Why Menopause Makes Weight Loss So Hard
Menopause officially starts when a person hasnt had a menstrual cycle for 12 months. Around this time, it may be very hard to lose weight.
In fact, many people notice that they actually start putting on weight during perimenopause, which can begin a decade prior to menopause.
Several factors play a role in weight gain around menopause, including:
- Hormone fluctuations. Both elevated and very low levels of estrogen can lead to increased fat storage .
- Loss of muscle mass. This occurs due to age, hormonal changes, and decreased physical activity .
- Inadequate sleep. Many women have trouble sleeping during menopause. Poor sleep is linked to weight gain .
- Increased insulin resistance. Women often become insulin resistant as they age, which can make losing weight more difficult (
Whats more, fat storage shifts from the hips and thighs to the abdomen during menopause. This increases the risk of metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease .
Therefore, strategies that promote the loss of abdominal fat are particularly important at this stage of life.
Menopause may lead to hormonal changes, loss of muscle mass, poor sleep, and insulin resistance. These effects may, in turn, increase the risk of weight gain.
How Can I Stop Menopause Weight Gain
For those just who are just beginning to enter perimenopause or menopause and looking for ways to stop the weight gain before it takes over, there are thankfully some simple tips out there.
Elizabeth Ward, MS, RD, co-author The Menopause Diet Plan, A Natural Guide to Managing Hormones, Health, and Happiness , explained to TODAY that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to avoiding menopause belly fat. However, after spending decades observing women and their experiences with the change, she shared some insights that can help.
Ward suggests switching to a plant-based diet. More specifically, A balanced eating plan rich in plant foods supplies the right mix of healthy fats, fiber, vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients. She says this will promote better health in women, particularly those ages 45 and older who may be going through the menopause transition.
If nixing meat entirely doesnt appeal to you, Ward also recommends the Mediterranean diet and says it may even help women experience fewer menopause symptoms. In this case, the idea is to eat meals rich in whole, non-processed foods, including nuts, seeds, whole grains, healthy fats like olive oil, and moderate portions of protein from things like beans, eggs, dairy products, fish, and chicken.
Recent studies have shown that combining both ideas for a plant-based Mediterranean diet is especially beneficial for weight loss and boosting heart health, so you might want to give them both a try!
Hormonal Causes Of Weight Gain
A drop in estrogen and progesterone can increase a woman’s appetite and cause her to eat up to 67% more, according to one study. An increase in appetite coupled with a slower metabolism with the onset of menopause can cause weight gain in women. This could, perhaps, account for the 12% jump in the number of women who are overweight during midlife compared to women in their 20’s and 30’s.
Hormones have complex functions in the body, including weight control. Here’s a list of the different hormones that can affect weight gain and how:
As a woman’s ovaries produce less estrogen, her body attempts to draw from other sources of estrogen. Fat cells can produce estrogen, so her body works harder to convert calories into fat to increase estrogen levels. Unfortunately, fat cells do not burn calories the way muscle cells do, which causes weight gain.
Water retention is often linked to menopause because water weight and bloating can result from a decrease in progesterone levels. Though this doesn’t actually result in weight gain, clothes can feel a bit tighter and a woman may feel as though she’s heavier.
Drinking excessive amounts of fat-loaded coffee is directly linked to weight gain. Many of the popular coffee drinks in America are packed with calories, fat, and sugar. It is important to avoid or moderate these drinks. The general recommendation is one to two cups of brewed coffee per day.
Hormonal Changes And Symptoms Of Menopause
As the transition to menopause gets under way, levels of certain hormones begin to decline. And lets just acknowledge: The resulting symptoms usually arent much fun. Still, knowing whats in store can help you better navigate this phase of life, and many menopausal symptoms do resolve once the body adjusts, says Stephanie Zeszutek, DO, FACOG, an OB-GYN and assistant professor at Touro College of Osteopathic Medicine in New York. Here, Dr. Zeszutek explains the major hormonal shifts of menopause and some effects you might notice:
Progesterone: This hormone is generally the first to wane during perimenopause. This can set the stage for weight gain, plus vaginal dryness and menstrual spotting. Mood changes also may occur, along with a heightened susceptibility to depression or anxiety.
Estrogen: The next hormonal shift is typically a reduction in estrogen output, which can result in lower lean body mass , an increased percentage of body fat, and a greater resistance to the hormone insulin, which may lead to elevated blood sugar. Lower levels of estrogen also contribute to symptoms like hot flashes and headaches, and may play a role in depression risk, as well.
Testosterone: Levels of this hormone actually drop throughout your adult life. At menopause, testosterone is typically about half what it was at its peak. Testosterone helps retain lean muscle mass, so declining levels are associated with an increase in body fat, particularly in the belly region.
