Menopause & Weight Gain
One of the most common complaints from peri and menopausal women is weight gain, particularly around the belly area.
Is this just another gift from the menopause fairy, or is there any real explanation for this?
Let’s look at some of the facts.
Perimenopause typically starts at any time from the mid-forties to mid-fifties.
Around this time, if you have had children, it is the time when they are, hopefully, less physically demanding. Remember rushing around trying to get them dressed, washed, and fed in time for the hectic school run? Then there are all the other chores and work to get through, and it takes a lot of energy to keep up with them.
As they become less physically demanding – able to dress and wash, maybe walk to school and back – it is easy to still consume the same amount of calories out of habit. Studies have shown that overeating 200 calories a day contributes to a 20lb weight gain each year.
With this in mind, there are also your physical changes to take into account.
Exercise – You feel tired, your joints ache, and your muscles feel weak. Have you got the energy to try to exercise? Will your bladder let you down if you try? Menopause can lead to bladder weakness and leave you more susceptible to water infections. Then there is the issue of bone and muscle mass decreases. Muscle burns more energy than fat, so having less muscle and more fat, can also lead to weight gain.
– Because of the natural ageing process, our metabolism slows down. Also, the presence of estrogen makes us feel fuller quicker. Therefore the lack of it can lead to an increased appetite. Our body needs less nutrition than when we live a hectic life (even if life still feels hectic). Couple this with struggling to exercise, and you have the perfect storm for weight gain.
– The imbalance of hormones from menopause can cause this, which directly impacts fat cell storage. These cells then produce estrogen, which in turn signals your body to store more fat. Couple this with cortisol – the stress hormone (which is likely to be triggered by brain fog, insomnia, and anxiety), which causes the body to store more fat, and you enter a vicious circle of hormones and fat.
– Previously, you may have gotten away with the extra pounds as fat cells tended to be distributed around the body. Still, menopausal fat always seems to be around the midsection. Not only is this uncomfortable in clothes (think digging in bra and waistbands), but it also leaves you at a higher risk of diabetes, heart disease, and strokes.
– The pancreas releases insulin to convert sugar into glucose to feed the cells. It also helps to burn fat. High estrogen levels stimulate the production of more insulin, so a drop in estrogen may mean that less insulin is produced, resulting in the sugar being turned into fat instead of energy. Ironically the common symptoms of insulin resistance are brain fog and belly fat.
So, we have established why and how it is happening, but what can we realistically do about it?
The obvious answer is HRT, which should help regulate the missing hormones. Are there any practical answers for women who are unable to use HRT and those who have already gained weight?
Many diet experts recommend lowering your sugar intake and processed food, which are more likely to increase abdominal fat. Sugar can also cause insulin resistance, whereby your body does not process glucose correctly, leading to more fat cell production.
– is also being hailed as a hero for menopausal women. It not only helps boost metabolism but has also been proven to help with brain fog, anxiety, and mood swings, maybe because fasting can protect brain cells from stress and make them more efficient. (This has also been linked with dementia prevention) .
– keep it simple and realistic. If the thought of slogging it out at the gym, alongside all the young toned bodies, makes you want to hide under the covers, then simplify it. Weight-bearing exercises are suitable for muscle tone, but you can do these at home with a stretch band or free weights. A brisk walk in the fresh air is good for your heart and great for your mood. If you move and stretch just a little more each week, how quickly you can build up your stamina and feel better about yourself is surprising.
Written by Nikki Blackwell