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Menopause weight gain - why it happens and what you can do about it

menopause weight gain 

Weight gain around the middle: a curse of menopause? Or is there a way to avoid it? While gaining weight is often an unwelcomed side effect of menopause, 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.

 

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Why is weight gain a product of menopause?

Menopause is the shift in the types and levels of oestrogen in a woman's body, which lowers our metabolic rate and increases our resistance to insulin, affecting our blood sugar levels and how our body deals with sugars. While many believe that menopause symptoms are due to a lack of oestrogen, it's actually the other way round.

Menopause weight gain affects many menopausal women and it is not only driven by excess oestrogen, but it produces oestrogen itself. Diseases, such as breast cancer and heart disease, 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. Menopause bloating is a common side effect in all stages of menopause, especially perimenopause.

 

What can I do to avoid gaining weight during menopause?

There are a number of different ways that you can combat or avoid menopausal weight gain, whether you're looking to lose weight or have just started to experience menopausal symptoms. 

 

1. Control your oestrogen levels

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:

 

  • The plastic around packaged and processed foods
  • Water bottles
  • Dental fillings
  • Unfiltered tap water 
  • Cosmetics, moisturisers and cleansers
  • Perfumes and scented products
  • Bleached non-organic sanitary products

 

While it's 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.

 

 green tea

2. Attempt an oestrogen detox

An oestrogen detox might just help you get to the root of the problem as well as into the habit of eating the right foods - certain foods can help to beat menopause symptoms. Here's how you can attempt an oestrogen detox:

 

  • Eat plenty of cabbage, watercress, broccoli and kale
  • Drink green tea
  • Eat organic foods
  • Eat cloves, cinnamon, dill and holy basil

 

3. Improve your gut bacteria 

Reducing the load of unfriendly gut bacteria can be pivotal in helping with weight management. 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:

 

  • Eat ground flaxseed and/or chia seeds daily, both of which are superfoods
  • Eat a good amount of pulses, oat bran, nuts and seeds
  • Supplement your diet with fermented foods, such as sauerkraut and kefir

 

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.

 

dairy products

4. Reduce your intra-abdominal fat

Limiting the foods and drink that specifically contribute to intra-abdominal fat could also be the key to combatting weight gain or promoting weight loss. Abdominal fat can also have a negative impact on your health. You can limit intra-abdominal fat by:

 

  • Avoiding processed sugary foods - they go straight for your waistline
  • Cutting down on booze - alcohol is processed by the liver and turned straight into tummy fat
  • Reducing your dairy intake - dairy contains a sugar that has a similar metabolism to alcohol and goes straight for the abdomen. It also contains oestrogen and, unless kept to a minimum, will contribute to excess oestrogen
  • Minimising stress - stress is probably one of the biggest factors and often impossible to avoid, but we can certainly take healthy steps to manage it. Exercise, mindfulness, relaxation or a just a chat with a good friend can make a positive difference

 

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Other menopause weight gain solutions

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 any weight gained during menopause, or avoid it altogether, is a trial-and-error process and different for every woman, so we've collated some tips from those who have been through it themselves.

 

1. Attempt the 5:2 Diet

"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 being less strict when away or out with friends."

Dr Michael Mosley's 5:2 Diet has certainly garnered praise, particularly for its no-nonsense approach to dieting and it's positive effect on blood sugar levels. While some have found the diet tricky to adjust to at first, it has proved extremely useful in helping them to lose weight. 

Those on this 'intermittent fasting' diet will eat normally five days a week and then cut calories to 500 for the other two days. 

 

2. Exercise regularly

"I do hula hooping and, for the first time since menopause, I've actually got my waist back!"

Weight gain during menopause can also be attributed to a sedentary lifestyle - we lose muscle mass as we age, which slows down our metabolism. Although exercising regularly can be difficult for those with health issues or physical disabilities, it's important to do as much physical activity as possible in order to stay happy and healthy.

Whether small or large, having a regular exercise routine can really be beneficial. When it comes to weight around the middle, focus on exercises that specifically target your waist and abdominal area, such as sit-ups and crunches. For a full-body workout and to improve muscle mass, try simple strength training exercises, which can easily be done at home.

 

 older woman exercising 

3. Change your eating habits for good

"I started eating 'low carb, high fat' just over a year ago, and lost 19 pounds within nine months. I feel much better for it and I shall continue with this way of eating for life."

If you find that you feel tired, bloated or generally lacking in energy more often than not, 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. Women over the age of 50 typically need 200 fewer calories a day than they did during their younger years.

 

4. Keep a food and exercise diary

"I use a Fitbit to monitor my activity. I aim for over 10,000 steps a day and often do many more."

If you struggle to remember what you've eaten during the day and want to control what you consume to help reduce excess weight gain, make a note of your meals and snacks. Apps, such as MyFitnessPal, are useful for counting calories, keeping track of your progress and for providing nutrition information to help you make healthier food choices.

 

diet plan 

5. Share the load

"My sister is dieting with me and that's good motivation to keep going. We check each other's food diaries and share recipes." 

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.

 

6. Try HRT

"It's HRT and swimming for me!"  

While Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) won't necessarily prevent menopause weight gain, it will help to ease other menopausal symptoms like hot flashes and night sweats, symptoms that may make day-to-day life, including sticking to a diet and exercise plan, more challenging.

Some health experts also say that HRT may help to increase your metabolism and help you to lose belly fat caused by menopause.

 

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Images: Shutterstock

Disclaimer: The information on our diet and fitness pages is only intended as an informal guide and should not be treated as a substitute for medical advice. 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.