Forget the hot flashes, mood swings and brain fog—if you’re approaching or experiencing menopause and noticing extra weight gain, it can become your number one annoyance. Ask any of your girlfriends, workout buddies, or even close coworkers, and they’ll probably have similar gripes to share about the “middle-age” spread that takes ove during this time. But is menopausal weight gain really inevitable? From a medical perspective, there are things you can do to balance your hormones and lose those menopausal pounds. Let’s explore why many women gain weight in menopause and the concrete things you can do to prevent menopausal weight gain in the first place.
What Causes Menopausal Weight Gain?
Lifestyle changes and hormonal fluctuations are likely the causes of weight gain during a woman’s menopausal years. During menopause, there are significant hormonal changes that can affect the way your body is shaped, namely decreasing estrogen. Lower estrogen levels can cause a woman’s fat to distribute itself more in her midsection. Pear-shaped woman can find themselves becoming more “apple-shaped” in middle age. But this change in body shape doesn’t necessarily translate to an higher number on the scale—which is what many menopausal women notice as well.
According to sources at the North American Menopause Society, the average woman gains five pounds during menopause, but some women put on much more. These same researchers, however, will also tell you that there is no scientific evidence that menopause causes weight gain. So our shapes may change…but the number on the scale doesn’t necessarily need to. This is beyond frustrating for anyone dealing with menopausal weight gain. What gives? And what can we do about it?
5 Lifestyle Problems That Contribute to Weight Gain In Menopause…And How To Solve Them
Step one in preventing menopausal weight gain is bringing your hormones into balance as best you can. Check out this article on balancing 4 hormones to lose weight to learn the dietary and lifestyle changes you can do to balance your estrogen, insulin, cortisol, and leptin levels. (Things like cutting back on red meat intake, eliminating processed foods, and taking a magnesium supplement, for example!)
Step two is addressing the lifestyle changes that happen to coincide with the age many women enter or experience menopause. These lifestyle factors can exacerbate menopausal weight gain; if you want to prevent gaining weight in menopause, check to make sure you’re combatting these five lifestyle problems below!
PROBLEM #1: Muscle Loss
Muscle is the active tissue in your body that burns up more calories than body fat. The more muscle you have on your body, the more calories your body burns at rest. As we age, we slowly lose a little bit of that muscle each year if we are not actively replacing it. In fact, as early as age 30 we start to lose 5% of our muscle mass with each passing decade. So by the time menopause rolls around, less muscle and less activity can unknowingly slow down your metabolism and your body’s ability to burn calories.
SOLUTION: Strength Training
Replace lost muscle with strength training! You can lift weights or use your own bodyweight to build muscle all over and in turn, boost your metabolism. Check out our Beginner’s Guide to Strength Training or the 8 Strength Training Moves Women Over 50 Should Do if you want to get started.
PROBLEM #2: Poor Sleep
Sleep can become challenging during menopause, and it tends to set off a whole slew of events with your eating and exercise habits, too. When you don’t get enough sleep, two key hormones in your body—leptin and ghrelin—get thrown out of whack. These hormones are responsible for your appetite, so after a night of poor sleep, you’re literally chemically motivated to eat more in order to feel satiated—and the foods you crave are usually of the salty/fatty variety. Getting a good night’s sleep can often be the first step in addressing poor eating habits and a lack of energy that affects your desire to exercise.
SOLUTION: Create A Healthy Sleep Environment
It can be so easy to answer emails or texts in bed when you first wake up, or insist upon staying in bed even when you’re tossing and turning. But most sleep experts agree that you should only use the bed for sleep or sex; no computers, cell phones, or aimless tossing and turning allowed! If you find yourself unable to sleep after 15 minutes, you should get up and walk around, do a calming activity like reading a book, or occupy yourself in another way until you get sleepy again. Keep your bedroom dark with blackout shades, and get your partner on board with setting the thermostat a little lower; especially in menopause, your room should be nice and cool for optimal sleeping conditions.
PROBLEM #3: New Stressors
Let’s face it, there can be many new and difficult challenges that come with this period in life. Children leaving or marrying, caring for aging parents, a spousal death or illness, job changes or nearing retirement—all these things can add up and cause new and unwanted stress. Stress increases your body’s level of cortisol, which can actually lead to excess belly fat. (If if you want to stay sane and slim at the same time, learn more about the correlation between stress and belly fat here.)
SOLUTION: Prioritize Mindful Self-Care
It’s time to put yourself first. Likely you’ve spent many years caring for others—and that’s a beautiful thing—but you shouldn’t feel guilty about putting your self-care at the top of your to-do list. Schedule daily time to meditate, be alone, reconnect with a creative passion, read a book, or whatever else fills you up. Make it a priority to check in with yourself daily in a calm, mindful way.
Related: The Beginner’s Guide To Meditation
PROBLEM #4: Less Activity
It’s normal for our daily routines to become more relaxed when we get older. Our lives become slightly less active and most of us simply don’t burn as many calories in middle age as we did during our busy early adult years. As we age, aches and pains in our body also start to add up. This can make us feel less motivated to work out and get the exercise we need. When you move less, you lose muscle and gain more weight. That’s simple science. Get moving not only for weight management but to keep your joints and bones healthy.
SOLUTION: Consistent Activity
Consistent cardiovascular activity is equally as important as strength training. Cardio strengthens your heart, increases your energy and helps you shed some of the extra pounds you might have already put on. Don’t forget, the CDC recommends a minimum of 150 minutes of exercise a week! In addition, make sure you stay active throughout the entire day. It’s not enough to simply get in a 30 minute workout in the morning and then spend the rest of the day on the couch. Even simple things like gardening, walking the dog, and daily chores can add up, so keep moving!
PROBLEM #5: You’ve Developed an Ultra-Sweet Tooth
Maybe you’ve enjoyed the occasional dessert before, but as you’ve gotten older you’ve given yourself more permission to go for it when it comes to sweets. Unfortunately, not only does excess sugar cause you to pack on the pounds, but excess sugar makes menopausal symptoms worse. Hot flashes and night sweats are most severe in women who eat a lot of sugar.
SOLUTION: Eat Quality Food and Less Sugar
Reduce your daily sugar intake for your waistline as well as your hot flashes. Natural sugar found in fruit is better for you because it’s accompanied by fiber; this helps your body break down the sugar more easily as opposed to artificial sugars. Make sure your diet is filled with dark, leafy greens, brightly-colored vegetables and fruits, lean meat and fish. Go organic to avoid preservatives, pesticides and chemicals that disrupte your horomones. Choose foods that reduce inflammation in the body and avoid those white, starchy or sugary carbs that spike blood sugar and end up getting stored as fat. Want to know exactly what it takes to eat clean? Download our best-selling Clean Eating Guide below!
Getting older holds many positive and exciting new changes. However, it also holds its own challenges. Don’t make weight gain one of them. Keep a positive attitude and do what you can to stay healthy and strong. You can always check with your doctor if something seems out of whack or just not right. Remember—it’s your body and you have the power to feel great in it.