Health / Weight Loss

All About Menopausal Weight Gain—and How to Combat It

Menopause is inevitable, but the weight gain typically associated with it doesn't have to be.

All women experience menopause, and, for most, that includes weight gain. We get it, it’s frustrating trying to adapt to these changes in your body let alone the menopausal belly. There’s good news though is that weight gain during menopause is not inevitable! But, it does mean that you may have to make some changes to help minimize or prevent it from happening. We tell you how.

Why do you gain weight during menopause?

Menopause is a significant time in a woman’s life because it’s when your body goes through many changes. Alongside hot flushes, irritability, and night sweats, you may also find yourself carrying excess weight.

Menopause doesn’t mean that you’ll definitely gain weight though. There are other factors involved that can contribute to it. One of them is aging. As you grow older, you’re more likely to lose muscle mass, which can slow down the number of calories that your body burns. You don’t need as many calories as you once did. Your resting metabolism is lower than it used to be, and as you need to use more calories than you consume, this can make it harder to manage your weight.

Lifestyle choices also affect how much weight you can put on during menopause. During this time, you may be experiencing a slower pace in life. Maybe your kids have moved out, meaning that you have less work to do around the house. Or, you may have entered retirement so you have more time for leisurely activities, travel, or relaxation.

Finally, hormonal changes make a big difference to your body. During menopause, your estrogen levels decline, which causes your body to store more fat. Studies have actually shown that “Postmenopausal women had 36 percent more trunk fat, 49 percent greater intra-abdominal fat area, and 22 percent greater subcutaneous abdominal fat area than pre-menopausal women.”

There’s more to it than just weight.

Gaining weight during menopause doesn’t just affect your appearance. It can also have further implications on your health. With menopause and weight gain, there’s an increased risk of diabetes, heart disease, and certain cancers like breast cancer. That’s why it’s important to keep it under control.

What can you do to minimize weight gain?

Exercise regularly.

As with anyone, exercise is a great way to keep the excess weight off. As you get older, you probably won’t have the same level of physical activity as when you were younger. What you’re working with now is a new normal for your body and you need to adjust your activity accordingly to get results.

According to The American Journal of Epidemiology, keeping active does make a difference in how much weight menopausal women can gain during this time. They saw that “although midlife women tend to experience increases in weight and waist circumference over time, maintaining or increasing participation in regular physical activity contributes to prevention or attenuation of those gains.”

In fact, studies also show that if you keep up your exercise even before you hit menopause, you’ll be less likely to gain weight when you do reach that period, especially in your lower body and abdominal area.

What exercises should you do?

So, how much exercise are we talking about? The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services released The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans in which they recommend “150 to 300 minutes (two hours and 30 minutes to five hours) of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity each week.” Not only will this help increase your fitness, but it’ll also assist in managing a healthier body composition.

It’s also important to note that they advise a minimum of two strength days a week. By doing weight training, you can work to rebuild any lost muscle mass in your body that generally tends to happen around menopause. Not only will this help you look more toned, but it’ll also boost your metabolism.

With the spare time that you may find yourself having, why not try something new? Picking up a new sport or activity is fun and exciting, and if you find something that you really enjoy, there’s a much better chance that you’ll stick to it.

Watch your diet.

The number of calories that you consume can steadily creep up during menopause. As you get older, you actually need fewer calories than before. If you’re still eating the same amount of food as you did when you were younger, then these extra additional calories could be hindering your ability to prevent or combat menopausal weight gain. An easy trick to help with this is switching out your bigger plate for a smaller one. This way, you can eat the same foods you were eating before, but with smaller portions.

Which diet is best for women in menopause?

A low-fat, plant-based diet showed promising results for overweight menopausal women, even without prescribed portion sizes or energy intake. However, another study also demonstrated great results for menopausal women who consumed a moderate protein intake, including beef or poultry. In the end, everyone’s different; there’s not one diet that can be prescribed to all women. What matters is that you’re eating a balanced diet that you can sustain and enjoy.

There are important notes to remember though, which include:

Get your sleep.

Your beauty sleep is more important than ever, but it can also be hard to get a good night’s sleep. During menopause, you may experience hot flashes, night sweats, apnea, and restless legs, all of which can affect your sleep quality. Not to mention, not sleeping well makes our hunger hormone, ghrelin, increase. It also means that leptin levels, the hormone that tells us when we’re full, declines.

The North American Menopause Society explains, “Any treatment should first focus on improving your sleep routine. Use regular hours to sleep each night, avoid getting too warm while sleeping, avoid stimulants, such as caffeine and dark chocolate.”

To do this, wear light pajamas that won’t weigh you down, and use a light blanket instead of one with thick sheets. Put on a fan or open a window when you sleep to keep the air cool. Do meditation or yoga for better sleep, as well—it calms the mind. If you’re into high-intensity workouts, then avoid doing it right before bedtime, as it can actually prevent you from sleeping.

What about menopausal hormone therapy?

You may have heard something called menopausal hormone therapy (MHT) or hormone replacement therapy (HRT). MHT is a medication that contains the hormones that the body naturally stops producing during menopause. It regulates them, minimizing or stopping any symptoms that you’re experiencing during menopause. But, does it help with preventing menopausal weight gain?

The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism conducted a study which compared fat mass, visceral adipose tissue, and lean body mass of current users, non-users and past users of MHT. There’s good news—the results were very promising for current users of hormone replacement therapy. They saw that current users of MHT had significantly decreased visceral adipose tissue and fat mass. However, there’s also not-so-good news. When comparing these results to past users, they found that these trends were not continued. This means that if you’re considering using MHT, then you need to bear in mind that once you stop, the weight gain that it was preventing may come back.

Menopause may increase the probability of weight gain, but it doesn’t mean that it’s inevitable. It just means that you do have to make changes in your lifestyle to try and combat this. Also, if you do want to try MHT, make sure that you consult with your doctor first.

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