Weight Gain During Menopause
Menopause takes place when a woman’s monthly period stops and she stops ovulating. Technically, the time when her monthly cycle stops is called premenopause, it’s only called menopause a year after. Menopause comes with its own set of negative effects, one of the most dreaded ones being weight gain, particularly in the tummy region.
Weight gain during menopause is typically due to a drop in estrogen levels, lifestyle factors, lack of exercise, diet and age-related muscle loss. As we age, our muscles give in and begin to reduce in bulk. Our metabolism slows down and our stress levels rise. However, the exact process that leads to weight gain and its different contributing factors are still not understood by experts.
Other physical changes that may come with menopause include changes in skin, such as loss of elasticity and dryness, hair loss or hair growth and vaginal dryness. Physical changes often have a major impact on a woman’s self-esteem and body image.
One large study conducted by the International Menopause Society in 2012 found out shifts in hormonal levels may affect the distribution of fat in the body, concentrating most fat in the abdominal region.
As women age, their risk of heart disease rises, which may be partially due to their tendency to put on weight in their abdominal region as a result of menopause. Body fat stored around internal organs and within the abdominal wall is a contributing factor for heart disease.
Fortunately, some of the symptoms of menopause are manageable if you act proactively. Menopause is a very emotional stage in a woman’s life. Try your best to not succumb to the negative emotions. Your hormones may be going crazy at this stage but you just need to keep calm and try to find the best solution that works for you and there are many solutions out there, so there’s nothing to worry about.
Causes of Weight Gain during Menopause
The hormonal changes during menopause are more likely to lead to weight gain, especially around the abdomen. As mentioned before, hormonal changes aren’t the only causes of weight gain. Other factors associated with aging such as genetic factors and lifestyle changes may contribute to weight gain as well.
Loss of muscle mass with age decreases the body’s capacity to utilize calories at a given time. This makes it more difficult for a woman to maintain a healthy weight. Therefore, if a woman continues her normal diet and doesn’t increase her level of physical activity, she is likely to gain weight during this stage of her life.
Genetics may also play a role in this situation. If your parents and close relatives are heavier around the abdominal region, the chances of you gaining tummy fat are higher.
Some women also experience a lot of stress during this stage of their life. You just realized you’re going through menopause – that’s stressful enough – but other life events such as divorce, breakups, problems related to children or finance or any life changes may lead to weight gain.
Studies show that stress has a direct link to weight gain and weight loss. In addition, stressful life events may put your healthy lifestyle at a halt as you begin to care more about what’s troubling you than your own health.
Be Mindful of Insulin Resistance
Your body has three main hormones, insulin, cortisol and adrenaline.
Cortisol and adrenaline and two prime hormones that manage your stress response and insulin, as we all know, manages your blood sugar levels. To learn more about the effects of insulin on the body, here’s an article by diabetes.co.uk which clearly explain how insulin works in the body, why you need it and when its effects can be harmful to you.
Food and stress have a direct impact on our hormones. A recent study published in the Journal of Endocrinology in 2013 showed that stress can increase your risk of weight gain, obesity, and diabetes and insulin resistance. When we eat something, our insulin levels rise so that the food is metabolized to form energy and the excess is stored as fat. In situations where we experience stress or anxiety, our cortisol and adrenaline levels rise. It’s the body’s fight or flight response – it’s our mode of survival.
We all have our weaknesses. Sometimes it’s too much sugar or too much bread… alcohol, chocolate, pizza. Foods rich in refined carbs or processed food with not enough healthy fats, protein and fiber can contribute to insulin resistance. This happens when your blood glucose levels are high. Your body begins to convert every calorie you consume to fat, causing you to gain weight while depriving your cells of the nutrients they need.
When your body’s going through problems associated with a primary hormone, which in this case is insulin, it doesn’t have enough capacity to produce adequate amounts of secondary hormones such as progesterone and estrogen.
Note that even if you haven’t been diagnosed with insulin resistance or diabetes, there’s a high chance your blood glucose levels are higher than normal and you have insulin sensitivity.
