Most of our lives, as women, are spent comparing ourselves to others. Those we see on tv, our friends, family, and co-workers are all used to guide us toward deciding what is good and beautiful.
About the time we begin to accept the way we look, the way we feel, and decide to stop comparing ourselves to others our bodies begin to take a turn for the worse. The weight begins to build again and we don’t feel as good about ourselves.
This is because perimenopause has taken hold with its hot flushes, headaches, and weight gain. You are not alone – this is a very common occurrence that many women experience.
Although it’s common, it is not mandatory.
Keeping the 7 hormones that most affect weight loss during menopause balanced will help you avoid those unwanted symptoms.
Estrogen & Progesterone
Known as the two primary hormones in women, estrogen, and progesterone work together to keep the female reproductive system function properly. While estrogen is the hormone that controls your mood, it also maintains cortisol, insulin, and other metabolic hormones.
The counterbalance is progesterone, which encourages calming and sedating effects in the brain while keeping your insulin and thyroid hormones balanced.
What happens when unbalanced? – The most common result is known as estrogen dominance. This may cause mood swings, irregular periods, fat gain from changes to the hormones that control your metabolic rate.
Other changes you may notice include elevated cortisol levels, increased appetite due to changes in leptin and ghrelin levels, and decreased physical activity which all lead to a caloric excess and fat gain.
Menopausal Changes – As you near menopause, your ovaries will stop producing as much estrogen while your progesterone levels remain the same. This causes a smaller gap which can lead to sensitivity to insulin, resulting in fat storage around the abdomen. Making a few changes to your lifestyle will help you fight some of the side effects.
Your body is dependent on insulin to control how your body uses or stores glucose and fat. It signals your liver, muscles, and fat cells to use the glucose from your blood as energy. Once your body has enough energy, the liver will then begin storing it as glycogen to be used later. Once those stores are filled, any excess energy will be converted to fat.
What happens when unbalanced? – Due to a lack of physical activity, or an unhealthy diet, anyone can have a decreased insulin sensitivity. This causes the insulin levels to rise and requires more of it to extract the glucose from your blood. Since higher levels are needed, your body will begin converting the excess energy to fat much more quickly and cause problems with your hunger hormones leptin and ghrelin.
Menopausal Changes – When you reach menopause, your insulin sensitivity will decrease. The decrease is due to a combination of muscle loss because of less physical activity, and because estrogen helps sensitize insulin. At Elevation Fitness Centre Burleigh Heads we can will help you make lifestyle and diet changes that improve your “metabolic protection” throughout menopause.
Cortisol is commonly known as the “stress hormone.” It is released on a regular basis throughout your day, such as when you wake up, exercise, or experience acute stress. Its main role is to help your body maintain its functionary processes. However, it also plays a huge role in your nutrition. It keeps your energy balanced by selecting the right type of macronutrient (fat, protein, carbohydrate) your body needs to function.
What happens when unbalanced? – If you enter an extremely stressful situation or experience chronic stress, cortisol levels will become elevated. This will trigger an increased intake of high carbohydrate foods, resulting in excess calories and high insulin levels. This combination will create a fat gain, muscle loss, and lowered immunity.
Menopausal Changes – Since estrogen levels decrease during menopause, you may also find things causing more stress than they once did. You may also notice that physical and psychological challenges are more stressful. You can fight the effects the reduced insulin and high cortisol levels have on your stress levels with the help of the friendly staff at the best gym on the gold coast Elevation Fitness Centre. Be sure to see Ali to arrange a time to chat or any of our friendly staff on the desk during staff hours
Thyroid hormones regulate every cell and organ in your body. They are what control the speed at which your body functions – your metabolic rate. These hormones – thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3) – control your heart rate, body temperature, how quickly your body replaces dying cells, how fast your digestive tract works, and how quickly your body burns calories and gains or loses weight.
What happens when unbalanced? – Calorie restriction, over exercising, too few carbs, and changes in other hormones greatly affect your thyroid hormones. As an example, you can enter a “plateau” when trying to lose weight because your thyroid hormones are too low.
The balancing of thyroid hormones is a complicated process through which the hypothalamus tells the pituitary gland to release a thyroid stimulating hormone so that your thyroid gland will release the two thyroid hormones. T4 can be turned into T3, but if your cortisol level is too high the process is hindered and your levels of active T3 hormones becomes out of balance.
Menopausal Changes – Having too much or too little estrogen can cause your body to produce low levels of T3. Lower levels of T3 slows your metabolic rate, decreases body temperature, and cause you to become tired and less active. The right amount of lifestyle and diet change will help you manage your thyroid hormone levels.
Leptin & Ghrelin
Leptin and ghrelin and necessary hormones in appetite control. Leptin is the appetite regulating hormone released from fat cells. Ghrelin is the hormone that increases your appetite and plays a major role in body weight.
The more body fat you have, the higher your leptin levels will be and the lower your appetite. Ghrelin, on the other hand, is not affected by body fat and comes from your stomach. It is the hormone that signals hunger and activates the reward center of the brain. This means that ghrelin is also responsible for our emotional hunger that causes us to eat those high-fat, high-carbohydrate foods.
What happens when unbalanced? – These hormones do not work appropriately if you are overweight, binge eat, or are in the dieting cycle. These two hormones become unbalanced because the brain becomes resistant to leptin (the appetite suppressant) due to restrictive eating. It is important that you eat a balanced diet that includes high-quality foods.
Menopausal Changes – The lower levels of estrogen in your body effect the amount of leptin your body produces, causing a decrease in leptin levels while your ghrelin levels seem to rise. Your sensitivity to the leptin will be reduced making it more difficult to keep the hunger hormones balanced.
Diet and Lifestyle Changes that Will Balance Your Hormone Levels Through Menopause
Even though you may feel as though you are losing control as you get older, you can gain back that control. Making a few diet and lifestyle changes during your 30s will help you balance your hormone levels through menopause.
- Include Protein in Your Daily Diet
As you create your nutrition plan, by yourself or with the help of Ali who is our in house nutritionist at Elevation Fitness Centre Gold Coast gym, make sure you include plenty of protein. The protein will help regulate your appetite and maintain lean muscle. It is recommended that you eat 1.6 grams of protein for every kg (0.73 lbs.) of body weight.
- Aim for High-Quality Protein with Each Meal
You will be able to hit your protein goal, manage blood sugar, and keep insulin in check with high-quality proteins. The amino acids in proteins such as Include poultry, red meat, fish, eggs, and Greek yogurt, are used as an energy source and aids in repairing muscle tissues.
- Eat Plenty of Leafy Green and Cruciferous Vegetables
Vegetables such as leafy greens, cauliflower, and broccoli help your body metabolize estrogen. Plus, they have compounds that help your body remove chemicals that mimic estrogen or induce cancer.
- Avoid Highly Processed Carbohydrates
These foods do not add much nutritional value. Instead, aim to eat high-quality carbohydrates such as fresh fruit, whole grains, and root vegetables. Your insulin and stress levels will be kept at lower levels.
- Eat Fruits and Carbs in Moderation
It is important to eat fruits and carbohydrates, but too many can quickly increase your glucose and fructose levels causing your insulin levels to rise. You can still enjoy your berries and fruit, or that baked sweet potato after a workout, but remember to do so in moderation.
- Include High-Fiber Grains, Fruits, and/or Vegetables with Every Meal
Eating 35 – 45 grams of fiber each day will help keep your gastrointestinal (GI) tract in optimal health. Plus, keeping your fiber levels balanced aids in weight maintenance. Include foods such as broccoli, lentils, Brussels sprouts, blackberries, avocados, and oatmeal at every meal.
- Lower Your Caffeine Intake
You may enjoy your caffeine in the morning to get you going, but avoid drinking it all day. Caffeine increases your cortisol levels and increases stress levels.
- Include Apple Cider Vinegar in Your Daily Diet
Drinking a dessert spoon of apple cider vinegar before a meal with carbs will reduce your fat storage. Plus, it is also a natural insulin sensitizer. You can always mix it with a glass of water or eating it on a salad.
- Remember Strength Training
Make sure you include strength training as part of your exercise routine. It will help you maintain muscle mass and improve fat burning efforts. You can also find the improved mobility and stress reduction a great benefit.
- Manage Your Stress
Find ways to manage your stress. Doing something each day to manage your stress will help keep your cortisol levels low. You can use deep breathing exercises, or be sure to join us in one of our yoga sessions at Elevation Fitness Centre in Burleigh Heads and be sure to keep an eye on the Group Class timetable on our website.
