Explaining Menopause and Weight Gain — and How to Stop It
Whether you’re just noticing the first signs of menopause or you’ve been struggling with symptoms for years, there’s a good chance that weight gain has crossed your mind. Pants get tighter, belts get looser, and bellies get softer — changes that can be difficult to handle as you juggle your other menopause symptoms.
Gaining a few extra pounds with age is incredibly common, but it’s not universal. If you look around, you’ll find that plenty of middle-aged women are able to sustain a healthy weight, and they don’t look too miserable, either.
So what’s their secret? A lot comes down to smart shifts in lifestyle and perspective to keep up with your changing biology.
The Facts of Middle Age Weight Gain
There’s no doubt about it: aging can be a drag. Physical and mental changes are bound to come, and they may begin to escalate around the midlife mark.
The bad news is that there are some predictably problematic changes that happen after age 50, often resulting in more body fat (and a bigger waist measurement). Not only to you have to worry about the effects of menopause on self esteem, but you also need to be concerned about your physical health.
Metabolism is a fairly individual thing, but even if yours has been rather peppy in the past, it’s likely to decline as you move through adulthood. In general, you burn calories more slowly as you age, which means most people will have to eat less to maintain their energy level.
Of course, that’s easier said than done, especially when you’ve been set in your eating habits for decades.
It’s natural for your exercise routine to dip when you’re busy, but when you add in uncomfortable menopause symptoms like headaches, fatigue, insomnia, and hot flashes, you’re even less likely to squeeze in a workout each day.
Of course, less activity combined with a slowing metabolism will leave you with excess calories, so if you don’t scale back your calorie intake, you’ll begin to carry them around in the form of fat.
Everybody has fat on their bodies — it’s absolutely necessary for energy and good health. However, there’s good fat and bad fat (known respectively as brown fat and white fat), and as you get older, you lose the good brown fat and gain more white bad fat.
White fat tends to cling to the abdomen and hips, and your body can’t burn it for fuel as easily as it uses brown fat. The result? More stubborn pudge around your middle.
Stress Adds Up
Most people don’t appreciate just how much stress can impact the waistline, especially when it accumulates during tough times and challenging transitions.
Menopause, with all its varied symptoms, brings a lot of stress to a lot of women, and that stress can lead to less sleep and the release of more fat-storing hormones — two major problems when it comes to weight loss and maintenance.
How Hormones Work With Metabolism
One of the hallmarks of menopause is the hormonal shift that happens: your body stops pumping out estrogen, and that drop is responsible for a range of discomforts. However, there’s no evidence that hormone replacement therapy (HRT) will correct the weight gain problem, which suggests that less estrogen doesn’t necessarily mean more fat.
On the other hand, certain stress hormones like cortisol can threaten to derail your healthy eating routine by raising appetite, and genetic factors may kick in around this time to further encourage fat storage. If other family members began to gain weight around the middle at this stage, chances are your body is hard-wired to store abdominal fat, too.
What You Can Do to Counter the Problem
Although it may seem like the odds are against you, menopause weight gain is not inevitable. There are several ways to curb the calorie overload and help your body adjust to new conditions, and it’s important to try some of these new approaches before the number on the scale climbs too high.
After all, being overweight puts you at risk for diseases like diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.
You don’t have to pass on all your favorite foods, but cutting down on portions at every meal will bring some measurable results. Experts recommend cutting out around 200 calories a day to compensate for a slightly slower metabolism, which could mean passing on sauces and condiments, and using a smaller dinner plate to promote smaller portions.
Remember, starving yourself is not the answer — just examine nutrition labels more closely, turn down second helpings, and be sensitive to cues that your stomach is satisfied.
Focus on High-Quality Calories
It’s time to adopt a new mantra: “nutrients over calories.” Instead of counting each and every calorie you take in, concentrate on the vitamins, minerals, and nutrients that grace each plate.
When you choose foods with more nutrients in every bite, you’ll find that you’re consuming fresh fruit, vegetables, whole grains, and quality proteins — filling ingredients that are naturally lower in calories. Most packaged foods, fried foods, sugary foods, and too much alcohol have no place in a healthy diet, especially after menopause.
It gets harder to build muscle as you age, so you might need to up your strength training routine. However, it’s well worth your time to pick up the free weights or try your hand at resistance training, because more muscle mass means a faster metabolism, and more energy throughout the day to work off any extra calories.
If you’re not sure where to start, why not book a session with an experienced trainer to get some helpful advice and a surge of motivation?
There’s no overnight solution to weight gain, and weight maintenance never comes in the form of a fad diet. The keys to lasting, healthy weight management are education, self-care, and commitment.
Fortunately, you have the willpower and tools to use all of those elements for a lean and energetic body now, and in the years to come.