When you’re reaching your premenopause stage, this can easily result in weight gain. Your body will store an excessive amount of fat and your insulin senility and hormonal imbalance may result in sugar cravings that you cannot control.
If you are craving for something, do not go for a high-sugar processed food. Choose something that has complex carbs, fiber, protein and good fats. A good example is a granola bar or yogurt with nuts and berries. Even an apple or banana can satiate a killer craving. Here are 33 healthy ways to satisfy your sweet tooth by Greatist.
Protein is a slow-digesting macronutrient. This means your body breaks it down to glucose in steady intervals, thus creating more balance in your body’s hormones.
If you’ve just begun thinking about going healthy and have no idea where to start, here’s a fab guide by the Gracious Pantry which gives you a superb clean eating shopping list for beginners. I keep coming back to this guide each time I’m stuck while creating a new grocery list every week. It’s definitely a lifesaver, even for people who have been eating clean for a while.
Crash Dieting is the Worst Weight Loss Method
A lot of people may argue that crash dieting works and is a lot faster than other weight loss methods. We agree, but it’s not the healthiest one.
A crash diet means you have to drastically reduce a macronutrient or the amount of food you eat for a short time. This causes the body to utilize muscle tissue as fuel. Your muscles are constantly using calories, even when you’re resting. Reducing muscle mass means you reduce your body’s ability to torch calories.
The weight you lose with a crash diet is also a short term change. This means you’ll gain all the weight back when you start eating normally again. The effect is multiplied because you’re losing muscle mass too.
Furthermore, studies indicate that crash dieting result in a rapid drop in leptin levels. Leptin is a hormone that controls your appetite and plays a role in weight management. The fall in leptin levels will slow down your metabolism, increase your appetite and thus, contribute to weight gain. Here is a detailed article on Leptin and how crash dieting can lead to weight gain.
8 Tips on Losing the Weight
We have some good news for you. Even though a lot of factors contribute to weight gain in aging women, you’re not doomed to live an unhealthy and unfit lifestyle. Aging is not equivalent to weight gain. You can make a conscious effort to change your fate and control your life in your own terms.
Even though women tend to gain extra weight in their 40s and 50s, increasing your level of physical activity can actually help reverse this and make you a fit and fabulous chick again. Slimming down comes with massive benefits when you’re menopausal. Not only do you look great, but you reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer and osteoporosis as well – three high risk diseases linked with menopause.
The following are some great tips and lifestyle changes you should incorporate into your lifestyle to keep those pounds away and also reduce your risk of many illnesses.
1. Get more good fats
It may sound counterintuitive but one of the best ways to beat fat is by having more fat. To do this, you need to get rid of the bad fat in your life and bring in more good fat in the form of fish oils, salmon, trout and tuna, nuts and seeds and whole grains. Aim to consume at least two servings of fish every day and munch on nuts if you’re hungry for a snack instead of grabbing a donut. In addition, you should also consume fish oil tablets every day – it helps improve your skin and prevent wrinkles too – double win!
Too much in a rush to cook? Here’s how you can make a delicious salmon salad in 60 seconds!
2. Strengthen with calcium
Your recommended calcium intake is higher after you reach the age of 50. Before 50, you’re supposed to get 1000 mg of fat per day and after 50, the recommended amount is 1200 mg per day.
The decline in estrogen levels makes your bones less receptive to calcium as well. This weakens your bones and makes you more prone to osteoporosis. Excess weight in the body can increase your risk even more.
Since you’re trying to slim down, go for low-fat dairy as a source of calcium. Some great examples include low fat cottage cheese, low fat milk, Greek yogurt etc. Low fat versions often have almost the same amount of calcium as the high fat ones.
Cottage cheese is amazing for health and muscle gain. Have no idea what to do with it? Here are 12 cottage cheese ideas you must try.
3. Cut down on alcohol
Red wine has gained a huge rep in the health industry due to its positive impact on our heart health. Unfortunately, you may want to say no to the drinks this time because the negative effects of alcohol outweigh the positive effects when you’re menopausal. Even drinking small amounts can increase your risk of breast cancer. And let’s face it, alcohol can trigger weight gain and wreak havoc in our digestive systems.
