If you feel like you’ve gained a few pounds now that you’re in menopause, you’re not alone. It’s common for women to gain weight during midlife—an average of 1.5 pounds per year, research shows.1
But concerns around weight gain during menopause isn’t just about being able to fit in your favorite pair of jeans—it can be bad for your health. According to the North American Menopause Society, obesity—particularly abdominal obesity—puts postmenopausal women at increased risk of developing chronic medical conditions, including high blood pressure, heart disease, Type 2 diabetes and breast and uterine cancer.2 And those with Type 2 diabetes may find that weight gain worsens their symptoms.3
But why does midlife weight gain happen in the first place? And is there anything you can do to prevent the pounds from sneaking on? Read on for the 5 most common causes of menopausal weight gain, along with sensible ways to keep the pounds in check.
The Top Causes of Menopausal Weight Gain
1. Hormonal Changes
The drop in estrogen and progesterone that causes the cessation of your period, along with the classic complaints of menopause—mood swings, hot flashes, an altered sex drive, just to name a few—is also a cause of menopausal weight gain.4 This hormonal shift, particularly as it relates to estrogen, is also why you’re more likely to gain weight around your abdomen, as opposed to your hips and thighs.5
But weight gain can start to happen before you’re in full-blown menopause. Many women notice weight changes during the period of time leading up to menopause—called perimenopause—when hormone fluctuations and symptoms start to occur.
2. The Natural Aging Process
You can’t blame hormones alone for menopausal weight gain; you are also more likely to gain weight as you grow older because muscle mass naturally diminishes with age.6 Losing muscle mass affects how quickly your body can use calories and lowers your resting metabolism rate, making it more difficult to maintain a healthy weight. This is why you might find that you’re eating the same but still gaining weight.
In addition to losing muscle, women are more likely to become insulin-resistant as they age.7 Insulin – a hormone that plays a key role in stabilizing blood sugar levels – when unregulated, can make weight gain more likely and weight loss more challenging.
3. Poor Sleep Habits
Your body needs sleep in order to function properly, but many women, particularly perimenopausal and menopausal women, find that they have trouble getting enough rest.8 The reasons for sleep disturbances at this age vary—some women have sleep apnea or other sleep disorders, while others struggle with mood and anxiety disorders, restless leg syndrome or hot flashes.
Regardless of the reason, a lack of sleep is associated with weight gain.9 Being sleep-deprived can also lead to snacking and eat more calories all around.10
4. A Poor Diet and Lack of Exercise
Eating a healthy diet and getting the recommended amount of exercise each week is important at any phase of life. However, it becomes even more critical in helping to fight weight gain during menopause.
Although you know you need to eat right and exercise, you may not always do it as you struggle to balance your career, family needs and social life. With so many priorities competing for your time and attention, it can be easy to grab unhealthy food and skip exercise. Although your body may let you get away with this in your teens, 20’s or even 30’s, it isn’t so forgiving once you reach menopause.
Your genetic legacy can also influence menopausal weight gain. If your mother struggled with her weight during menopause, you may also have difficulty managing yours during this time.11 Additionally, if a parent or another close relative carries extra weight around the middle, you’re more likely to follow in their footsteps.12
How to Keep the Pounds Off
1. Make Dietary Changes
Due to all the changes associated with menopause, you may need to eat a couple hundred calories less per day than you did in your 30s and 40s.13 This might sound daunting, but it can be easier than you think. For example, replace beverages such as soda and juice with calorie-free options. Be sure to drink water throughout the day—eight 8-ounce glasses or more—to help promote a feeling of satiety, and for overall good health. And steer clear of alcoholic beverages—like sodas, they are empty calories, devoid of any nutritional value.
Also, consider whether you should reduce your consumption of sweets and food filled with empty calories. We all have our temptations when it comes to treats, but moderation is key. This means that you can indulge in your favorites every now and then, but in order to prevent weight gain, you need to make it the exception, not the rule. Need more convincing? Research shows that nearly 300 calories come from added sugars each day in the average American diet!14 Half of these calories are from juices and soft drinks, while the rest come from desserts like cookies and ice cream. Another reason why portion-control is key!
If you’re following the Jenny Craig menu, we’ve got you covered as your snacks and desserts are already accounted for in your overall weight loss plan, so you don’t need to worry about enjoying a slice of that Chocolate Lave Cake.
Overall, your diet should include more fruits, vegetables, calcium sources such as nonfat yogurt, and healthy proteins. Lean meats, eggs, low-fat dairy and legumes are some of the protein sources we love.
2. Eat With Your Circadian Rhythm in Mind
To achieve maximum weight loss, you’ll also have to think about the timing of your meals and snacks. Cutting-edge research shows that when you eat is just as important as what you eat.15
Your body and metabolism are regulated by your circadian rhythm. This refers to the behavioral, mental and physical changes you experience over a 24-hour period.16 These changes are divided into two 12-hour periods, which are dictated by light and darkness. It turns out that your metabolism follows a predictable curve each day that matches these periods: your metabolism peaks in the middle of the day and decreases as the day goes on.
To help you on your weight loss journey, Jenny Craig has developed the Rapid Results program, which divides the day into a 12-hour nourishment period and a 12-hour rejuvenation period. You eat six times a day during the nourishment period and take a digestion break during the rejuvenation period. By following a program such as this, you will find that you’re eating in sync with your body’s natural rhythm, which can lead to greater weight loss.17
3. Keep Moving
If breaking a sweat isn’t part of your normal routine, now is the time to start. Even if you work out regularly, it may be a good time to re-evaluate your exercise routine to make sure it includes both aerobic exercise and strength training. Not only will this type of variety keep you from getting bored with your workout routine, but it is also necessary to maintain health and promote weight loss.
Aerobic exercise is any activity that gets the large muscles in your body moving for an extended period of time. Some examples include walking, running, dancing, swimming and cycling. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise every week.18 Even small bursts of activity throughout your day can help you reach this number. Try a brisk walk on your lunch break or after work a few times a week – little changes throughout your day can make a big difference!
As for strength training, this includes any exercise that increases skeletal muscle strength, mass, power and endurance. The CDC recommends that adults do muscle-strengthening activities that work all major muscle groups at least two days a week. You don’t need to be a bodybuilder to reap the rewards: try incorporating weights in a simple circuit based workout with stretching and cardio. Not only does strength training prevent muscle loss, but it can also help you rebuild muscle and prevent osteoporosis.19
All forms of exercise also offer a number of other health benefits, including a lower risk of metabolic syndrome and cardiovascular disease, enhanced joint and muscle health, and relief from depression and anxiety.20
4. Get More Sleep
Because lack of sleep can contribute to weight gain during menopause, it’s important to get enough rest each night. According to the CDC, adults between the ages of 18 and 60 need seven or more hours of sleep each night.21 If you’re not getting enough rest, try figuring out why and take steps to solve for it.
If your busy schedule is keeping you from getting to bed at a reasonable hour, try to simplify it. Don’t be afraid to start saying no to certain activities or delegate some responsibilities. Take a hard look at your schedule and see where you can cut items to make room for more sleep.
5. Seek Support
It can be difficult to make lifestyle changes on your own, so why not get some support? Surround yourself with friends and loved ones who will support you on your journey to lose weight and get healthy. You may want to consider the benefits of having your own personal weight loss consultant, who is there to support you every step of the way.
Also, consider enlisting a friend to be your workout buddy and make lifestyle changes together. It’ll make sticking with these changes even easier—and more fun.
Although menopause can cause weight gain, you can take steps now to help prevent or minimize it. By understanding why you gain weight during this time and implementing simple lifestyle changes, you can continue on a healthy path – weight gain is not inevitable! You may even lose weight if you implement healthier choices that you weren’t making before.
If you’re ready to take the next step in your weight loss journey, contact Jenny Craig today to schedule your free appointment.
 Cell metabolism 23.6 (2016): 1048-1059. DOI: 10.1016/j.cmet.2016.06.001
Edited by Elisa - Jenny Craig