Menopause Weight Gain: Why It Happens
Getting older and becoming less active causes loss of muscle mass, which slows down the metabolism. According to experts, it’s this, rather than the menopause itself, that bears the brunt of the responsibility for weight gain in middle age. However, fluctuating hormone levels also play their part.
New evidence suggests that plummeting estrogen levels may encourage us to eat more and exercise less, lowers the metabolic rate, and increases insulin resistance, making it more difficult for our bodies to deal with sugars and starches.
Our hormones also influence fat distribution. Perimenopause weight gain is often associated with the laying down of fat around the abdomen and internal organs, as opposed to the hips and thighs. Feeling stressed? Stress hormones like cortisol promote the growth of that pesky spare tire. It’s not simply a cosmetic issue, either – the more inches you add to your waistline, the higher your risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and even certain cancers.
Dr. Fatima Cody Stanford, instructor in medicine at Harvard Medical School, explained, “‘The change’ actually does bring changes for many women, including weight gain that can resist even the most diligent efforts to reverse it.”
“Women often assume that they are the source of the problem when it comes to anything regarding their weight.” But that’s not always the case with menopause weight gain – with our hormone fluctuations – among other things – certainly not helping the problem.
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Weight Gain During Menopause Treatments
When looking for treatments for weight gain, it’s important to begin with methods that are the least obtrusive, with the least likelihood of side effects, and progress from there.
Did You Know
Most women experience a 5% decrease in metabolic rate per decade. Because metabolism slows as women approach menopause, they need about 200 fewer calories a day to maintain their weight as they enter their mid to late 40s.
This means that lifestyle changes are the best place to begin. The tried and true way to cope with weight gain is to exercise regularly and eat a healthy, balanced diet, practicing moderation.
Typically, combining lifestyle changes and alternative medicines will produce the best results. When seeking out alternative medicines, keep in mind that because weight gain during menopause is associated with hormonal imbalance, so look for herbal supplements that bring a natural balance to hormonal levels, as this will go a long way toward curbing weight gain at the source.
Hiit Your Menopause Symptoms Where It Hurts
Exercise routines that we used to stay fit and healthy in our 20s to early 40s no longer work the same way as we age. The key to losing your menopause belly fat is to shake things up. One of the single best types of exercise during menopause is high-intensity interval training , shown to help you lose weight faster and keep it off, especially during times when this can be more challenging, like menopause.
HIIT workouts are usually quite varied, which helps keep them from getting boring
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Get 7 To 8 Hours Of Sleep A Night
“From observational data, less than 6 hours of sleep is associated with an increased body mass index and 7 hours appears to be the goal to hit,” explains Dr. Mittal. Lack of sleep can increase ghrelin and decrease leptin . This is why you may find yourself snacking more when you are tired.
Aim to get 7 to 8 hours of sleep per night and if it’s proving difficult to do so, set systems in place to help like charging your phone outside the bedroom, getting an alarm clock and turning off screens after a certain time.
How Exercise Helps With Weight After Menopause
The more active you are, the less weight you’re likely to gain. A National Institutes of Health review showed that people who did aerobic activities every day for 10 or more minutes had 6 fewer inches around the waistline compared to people who didn’t exercise. And exercising while you’re in the process of losing weight — as well as after you’ve lost it — may be critical to maintaining weight loss.
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Weight Gain During Perimenopause And Menopause
Why is it so much easier to put on pounds as you get older? During perimenopause , estrogen levels start to decline. That hormonal shift slows your metabolism, says Dr. Pattimakiel. Every year we get older, our metabolisms slow down. Then around menopause, its common to see a significant drop.
That sloth-like metabolism means even if you eat the same healthy diet you ate in your 30s, youre more likely to gain weight. It also makes it that much harder to drop pounds youve already put on. When your metabolism is slower, its harder to lose weight, she says.
As if thats not frustrating enough, mid-life pounds tend to settle around your middle. Unfortunately, extra fat in the abdomen increases the risk of heart-related problems, Dr. Pattimakiel says. So its worth making some changes to keep your weight in the healthy zone as you get older.
How Do You Get Rid Of Menopausal Belly Fat
Getting too distracted by everything else going on during menopause and paying less attention to your weight is totally understandable. There are also a couple diets that can melt those extra inches after youve finally finished menopause.
The Galveston Diet was created by Mary Claire Haver, MD, OBGYN, and is specifically targeted toward menopausal weight gain with a focus on inflammation-fighting food. This eating plan will have you consume high amounts of lean proteins and limit your intake of carbs. It adds in an intermittent fasting component as well, encouraging those following it to fast for 16 hours each day. That basically means youll pick an eight hour window in which you eat all your meals.
As for the food you eat during that window, Dr. Haver recommends anti-inflammatory options like lean, grass-fed protein from poultry, beef, and salmon. You can also have non-starchy vegetables like spinach, cauliflower, broccoli, celery, and zucchini on the side, plus low-sugar fruits like blueberries and raspberries.
