One of the most disturbing factors at midlife can be weight gain. Throughout our lives, until then, we have been able to lose weight by being a bit more careful with food and exercising regularly. At midlife, for many, this is suddenly not the case and it comes as quite a shock. How can I lose weight is always one of the top three issues reported in our many surveys of thousands of women.
Weight gain is very common from the point of perimenopause, menopause and through to post-menopause. At midlife other factors come into play including:
However, the process of menopause is highly individual. It varies from woman to woman.
This article explores why some women gain weight during and after menopause.
How changes in hormones affect metabolism
During perimenopause, the levels of progesterone decline slowly and steadily, while oestrogen levels fluctuate significantly from day to day and even within the same day.
In the early part of perimenopause, the ovaries often produce incredibly high amounts of oestrogen. This is due to impaired feedback signals between the ovaries, hypothalamus, and pituitary gland.
Later in perimenopause, when menstrual cycles become more irregular, the ovaries produce much less oestrogen. The ovaries produce even less during menopause.
Some studies suggest that high oestrogen levels may promote fat gain. This weight gain is because high oestrogen levels are associated with weight gain and higher body fat during the reproductive years.
From puberty until perimenopause, women tend to store fat in their hips and thighs as subcutaneous fat. Although it can be hard to lose, this type of fat doesn’t increase disease risk very much.
However, during menopause, low oestrogen levels promote fat storage in the belly area as visceral fat, which is linked to insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and other health problems.
Weight gain during perimenopause
It’s estimated that women gain about 2–5 pounds (1–2 kgs) during the perimenopausal transition. However, women can experience more weight gain, which is particularly true about women who are overweight or suffer from obesity.
Weight gain may also occur as part of ageing, regardless of hormone changes.
The Study of Women’s Health Across the Nation (SWAN) is a large observational study that has followed middle-aged women throughout perimenopause.
During the study, women gained belly fat and lost muscle mass. Another factor contributing to weight gain in perimenopause may be the increased appetite and calorie intake that occurs in response to hormonal changes.
In one study, levels of the “hunger hormone,” ghrelin, were found to be significantly higher among perimenopausal women, compared to premenopausal and postmenopausal women.
The low oestrogen levels in the late stages of menopause may also impair the function of leptin and neuropeptide Y, hormones that control fullness and appetite.
Therefore, women in the late stages of perimenopause who have low oestrogen levels may be driven to eat more calories.
Progesterone’s effects on weight during the menopausal transition have not been studied as much. However, some researchers believe the combination of low oestrogen and progesterone could further increase the risk of obesity.
Weight changes during and after menopause
Hormonal changes and weight gain may continue to occur as women leave perimenopause and enter menopause.
One predictor of weight gain may be the age at which menopause occurs.
A study of over 1,900 women found that those who entered menopause earlier than the average age of 51 had less body fat.
Additionally, there are several other factors that contribute to weight gain after menopause.
Postmenopausal women are generally less active than when they were younger, which reduces energy expenditure and leads to a loss of muscle mass.
Menopausal women also frequently have higher fasting insulin levels and insulin resistance, which drive weight gain and increase heart disease risk.
How to control weight gain around menopause
Don’t despair; you can reverse weight gain. Women who go through our programme can lose weight without dieting. Although weight gain is widespread during menopause, there are steps you can take to prevent or reverse it.
- Get your body back into good nutritional shape – make sure your body isn’t deficient in critical nutrients, which is the case for millions of women around the world. Take a good multivitamin every day, such as Fema 45+. Take a look at our downloadable nutritional deficiency guide to help you identify what you may be lacking.
- Eat cleanly, reduce the carbohydrates and eat healthily.
- Make sure that you add Mother Nature’s oestrogens to your diet. By adding these to your daily diet, you can fool the body into thinking that they are still naturally occurring in the body.
- Sources of phytoestrogens include soya and soya products, edamame beans, lentils, organic flax seeds etc. Additionally, add Red Clover to your diet via a supplement called Promensil. I suggest you take this before going to bed to sustain your oestrogen levels while you sleep.
- Work out: Engage in strength training to improve body composition, increase strength, and build and maintain lean muscle. Exercising to the point of breathlessness five times a week will make a real difference.
- Rest and relax: Try to relax before bed and get enough sleep to keep your hormones and appetite well -managed. Try a meditation App such as Pzizz or Headspace for 30 minutes before you go to sleep. It will make all the difference.
If you follow these steps, it is possible to lose weight during this time, regain wellbeing and get back to feeling better.
The bottom line is that menopause can be challenging, both physically and emotionally. However, eating a nutritious diet and getting enough exercise and rest can help prevent weight gain and reduce disease risk.
For further information - join me for my virtual class - Are you feeling weighed down by the Padding of Menopause?
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