Note that red wine and other alcoholic drinks may contribute to hot flashes too because they cause vasodilation.
4. Get off the bloat boat
Almost all menopausal women complain about bloating. Even though the cause isn’t very clear, changing hormonal levels may be playing a role in this.
To reduce bloating, cut down on processed food, refined carbs and salt as all of these retain water and contribute to bloating. If it isn’t obvious yet, soda and other fizzy drinks result in bloating too.
This doesn’t mean you have to cut down on carbs all together. Consume ample amounts of complex carbs, such as in the form of whole grains, which are healthy and rich sources of fiber and food fats. Other great sources of good carbs include fruits and vegetables.
Skip the white rice today and try quinoa, it has all essential amino acids your body needs and is gluten-free! Recipe for quinoa fried “rice” here:
5. Soy is your friend
Soy contains a plant version of estrogens so having more soy foods can be great for your body around this time of your life. Many people fall into the misconception that soy increases risk of breast cancer. There is little evidence to support this but most studies that back this claim use high-dose soy supplements which contribute to the development of estrogen-sensitive tumors.
But soy foods such as tofu, tempeh, soy milk, soy nuts and soy cheese are actually good for you. They’re low calorie foods so they’re weight friendly and they help provide relief from hot flashes too.
Here’s a high protein tofu recipe which has been flavored with balsamic vinegar. Yum.
6. Have more tea
But have the iced one. Having warm beverages may trigger hot flashes so it’s best to stick to cold drinks only. In addition, staying away from coffee maybe a good idea as caffeine can intensify hot flashes as well.
Green, white and herbal teas are packed with antioxidants and have been linked to weight loss too. If you’re a fan of coffee, have an iced decaffeinated drink. Coffee and tea help suppress your appetite, thus helping you manage your weight better.
7. Stress less
Menopause is a tough stage in a woman’s life. We understand that it’s difficult to relax and stay calm and composed but if you want to improve your life, this is something you have to do. Stress has a direct link with weight gain. It not only leads to abdominal fat but triggers cravings too.
Chronic stress can break a proper routine and force you to consume foods that aren’t good for you. Sticking to a healthy diet becomes a challenge at this point.
To beat stress, there are many things you can try. First, try to surround yourself with people who boost your positivity and make you happy. Enjoy your meals with family and friends. Better yet, have an exercise partner. Exercise and friendship are two of the best ways to deal with stress. In addition, you can join a yoga, tai chi or Zumba class, watch your favorite TV show when you’re stressed, read a book, drink some chamomile tea or whip up a healthy meal for yourself. Cooking can be incredibly therapeutic. If you’re not a great cook, now is the time to experiment, polish your skills and have some fun in the kitchen! Here’s a super helpful beginner’s guide to preparing your meals a week in advance for us busy ladies.
If you already exercise regularly, you may have to consider approaching it differently.
Studies show that cortisol is often released during intense workout sessions that are carried on for long durations. Include ample strength workouts to your routine, lift heavy weights and perform HIIT. Performing exercises at higher intensity than normal means that you won’t have to have a long workout session and you’ll burn more calories within a shorter period too. High Interval Intensity Training or HIIT has been shown to release testosterone and HGH which help build muscle and burn fat.
Long duration workouts may intensify the negative effects of cortisol on the body and lead to increased physical and emotional stress. Exercising for long periods increases cortisol levels and causes an imbalance in the growth hormones.
If you raise cortisol levels during menopause, when your body is already so vulnerable to the effects of this hormone, the impact can be far greater than it usually would be. Women in such cases may gain excess weight and suffer from increased stress too.
You can control cortisol levels by engaging in relaxing activities such as leisurely walks, tai chi, restorative yoga, sauna, massage, acupuncture, music and aromatherapy and certain dance forms.
Here’s a restorative yoga sequence you need to try to relax and calm your body: