Weight gain does not have to be an inevitable result of menopause. Find out what strategies have been proven to help keep the pounds at bay.
Allison never thought too much about her weight until she hit 50. But with the onset of menopause, the pounds started to creep up, even though her eating and exercise habits had not changed much.
Sound familiar? On average, American women gain about a pound a year between their mid 40s and 50s – right about those years just before and after menopause.
Alas, weight gain in midlife has much greater implications for older women than no longer being able to fit into a pair of favorite jeans. Women who are overweight or obese after menopause have increased risk for:
- Breast cancer
- Heart disease, osteoarthritis, high blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol
- Greater frequency and severity of hot flashes
Blame it on hormones?
Is weight gain at this time of life inevitable – just a frustrating result of menopausal hormones that go with hot flashes and memory loss?
It is likely that hormones may affect your proportion of lean muscle mass to body fat. They may also play a role in where fat settles on your body (belly versus hips). But research shows that hormones most likely have little to do with overall weight gain.
Seeing changes in their body shape may give women the impression that menopause is the main cause of their newly padded bodies. In reality, though, midlife weight gain appears to be mostly related to these lifestyle changes:
- Lack of or decrease in exercise. Studies have shown that women who keep active have less body fat, maintain smaller waists and gain less weight than those who are not physically active.
- Increased calories. Many women complain that they eat the same (or even less) and are still struggling with their weight. In these cases, they may just burn less, due to a decrease in activity or metabolism. More commonly, women are simply eating more calories (knowingly or unknowingly).
How to battle the midlife bulge
First, it’s important to remember that although everyone gets older, weight gain is not a given. Careful attention to diet and exercise can help to maintain muscle and minimize fat gain. Here’s how:
Get moving! If you are already active, think about re-evaluating your routine. You may need to change things up a bit. Speak to a qualified trainer who can help guide you. If you are not currently exercising on a regular basis, get started! Check with your doctor first about a safe activity level.
- Experts advise exercising regularly on most, if not all days of the week. Exercise should be of moderate intensity, for a minimum of 30 minutes.
- A moderate-intensity workout would be comparable to walking at a 20-minute per mile pace. Brisk walking, jogging, swimming, biking, stair climbing, hiking, dancing and aerobics classes are all good examples.
Work in strength training at least twice a week. This is crucial for helping to build muscle tissue as well as reduce fat around the midsection.
Take careful stock of your current eating patterns. Are you snacking more? Skimping on breakfast and overeating later in the day? Think about keeping a food journal for a short period of time to get a realistic handle on where you stand with your eating habits.
Avoid crash or fad diets. You may be tempted to slash your calories, especially if you feel you are not eating enough to warrant weight gain. Resist this temptation! Starvation will only fuel hunger and more weight gain.
Eat sensibly. Instead of thinking about “dieting,” focus on eating wholesome, unprocessed foods. Include protein and fiber in your meals and snacks. These will help fill you up without overdoing the calories. Good protein sources include fish, chicken, turkey, eggs or cottage cheese. Fiber is found in fruits, veggies, beans and whole grains.
Practice portion control. Though you won’t need to eliminate them, you will have to be especially careful to limit processed and junk foods. In general, eat slowly and watch your portions.
Remember, menopause does not have to bring on weight gain. Throw out that excuse and take charge of your eating and exercise routines. This can help you manage your weight as well as keep you healthy through menopause and beyond.