- Don’t Let Yourself Become Deficient in any Nutrient
Low nutrient levels can cause many hormonal unbalances. Magnesium for insulin and stress management, vitamin D for bone health and hormone balance, and vitamin C for metabolizing cortisol and synthesizing hormones are three you should focus on.
- Include Supplements
There are a few supplements that can help you balance your hormones. DIM will keep estrogen levels balanced. Rhodiola rosea or holy basil will help reduce stress. Fish oil help you metabolize estrogen, keep cortisol levels low, and improves your insulin sensitivity.
Again if you are wanting more information simply drop by the desk at Elevation Fitness Centre Burleigh Heads and speak to Ali or one of the friendly staff and we are more than happy to help with information and guidance.
Ask any woman about her least favorite body part, and most of us will point to our middles. And in my experience, bellies can become especially anxiety-provoking when excess fat spills over the top of our jeans. Yes, the dreaded “muffin top.”
Any woman can get a muffin top. But women are more likely to gain excess belly weight — especially deep inside the belly — as they go through perimenopause and into menopause, when their menstrual cycle ends. That’s because as estrogen levels drop, body fat is redistributed from the hips, thighs, and buttocks (where it used to be stored as a fuel reserve for breastfeeding) to the abdomen.
Developing a pooch of subcutaneous (below the skin) fat — what I call the “menopot” — is perfectly normal. But if you gain more than 2 to 5 pounds, it’s likely to go deeper into the abdomen, creating too much visceral fat. You need some fat in your belly, but when it becomes excessive, I call it “toxic fat.” That’s because excessive amounts of visceral fat increase inflammation in the body and ultimately contribute to several conditions, including heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.
That’s the downside.
The upside is that you can do something about it. The first thing I want you to do is to whip a tape measure around your waist across your belly button. Your goal is to be well below 35 inches. If you’re 35 or greater, you have too much internal belly fat.
Next, take a look at how you eat. Remember the “big three” diet rules: Pay attention to the quality and quantity of your foods, as well as the frequency of your meals and snacks. In other words, choose whole foods (veggies, fruits, whole grains) and high-quality fats, carbs, and proteins. Eat smaller meals, more often — being especially sure to eat a healthy snack after 3 p.m., when fatigue and frustration drive many women to reach for junk food.
Finally, get moving — to truly trim your waist, you need to use both diet and exercise.
If you struggled to button your jeans this morning, gal, you are NOT alone.
Most women gain some weight during midlife – anywhere from two pounds to 15 is within “average” range, depending on whom you ask. Like most things menopause, the experience can vary widely from woman to woman, but some weight gain is common.
While it doesn’t appear that menopause itself causes weight gain, where body fat goes is impacted by the decrease in reproductive hormones. In midlife, weight is more likely to gather around the middle instead of in the hips and thighs.
Hey, wherever you wear your weight, however much weight you wear, we think you look terrific. However, because excess abdominal weight brings more risk factors, it’s our Symptom of the Month.
- Why do I suddenly have a belly?
- Why does it matter where fat lands? Metabolic syndrome and insulin resistance
- What to do about belly fat: How to lose menopause weight?
- Weight Gain: Dirty Menopausal Trick
- Weight Gain and Menopause
- Managing weight during menopause – avoiding weight gain at menopause
- How To Avoid Menopause Weight Gain, According to Experts
- Remind me again, what is menopause?
- Okay, so can menopause lead to weight gain?
- Is there any way to prevent menopause weight gain?
- Can You Lose Weight After Menopause?
- Why Menopause and Weight Gain Go Hand in Hand
- Is It Really Harder to Lose Weight After Menopause?
- Increasing Exercise May Be a Key to Success
- Lifestyle Changes for Losing Weight After Menopause
- What About Hormone Therapy for Weight Loss After Menopause?
- Why You’re Putting On Weight During Menopause and What to Do About It (Meal Plan Included)
- What is menopause?
- Perimenopause vs. menopause
- What are the symptoms of perimenopause and menopause?
- Menopause and your weight
- Get your hormones tested
- Get checked regularly and if on bio-identical hormones, adjust your hormone dosage
- How and what to eat to keep the weight off
- What I eat in a day
- Menopause and exercise
- Other ways to keep the weight off and feel balanced
- What to do when your hormone tests are normal but you’re still gaining weight and feeling terrible
- Join over 1 million fans
Why do I suddenly have a belly?
Even women who typically carry weight in their hips and thighs can find themselves gaining around the middle once they hit perimenopause.
Why there? Well, estrogen, according to Gloria Richard-Davis, MD, tells the body to deposit fat in the thighs and backside rather than around the middle. When estrogen declines, the body begins to accumulate abdominal fat.
Why does it matter where fat lands? Metabolic syndrome and insulin resistance
A larger waist circumference puts women at risk of metabolic syndrome (also known rather more dramatically as “Syndrome X”). Metabolic syndrome is a cluster of health issues that, together, significantly increase health risks.
You are said to have Metabolic Syndrome if you have three or more of the following measurements, according to the American Heart Association:
- Abdominal obesity (40+ inch waistline for men; 35+ inches for women)
- Triglyceride level of 150 milligrams per deciliter of blood (mg/dL) or greater
- HDL (“good”) cholesterol of less than 40 mg/dL in men or less than 50 mg/dL in women
- Systolic blood pressure (top number) of 130 mm Hg or greater, or diastolic blood pressure (bottom number) of 85 mm Hg or greater
- Fasting glucose of 100 mg/dL or more
According to the Mayo Clinic, metabolic syndrome, or even just one of its components (like larger waist size), can lead to increased risk of Type 2 diabetes, heart attack, and stroke.
You may also have heard the term “insulin resistance” – it’s a warning flag for heart disease, diabetes, fatty liver, vascular disease, and stroke. Increased belly fat is considered a primary risk factor for insulin resistance.
In insulin resistance, your body’s cells don’t allow the natural hormone to do its job of making glucose available for energy. When your body ignores insulin at normal levels, your pancreas has to start producing more of the hormone to compensate and continue to meet the body’s demand for energy. Blood sugar levels rise, and above a certain level, the person is said to be diabetic.
So yes, increased abdominal fat can be a real danger to your health.
What to do about belly fat: How to lose menopause weight?
Sadly, it’s difficult to impossible to lose weight from a specific area of your body. But, that doesn’t have mean the menopause belly bloat is here to stay. The best way to get rid of menopausal and postmenopausal belly fat – if you’re not genetically predisposed to lose from your belly first – is to lower body fat overall.
And the steps to lowering overall body fat and otherwise getting healthier? Yep:
- Eat well. Lots of fiber, greens, veggies. Good for you, they’ll fill you up. However, you may burn through the fruits and veggies quickly, so make sure your meals and snacks also contain protein and healthy fats. The Independent recommends soluble fiber (or fibre, in this case ?) in foods like avocados, Brussels sprouts, and flaxseeds for improved digestion and avoiding the afternoon slump.
- Hydrate. Drink water, not sugar! Not only is water good for you, it can give you some temporary feelings of fullness, which might help you reduce portion sizes in your next meal. How much water? Our PTs recommend that you calculate the water you need by dividing your body weight in half to get the number of fluid ounces: two-thirds of that should be plain, uncarbonated, unflavored, no-sugary-stuff water.
- Eat mindfully. Turn off the television, put away the smart phone, just back away from screens altogether. Sit at a table (no hunching over the kitchen sink) with an actual plate and silver (and a glass of water) and enjoy your food. Being aware of the tastes and textures, of the people you’re with, all those good things, can help you eat more slowly and feel full sooner.
- Exercise. Sitting too much can contribute to your risk of metabolic syndrome. Find that thing you’ll do – walking, biking, swimming, dancing, gardening – and do it. Lifting weights is particularly good, so do that too, if you can: you build muscle mass, which helps further reduce visceral fat.
- Sleep. I know, I know, way easier said than done, particularly at this time of life. But we know lack of sleep contributes to poor dietary choices and subsequent weight gain, so take steps to get good sleep.
- Ditch the sugar. So hard around the holidays, but an excess of sugar does you no good at all. Even the temporary lift in mood is exactly that … temporary. Sugar messes with your hormones and generally disrupts your health. If you can’t cut it out, at least cut back.
- Intermittent fasting. This is an upwardly trending technique that seems to have positive results for many women, but should be done with extreme care and previous medical consultation, if necessary.
The good news is that as little as a 5% reduction in body weight can help with insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome. Weight loss can be tough – even when just 5% is your goal – but you can do it with a few lifestyle modifications. Build some healthy routines. Stick to them until they become habit (remember how hard it used to be to remember to take your reusable grocery bags into the store with you?). Enjoy a healthier you.
Need some support? Join a group like our Midlife & Menopause Solutions group on Facebook, and we’ll be behind you all the way.
As you hit your mid-to-late 40s, you may notice that besides battling the occasional hot flash or mood swing, your favorite black go-to pants are starting to feel noticeably more snug. This time it’s not your imagination.
The average woman gains about four-and-a-half pounds as she starts the transition to menopause in her 40s, according to a landmark study. And it’s a trend that doesn’t slow down, either: Women continue to put on about a pound and a half each year in their 50s and 60s, according to a new review published in the journal Mayo Clinic Proceedings.
“The main reason is the natural loss of muscle mass that occurs with age,” explains Jo Ann Pinkerton, M.D., executive director of the North American Menopause Society and professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Virginia Health System. “Since muscle burns more calories than fat, your metabolism slows down, causing you to put on weight.” Starting at age 30, research shows that you lose on average about a half pound of muscle each year; and that number rises to almost a full pound once you hit 50.
But as you glide through the big M, you may also notice something else: Even if the number on the scale is not rising considerably, any weight you do gain ends up accumulating around your abdomen, leaving you with what sure looks like someone else’s beer belly. “After menopause, your ovaries stop producing estrogen, and the only place where it can be generated is in your abdominal fat cells,” explains Deborah Clegg, M.D., a professor of internal medicine at the Diabetes and Obesity Research Institute at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. As a result, “your body naturally gravitates towards storing fat in that area, in an effort to get estrogen,” says Clegg, who notes that the stomach’s been called “the third ovary.”
But this type of fat, known as visceral fat, is toxic. “It produces hormones such as the stress hormone cortisol as well as inflammatory proteins known as cytokines,” explains Pamela Peeke, M.D., professor of medicine at the University of Maryland and author of The Hunger Fix: The Three-Stage Detox and Recovery Plan for Overeating and Food Addiction. These chemicals force your body to churn out more insulin, which not only ramps up appetite, but also increases the storage of fat in fat cells. This, in turn, causes you to put on even more belly weight and also sets you up to develop insulin resistance, a key factor in the development of heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
Sounds daunting, but there are expert-approved ways to reverse your scale’s upward spiral. Here’s how:
Crank it up. If you’re sedentary, starting an exercise program will help you shed pounds as well as relieve menopausal symptoms such as hot flashes, according to a study published last year in the medical journal Menopause. But if you’re already active, you’ll need to crank things up a notch. The best way to do this is through a short duration of high-intensity interval training (HIIT), where you alternate brief periods of intense physical activity with more relaxed recovery periods. Obese postmenopausal women who did 10 minutes of HIIT five times a week lost twice as much weight as those who did more traditional endurance exercises, like brisk walking, according to a University of Scranton study published last October in Menopause. “This doesn’t have to be a lot — it can just be tweaking your morning walk to throw in some hills,” says Peeke.
Add in resistance training. “In order to remove weight as you get older, you have to lift weights,” stresses Peeke, who notes it’s key to reversing that metabolism-wrecking muscle loss that occurs naturally with age. A 2016 study of post-menopausal women in their late 50s and 60s found that those who did an hour of strength training twice a week for eight weeks not only significantly reduced their body fat compared to a control group, they also reported less physical pain and felt better overall. If you’re resistant to pumping iron, consider yoga. It has the same kind of weight-bearing benefits, and a 2016 German review that looked at 13 studies concluded that yoga also helps relieve menopausal symptoms, including hot flashes.
Watch what you eat. In a study of 17,000 postmenopausal women ages 50 to 79, researchers found that those who followed a low-fat diet that included five servings of fruits and veggies and six servings of whole grains were three times more likely to lose weight than those in a control group. “In general, we recommend that women going through menopause try to keep their fat intake under 20 percent, with most of it coming from good-for-you fats such as olive oil, fish or avocados,” says Pinkerton. One suggestion: Start your meal with veggies and protein and eat your starch last. This significantly reduces your body’s blood sugar and insulin levels, which will help keep you feeling fuller longer, according to a 2015 study published in the medical journal Diabetes Care.
Stop eating after 7 p.m. Research shows that intermittent or alternate day fasting, where you eat normally for a day and restrict calories dramatically the next, can work. People who slashed their calories to between 750 and 1,100 for five days a month for three months lost significantly more abdominal fat — and improved blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar levels — than those who didn’t, according to a University of Southern California study published last year. But since that’s hard to stick to, “I generally recommend that my patients only eat during a 12-hour window each day — for example, from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., and then put the kitchen on lockdown after that,” says Peeke. “They’ll get some of the health benefits of intermittent fasting without the hassle or excessive hunger.”
Get enough shut-eye. Not catching enough zzz’s doesn’t just feel awful, it leads to weight gain over time. One study showed that women who slept less than five hours a night had a 30 percent higher risk of gaining 30 pounds over a 16-year period, compared to those who got a full seven hours. “Lack of sleep causes your hunger hormones to go haywire: It lowers the levels of leptin, which suppresses appetite, and increases ghrelin, which stimulates your appetite,” says Peeke. If getting the rest you need is made challenging by, say, menopausal hot flashes, one option to consider is a short course of cognitive behavior therapy, a type of counseling where you’re taught new behavioral techniques to help promote sleep. Both menopausal and postmenopausal women who used this technique showed a significant reduction of insomnia two to three months later, according to a study published this past January in the medical journal Sleep. Hormone replacement therapy, certain antidepressants such as low-dose paroxetine (Brisdelle), venlafaxine (Effexor), or escitalopram (Lexapro), or the migraine drug gabapentin (Neurontin) are all also options to discuss with your doctor, says Pinkerton.
Weight Gain: Dirty Menopausal Trick
As if the hot flashes, mood swings, night sweats and sexual challenges weren’t enough, now you can add weight gain to the menopausal whammy.
That’s right. In case you hadn’t noticed (fat chance!), women tend to gain about 10 to 15 pounds on average—from 3 to 30 pounds is the typical range—during and after menopause. And because our entire metabolic mechanism is different now, that weight is blessedly hard to take off.
“I feel like my body has betrayed me,” said one of my patients.
“Prior to menopause I was able to maintain a weight loss of 70 pounds. I see that 25 pounds have come back and nothing I seem to do is helping,” said another woman.
Weight gain during menopause isn’t totally related to “the change.” Lifestyle, genetics, and, yes, hormonal fluctuation all play their respective roles, for better or for worse. But the weight goes on, and the way that happens is different from weight gain in previous years.
So, if you’re accustomed to losing weight easily—or not gaining it in the first place—this development may come as a puzzling and unpleasant surprise. And if you struggle with your weight, be forewarned: The deck is about to be reshuffled, and that struggle may become harder yet.
The single bright spot is that you’re in a very big boat with a lot of other menopausal gals—up to 90 percent of us gain weight during this transition, according to this article.
Menopausal weight gain is different because:
- It’s slow and steady—one or two pounds per year. Not enough to really notice, but the cumulative effect sneaks up on you.
- It accumulates attractively around the abdomen. Belly fat. The kind that’s linked to heart disease and diabetes.
- Breasts are bigger and the back is fattier. This might be nice for those of us who’ve always been lacking in that department, except that now, accompanied by a slowly enlarging belly, not to mention the back fat, the overall effect is less than flattering to our contemporary visions. And for those who were always well-endowed, well, a little (or a lot) more may simply be overkill.
- It’s hard to lose. While “hard to lose” is a functional definition of weight gain, this is different because it’s part and parcel of a more profound change in how your body processes energy.
- Body shape changes. Previously, you may have been a string bean or a curvaceous plum. Now you’re a round apple.
Why does this happen?
To effectively tackle this unsettling turn of events and to grasp why the things you did before aren’t working now, it helps to understand the underlying mechanism.
For one thing, muscle mass, which is an efficient burner of calories, slowly decreases with age. Now, even your resting metabolism (when you aren’t active) is lower. Adding insult to injury, loss of estrogen compounds this effect. Studies of lab animals suggest that estrogen has a regulating effect on appetite and weight gain. Animals with lower estrogen levels ate more and moved less.
Learn more about how to Speed Up Your Metabolism at Midlife.
When the ovaries stop producing estrogen, fat cells tend to take over. Ovaries produce estradiol, a “premium” estrogen; fat cells produce estrone, which is a weak, inefficient estrogen. This hormonal change increases the body’s efficiency at depositing fat, especially, we find, around the abdomen.
