Weight Gain and Menopause
Many women find themselves gaining weight during the menopause even if they’re eating no more calories than previously. Others notice their shape changing, especially around the waist and abdomen.
Managing weight during menopause – avoiding weight gain at menopause
Most of us will need to make changes in our diet and exercise habits if we are going to avoid putting on weight during the menopause. As well as changing our appearance, the fit of our clothes and the psychological impact, weight gain is also a well-documented health risk.
Menopausal weight gain is not inevitable. It can be avoided by making lifestyle adjustments to ensure that your diet is healthy and you are active and fit.
Menopause can be a positive motivator to help us make long term dietary and lifestyle changes that will not only ease the passage through menopause but also benefit our health for the rest of our lives.
Why do we gain weight at menopause?
- Primarily because we are less physically active than before: our muscle mass decreases and muscles turn to fat.
- We may comfort eat as we adjust to changes taking place around us: signs of ageing, inability to sleep, our changing roles in the lives of those close to us, illness, death of a loved one, divorce, or a combination of a lot of things.
- Our metabolism often changes at perimenopause, and our bodies appear to hold on to fat until we discover the secrets of burning off fat through exercise, and eating a low-fat healthy diet.
- We may be stressed and producing excesses of the hormone cortisol which is associated with flight or fight responses. High cortisol levels often cause us to put on weight especially around our waists.
How do you stop weight gain at menopause?
1) Stabilise blood sugar
When we eat too many refined carbohydrates such as white bread, mashed potatoes, sugary drinks, alcohol, cakes and biscuits, we promote an immediate blood sugar rush. The pancreas is stimulated to secrete large amounts of insulin to regulate the blood sugar. Excess blood sugar over long periods of time eventually leads to insulin resistance.
In general insulin and blood sugar levels are better regulated by a diet of unrefined whole foods that include long-acting carbohydrates such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Complex or unrefined carbohydrates are processed slowly over a longer period of time and require a small amount of insulin for metabolism. A diet high in unrefined carbohydrates helps to balance hormones and alleviate many symptoms of menopause and perimenopause as follows:
- Reduced fatigue, better quality sleep and more energy
- Better ability to sustain exercise
- Clearing of brain fog
- Better ability to build muscle
- Less hunger – ability to control portion sizes and cravings
- Less symptoms of Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS)
- Clearer skin
- Deeper, better quality sleep
- Stable moods and more optimism
2) Discover a suitable weight for yourself
Your Body Mass Index (BMI) is good way to measure your health risk. This can be measured by your doctor or at a health and fitness club. This measurement divides our weight by our height and this ratio can be used to tells us whether we are underweight, normal weight, or overweight. It is an excellent barometer for general well being.
3) Exercise more
Take up a physical activity that you are interested in and will enjoy. This type of exercise will not feel like a chore i.e. join a hiking/walking club in your area. Increase your daily exercise routine gently. Tweak what you are already doing to take account of the fact that you are probably less active now than 10 or 20 years ago – when you may have been running around after small children or playing more team sports.
4) Eat less and eat the right foods
We need 200 fewer Calories per day in our 50s than in our 30s or 40s. We need to eat plenty of lean protein such as chicken and fish, as well as plenty of fruit, vegetables, and whole grains. We also need to establish regular eating habits.
Avoid skipping meals as this will encourage you to hit the biscuit tin for a quick sugar fix. Aim to have at least three main meals and possibly two small snacks throughout the day. Most perimenopausal women do best when they keep their blood sugar stable throughout the day by eating frequent, smaller meals. It is often advisable to have a protein snack such as a handful of almonds at 4 PM as this is a time when blood sugar often drops and our mood changes leading to possible over eating and cravings.
Focus on portion size. If you cup your two hands together this will show you the size of your stomach capacity. Limit your intake to no more than that at each meal or snack. Use a small plate or bowl for your meals, as you will feel more satisfied with less food.
Eat protein with each meal. This means eating lean meat, fish, eggs, dairy or vegetarian alternatives such as tofu, soybeans or tempeh. Limit beans, although they are a good source of protein, as they are high in carbohydrate.
Reduce refined carbohydrates and sugar including alcohol.
If you feel you are putting on a lot of weight for no obvious reason, you may need to have your thyroid checked – consult your GP in this instance.
I have just watched a video with Dr Josh Axe on fat burning foods I think it’s worth a look. His 5 fat burning foods are:
- Coconut OIl
- Broth – stock meat bones which add collagen to our diet
- Chia seeds and Flaxseeds. (I have heard that sesame seeds and avocado do a similar fat burning job.)
- Leafy greens especially Kale and parsley
- Lean protein with every meal – he says to make sure your meat and dairy is organic and he also recommends kefir which I’m a big fan of too.