Have you noticed your clothes getting a little more snug as you age? It’s not your imagination. Weight gain and even obesity are concerns for women in all stages of menopause. Even if you’ve never struggled with weight, it may be a problem in mid-life. Learn nine steps you can take to get the weight off or avoid weight gain during menopause. You’ll feel better, and you may be able to lower the severity and duration of menopause symptoms.
Menopause weight gain solutions
The natural slow-down of your metabolism is called the “midlife metabolic crisis.” It affects aging men and women because your body loses muscle and gains fat as you get older. For women, it’s compounded by menopause. These changes are natural and slow, so you may not realize it’s a problem until you’ve added an extra ten or fifteen pounds to your waistline.
Weight changes can start when a woman hits her 40’s and begins peri-menopause. There’s a life cycle to menopause, and the symptoms including weight gain hit at different ages.
The average woman gains 4.5 pounds during the transition to menopause. Then, an additional pound a half a year in her 50’s and 60’s. About three-quarters of women 60 years of age and older are overweight, and almost half are obese, according to a report in the Mayo Clinic Proceedings.
Weight gain and a slowing metabolism were the second most common menopause symptoms reported by women in a PeopleTweaker survey. Sleeplessness, which can contribute to weight gain due to hormonal changes, was the third most common complaint, with 59 percent of women reporting insomnia. One woman lamented she gained weight despite exercise over 18 months.
Weight gain during menopause is such a concern for menopausal women that Mayo Clinic researchers recommend doctors proactively screen women for risks of being overweight and offer weight-management counseling to women with higher BMI’s. Obesity leads to an increased risk for many conditions including cardiovascular disease, which is the number one cause of death for postmenopausal women. Furthermore, fat tends to accumulate in a woman’s midsection during menopause, which also increases the risk of cardiovascular disease.
These are nine steps you can take to eliminate or help reduce the symptoms of menopause:
- Eat a diet low in saturated fat and high in fruits and vegetables.
- Eat less. For example, eat an appetizer instead of an entrée.
- Watch your calories.
- Don’t eat 3-4 hours before you go to bed.
- Get enough sleep.
- Drink more water.
- Try strength training (e.g, working with weights).
- Manage stress.
- Talk to your doctor.
Healthy eating in menopause
Studies show healthy eating before, during, and after menopause can help prevent menopause symptoms. Simply choosing different foods, can improve how you feel.
A study by the Women’s Health Initiative found weight loss can even eliminate hot flashes and night sweats in some postmenopausal women. The weight loss can be gradual. In this particular study, the women lost weight over a year.
If you’re gaining weight, and perhaps for the first time in your life, you’re probably looking for weight loss techniques. Are you always looking at the latest diet trend – Keto, Whole 30, or Atkins? Many of these approaches simply eliminate foods or bulk up on others in a way many do not find sustainable or may be unhealthy in the long-term. Instead, focus on a balanced approach with moderation as your North star.
If you do nothing else, lower your saturated fat intake (and eliminate trans fats altogether) and increase fiber. These foods help keep your estrogen level stable, thereby helping to relieve symptoms. Some studies even suggest success in eating more vegetables, whole grains, and fruits.
Many women look for naturally occurring estrogen found in plant-based foods like soy. That’s a staple in the Asian diet in many Asian countries, and the reduced rate of hot flashes in those cultures fuels the consumption of soy and flaxseed in the U.S.
Some women also have luck with the Mediterranean diet, which focuses on lots of fruit, vegetables, healthy fats, and some red wine. It’s generally known for its benefits in slowing down aging and lowering your risk for cardiovascular disease.
An Australian study of more than 6000 women, also showed the Mediterranean diet could lower a menopausal woman’s chance of hot flashes and night sweats by 20-percent.
If you want a natural alternative to hormones, consider the foods you eat. Try these options:
- Lower your saturated fat intake and eliminate trans fats.
- Increase vegetables and fiber.
- Eat plant-based foods.
- Try the Mediterranean diet.
These steps will not only help your waistline but possibly reduce your menopause symptoms too.
You can watch what you eat, by lowering the fat content and increasing vegetables and fiber, but weight loss also requires portion control. Eating smaller portions is harder than ever, as serving sizes have drastically increased over the years.