A recent study confirmed that certain proteins and enzymes that enable cells to store more fat and burn it less become more active in post-menopausal women.
“Taken together, these changes in bodily processes may be more than a little surprising—and upsetting—for women who previously had little trouble managing their weight,” comments Sylvia Santosa, assistant professor in Concordia University’s Department of Exercise Science in this article.
You got that right, sister.
Menopause packs a couple more weight-inducing changes: insomnia and stress. When you don’t sleep well (and who does, what with night sweats and cratering mood swings?), levels of ghrelin, known as the “hunger hormone,” rise and levels of the “fullness hormone” leptin drop. That’s why you get the nighttime munchies.
A study of over 1,000 volunteers (The Wisconsin Sleep Cohort Study) found that those who slept less had higher ghrelin levels and lower leptin levels—and also had a higher body mass index (BMI), i.e., they weighed more.
And we all know what stress eating does to our waistline.
Learn more about Menopause and Anxiety.
So, what’s a stressed-out, sleep-deprived, menopausal woman to do?
It’s a challenge, without doubt. However, when we understand the mechanism—what’s happening to our bodies on a biological level—then we realize that doing what we did before isn’t going to work. We need to change the paradigm if we want to control our weight and maintain a healthy, active post-menopausal lifestyle.
This paradigm shift involves a different approach to both diet (Note: I did not say dieting!) and exercise. No magic pharma pill or painless regimen. Still, we can regain control of the bathroom scales despite the slings and arrows of our slowing metabolism and estrogen-storing fat cells. And honestly, we might end up with better health habits than we ever had before.
Learn more about 7 Ridiculously Simple and Realistic Ways to Lose Weight After 50.
Barb DePree, MD, has been a gynecologist for 30 years, specializing in menopause care for the past 10. Dr. DePree was named the Certified Menopause Practitioner of the Year in 2013 by the North American Menopause Society. The award particularly recognized the outreach, communication and education she does through MiddlesexMD, a website she founded and where this blog first appeared. She also is director of the Women’s Midlife Services at Holland Hospital, Holland, Michigan.
Weight Gain and Menopause
Many women find themselves gaining weight during the menopause even if they’re eating no more calories than previously. Others notice their shape changing, especially around the waist and abdomen.
Menopause can be a positive motivator to help us make long term dietary changes.
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Managing weight during menopause – avoiding weight gain at menopause
Most of us will need to make changes in our diet and exercise habits if we are going to avoid putting on weight during the menopause. As well as changing our appearance, the fit of our clothes and the psychological impact, weight gain is also a well-documented health risk.
Menopausal weight gain is not inevitable. It can be avoided by making lifestyle adjustments to ensure that your diet is healthy and you are active and fit.
Menopause can be a positive motivator to help us make long term dietary and lifestyle changes that will not only ease the passage through menopause but also benefit our health for the rest of our lives.
Why do we gain weight at menopause?
- Primarily because we are less physically active than before. Muscle atrophies when we don’t use it and fat can increase if our energy intake exceeds our output.
- We may comfort eat as we adjust to changes taking place around us: signs of ageing, inability to sleep, our changing roles in the lives of those close to us, illness, the death of a loved one, divorce, or a combination of a lot of things.
- Our metabolism often changes at perimenopause, and our bodies appear to hold on to fat until we discover the secrets of burning off fat through exercise and eating a low-fat healthy diet.
- We may be stressed and producing excesses of the hormone cortisol which is associated with flight or fight responses. High cortisol levels often cause us to put on weight especially around our waists.
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Unrefined carbohydrates like fruit can help to stabilise blood sugar levels
How do you stop weight gain at menopause?
1) Stabilise blood sugar
When we eat too many refined carbohydrates such as white bread, mashed potatoes, sugary drinks, alcohol, cakes and biscuits, we promote an immediate blood sugar rush. The pancreas is stimulated to secrete large amounts of insulin to regulate the blood sugar. Excess blood sugar over long periods of time eventually leads to insulin resistance.
In general insulin and blood sugar levels are better regulated by a diet of unrefined whole foods that include long-acting carbohydrates such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Complex or unrefined carbohydrates are processed slowly over a longer period of time and require a small amount of insulin for metabolism. A diet high in unrefined carbohydrates helps to balance hormones and alleviate many symptoms of menopause and perimenopause as follows:
- Reduced fatigue, better quality sleep and more energy
- Better ability to sustain exercise
- Clearing of brain fog
- Better ability to build muscle
- Less hunger – ability to control portion sizes and cravings
- Less symptoms of Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS)
- Clearer skin
- Deeper, better quality sleep
- Stable moods and more optimism
2) Discover a suitable weight for yourself
Your Body Mass Index (BMI) is good way to measure your health risk. This can be measured by your doctor or at a health and fitness club. This measurement divides our weight by our height and this ratio can be used to tells us whether we are underweight, normal weight, or overweight. It is an excellent barometer for general well being.
“So glad you have an ebook. Love the friendly approach & top tips. Highly recommend!” B
3) Exercise more
Take up a physical activity that you are interested in and will enjoy. This type of exercise will not feel like a chore i.e. join a hiking/walking club in your area. Increase your daily exercise routine gently. Tweak what you are already doing to take account of the fact that you are probably less active now than 10 or 20 years ago – when you may have been running around after small children or playing more team sports.
4) Eat less and eat the right foods
We need 200 fewer Calories per day in our 50s than in our 30s or 40s. We need to eat plenty of lean protein such as chicken and fish, as well as plenty of fruit, vegetables, and whole grains. We also need to establish regular eating habits.
Avoid skipping meals as this will encourage you to hit the biscuit tin for a quick sugar fix. Aim to have at least three main meals and possibly two small snacks throughout the day. Most perimenopausal women do best when they keep their blood sugar stable throughout the day by eating frequent, smaller meals. It is often advisable to have a protein snack such as a handful of almonds at 4 PM as this is a time when blood sugar often drops and our mood changes leading to possible over eating and cravings.
Focus on portion size. If you cup your two hands together this will show you the size of your stomach capacity. Limit your intake to no more than that at each meal or snack. Use a small plate or bowl for your meals, as you will feel more satisfied with less food.
Eat protein with each meal. This means eating lean meat, fish, eggs, dairy or vegetarian alternatives such as tofu, soybeans or tempeh. Limit beans, although they are a good source of protein, as they are high in carbohydrate.
Reduce refined carbohydrates and sugar including alcohol.
If you feel you are putting on a lot of weight for no obvious reason, you may need to have your thyroid checked – consult your GP in this instance.
I have just watched a video with Dr Josh Axe on fat burning foods I think it’s worth a look. His 5 fat burning foods are:
- Coconut OIl
- Broth – stock meat bones which add collagen to our diet
- Chia seeds and Flaxseeds. (I have heard that sesame seeds and avocado do a similar fat burning job.)
- Leafy greens especially Kale and parsley
- Lean protein with every meal – he says to make sure your meat and dairy is organic and he also recommends kefir which I’m a big fan of too.
How To Avoid Menopause Weight Gain, According to Experts
Unless you’ve never experienced the horror that is hormonal acne or fits of rage around that time of the month, you know that, as a woman, hormones can take quite a toll on you—and that rings especially true once you hit menopause.
While, yes, menopause isn’t all bad (hi, no more spending money on tampons or remembering birth control), the side effects, like hot flashes and mood swings, aren’t exactly a welcome development. Another not-so-great side effect? Weight gain.
That’s right, going through the change can make your body put on some extra pounds—but why, and is there any way to make sure you maintain a weight you’re comfortable with once you hit menopause? Health spoke to experts to find out what you need to know about menopause weight gain, and which changes to your diet can benefit you during this transitional phase.
RELATED: 5 Things You Need to Know About Menopause
Remind me again, what is menopause?
Technically, menopause is a point in time, marking 12 months since your last period. So, when people say they’re “going through menopause,” that means they haven’t actually hit menopause yet—they’re actually experiencing perimenopause, or the lead-up to menopause.
That also means women experience the majority of their symptoms (again, hot flashes, mood swings, etc.) during perimenopause, which can last, on average, for four years. (Remember: You may be having irregular periods during this time.)
Okay, so can menopause lead to weight gain?
Margaret Nachtigall, MD, an ob-gyn at NYU Langone, tells Health that decreasing estrogen levels play a role. ” estrogen levels are low to almost nothing” once you hit menopause, she says. And there’s some research to back this up: According to a 2014 review in the journal BioMed Research International, a decrease in estrogen has been linked to a less active metabolism.
