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What You Should Know About Menopause and Weight Gain
Why does weight gain seem inevitable during this period of time? What causes it? What are your solutions?
As we age it becomes increasingly difficult to lose weight. It’s a fact that the largest amount of weight that you may ever gain comes during perimenopause which are those years leading up to menopause. You may find that your weight management efforts that have always worked, don’t work at all. You may even have been told that an extra 20 pounds is normal during this period and that you should just accept it. This doesn’t have to be written in stone, however, and you don’t have to accept it. There are ways to avoid and/or reverse weight gain during menopause.
What Causes Weight Gain?
Because of hormonal changes, you’re more likely to gather weight around your mid-section instead of around your thighs and hips. However, hormonal changes alone may not be what triggers your weight gain during perimenopause or menopause. Usually, weight gain during menopause happens because of genetic and lifestyle factors.
What factors are those? According to the MayoClinic, women in menopause tend to exercise less than other women.
Also, the number of calories that your body uses declines because of a reduction in the lean muscle mass in your body. And muscle, burns a lot of calories, so if you lose muscle mass and it’s replaced with fat, your body will burn a lot fewer calories. One menopause and weight gain study also suggested that a decreasing amount of hormones causes the body to burn less calories (although the study wasn’t large enough to be conclusive).
However, there are experts that believe that menopause and weight gain are not necessarily connected. Barbara V. Howard, lead author on a recent research paper about menopause says that “Menopause is a convenient thing to blame.” Her most recent research found that women who ate poorly right before and during menopause gained a lot more weight than women who ate a healthy diet. Diet is not the only culprit. What most experts believe is the real reason menopause and weight gain are so prevalent is that women tend to reduce the amount of physical activity that they engage in as they grow older. Howard says that at this point in your life “it’s likely you become more sedentary.”
Also, genetics can play a role in menopause and weight gain. If you’re parents or other close relatives tend to be a little “larger” around the middle, chances are you probably will too. There are other factors that contribute to weight gain during menopause like children leaving (or coming home), the death of family members, and divorce.
Health Risks Of Gaining Weight During Menopause
If you are suffering from menopause and weight gain it can have very negative and serious effects on your health. With increased weight comes increased risk of type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. These illnesses can contribute or cause cancer, stroke, heart attacks and more. In fact, increase in weight has been tied to an increase in the risk of breast and colorectal cancer. Some studies have suggested that gaining just under 5 pounds at the age of 50 or older could boost the risk of breast cancer by as much as 30%!
How To Prevent The Weight Gain
It’s all about eating healthy and staying active. A 5 year study by the Healthy Women’s Lifestyle Project found that women in menopause who ate a diet low in calories and got regular physical activity lost weight compared to women who were not on the diet and exercise plan. The women who were not on the plan gained, on average, 5 pounds after a year.
Watch Your Calorie Intake
According to the U.S. Department Of Agriculture Food Guide, women over 50 who are moderately active require 1,800 calories per day and women of the same age who are not active require only 1,600 calories per day to maintain a healthy weight. To slim down, women at this age need to reduce the number of calories to below these levels while increasing the amount of physical activity. The USDA Food Guide recommendations for a 1,600 calorie diet are as follows:
- 1 1/2 cups of fruit
- 2 cups of vegetables
- 5 ounces of whole grains
- 5 ounces of meat, fish or beans
- 3 cups of fat-free milk
You should also avoid steps in a menopause weight gain diet that add calories like frying, adding gravy, high-fat sauces, or breading. Experts recommend the best way to manage your calorie intake is to use a food diary. I use one myself and it helps enormously!
You should make your diet rich in foods that are plant-based like fruits, vegetables, whole-grains. You should limit foods that are calorie-dense like fats, dairy products, and meats. Choose healthy oils like olive oil and try to limit cheeses and high fat spreads and salad dressings. Adding more plant based foods to your diet will cut back on calories and also supply your body with wide-array of healthy vitamins, phytoestrogens, antioxidants, fiber, and minerals.
WebMD suggests you “reverse” your meals by eating more early and less later on. Your metabolism is higher earlier in the day so eat a big healthy breakfast, a medium sized lunch, and a smaller dinner would take advantage of this fact.
Foods To Fight Menopausal Weight Gain
Monitor Calcium Intake
A study by the Women’s Health Initiative found that calcium supplementation may help prevent weight gain in postmenopausal women.
The menopause and weight gain study found that calcium and vitamin D help to “stimulate the breakdown of fat cells and suppress the development of new ones.” The women in the study who were taking vitamin D and calcium supplements had a lower risk of gaining weight and a much higher likelihood of maintaining a healthy weight.
The National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements says that menopausal women require a minimum of 1,200 mg of calcium each day and Boston University School of Medicine recommends 500 to 800 IU daily of vitamin D. You can increase your daily consumption of calcium by taking supplements and also by increasing your intake of dietary calcium by eating more low-fat or no-fat dairy (skim milk, yogurt, etc.) and also by increasing your intake of leafy green vegetables.
Aerobic activity is very important for women at any age. Building muscle is important as well so be sure to include strength training in your weekly regimen. You should try to include, at minimum, 30 minutes per day of physical activity and strength training at least twice a week. You should also include cardiovascular interval training whenever possible. In-between yoga or strength training moves try jumping jacks, marching in place, or jumping rope. This type of interval training keeps your heart rate up and doubles the effectiveness of your workout.
Work on your balance as well. As we get older our balance deteriorates and we’re prone to injury from falling down. Yoga and using devices like a stability ball or wobble board can help with your balance.
It’s important to take your time. If you’re trying to lose weight or trying to maintain your current body weight you’re more likely to see success if you go slower. Keeping weight off is about making life-long changes–not about drastic calorie reduction with fad diets (this is true of post menopause and weight gain as well).
The Bottom Line
To avoid weight gain during menopause you will be required to make changes in your diet and exercise routine that are permanent. So you don’t have to make drastic changes. Simple changes can make a huge difference. Take a daily brisk walk or join a yoga class. Trade high-sugar, high-fat foods for healthy fresh fruits and vegetables. One of my favorite things to do is have a piece of sweet fruit after dinner to help thwart my sweet tooth. Try cooking at home more instead of eating out. Buy some healthy cookbooks and experiment with new meals. Have fun with it! If you can enjoy the changes you make for your health then menopause and weight gain will not be a problem for you.
As always, make sure you talk to your doctor before you make any changes to your diet or exercise routine.