If that doesnt sound quite up your alley, another popular diet might be the way to go. Bret Scher, MD, medical director of Diet Doctor, explains that a ketogenic diet could be the best bet for post-menopausal women. The keto diet lowers insulin levels, which can become elevated as we age, says Dr. Scher. And when insulin is high, it encourages the body to store fat rather than burn it.
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What Causes Weight Gain During Menopause
Weight gain during menopause has a variety of causes. Some of the gain is due to the bodys natural aging process. As your age creeps up, estrogen and muscle mass decline. That slows your metabolism and changes the way your body stores and distributes fat, leading to weight gain.
Lifestyle factors such as becoming more sedentary and developing sleep problems can also promote weight gain.
A Drop In Estrogen Levels
Changes in levels estrogen contribute to weight gain.
Estrogen is one of the primary sex hormones in females. It plays a role in:
- physical sex characteristics
- regulating cholesterol levels
During menopause, estrogen levels dip substantially.
Low estrogen during menopause does not directly cause weight gain, but it may lead to increases in total body fat and abdominal fat. Doctors associate excess weight during middle age with heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
Hormone replacement therapy may reduce the tendency to gain abdominal fat.
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What Is Menopause Exactly
First things first: Menopause refers to the life stage when a person is no longer menstruating. It officially begins 12 months after you get your final period, which generally happens between the ages of 45 and 55. Menopause can also occur with surgery that removes the ovaries, a procedure commonly performed with hysterectomy.
For menopause that happens with aging, the two- to eight-year period leading up to that milestone is known as perimenopause. This phase is marked by declines in levels of ovarian hormones and, for many people, the start of some noticeable symptoms and changes, including with respect to weight.
How Hormones Cause Weight Gain During Menopause
During peri-menopause, the first hormone that decreases is usually progesterone. This can lead to estrogen dominance, a common symptom of which is weight gain, causing you to store more fat around your stomach area.
It can often be confusing to hear that estrogen dominance is one of the primary factors that lead to weight gain during menopause, as it is commonly understood that estrogen levels drop during this time.
Whilst it is true that your estrogen levels drop significantly during menopause if your progesterone levels decrease at a faster rate you can still become estrogen dominant, no matter how little estrogen you actually have in your system. So long as you have lower levels of progesterone than estrogen, you are likely to experience many of the symptoms associated with estrogen dominance.
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Body Changes At Menopause
As we age, our muscles decrease in bulk and our metabolism slows down. These changes can contribute to weight gain around the time of menopause.Other physical changes associated with menopause may include:
- skin changes, such as dryness and loss of elasticity
- vaginal dryness
- hair growth .
These changes may affect a womans body image and self-esteem and increase her risk of depression and sexual difficulties. Taking steps to manage the symptoms of menopause can help.
Crash Diets Don’t Work
You’ve probably noticed that crash diets don’t work the weight just comes right back again. The problem in perimenopause is that weight loss is more complex than “calories in/calories out” but that doesn’t mean that you can’t change your metabolism and lose unwanted pounds.
When your hormones are out of balance in perimenopause, balancing your hormones and optimizing your overall health are virtual requirements for losing unwanted weight and belly fat. A healthy diet and lifestyle and specific medicinal herbs and nutritional supplements can all help you get there.
Just because that fat hasn’t budged lately doesn’t mean that it won’t when you try a different approach!
|Want even more new ideas for stopping hormonal weight gain? Read our article: Demystifying perimenopausal weight gain.|
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Symptoms Of Weight Gain
Women generally know when they have gained weight and do not need to learn how to identify this menopause symptom. Some of the indicators, however, are unique to weight gain associated with menopause. At the right is a list of symptoms of weight gain during menopause.
Weight gain in middle-aged women is a common trend, but it does not mean a woman should simply resign herself to this fate. Excess weight can cause health problems, so it should be avoided. This article explains why middle-aged women are more likely to gain weight and the health problems this can pose.
Hormonal Changes During Menopause
The onset of puberty in girls results in an increase in estrogen production to stimulate ovulation. Estrogen levels will remain fairly stable but gradually start to decline as a woman reaches her late 40s and early 50s.
When this happens, body chemistry moves from child-bearing requirements to health maintenance, becoming more sensitive to hormonal changes. The body begins to store fat at a higher rate as part of that maintenance.
A woman who is overweight at the onset of menopause will produce more estrogen than a woman with a body mass index in the normal range and symptoms of menopause may be less severe. Taking hormonal birth control will also delay the onset of menopause and lessen symptoms.
What occurs in the endocrine system at menopause isnt as simple as a change in the level of estrogen, the female sex hormone. The body is one unit with multiple components working together a shift in the balance of any hormone will affect the rest. Many influences affect hormones, such as stress and blood sugar. Especially affected by the natural decrease in estrogen are cortisol, insulin, leptin, and thyroid hormones.
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