However, lifestyle changes (and aging in general) can also cause weight gain around the time of menopause, suggests Julian Peskin, MD, an ob-gyn at Cleveland Clinic. The North American Menopause Society (NAMS) echoes this sentiment, adding that lean body mass decreases with age while body fat accumulates throughout adulthood. Because of that, Dr. Nachtigall says, if you maintain the habits you had before hitting menopause, you’ll likely notice a change in your body.
Weight gain aside, menopause may also cause a woman’s body to redistribute its fat, says Dr. Peskin. “That distribution changes. That’s why women tend to gain weight around their belly,” he says. According to the NAMS, this transition from a pear shape to an apple shape is associated with an increased amount of fat around the abdomen around the time menopause hits. More research needs to be done to figure out exactly why this is, the society says.
RELATED: Can You Get Pregnant After Menopause? The Answer May Surprise You
Is there any way to prevent menopause weight gain?
If a few extra pounds due to menopause makes you feel uncomfortable, following a few simple rules can keep you fit, says Keri Gans, RDN, a New York-based nutritionist.
Remember, though: Few diet and exercise tips are one-size-fits-all, and these are no exception to that rule. What works for most women might not work for you, and if you’re struggling to maintain your weight post-menopause, you might want to consider speaking with a nutritionist about the best options for your goals.
1. Focus on your muscles.
“As age, they start to lose muscle mass. They don’t burn as many calories as they might have before,” says Gans. It’s important to make sure you’re getting enough protein after you hit menopause, since protein helps you maintain muscle mass. What does this mean for your day-to-day life? “Making sure have adequate protein in diet at every meal,” says Gans.
That also means adding a few more weight-training days to your workouts too, in addition to your favorite cardio exercises.
2. Cut a few calories—but no more than 500 a day.
Because you’re not burning as many calories as you used to, you can start cutting back on extra calories, where you see fit. It’s not about being drastic, but being mindful. Cutting back on calories for you, for example, might mean eliminating that second glass of wine every night or substituting one snack each day for low-cal fruit or veggies. “I still feel that a woman can eat whatever food she enjoys eating. But be mindful,” says Gans.
3. Add an extra workout day to your schedule.
If you do cardio three days a week, try adding a strength-training or weight-lifting session to your weekly mix—not just to help pump your muscles but to add a few more calorie-burning minutes to your schedule. “As you age, you might want to add an extra day if you can, if you can find the time,” says Gans. “Be a little bit more active. Definitely, once you hit menopause, you’ve got to be mindful. It makes it harder, but it doesn’t mean we should give up.”
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Can You Lose Weight After Menopause?
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You’ve likely heard your whole life that weight loss becomes harder the older you get. There is some truth to that, of course. The metabolism of an average 25-year-old is typically higher than that of a 55-year-old. Likewise, a 30-year-old may be able to exercise longer (and thus burn more calories) than a 60-year-old.
Couple physical changes from aging with the hormonal changes brought about by menopause, and it may seem that losing weight after menopause feels really hard for most women.
“Weight gain is a problem for many women, despite maintaining the same diet and exercise routines that they’ve had for years,” says JoAnn Pinkerton, M.D., executive director of the North American Menopause Society. “Even if the number on the scale doesn’t change, women complain of a shift in fat to the midsection after menopause.”
Sound familiar? You’re not alone.
Here, how to help your body adjust to changes brought about by menopause so that you can keep weight off and maybe lose a few pounds too.
Related: Foods to Help Manage Menopause
Why Menopause and Weight Gain Go Hand in Hand
Most women will gain about five pounds during the menopausal transition, Pinkerton says. While it might not seem like a lot, these five pounds may be compounded by a future weight gain or previous weight gain you’ve been trying to lose.
However, most of these causes are related to aging, not menopause. It just so happens these events all occur at the same time. That’s why menopause often gets the blame.
Here are some factors that contribute to weight gain during midlife and menopause.
Body mass changes
Your lean body mass decreases with age-this is true in men and women-as a result of changes in hormones. That leaves your body without the highly efficient calorie-burning engine of your younger years. “Because we lose muscle mass with age, we burn fewer calories at rest and also when we exercise,” Pinkerton says.
The metabolism slows
Midlife brings a slower metabolism, which means your resting energy usage slips. In other words, the number of calories you burn just while resting is lower postmenopause than before. “Changes in metabolism after menopause make it more difficult than before menopause to lose weight,” says Nieca Goldberg, M.D., medical director of the Joan H. Tisch Center for Women’s Health at NYU Langone Health.
Related: 4 Easy Ways to Boost Metabolism
Lower levels of estrogen equal higher levels of insulin
Insulin is your body’s fat-storing hormone. The more insulin you have, the more fat your body retains. Estrogen helps combat spikes in insulin, but when estrogen levels fall, such as before and during menopause, your body has fewer resources to prevent the surge in insulin. The higher levels of insulin can lead to greater fat retention.
Related: Prediabetes Symptoms-and How to Know If You’re at Risk
Menopause symptoms worsen weight problems
“During the menopause transition, night sweats, sleep disturbances and problems with mood are common and may affect a woman’s ability to adhere to a healthy diet and regular exercise program,” Pinkerton says. “Whether you are just trying to stay awake or combat a low mood, the candy bar (instead of an apple or a bag of carrots) may seem like a great energy booster.”
Similarly, she says, an exercise class may be a bit too daunting after a night of not sleeping well. The combination of poor food choices and lack of movement can lead to a gain around your midsection.
Related: A Natural Solution for Hot Flashes
Medications can lead to weight gain
Medications like antidepressants, which are commonly prescribed to midlife women according to Pinkerton, can also promote weight gain.
Related: How to Reduce Anxiety: Best Science-Backed Foods and Tips
Is It Really Harder to Lose Weight After Menopause?
Featured Recipe: Black Bean-Quinoa Buddha Bowl
Yes and no. It’s possible to lose weight after menopause, but the same tried-and-true techniques of your younger years may no longer work.
“The reality is that weight gain during midlife is common, and about two-thirds of women ages 40 to 59 and nearly three-quarters of women older than 60 are overweight,” Pinkerton says. “On average, midlife women gain 1.5 pounds per year. Although this may not sound like much, it adds up over time.”
To lose weight postmenopause, you’ll have to eat even fewer calories because your baseline calorie burn has shifted down.
Related: 7-Day Diet Meal Plan to Lose Weight: 1,200 Calories
“Postmenopausal women often eat as many calories as when they were younger, as they have long-standing habits that are harder to break,” says Julie Upton, M.S., R.D., C.S.S.D. “If post-menopausal women cut back on calories and up the intensity of their exercise, they lose weight and tone up, just like younger women. It may be a bit slower, but it happens. It requires long-term adherence as well.”
Pinkerton suggests aiming for a 400- to 600-calorie daily deficit. However, she adds, that calorie-cutting likely isn’t enough to help you see the results you want.
You may also have to increase how much you move. “It’s important for midlife women to understand that the rules change in terms of what it will take not only to avoid weight gain but also to lose weight as we get older,” Pinkerton says. “A daily caloric deficit, regular physical activity, low fat intake, consumption of fruits and vegetables, and ongoing behavior support all have been associated with sustained weight loss.”
Keep Reading: Healthy Aging Quick Tips
Increasing Exercise May Be a Key to Success
The old adage of eat less and move more certainly applies to weight loss after menopause, but the ratios may have to shift to see results.
“Cutting calories is necessary for weight loss, but increasing exercise will help sustain weight loss, prevent weight gain and lead to favorable changes in body composition,” Pinkerton says. “The general recommendation is 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise most days per week.”
You don’t have to get that all in one session each day, she adds. You can divide it up over two 15-minute high-powered sessions if that helps fit it into your day more easily.
Related: 6 Ways to Exercise Without Even Knowing It
Muscle is your body’s energy driver. The more you have, the more energy (calories) you burn, even when you’re at rest.
“Starting around age 40, we lose 10 to 15 percent muscle mass and strength every decade,” Upton says. “It pays to work out to keep your muscles strong and functional.”
Traditional strength training will work, but you might try resistance training if you’re looking for something different. Research suggests it may be more efficient at eliminating abdominal fat. Specifically, this recent study showed, repetition with heavier weights does a better job of eliminating belly fat than repetitions with lower weights.
High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)
One study found that women who followed HIIT workouts lost twice as much weight and improved their body composition more than endurance exercisers. A second study found that HIIT-style exercise training can reduce abdominal fat.
