Unwanted weight gain is frustrating at any age and if you’re approaching or have reached menopause, you may feel the deck is stacked against you. However, there are several changes that you can make in preventing weight gain from menopause.
What is Menopause & How Does It Affect Your Body?
Menopause is a normal condition that all women experience, and it usually occurs between the ages of 40 and 50. “Menopause” describes all the symptoms that occur right before and after a woman stops menstruating. These arise from the change of hormones in your body.
There are a limited number of eggs stored in your ovaries, and once your supply has been diminished, your ovaries stop releasing an egg every month. Since your ovaries are also responsible for making the female sex hormones estrogen and progesterone, as you get older, your body sees a drop in the level of these hormones, which can cause a number of different symptoms. Some women can experience intense symptoms that start even before menopause. However, others go through menopause without experiencing any noticeable changes.
Menopause occurs in three stages. First begins perimenopause, which typically occurs several years before menopause when the ovaries are making less estrogen. Menopause then follows once a woman has gone a year without her last period. Finally, there is postmenopause, the years following menopause. During this time, symptoms begin to ease up.
Decreasing hormone levels with perimenopause (pre-menopause) can last years before menopause is complete. Many women experience mood swings, slowed metabolism and sometimes depression.
Stress from daily life, inadequate sleep from night sweats and hot flashes can also contribute to mood changes and fatigue. All of these changes combined can make menopausal women prone to weight gain, especially in the abdomen region. However, never fear, there are strategies that can help improve your quality of life and maintaining a healthy weight during this transition. Additionally, adopting an active lifestyle and a healthy diet can help a woman feel more in control during this stage of her life.
How to Lose Weight During Menopause & Prevent Weight Gain
Men and women naturally lose muscle mass as part of the aging process. This process will affect the percentage of body fat compared to lean tissue. Less muscle mass could also slow the metabolic rate (the rate at which calories are burned). Here are some tips that can help combat menopause weight gain and stay on track with your weight loss goals:
Staying active throughout life is one of the best ways to retain more muscle mass, and burn more calories. Incorporating more invigorating activities as a part of a daily routine can ease many of the menopausal symptoms women experience. Finding more ways to be active throughout the day can add up quickly.
Strength or resistance training exercises are especially helpful, not only with retaining muscle mass, but also helping to slow mineral loss in bones which can lead to osteoporosis. Incorporating aerobic exercise is important for heart health, brain function and helps some women sleep better at night.
Here are a few examples of good workouts that not only can help with weight loss, but also help ease menopause symptoms.
- Swimming is a great way to get your cardio in without getting too hot, as the pool can help ease any potential hot flashes.
- Yoga can not only help improve your body, but it can do wonders for your mind as well, alleviating some of the potential mood swings and stress that can come with menopause. Restorative yoga can also help alleviate hot flashes, fight fatigue, and help with irritability.
- Tai Chi is all about balance, and it’s important to improve your body’s stability as aging can affect balance. This can help with muscle coordination as well as injury prevention.
- Biking is another aerobic activity that can help boost your cardiovascular health and shed that unwanted menopause weight. It can also help fight off some of that anxiety associated with menopause.
*For most healthy adults, the Department of Health and Human Services recommends moderate aerobic activity, such as brisk walking, for at least 150 minutes a week or vigorous aerobic activity, such as jogging, for at least 75 minutes a week. In addition, strength training exercises are recommended at least twice a week. Be sure to contact your doctor to discuss any changes to your activity routine.
Menopause & Diet Changes
Once you start menopause, it’s important to adjust your diet to help your body better adjust to its changes. Making healthy eating choices can help make this transitional time easier and ease your symptoms.
It’s important to watch your weight when you go through menopause because weight gain may increase risk with other health issues such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and insulin resistance.1
There are many nutrients that are especially important to consume during menopause, as they can help with any natural deficiencies, as well as help prevent or ease certain conditions. Another bonus is the boost you may experience with your weight loss! Here are the common types of nutrients you’ll want to make sure you include in your diet:
- Calcium: Women tend to be deficient in calcium, which makes it very important to ensure you’re getting enough in your diet. Calcium is important to maintain bone mass as well as prevent osteoporosis. Because your body isn’t producing as much estrogen, it makes it harder for your body to retain calcium.2
- Vitamin D: Vitamin D can help with the absorption of calcium to ensure it is deposited in the bones. It can help prevent fractures as well as bone pain.3
- Vitamin C: In addition to boosting your immune system, Vitamin C is also an antioxidant that can help protect the body from free radical damage. It can also assist with bone health.
- Vitamin A: Another important antioxidant, vitamin A is an essential nutrient to help maintain your bone health.4
- Vitamin E: Vitamin E is also an antioxidant that can help prevent oxidative stress in the body as well as mental stress and depression. It can also fight off cell damage and ease inflammation.
- Vitamin B-6: This vitamin can help combat mood swings as well as depression that results from menopause. This is because Vitamin B-6 helps make serotonin, and levels of the feel-good hormone drop naturally as you age.5
- Vitamin B12: As you age, your body loses some of its ability to absorb this vitamin, which can leave you feeling fatigued, weak and down. Vitamin B-12 is important to help boost your energy and improve neurological function.6
- Magnesium: During menopause Magnesium levels tend to wane, so it’s important to eat foods that contain the nutrient to keep your levels up. Magnesium not only helps with bone health, but can reduce symptoms of menopause such as insomnia, mood swings, anxiety and more.7
Keeping these nutrients in mind, it’s important to eat a balanced diet to not only help you feel your best but to prevent weight gain during menopause. There are some foods you’ll definitely want to include in your diet along with some foods you’re better off skipping.
Foods To Consume:
- Water: First and foremost, don’t forget to drink water. It will not only help fill you up so you don’t overeat, but it can help boost your energy levels, improve your mood and can even prevent dried out skin. Try these tips to drink more water every day.
- Leafy Greens: Eating leafy greens such as kale, spinach, and broccoli can help ensure you’re getting your fair share of iron, calcium, and fiber. This can help prevent bone loss as well as menopausal weight gain.
- Whole Grains: Whole grains are a good source of fiber, which can not only help you manage your weight by keeping you full, but can help prevent against heart disease as your risk goes up as you age.8
- Fish: Options such as salmon, tuna and sardines are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which can help combat your risk of anxiety, depression or potential heart problems.
Foods To Avoid:
- Sugar: Controlling your blood sugar is important to minimize excess weight gain as well as fight fatigue. Try to avoid processed sugars and stick to naturally sweet foods such as fruit.
- Caffeine: There’s nothing like a good cup of coffee in the morning, but research shows that women who consume caffeine during menopause are more likely to suffer from hot flashes.
- Alcohol: Drinking alcohol can increase your risk of breast cancer, heart disease, and even hot flashes. It’s okay to indulge occasionally, but keep it to no more than one drink a day.9
Your body goes through many changes during and after menopause, and initially, you might find it can be difficult to adjust to these differences and figure out your body's new needs. However, you can get back to feeling normal and like yourself if you take the right steps for your health. This includes maintaining a regular exercise routine, eating a well-balanced diet and avoiding certain foods that could make your symptoms worse. It’s important to talk to your doctors, but there’s no reason you should let menopause interfere with living your best life or attaining the body you deserve.