that carrying extra weight around your middle can increase your risk for health conditions that may affect life expectancy, such as:
- Type 2 diabetes.
- Heart disease.
- High blood pressure.
- Certain cancers such as breast, colon, pancreatic, and endometrial cancers.
Excess weight may contribute to stress on your joints, decreased respiratory function, fatigue, and low mood.
Therefore, when approaching menopause, it’s important to embrace strategies to maintain a healthy weight.
How to manage menopause weight
Trying to lose weight during perimenopause and menopause may feel like an uphill battle. Often the methods you relied on in your earlier years don’t work as well. This is because your body has undergone changes. Your health routine will most likely need to be tweaked.
Here are some actions you can include in your routine to help you improve your body composition and lose weight.
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Manage menopause with your diet
Lower levels of estrogen in menopause can affect your feelings of satiety. Eating a diet rich in protein, fiber, and healthy fats can make you feel full. Filling up on whole foods that are good for you makes less room for processed snacks high in sugar, sodium, and unhealthy fats.
Also, getting adequate protein is important for building and maintaining muscle. As stated earlier, having less muscle affects your metabolism. This is a leading cause of weight gain as we age.
While you can build and maintain muscle as you enter menopause, it can be more difficult. You most likely won’t achieve the muscle profile you had or could have had earlier in your life. Therefore, you may need to experiment with your daily calorie intake.
Find what is the right amount of calories for you to maintain a healthy weight. This can differ from person to person. Due to metabolic changes from menopause and aging, you may need fewer calories than before.
However, don’t limit your calories too far and “crash diet” in an attempt to lose weight quickly. Crash diets can lower your metabolism, lead to disordered eating, and let's face it, are not an enjoyable experience. For healthy weight loss, you want to be in it for the long game. The slow and steady approach to weight loss is the way to go.
Research indicates that incorporating phytoestrogens into your diet during menopause may relieve symptoms for some women.
Phytoestrogens are plant-based compounds that are similar in chemical structure to the estrogen your body produces. Phytoestrogens can bind to estrogen receptors in your body and may alleviate the effects of low estrogen.
The added benefit of phytoestrogen sources is that they are often rich in fiber, protein, minerals, and vitamins to contribute to your health. A study in 2000 suggested that phytoestrogens could play a part in maintaining cardiovascular health.
Here are some great whole foods you can add to your diet to address weight gain during perimenopause and menopause:
Good sources of protein
- lean animal protein such as turkey, chicken, and fish
- legumes like red kidney beans, peas, and soy products
- nuts and seeds like almonds, walnuts, cashews, and Brazilian nuts
Healthy sources of fat
- olives and olive oil
- nuts and seeds such as chia seeds, almonds, and sunflower seeds
- omega-3-rich fish like salmon and mackerel
- soy products like tofu, tempeh, and soy milk
- cruciferous vegetables like kale and broccoli
- peaches, apples, and berries
- grains, such as oats, quinoa, wheat germ, and rice bran
- legumes like chickpeas, mung beans, and alfalfa
- nuts and seeds such as flaxseed, sesame seeds, and pistachios.
Manage menopause weight with exercise
Having a regular exercise routine is important for good health. Exercise can help you to manage your weight, improve your mood and increase your energy levels.
Here are some activities to consider adding to your routine:
Bodyweight exercises, weight lifting, or using resistance bands can help you build muscle and prevent muscle loss. This in turn will help give a boost to your metabolism and weight loss efforts. Aim for 2 to 3 times per week.
Also, weight-bearing activity strengthens your bones, preventing osteoporosis. Your risk of getting osteoporosis increases as you reach menopause. So, resistance training is a great addition to your routine.
Get your blood pumping and improve your cardiovascular health through brisk walking, cycling, dancing, or any aerobic exercise you enjoy. Research indicates that aiming for 150 minutes of activity per week will get you the most benefit.
Flexibility and mobility exercises
As you age and during menopause, you may experience joint pain and stiffness. To help you to stay active, add flexibility and mobility drills to your routine. Yoga is a great option as it also incorporates meditation, focus, and relaxation techniques.
Manage menopause weight with lifestyle
Here are some lifestyle suggestions to help you to maintain a healthy weight during menopause.
Increased cortisol, the stress hormone, may lead to weight gain in some people. Add stress management practices into your routine, like meditation, yoga, recreational activities, and exercise. Hypnotherapy has also been shown to help with menopause related stress, and improve sleep.
Staying connected with friends and family, and maintaining a social life are also good for stress prevention.
Practice good sleep hygiene
Poor sleep can lead to weight gain due to effects on your energy, metabolism, and regulation of hunger. As you approach evening time, wind down. Limit exposure to blue light such as TVs and phone screens. Studies suggest that blue light can affect melatonin production, a hormone that regulates your circadian rhythm.
Consider taking an Epsom salt bath. Bathing itself can be relaxing, and you’ll be absorbing calm-inducing magnesium as well. Baths not your thing? Magnesium can be taken in vitamin form or absorbed through the skin via creams and sprays. Be sure to check with your doctor before taking supplements.
Excessive intake of alcohol can cause weight gain, and disrupt your sleep. Research indicates alcohol in excess can increase your risk of heart disease, cancer, osteoporosis, and other diseases.
Note: When making changes to your diet, supplement intake, and exercise routine, it’s always a good idea to check in with your doctor.
The Wrap Up
Gaining weight during menopause can be tough. On top of weight being harder to lose as you age, you’re dealing with a host of hormonal changes. Muscle loss and declining estrogen can see the scales going up. But there are actions you can take to help you on your menopause weight loss journey. Eating a diet rich in whole foods, proteiin, fiber, phytoestrogens and healthy fats; regular exercise; stress reduction and improved sleep! The added bonus of the above tips is that they’ll deliver more benefits than just weight loss. They’ll help you to improve your overall well-being, and may also help with some of the not-so-fun symptoms you’ll face during menopause.