Weight Gain During Menopause?
According to those in the know (and all of us who are going through or been through it) about 70% of all premenopausal and menopausal women worldwide will gain weight. To continue with the depressing facts, women can expect to gain 4 - 10 kilos, an increase of one or two sizes. Nor surprisingly, many menopausal women become frustrated, discouraged, annoyed, and angry as they gain the weight.
As with most forms of weight gain it’s not usually a single factor that’s to blame, but it’s multi-layered. Women who have never had weight problems, suddenly do. Suddenly we find ourselves heavier and thicker through the trunk with those bat wings or tuck shop arms developing alarmingly quickly.
During menopause our bodies produce less estrogen from the ovaries, but still need estrogen to function, so fat cells begin to produce hormones. Because of this change in production, you tend to put on a few kilos to keep up with the estrogen demand. These few kilos begin to show themselves especially around the midsection. The truth is that your body needs some fat to have normal hormone health, but not too much fat because that may lead to health issues such as obesity and cardiovascular disease.
At menopause both estrogen and progesterone are low. It's less volatile, but this combo means increased deposition of belly fat since insulin and cortisol are wreaking havoc and we undergo brain chemical changes, which means increased hunger and cravings. Postmenopause sees low estrogen and progesterone, but higher relative testosterone because ovaries keep producing testosterone. This accelerates belly growth.
Therefore, one of the first steps you need to do is acknowledge that your hormonal functions and the way your body copes with them are not what they were (stating the bloody obvious), and what you do moving forward has to change, too. The old ways won't work anymore.
Hormone Disruption and Stress
We know that low estrogen impacts your ability to cope with stress, and if you are in a constant heightened state of stress then you produce more cortisol and likely become more insulin resistant. This state of being leads to weight gain. Studies have shown the impact of estradiol (our most active estrogen) and fat storage—we burn less fat than we did prior to peri-menopause and during menopause. We are not only likely to store more fat, but will also have an inability to part with it as easily as we did before.
Other independent risk factors for stress during menopause include poor sleep, negative life events, lack of employment, change in family dynamics, and the acceptance of the natural aging process, which can certainly contribute to higher levels of stress, even depression. It’s important to recognize these deep biochemical level changes and the impact they have on your body.
Are You Making the Problem Worse?
Shit, yes! Especially after reading that everything in our lives is making us fat! We will gain weight so, as women, the knee-jerk reaction is to eat less and work out harder, that’s what we did 20 years ago, so it should work now. Right? The problem is that this approach isn’t going to work. In fact, eating less and working out harder might be making the problem worse. Are you guilty of any of the following?
Over-exercising, so stressing out an already stressed out body (hard-core exercise six days a week).
Not resting enough to allow your body to recover adequately before it is stressed again through exercise (working late & unproductively; not allowing your body to unwind).
Not doing enough self-care, finding the time for mindfulness or meditation. (Yoga, yoga, yoga).
Eating like a sparrow. It is very common in women to think less food will mean they will lose fat, yet because of the metabolic disruption they are experiencing this will mean rather than eating less, they need to eat more intelligently. (A well-balanced diet; no sugar)
The solution to weight gain during menopause needs to be considered from a lifestyle/mindset standpoint and not from nutrition alone. Here are some ways you can start to make small changes that will have lasting, impactful results:
Exercise intelligently. Your exercise schedule should be designed so that you incorporate strength work to build lean muscle with some metabolic overload for aerobic conditioning and metabolic adaptation.
Practice self care. This is one of the important pieces of the puzzle that is overlooked by women because they feel it is too time consuming and not important enough, yet we know that stress is a massive factor for fat gain, so taking the time to unwind, destress, restock, whatever you want to call it, is very important.
Rest adequately. Interrupted sleep, which can occur frequently during menopause, will also affect your stress levels. Don’t be afraid to take it easy on the days when you are tired. Take a nap and change your workout to be more movement based rather than high intensity. Do less.
Eat in moderation with your nutrition goals in mind. Proteins, healthy fats, and complex carbs in the form of fruit, vegetables, and grains (fiber) are your best friend right now. Sugary starches and junk food really are the bad girls on the playground.
Play the long game. You simply have no choice. We know that weight loss and body composition changes during this phase will take longer, but they are still attainable. Your changes should be focused on long term goals, quick fix diets will do you more harm than good.
Find a community. Everything's easier when you know you are not alone. Menopause can make you feel very isolated and as though nobody truly understands what you are experiencing. Find a group of women who can support you, listen to your issues without judgement, and help you feel better about the journey. Fortunately, we have many women in our community going through similar stages and more than happy to share their experiences.
Enjoy the process of introducing new habits into your life that you know will eventually have you back to feeling your best. Know that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. You can do this!
Information Credit: www.bodybuilding.com