“Bump up the intensity of your aerobic exercise, slowly at first, until you get in better cardio shape,” Upton says. “Think about trying high-intensity functional fitness like CrossFit or a boot camp-style workout.”
Related: How to Lose Belly Fat Fast
Featured Recipe: Fruit, Veggie & Cheese Plate
Lifestyle Changes for Losing Weight After Menopause
Eat less sugar and white flour
White sugar and white flour are two of the biggest food culprits for insulin-level spikes. If you reduce or eliminate them, you may be able to more easily lose weight after menopause and prevent fat storage around the abdomen.
“Eating a diet high in simple carbohydrates-sugar and white-flour foods-leads to weight gain,” Goldberg says. “Also, remember that alcohol is sugar and leads to weight gain.” Instead of a bagel for breakfast, she suggests oatmeal and berries. Instead of a grilled chicken sandwich, move that protein to a bed of greens for a salad.
Related: No-Sugar-Added 1-Day Meal Plan
Eat more fruits and vegetables
In a four-year study, researchers found that women who ate more fruits and vegetables and fewer sweetened drinks and desserts lost more weight than women who didn’t make those dietary changes.
“After the age of 50, our need for energy-calories-decreases, but we still need the vitamins, minerals and fibers from foods,” Upton says. “Make your choices count by selecting nutrient-rich foods.”
Case in point: a recent study found that eating more fruits and vegetables may reduce your risk for postmenopausal osteoporosis.
Related: How to Eat More Fruits & Vegetables
Eat more protein
You may associate protein with muscle building, but Upton says we need more protein as we get older for other reasons, including staving off hunger.
“It is best for our muscles-and to keep hunger in check-if we spread protein throughout the day,” she says. “Aim for 20 to 30 grams of protein at every meal.”
Try These: Healthy High-Protein Recipes
Featured Recipe: Blueberry Almond Chia Pudding
What About Hormone Therapy for Weight Loss After Menopause?
Many women begin some form of hormone therapy as they near menopause. This treatment helps ease symptoms and transition you more naturally into lower levels of hormones. In addition, some women see weight-loss benefits from hormone therapy.
“Although estrogen used for management of menopause symptoms is not a weight-loss drug, it improves body composition by reducing abdominal fat,” Pinkerton says. “Hormone therapy also significantly reduces the diagnosis of new-onset type 2 diabetes mellitus, but it is not U.S. government-approved for this purpose.”
For typical menopause symptoms, including night sweats, sleep disruption and hot flashes, the benefits may far outweigh the risks associated with this treatment, Pinkerton says. Lower doses or newer therapy options may be recommended, so talk with your doctor.
Watch: Eat a Mediterranean Diet to Help Reduce Hot Flashes
6 Remedies for Sleep Problems-Do They Work?
Healthy Fruit Salad Recipes
Healthy Low-Carb Recipes
Whether you’re currently going through the big M or have already gotten past it, you may have noticed that losing weight is more difficult—and “it’s not just in your head,” says Amanda Horton, MD, an OB-GYN at Johns Hopkins Medicine. “It really is harder to lose weight .”
Indeed, women gain, on average, 1.5 pounds per year in their 50s and 60s, notes Dr. Horton. That’s because low estrogen levels during menopause can alter the balance of leptin and ghrelin levels—the hormones responsible for managing hunger—and increase appetite. Thyroid issues, stress, sleep problems, and certain medications can also contribute to weight gain.
“All the things that lead to weight gain also make it difficult to lose weight. But we do know it’s possible. It just requires continued effort,” says William Yancy, MD, program director for Duke Diet and Fitness Center.
Women who are going through menopause also tend to store more belly fat and lose muscle mass. “Despite following the same diet and exercise routines they’ve had for years, they still gain weight. If you decrease muscle mass, you burn fewer calories at rest,” Dr. Horton explains.
That said, there are things you can do to help you lose weight post-menopause and offset the symptoms of lower estrogen levels. Keep reading to learn how.
Try interval training
When it comes losing weight through exercise, cardio workouts are still the gold standard. But high-intensity interval training (HIIT) has been shown to be more effective for burning fat and building muscle than low-intensity, steady-state (LISS) cardio.
“Some studies suggest that HIIT can improve overall strength and increase endurance, especially in those 65 and older,” says Liana Tobin, CSCS, personal trainer coordinator for the National Strength and Conditioning Association. “For muscle mass, a combination of HIIT and strength training would likely yield the best results.”
Both Dr. Horton and Dr. Yancy recommend working out at least 30 minutes per day, five days per week—but if you’re doing intense workouts that leave you breathless, you should aim for three 20-minute sessions per week.
Try this 15-minute total-body walking workout you can do at home:
Low estrogen levels during menopause makes it harder to build muscle. To give your metabolism a boost and prevent muscle loss, consider lifting weights more often. Because muscles are metabolically active, they burn more calories than fat. Research has shown that women lose about 10 to 15 percent of their strength every decade in middle age. “Physical inactivity, reduced protein intake, and stress are the most significant reasons for declining muscle mass during this period,” says Tobin.
Aim to do two to three full-body strength training workouts per week. Not sure where to start? Tobin recommends three different types of strength training: hypertrophy training (doing three sets of 10 reps of total-body exercises like weighted squats, bench press, and deadlifts); strength training (five sets of three to four reps of similar exercises at a heavier weight); and power training (three to four sets of three to four reps of max-intensity exercises, like box jumps, squat jumps, or medicine ball throws).
If you’re trying to lose weight, loading up on fiber and protein helps you feel fuller longer, warding off cravings. Protein also helps preserve muscle mass with age. Because our bodies can’t store protein, you need to eat it with every meal. Karen Ansel, RD, author of Healing Superfoods for Anti-Aging recommends consuming a moderate 20 and 25 grams of protein per meal. Try these high-protein meal prep ideas to get your daily fill of this important macronutrient.
Watch your calories
Since your metabolic rate declines with age, Dr. Horton says women need to consume, on average, 200 calories fewer than they did before menopause. “We know that exercise alone will not lead to substantial weight loss, and cutting calories is definitely necessary,” she says.
Just keep in mind that cutting calories drastically can backfire. “Eventually your metabolism will slow down in an effort to preserve resources,” says Ansel. If you’re not sure how many calories you need to maintain or lose weight, consult a dietitian to help you find the right eating plan that meets your nutritional needs.
“As we get older our sense of thirst becomes less precise, so it can be easy to forget to drink enough water, which is a natural appetite suppressant,” says Ansel. If you’re not drinking as much as you used to, smartphone apps can help you track your fluid intake so you don’t forget to stay hydrated—which for most of us means about six to eight cups of water per day, or more if you’re working out. Invest in an insulated water bottle to fill up on H2O throughout the day.
Load up on greens
Eating plenty of fruits and vegetables can help you manage your menopausal symptoms, Ansel says. “Research suggests that women who eat more of them have fewer menopausal symptoms such as hot flashes and night sweats,” she says. Eating more greens will also help you get the recommended 25 to 30 grams of fiber a day. “Not only does fiber keep you full by taking up room in your gut, it fuels the growth of good gut bacteria that send satiety signals to your brain. Essentially it’s nature’s appetite suppressant,” says Ansel.
Manage mood swings
During menopause, up to 20 percent of women suffer from depression, research suggests. And numerous studies have linked obesity with depression. “It’s not uncommon for people to deal with emotional issues by eating, and they often gravitate toward higher-calorie foods. It’s a problem for a lot of my patients,” says Dr. Yancy.
If your moods are messing with your appetite or exercise routines, seek help from your doctor or a therapist. Cognitive behavioral therapy can help with emotional eating as well as depression.
The bottom line: Losing weight after menopause is possible—it just takes more effort. Eating a healthy diet and exercising regularly will help keep your fat-burning engines humming. And by addressing health issues that may affect your ability to lose weight, you can adjust your lifestyle accordingly to fit your needs.
Colleen de Bellefonds Colleen de Bellefonds is an American freelance journalist living in Paris, France, with her husband and dog, Mochi.
Why You’re Putting On Weight During Menopause and What to Do About It (Meal Plan Included)
- You’ve entered menopause when you haven’t had a period for an entire year, or 12 consecutive months.
- When you’re in your early to mid-forties, you might start noticing signs of perimenopause — the period of transition before menopause.
- Menopause can be a tough time for many women, and symptoms include weight gain, night sweats, and depression.
- Along with getting your estrogen and progesterone levels checked, you also want to test for testosterone and your thyroid hormones — both help to regulate weight.
