By Linda Folken, RDN, CDN, CHC-ACE
As you enter midlife, you may notice that maintaining your usual weight becomes more of a challenge. The hormonal changes of menopause can lead to extra weight gain around the belly area.
Hormonal changes are not the only things that contribute to weight gain. Aging, lifestyle and genetic factors also play a significant role. As you age, you tend to lose muscle mass and gain more fat. This, in turn, decreases your metabolism. Therefore, if you continue to eat the same way you did when you were younger and do not increase your activity level, you will inevitably gain weight.
Sedentary lifestyle, unhealthy eating and lack of sleep may also contribute to menopausal weight gain. Hunger hormones, such as ghrelin, increase when you do not get enough sleep. Oftentimes, this results in increased snacking and calorie consumption. There are genetic factors as well. If your parents or other relatives tend to carry more weight around the middle, it is more likely that you will too.
Menopause weight gain affects more than just your physique and how you feel physically. It can also affect your health. Excess weight, especially around the abdomen, increases your risk for type 2 diabetes, heart disease and various types of cancers. Here are five steps you can take to make weight loss easier during this time:
- Move more. Physical activity can help burn off menopausal weight gain. The American Academy of Medicine Sports guidelines recommend 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity every week or 10,000 steps per day, and two or more days a week of strength training.
- Eat smart. Eating a healthy diet can save you the calories you no longer burn due to a slowdown in your metabolism. How can you do this without feeling hungry? Eat more fruits, vegetables and whole grains and less processed foods, including high fat and sugary items.
- Enjoy sleep. By getting more sleep or better-quality sleep, you may be able to help your waistline. It will also make you feel more energetic. The average adult needs seven to eight hours of sleep each night.
- Seek support. Asking for help can make these lifestyle habits easier to incorporate and maintain. Surround yourself with people who are supportive of your efforts and value healthy eating and increased activity.
- Stress less. Working to reduce your stress can decrease the levels of adrenaline, corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH) and cortisol in the body. These stress hormones have been shown to be connected to weight gain. They can cause an increase in appetite, and you may find it harder to eat healthy.
Realizing that you are not alone, and that menopausal weight gain is an issue that many women face are the first steps in solving the problem. Addressing weight gain issues at any stage of life requires permanent changes in lifestyle habits. By incorporating these five steps into your daily routine, you can increase your quality of life while putting yourself at decreased risk for developing many common health issues.
Garrard, Cathy. “10 Ways to Beat Menopausal Belly Fat.” Everyday Health, Sept. 2018, https://www.everydayhealth.com/menopause-pictures/ways-to-beat-menopausal-belly-fat.aspx
“Menopause weight gain: Stop the middle age spread.” Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/womens-health/in-depth/menopause-weight-gain/art-20046058
Linda Folken, RDN, CDN, CHC-ACE has practiced in the health care field as a registered dietitian/nutritionist (RDN) for over 30 years. She specializes in bariatric and medical weight management.