Updated: April 22, 2020
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 that may prevent weight gain before and after 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 hormonal changes in your body.
There are a limited number of eggs stored in your ovaries and once this 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 experiences lowered levels of these hormones, which may cause several 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:
- Perimenopause: Typically occurs several years before menopause, when the ovaries are creating less estrogen.
- Menopause: Occurs once a woman has gone a year without her last period.
- Postmenopause: The years following menopause. During this time, symptoms begin to lessen.
The decreasing hormone levels during perimenopause (pre-menopause) may last years before menopause occurs. Many women may experience mood swings, slowed metabolism and occasionally, depression.
Stress from daily life and inadequate sleep from night sweats and hot flashes may also contribute to mood changes and fatigue. Combined, these changes may make menopausal women prone to weight gain, especially in the abdominal region. However, there are strategies that may help improve your quality of life and your ability to maintain a healthy weight during this transition. Additionally, adopting an active lifestyle and making diet changes, especially as you age, can help you feel more in control during this stage of your life.
Menopause & weight gain – Why?
There are a variety of reasons why women start gaining weight around menopause. Some of the most common include:
- Hormonal changes: Heightened and lowered estrogen levels may result in increased fat storage.
- Loss of muscle mass: Men and women experience a loss in muscle mass due to aging. As your muscle mass declines, so can your resting metabolic rate, which may result in weight gain if your diet doesn’t change.1
- Lack of sleep: As researchers have found, lack of sleep can cause weight gain due to inhibiting chemical signals that control appetite.2
- In addition, weight gain can be linked to medical conditions such as thyroid issues or an increase in insulin resistance.
How to Lose Weight During & After Menopause Naturally, While Preventing Weight Gain
Men and women naturally lose muscle mass as part of the aging process. This process affects their percentage of body fat compared to lean tissue. Less muscle mass may also slow the metabolic rate (the rate at which calories are burned). Here are some tips that may help you to combat menopausal weight gain and stay on track with your long-term weight loss goals:
Staying active is one of the best ways to retain more muscle mass, burn more calories, and keep your heart healthy. Incorporating more invigorating activities as a part of your daily routine may ease many of the menopausal symptoms you experience.
Strength or resistance training exercises are especially helpful, not only for retaining muscle mass, but also for slowing mineral loss in bones, which may lead to osteoporosis. Incorporating aerobic exercise is important for heart health, brain function and may help some women sleep better at night.
These are great workouts for weight loss and easing menopause symptoms:
- Swimming is a great way to get your cardio in without getting too hot, as the pool can help ease potential hot flashes.
- Yoga may improve your flexibility and strength, and your mind, alleviating potential mood swings and stress that accompany menopause. Restorative yoga may also help alleviate hot flashes, fight fatigue and help with irritability.
- Tai chi is all about balance. Aging may affect balance, so it’s important to improve your body’s stability. This may help with muscle coordination and injury prevention.
- Biking is another aerobic activity that may help boost your cardiovascular health and shed unwanted weight. It may also help fight off 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 physical activity.3
Menopause & diet changes
Once menopause begins, it’s important to adjust your diet to help your body better adapt to its changes. Making healthy eating choices may help make this transitional time easier by easing your symptoms.
It’s important to watch your weight when you go through menopause. Weight gain may increase the risk of other health issues such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and insulin resistance.4
There are many nutrients that are especially important to consume during menopause, as they may 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 common nutrients you’ll want to 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 and prevent osteoporosis. Because your body isn’t producing as much estrogen, it’s harder for your body to retain calcium.5
- Vitamin D: Vitamin D may help with the absorption of calcium to ensure it is deposited in the bones. It may help prevent fractures as well as bone pain.6
- Vitamin C: In addition to boosting your immune system, vitamin C is an antioxidant that may help protect the body from free radical damage. It may also assist with bone health. Here's everything you need to know about antioxidants.
- Vitamin A: Another important antioxidant, vitamin A is an essential nutrient to help maintain your bone health.7
- Vitamin E: Vitamin E is an antioxidant that may prevent oxidative stress in the body as well as mental stress and depression. It may also fight off cell damage and ease inflammation.
- Vitamin B-6: This vitamin may help combat mood swings as well as depression that may result from menopause. Vitamin B-6 helps make serotonin, the feel-good hormone. Serotonin levels naturally drop as you age.8
- 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.9
- 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 may reduce symptoms of menopause such as insomnia, mood swings, anxiety and more.10
Keeping these nutrients in mind, it’s important to eat a balanced diet to feel your best and prevent weight gain during menopause. Below, you’ll find foods you’ll want to include in your diet and some you’re better off skipping. Eating food in moderation is a good rule of thumb. By adding a variety of healthy foods to your meals, you may avoid weight gain during menopause.
Foods to Consume:
- Water: Don’t forget to drink water. Water increases feelings of fullness, preventing overeating. Water may also help boost your energy levels, improve your mood and may even prevent dried out skin. Try these tips to drink more water every day.
- Leafy greens: Eating kale, spinach and broccoli ensures you’re getting your fair share of iron, calcium and fiber. This may help prevent bone loss and menopausal weight gain.
- Whole grains: Whole grains are a good source of fiber, which may not only help you manage your weight by keeping you full, it may help prevent age-related heart disease.11 Learn more about how fiber helps with weight loss.
- 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 and fight fatigue. Try to avoid consuming too many foods containing processed sugars and stick to naturally sweet foods like fruit. Use this list to learn more about the most sugary foods to avoid and what to eat instead. While cutting out sugar completely is a little lofty, keeping tabs on your added sugar is a great guideline.
- 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. If you enjoy sipping something warm in the morning, try opting for tea which tends to have less caffeine.
- Alcohol: Drinking alcohol may 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.12
Your body goes through many changes during and after menopause, and initially, you might find it difficult to adjusting to your body's new needs. By maintaining a regular exercise routine, eating a well-balanced diet and avoiding certain foods that may worsen your symptoms, you’ll be taking the steps you need to ease your symptoms and achieve better health. You should always consult your doctor before making changes to your routine and eating habits, but there’s no reason to let menopause interfere with living your best life or attaining the body you deserve.
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