- Intermittent fasting — when you cycle in and out of periods of eating and not eating — is a great way to manage your weight.
- Exercise balances your hormones but it’s better to do more gentle workouts like walking, biking, and yoga.
People like to say that 50 is the new 40. But if you’ve recently entered menopause, you might not be feeling as sprightly as you once did. Along with the hot flashes and dry skin, you’re struggling to keep the weight off. You’re doing everything the same — eating a high-fat, low-carb diet and working out like you always have. And yet the number on the scale keeps climbing. Why is that? Find out why weight is an issue for women past 50, and how you can manage your hormones and your diet to stay at a healthy weight during this new phase of your life.
RELATED: Discover more about the best foods for energy and weight loss with the Bulletproof Diet Roadmap
What is menopause?
You’ve entered menopause when you haven’t had a period for an entire year, or 12 consecutive months, because your ovaries no longer release eggs. Menopause is also the result of oophorectomy (when your ovaries are removed). If you have a hysterectomy, and your ovaries are removed at the same time, you’ll also enter menopause.
On average, American women start menopause between 48 and 51 years of age.
But before you enter menopause, you go through perimenopause. More on perimenopause later. Both menopause and perimenopause can be a really tough time for a lot of women. In the UK, the NHS (National Health Service) has created a whole new institute to address perimenopausal and menopausal health issues, because they recognize this time of life can bring significant health challenges for many women.
Perimenopause vs. menopause
Perimenopause is different from menopause for two reasons:
- You still have your periods, and therefore, you can still get pregnant.
- Your hormones are fluctuating — sometimes wildly.
During this time your periods may be regular, or irregular. Perimenopause lasts anywhere between 3 and 15 years. Seven to eight years is the average in North America. The average age of onset is 45, but I’ve had clients as young as 38 experiencing perimenopausal symptoms.
What are the symptoms of perimenopause and menopause?
During perimenopause, your body starts to produce less of the hormones estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone. It also starts producing higher levels of the reproductive hormones FSH and LH. These hormonal changes can cause:
- Hot flashes (a sudden feeling of intense heat)
- Weight gain
- Dry skin
- Night sweats
- Vaginal dryness (due to decreased local estrogen)
- Lower sex drive (primarily due to lower testosterone)
- Hair loss
- Mood swings
- Smaller, more tender breasts
Once you are fully in menopause, most of these symptoms have decreased, and some have disappeared completely. This is because your hormones are in steady decline, or have stabilized.
Menopause and your weight
It’s very normal for you to gain up to 10 pounds during perimenopause/menopause. In fact, it’s healthy and protective — if you get sick, it gives you some extra reserve. As your ovaries start down-regulating estrogen, your fat tissue up-regulates it.
But putting on significant weight during menopause is often a sign of excessive estrogen in relation to progesterone. These hormones need to be balanced –“normal” estrogen in relation to “low progesterone” can cause a whole host of issues.
I recommend two strategies to manage your weight — one, you need to get your hormones checked (you may be surprised which ones) and two, tweak your diet and workout routine. Read on to find out how.
Get your hormones tested
During perimenopause your estrogen and progesterone fluctuate, but over time they steadily decline. In menopause, they’ve dropped significantly and have stabilized.
But did you know that your ovaries also make testosterone, aka the male sex hormone? So when estrogen and progesterone decline, so too do your testosterone levels. Low testosterone can affect your libido and leave you feeling fatigued and depressed. It can also contribute to hair loss and drier skin.
So along with getting your estrogen and progesterone levels checked, you want to test for testosterone and your thyroid hormones — both help to regulate weight. When testing for thyroid hormones, make sure you get a complete thyroid panel: TSH, T3, T4, and thyroid antibodies. Checking only TSH, which is the standard in the US, is not enough.
After I check my clients’ hormone levels, I often suggest small doses of testosterone and thyroid hormones, and the results can be dramatic.
Get checked regularly and if on bio-identical hormones, adjust your hormone dosage
Keep in mind that perimenopause in particular is a process, and your hormones and how you feel change every few months. It’s normal and natural, so try not to get too frustrated when something was working and now it doesn’t anymore. If you’re gaining weight again or not feeling your best, I suggest seeing your doctor every 3 to 6 months to run hormonal tests (including thyroid).
Menopause, and especially perimenopause, is unpredictable — you might feel great all week, then all of a sudden, without having done anything differently, you’re bloated and feel like getting out of bed is akin to running a marathon, on crutches!
Your tolerance to stress can suddenly decrease, and things that you took in your stride can now cause anxiety or frustration. This can leave you (and your family) wondering if you’re going crazy. That’s par for the course, and is a sign that your hormones have started shifting again.
Sometimes symptoms appear, last for a while, and then disappear, for no apparent reason. That’s why it’s important to monitor your hormones on a regular basis, and adjust the program.
How and what to eat to keep the weight off
If you’re already following the Bulletproof Diet and filling up on healthy fats, nutrient-dense vegetables, and high-quality proteins, you’re doing well. But when your hormones start changing, you may need to do more than just eat healthfully to stay at your desired weight. Here are my suggestions on how to modify your diet to keep your weight steady and leave you feeling good:
Practice intermittent fasting
Intermittent fasting — when you extend the time between two of your three daily meals — is a great way to manage your weight. Fasting diminishes your body’s glucose reserves — its primary energy source from food. Without glucose, your body switches over to burning fat for fuel. Intermittent fasting carries all kinds of other benefits:
- Increases energy
- Promotes cellular repair
- Helps you live longer
- Improves memory
- Reduces insulin resistance
- Builds resilience, both physical and mental
There are different types of intermittent fasting. I recommend eating all your daily calories within a shortened period of between 8 and 10 hours, primarily during the afternoon and early evening. Fasting too much can be taxing for women, which is why I suggest doing it 4 or 5 days of the week. On days you don’t fast, add collagen to your Bulletproof Coffee, or eat breakfast. Find out everything you need to know about intermittent fasting here.
Bulletproof Coffee is a meal on its own. If you’re eating breakfast, such as bacon, eggs, and toast, and then add a full cup of BP coffee on top of that, you’ve essentially eaten two breakfasts. On days I eat breakfast, I drink my coffee black.
Eat collagen every day
You want to eat 3 scoops of collagen protein powder (aka collagen peptides) each day. Collagen keeps your skin smooth and plump, and your hair and nails strong. This becomes even more important as you get older. You can learn more here about why your skin needs collagen to stay young.
Try not to eat between meals. When you snack, your body releases insulin, a hormone that carries sugar to your cells to be used as energy. If you don’t eat for a few hours, your body switches from burning sugar to burning fat from your fat stores. Snacking also adds extra calories to your day that you don’t need. Rather, focus on nutritious meals with lots of vegetables, healthy fats, and a moderate amount of protein, which will keep you full for longer.
Eat some carbs
I tell my clients to make sure they get carbs like sweet potatoes, white rice, squash, and fruit to curb any cravings. You can have up to1/3 -1/2 cup with lunch and dinner.
Switch from a big plate to a small plate
You don’t need as much food as you think. But habits that are 20 to 30 years in the making will keep you loading your plate as if you were in your twenties. As you get older, your metabolism slows down, and you need to eat less to maintain your weight. A smaller dish will give you the same feeling of satisfaction, but you’ll consume one-third less than you usually would.
Cut down on protein
Most people eat way too much protein. You need mostly vegetables (fresh and organic whenever possible), a good amount of fats, and a small amount of protein a day. You don’t need to eat a 10-ounce piece of fish, or a whole can of sardines. Whatever protein you don’t metabolize gets converted into fat.
Four ounces of meat with one or two meals a day is really all you need. You can even have protein-free days. Just keep those vegetables and fats on the menu.
What I eat in a day
When I was 44, (and after two babies), I could still fit in the same jeans that I wore when I was 20. I was one of those lucky women that could eat whatever they wanted and not gain weight. Needless to say, I didn’t appreciate it at the time. I simply assumed this was how my metabolism was wired, and it would continue into old age. If only!
The day I turned 45, perimenopause started with a vengeance — hot flashes, sweats, nausea, and mood swings. And after 3 months of this, I couldn’t fit into those jeans to save my life.
In the first 6 months, not only did I feel like I was perpetually morning sick, I also gained 10 pounds. That amazing “metabolism”, which had kept me slim for 30 years, was broken. My hormones were all over the place, and I realized that it was time to make some serious changes. Here’s what I eat in a day, to give you some ideas:
I fast most mornings. When I wake up, I have a big glass of water to hydrate with a pinch of Himalayan sea salt and half a freshly squeezed lemon (you can learn more about how much salt you should eat here). This is an Ayurvedic tradition going back thousands of years. I then have a cup of green tea and a small cup of Bulletproof Coffee (if you don’t drink coffee, you can make a Bulletproof Matcha.)
