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Weight gain around the middle: a curse of menopause? Or is there a way to avoid it? While menopause weight gain affects many older women, the good news is that there are a number of things that you can do to keep the creeping pounds away from your waistline. Here's what you need to know.
Menopause is characterised by a shift in the types and levels of oestrogen in a woman's body. It's a natural phenomenon and the consequence is the end of menstruation. The simplistic view, that menopausal symptoms are due to a lack of oestrogen, is not only confusing but inaccurate. It's actually the other way round.
Menopause weight gain is not only driven by excess oestrogen, it produces oestrogen itself. Diseases such as breast cancer are almost always oestrogen-dependent and there is evidence that we should be more concerned about too much oestrogen rather than not enough.
Oestrogen may partially contribute to bone density and vaginal lubrication, but it also increases fat stores, drives water retention and slows down gut movements leading to constipation and bloating.
There are a number of different ways that you can avoid menopause weight gain, but an important step to a slimmer and happier menopause is to control your oestrogen levels. This can be done by not only cutting out certain types of food and stocking up on others, but by avoiding products that contain xenoestrogens (environmental hormones) which can be dangerous to your health. Xenoestrogens can be found in places such as:
While it is, of course, tricky to avoid xenoestrogens altogether, it is helpful to be aware of the types of products you are using and what ingredients they contain. Using simple organic products with fewer ingredients and natural essential oils from plants, particularly as part of your beauty regime, could be helpful here.
An oestrogen detox could help you get to the root of the problem as well as help you get into a routine of eating the right foods, especially if you know that certain foods will help you to beat menopausal symptoms. Here are four ways that you can attempt an oestrogen detox:
"I am eating very healthily but I do weaken sometimes. It's never a straight downward path - it zigzags! I've bought healthy recipe books which are really good - yummy food that my husband and any visitors, grandchildren etc can eat too, so it's a win-win situation. I don't crave biscuits or sweets any more (mostly) and I've got into the habit of having plenty of fruit and raw veg on hand to snack on. And we're advised to drink loads of water throughout the day."
Reducing the load of unfriendly gut bacteria can be pivotal in helping you to avoid menopause weight gain. The main way that you can improve your gut bacteria is by eating the right foods and enjoying a diet rich in fibre. Ensure that you:
These types are foods will often help to prevent constipation and bloating. Avoiding foods that lead to constipation is a great step in helping you to maintain a healthy diet and providing you with enough energy to see you through the day without feeling sluggish or uncomfortable.
Limiting the foods and drink that specifically contribute to intra-abdominal fat could also be the key to reducing menopause weight gain. Abdominal fat can also have a negative impact on your health. You can limit intra-abdominal fat by:
"The middle waist fat does have to be watched because of the risks of disease, diabetes, heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure some cancers."
No matter how much medical advice we receive and what diet regimes we're encouraged to pursue, it really is a case of 'no one solution fits all'. Taking steps to reduce menopause weight gain is a trial-and-error process and different for every woman, which is why we've collated some tips from those who have been there, done that and got the t-shirt.
Dr Michael Mosley's 5:2 Diet has certainly garnered praise, particularly for its no nonsense approach to dieting. While some of our users have found the diet tricky to adjust to at first, the diet has proved extremely useful in helping them to lose weight.
"Three years ago I did the 5:2 and lost two stone. The secret for me was limiting myself to 1,200 calories on non-fast days, but relaxing that when away or out with friends."
"I've changed my eating habits using Michael Mosley's 'Blood Sugar Diet' and since January have shed four stone and four pounds. I'm aiming for a six stone loss as it's not a hard way of eating to follow. In fact, we're really enjoying the recipes as a family."
"The 5:2 diet is brilliant. My husband and I have done this for about five years now - we have adapted it a bit to suit our lifestyle, but both seem to stay at a weight that is right for us."
Weight gain during menopause can also be attributed to a sedentary lifestyle, especially because our metabolism slows down as we age. Although exercising regularly can be difficult for those with health issues or physical disabilities, it's important to try to exercise as much as you can, not only to help reduce menopause weight gain but to keep you happy and healthy. Whether small or large, having a regular exercise routine can be hugely beneficial.
"Try doing exercises specifically for the waist/abdominal area; situps, twists, crunches. If you can't get to a gym or an exercise class, there are lots of videos online. Just make sure you warm up first. Don't go straight into a new or difficult exercise and stretch afterwards."
"I do a little jogging and some yoga for toning. Other than that it's walking about 12,000 steps a day."
"Now that I have a dog I walk for an hour and a half everyday."
"I do hula hooping and, for the first time since menopause, I've actually got my waist back!"
"I don't go to the gym but walk for about an hour a day and use my housework and gardening as part of a fitness regime."
If you find yourself reaching for the biscuit tin instead of the fruit bowl, it could be time for a change in eating habits. While the key is always 'everything in moderation', it's important that you do your research and select your food choices carefully, especially if you have diabetes or suffer from a specific health condition.
"I started eating 'low carb, high fat' just over a year ago, and lost 19 pounds within nine months, something I had never been able to do just with less food. I feel much better for it and, although I'm still a bit heavier than I would like, I shall continue with this way of eating for life."
"Sticking to the same things most days helps you to know what works."
"I think one of the major benefits for me was the move to drinking water instead of my favourite fizzy drink. I didn't care much for water, but got round that by trying sparkling and now I love it."
"I find that I have had to cut quantity as I age and minimise all carbohydrates, except oats. I also try to limit sugars only to vegetables and fruit, but if I am going to have a particularly active day or I have difficulty managing my blood sugar levels, or if I find myself getting exceptionally tired and irritable at any given time, I have oatmeal for breakfast and oatcakes with meals or snacks, as oats have a fairly low glycaemic index."
And we're not talking obsessive calorie-counting either. If you struggle to remember what you've eaten during the day and want to control what you consume to help reduce menopause weight gain, make a note of your meals and snacks using an app that tracks diet and exercise. MyFitnessPal is a particular favourite among our users as it not only counts calories, but provides nutrition facts to help you make healthier choices.
"I adjusted my eating habits by consuming fewer calories as a whole, but compensated for it by eating more fruit and veg."
"Have a look at the NHS Choices website for a research-based, complete healthy eating and exercise plan. I also us MyFitnessPal to keep a food and exercise diary and it works."
"You can import onto the MyFitnessPal app any recipes you use and it will work out the calories for you. You can also scan barcodes and it will show you the calorie and nutritional values."
"I use a Fitbit to monitor my activity. I aim for over 10,000 steps a day and often do many more."
Do you lack motivation when it comes to diet and exercise? Do you find it difficult to stick to a regime? Don't take on the challenge alone. Find a family member, a friend or even a neighbour to help you along the journey by providing encouragement and support. Strength in numbers, as they say.
"My sister is doing this with me and that's good motivation to keep going. We check each other's food diaries and share recipes."
While HRT (hormone replacement therapy) won't prevent menopause weight gain, it will help to ease other menopausal symptoms, symptoms that may make day-to-day life, including sticking to a diet and exercise plan, more challenging. See our guide to HRT for more information on the pros and cons.
"HRT and swimming for me!"
Disclaimer: Not every diet or regime is right for everyone. Gransnet would urge you to consult your GP before you begin any diet if you're concerned about your weight, have existing health conditions and/or are taking medication.
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