In the 1980s, a slice of pizza had 500 calories. Now, it has 850 calories according to NYC Health.
A turkey sandwich used to be two slices of bread. Now, it’s more like a foot-long sub with lots of bread. The difference — 320 calories in the 1980s and 820 today.
So, eat less. Don’t skip meals, but do a better job of eating less at every meal. Your plate should be ½ vegetables, ¼ protein, and ¼ starch.
You can also use your hand to measure portions. According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, this is how much food you should eat:
- Fist: Vegetables and fruit
- Scooped handful: Grains
- Palm: Meat
- Thumb: Peanut butter or cheese.
- Fingertip: Fat like butter.
Now, look at your hand? How often are you eating the right amount?
Want to turbocharge your efforts? Consider mindful eating to help with portion control.
Watch your calories
A 1200 calorie diet, is the general rule of thumb for someone looking to lose weight. A woman eating this many calories can lose a half a pound or more each week.
It’s getting easier to count calories with many restaurants posting calorie counts on menus. You may even be surprised by how many calories are in food. Most restaurant entrees are close to your daily calorie intake. Calories, however, are just one part of the nutrition equation.
Get support from a nutritionist, dietitian or a calorie counting app like MyFitnessPal. There are also resources like the National Weight Control Registry. It’s a review of 10,000 people who successfully kept large amounts of weight off for an extended period. Those who successfully maintained their weight loss for at least 5 years had certain actions in common:
- 78% eat breakfast every day.
- 75% weigh themselves at least once a week.
- 62% watch less than 10 hours of TV per week.
- 90% exercise, on average, about 1 hour per day.
Maintaining a healthy weight will make you feel better and may decrease menopause symptoms.
Don’t eat 3-4 hours before going to bed
Eating late at night or right before you go to bed increases the likelihood of weight gain and reduces the likelihood of getting a good night’s sleep, which in turn also increases the likelihood of putting on the pounds. It also increases the chance you will experience GI reflux, especially if you are prone to those symptoms.
Some researchers believe when you restrict eating to certain times of the day, e.g. getting all of your intake in a 10 to 12-hour timeframe or go 12-14 hours between your last meal of the day and the first meal the day after you can lose weight, more easily maintain a healthy diet, and prevent certain illnesses or make them easier to manage. This is time-restricted feeding. The theory is that your body isn’t designed to process food all day.
You can adjust the times you don’t eat, based on your sleeping schedule, but the concept is simple to follow.
Get enough sleep
People who sleep less also tend to eat more due to increased appetite driven by hormonal changes – lower levels of leptin (stimulates feelings of satiety) and higher levels of ghrelin (stimulates the appetite and promotes fat storage). Women who slept 5 hours or less a night gained weight compared with those sleeping 7 hours every night, in a study of 68,000 women.
But, sleep can be difficult starting in perimenopause. 59 percent of women in our PeopleTweaker survey had trouble sleeping. So, what are some ways to get more sleep?
- Establish a relaxing routine that signals to your body that it is bedtime.
- Avoid caffeine after noon.
- Don’t drink alcohol late at night.
- Avoid a heavy meal before bedtime as well as snacking into the night
- Sleep in a darkened room (or use a sleep mask) on a good quality mattress.
- Lower the temperature (66 – 68 degrees).
- Stop using technology (cell phone, computer, TV, iPad, etc.) several hours before going to bed.
- Avoid exercise several hours before bedtime.
While some people take medication to help with sleep, it is not a long-term solution and can result in dangerous side effects. Cognitive behavioral therapy can be helpful for insomnia associated with menopause as well as other causes of sleeplessness too.
Drink more water
Water has many benefits, including making you feel full, so you eat less. While you don’t want to feel bloated, and perhaps already do in menopause, there are more benefits than downsides. Sometimes feelings of hunger can actually reflect a state of dehydration. Water flushes out your body and aids in digestion.
Also, if you replace water for high-calorie drinks like soda, sports drinks, or sweetened coffee, you’re lowering your calorie intake.
Aim for 8-12 glasses of water a day unless you have a health condition where your fluid intake must be restricted.