Around 10am, I have another big cup of green tea. I don’t eat lunch till about 1pm. In case you wonder if you can exercise on this “empty stomach”, yes, you can. I do yoga, bike ride, swim, and hike. Hydration is key.
Having said that, if you feel dizzy or nauseous, eat something. It can take up to 2 months before your body is accustomed to intermittent fasting, and has built up enough resilience to accommodate exercise in the morning.
My meal is usually two-thirds vegetables — a fresh green salad or steamed vegetables. I typically have some carbs, but not a lot, perhaps 1/3 of a cup of butternut squash, sweet potato, or white rice. If I don’t have any carbs or starches, then around 4pm I feel a little tired. That’s only begun in perimenopause.
If I’m going to be exercising in the afternoon, and feel this energy dip, I eat a handful of nuts (pili nuts are my favorite, followed by macadamia and walnuts). l also have some protein with lunch — a small serving (4 or 5 ounces) of grass-fed meat or fish.
I make sure to get plenty of healthy fats into the meal — I usually mix Brain Octane Oil and grass-fed butter into the vegetables.
More or less the same thing as lunch — mostly vegetables, some starch, and a little bit of fat and protein, like raw cheese or yoghurt. I’ll follow the meal with fruit maybe three times a week with whatever’s in season.
I do still eat dessert on a regular basis, but since I entered perimenopause, it’s once a week, instead of 3 to 4 times per week. This does help to maintain my weight. If we go out for dinner, I’ll enjoy a nice sorbet if they have it, or a cup of mint tea with a dash of honey.
I sometimes drink a small black decaf coffee in the evenings, with one or two small squares of dark chocolate. That’s before 7:30pm though, because even decaf coffee has caffeine, and so does dark chocolate. You don’t want your treat to keep you up at night! I don’t consider dark chocolate dessert — it’s jam-packed with antioxidants and polyphenols, and it’s a mood-booster. However, if you eat half the bar or the whole bar, then you’ll gain weight.
A note on when to eat: We’re programmed by sunshine and daylight, so you should try to eat dinner before it gets dark. In winter, that can be challenging, especially if you live in a place where it gets dark in the late afternoon. In that case, try to eat within an hour of sunset — so in winter, we eat at 6pm. In the summer, you can eat around 7pm. Try to have dinner 3 hours before you go to bed.
Related: The Bulletproof Diet for Women: The Top 5 Food Hacks to Kick Even More Butt
Menopause and exercise
Exercise is good no matter how old you are — it balances your hormones and reduces stress by lowering cortisol levels. However, it can be a pretty rough and tiring time for the female body when hormones start to fluctuate, so it’s better to do more moderate exercise, like swimming, yoga, hiking, pilates, or weightlifting.
I generally don’t recommend very rigorous exercise, like 45 minutes of weightlifting followed by an hour on the treadmill at high speed, unless you’ve done it your whole life and still feel great doing it.
And as your hormones decline, your ligaments get looser, including the ligaments around your uterus. Some women notice mild urinary incontinence (when coughing, sneezing, jumping). It’s important to do exercises to keep your pelvic floor strong, and also to avoid high impact exercise that can over-stretch or wear out your pelvic ligaments.
These are general recommendations. I know there are women out there who continue with marathons, triathlons, endurance sports, and high impact exercise in their fifties and beyond and feel fantastic. We are all individuals. One size does not fit all. So keep active and listen to your body.
Your body also needs fats, amino acids, and energy to build hormones and repair itself. If you are constantly using that energy and those building blocks to exercise rigorously many times a week, your body will allocate it to the “exercise account” and take it out of the “hormone and repair” account. To your body, running on a treadmill at high speed for an hour is the same as running away from a tiger that wants to eat you — it creates stress.
You do need to get your heart rate up, break some sweat, challenge yourself, and use weights to strengthen muscles and joints. An afternoon of paddle boarding, for instance, will not put too much stress on your joints, but it will definitely give you a good workout. Or hiking for 2 to 3 hours in mixed terrain, with enough uphill.
I also recommend HIIT (high intensity interval training) — short (20 to 60 seconds) bursts of high intensity (sprinting, spinning, doing burpees), alternating with lower impact exercise, such as jogging, or jogging in place, or even walking fast.
Make sure you’re in reasonable shape before you try HIIT. Start out with 3 months of light to moderate exercise like walking, jogging, swimming, and weightlifting.
This is important because your ligaments take 2 to 3 months to get into shape and become strong, unlike muscles, which take only about 2 to 3 weeks. A ligament injury is painful and can take months to heal.
Other ways to keep the weight off and feel balanced
Track your menstrual cycle
When you’re in perimenopause, your periods may start to become irregular. Even if you don’t get a period for 3 or 4 months, monitoring how you feel — both mentally and physically — during this irregular “cycle” can be helpful. You might be able to identify some patterns, so you can adjust what you eat or how you exercise depending on how you’re feeling.
For instance, when it’s ovulation time, you might be more bloated and feel more irritable. Give yourself a bit of space and prioritize sleep. You can track your cycle using the MyFLO or Period Calendar apps.
Related: Cycle Syncing: How to Hack Your Menstrual Cycle to Do Everything Better
Stress can throw your hormones out of whack, so learning to manage stress is one of the best ways to keep you feeling balanced and in charge. There’s a lot you can do to calm your nervous system, including:
- Massage with or diffuse essential oils like lavender, rose, or ylang ylang.
- Get acupuncture (you can search for a qualified person in your area on acufinder.com).
- Take a magnesium supplement or soak a couple of times a week in an epsom salt bath.
- Meditate every day, even if it’s just for 5 minutes.
- Use a float tank once a week.
Get more sleep
A good night’s sleep helps to regulate your hormones. When you don’t sleep well, your body produces more of the stress hormone cortisol, and too much cortisol can cause weight gain. If sleep is an issue — which it is for a lot of women during menopause — talk to your functional medicine doctor or acupuncturist. Read more about how to hack your sleep here.
What to do when your hormone tests are normal but you’re still gaining weight and feeling terrible
It can be frustrating when your hormone levels come back as “normal” but you’re still putting on weight, getting hot flushes every hour, and waking up at 3am drenched in sweat. This happened to me. I had terrible insomnia and hot flashes, even though all my tests were textbook normal. And my periods were like clockwork, every 28 days!
My family doctor said he couldn’t understand why I was having all these symptoms because my estrogen and progesterone levels were “perfectly normal” and my FSH and LH were not elevated at all. With these levels, I should have been sleeping like a baby, with not a hot flush in sight.
This was confusing, both to him and me, so I went and did my own research. And I discovered information I had never learned in medical school. Namely, it’s not just the hormone levels that matter and cause perimenopausal and menopausal symptoms.
Your hormone receptors — special proteins on or within a cell — become less sensitive as you age. Hormones like estrogen and progesterone attach to hormone receptors, triggering changes within a cell.
Sometimes it might look like you have enough of certain hormones, but you don’t. Rather, your hormones aren’t binding effectively with the receptor, or releasing the hormone too soon, which means your cells aren’t receiving the information they need to keep you feeling balanced. As far as I’ve been able to find, there are no readily available tests to measure hormone receptor sensitivity, other than in breast cancer tissue.
So what should you do? Regular exercise, enough sleep, no sugar, and managing your stress can help make your receptors more sensitive to passing hormones.
Also keep in mind that even if your hormone tests do come back normal, “normal” is a range based on lab results taken from tens of thousands of individual patients. What may be a sufficient estrogen level for your best friend, may not be optimal for you.
This is where an experienced functional medicine doctor comes in. They understand that your “optimal level” may be above what’s “normal” or in the “higher range of normal”.
In my case, my doctor suggested a very low dose of additional testosterone, thyroid, and progesterone, as well as local (vaginal) estrogen. And these very small doses were just enough to help me feel much better, but not enough to cause side effects. These were all bio-identical compounded hormones, and used for a shorter period of time (1 or 3 years). This type of mild HRT is generally considered very safe.
I also have clients who have opted for acupuncture, herbs, traditional Chinese medicine, Ayurveda, ice baths, and chi gong, to name a few. Though sometimes challenging, this is a fascinating time in our lives as women, and when managed well, can lead to a place of resilience, glowing health, and more peace of mind.
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