Most women gain weight as they age, but excess pounds aren't inevitable. To minimize menopause weight gain, step up your activity level and enjoy a healthy diet.
As you get older, you might notice that maintaining your usual weight becomes more difficult. In fact, many women gain weight around the menopause transition.
The good news is that menopause weight gain can be managed or reversed! You can reverse course by being aware of your genetic predispositions, balancing your hormones, paying attention to eating habits and leading an active lifestyle.
What Causes Menopause Weight Gain?
The hormonal changes of menopause might make you more likely to gain weight around your abdomen than around your hips and thighs. But, hormonal changes alone don't necessarily cause menopause weight gain. Instead, the weight gain is usually related to aging, as well as lifestyle and genetic factors.
For example, muscle mass typically diminishes with age, while fat increases. Losing muscle mass slows the rate at which your body uses calories (metabolism). This can make it more challenging to maintain a healthy weight. If you continue to eat as you always have and don't increase your physical activity, you're likely to gain weight.
Genetic factors might also play a role in menopause weight gain. If your parents or other close relatives carry extra weight around the abdomen, you're likely to do the same.
Other factors, such as a lack of exercise, unhealthy eating and not enough sleep, might contribute to menopause weight gain. When people don't get enough sleep, they tend to snack more and consume more calories.
How Changes in Hormones Affect Metabolism
During perimenopause, progesterone levels decline slowly and steadily, while estrogen levels fluctuate greatly from day to day and even within the same day.
In the early part of perimenopause, the ovaries often produce extremely high amounts of estrogen. This is due to impaired feedback signals between the ovaries, hypothalamus, and pituitary gland.
Later in perimenopause, when menstrual cycles become more irregular, the ovaries produce very little estrogen. They produce even less during menopause.
Some studies suggest that high estrogen levels may promote fat gain. This is because high estrogen levels are associated with weight gain and higher body fat during the reproductive years.
From puberty until perimenopause, women tend to store fat in their hips and thighs as subcutaneous fat. Although it can be hard to lose, this type of fat doesn’t increase disease risk very much.
However, during menopause, low estrogen levels promote fat storage in the belly area as visceral fat, which is linked to insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and other health problems.
How Risky is Weight Gain After Menopause?
Menopause weight gain can have serious implications for your health. Excess weight, especially around your midsection, increases your risk of many issues, including:
Heart and blood vessel disease
Type 2 diabetes
Excess weight also increases your risk of various types of cancer, including breast, colon and endometrial cancers.
What's the Best Way to Prevent Weight Gain After Menopause?
There's no magic formula for preventing — or reversing — menopause weight gain. Simply stick to weight-control basics:
Move more. Physical activity, including aerobic exercise and strength training, can help you shed excess pounds and maintain a healthy weight. For most healthy adults, experts recommend moderate aerobic activity, such as brisk walking, for at least 150 minutes a week or vigorous aerobic activity, such as jogging, for at least 75 minutes a week.
Work out: Engage in strength training to improve body composition, increase strength, and build and maintain lean muscle. As you gain muscle, your body burns calories more efficiently — which makes it easier to control your weight.
Eat less. To maintain your current weight — let alone lose excess pounds — you might need about 200 fewer calories a day during your 50s than you did during your 30s and 40s.
Reduce calories without skimping on nutrition... Pay attention to what you're eating and drinking. Choose more fruits, vegetables and whole grains, particularly those that are less processed and contain more fiber.
Reduce carbs: Cut back on carbs in order to reduce the increase in belly fat, which drives metabolic problems.
Add fiber: Eat a high-fiber diet that includes flaxseeds, which may improve insulin sensitivity.
Check your sweet habit. Added sugars account for nearly 300 calories a day in the average American diet. About half of these calories come from sugar-sweetened beverages, such as soft drinks, juices, energy drinks, flavored waters, and sweetened coffee and tea. Other foods that contribute to excess dietary sugar include cookies, pies, cakes, doughnuts, ice cream and candy.
Limit alcohol. Alcoholic beverages add excess calories to your diet and increase the risk of gaining weight.
Higher-Protein / Low-Glycemic-Index Diet Best for promoting and Maintaining Weight Loss - Research studies looking at ways of promoting weight loss and maintaining weight loss in subjects who've successfully shed pounds through a restricted-calorie diet, have found that a higher-protein, lower glycemic-index diet was significantly better than other diets either lower in protein, or with a higher glycemic index, or both. Be choosy. The best high-protein plans focus on lean proteins and include some carbs. Avoid huge helpings of fatty meats and make sure to include vegetables.
Rest and relax: Try to relax before bed and get enough sleep to keep your hormones and appetite well-managed.
Seek support. Surround yourself with friends and loved ones who support your efforts to eat a healthy diet and increase your physical activity. Better yet, team up and make the lifestyle changes together.
Remember, Menopause can be challenging, both physically and emotionally. However, eating a nutritious diet and getting enough exercise and rest can help prevent weight gain and reduce disease risk.
Successful weight loss at any stage of life requires permanent changes in diet and exercise habits. Commit to lifestyle changes and enjoy a healthier you.
Although it may take some time to adjust to the processes taking place in your body, try to do your best to accept these changes that will inevitably happen with age.
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Gina Ditta-Donahue is a certified Family Nurse Practitioner and Anti-Aging Medicine provider. She is the author of "Josh's Smiley Faces: A Story About Anger," a children's book aimed at helping young children and their parents navigate anger management and build adaptive life skills. She is also co-owner of Elevate Functional Medicine.