Water is a simple step you can take to keep the weight off and reduce symptoms like hot flashes and night sweats. Take small steps. The cumulative effect will make a difference.
Physical activity during menopause
More women turned to physical activity than any other treatment for menopause symptoms in the PeopleTweaker survey. Women who are physically active before and during midlife and those who increase their activity level during menopause have a lower chance of gaining weight.
The amount of time in physical activity necessary to lose weight can vary, especially depending on your eating habits. It’s recommended that you get a baseline 150 to 175 minutes of physical activity every week to lose weight.
The optimal combination of physical activity includes aerobic exercise, strength training/weight-bearing exercise, and movements which help promote good balance.
Also, try high-intensity interval training (HIIT) workouts. According to a University of Scranton study, obese postmenopausal women who did 10 minutes of HIIT five times a week lost twice as much weight as those focusing on endurance-based aerobic exercises like walking or swimming. Plus, they lost six inches of body mass.
In addition to the HIIT workouts, the women followed a 1200 to 1500 calorie diet. So, again, food plays a significant role in weight loss. And for most people, physical activity alone will not get you there. You need to burn more calories and eat well.
While a small study, it shows physical activity makes a difference in weight loss.
In addition to helping you lose weight, physical activity can also help you manage stress.
Of course, menopause symptoms like hot flashes, sleeplessness, and mood swings just add to your stress. Depending on the severity, they can make it difficult to get through the day.
When you’re stressed, your body responds by making more cortisol. It’s often called the stress hormone. Cortisol changes fat distribution, causing your body to store it centrally in your midsection, which increases your risk of cardiovascular disease.
Increased cortisol can also increase your appetite or cravings for unhealthy food. Stress eating during menopause will just make it harder to lose and maintain an optimal weight.
So, consider exercise, yoga, tai chi, and meditation. In an analysis of 9 studies, eight showed yoga, tai chi and meditation-based programs improved symptoms like hot flashes in menopausal women.
Guided imagery is another stress relaxation technique that calms your mind and body.
You don’t need a lot of time to manage your stress. With mindfulness, you can get started with just five minutes a day. Focus on your breath, and change the outlook of your day.
Also, consider what’s causing your stress. Is it more than just menopause? Do you feel overwhelmed? If so, use these 4 strategies to calm the chaos and gain control.
To uncover what’s really behind all your stress, and to find motivation and strategies to manage it, consider the “Be Less Stressed” guidebook.
As you work through your stress, menopause-related or not, you’ll notice your health, well-being, and happiness improve.
Committing to stress management is an investment in you. It’ll help you manage your day to day tasks better and help you maintain a healthy weight.
Talk to your doctor
Menopause can be a time of emotional volatility, which may range from irritability and mood swings to intense and debilitating anger and rage. Some women also note changes in cognition, e.g., brain “fog,” difficulty with focus and concentration as well as feelings of loss. Because everything is connected, emotional distress impacts your body and brain. Low energy, lack of motivation, cravings, and stress eating make it more difficult to maintain or lose weight.
Speak with your doctor and do not hesitate to seek help from a mental health professional if your emotions and feelings become overwhelming or make it difficult to get through the day.
Menopause weight loss
Prioritizing your nutrition and intake of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein and eliminating processed foods has many benefits. Healthy eating and sufficient hydration, getting enough sleep and physical activity, addressing stress, and increasing your focus on emotional health allow you to take greater control of menopausal weight gain.
How are you losing weight during menopause?
As a physician, healthcare executive at a Fortune 100 company, and integrative health practitioner, Z. Colette Edwards, MD, MBA knows the unique value of a holistic, whole-person approach to health and well-being. She also understands the challenges health inequities can present. Known as “The Insight Doctor,” she offers guidance and powerful tools that prepare your body, mind, and spirit for menopause, stress, and inflammatory bowel disease. Lastly, Dr. Edwards coaches individuals in the development of self-advocacy and health system navigation skills.
The foregoing information, resources, links and/or references (collectively, the “Materials”) are provided solely for informational purposes and are not intended as medical or other professional advice. No representation or warranty of any kind is made in connection with the content of the Materials. The Materials may not be current and no one should take any action based on the Materials without first consulting their healthcare professional.