Are you going through menopause and noticing your weight slowly creep up? Frustrating, right? Weight loss is an issue that affects both women and men, but women often believe that it's harder to lose weight after menopause.
Menopause is the term for the time when a women's menstrual cycle ends. This happens because she no longer produces eggs to be released through her Fallopian tubes to be fertilized by the man's sperm. It also brings about other physiological changes, both positive and negative. Most women will experience menopause between 45 and 55.
Many women indeed gain weight after menopause, but it's not inevitable that you'll pack on the pounds. Research shows the average woman gains between 10 and 15 pounds after menopause, but some gain only a few pounds or none at all. In many cases, the difference comes down to lifestyle. Let's look at some reasons why weight gain is common after menopause.
It's hard to ignore the role hormones play in weight changes after menopause. Estrogen levels drop dramatically after menopause, and estrogen plays a key role in fat and glucose metabolism. Therefore, it's not surprising that the decline in estrogen after menopause makes it easier to gain weight. Declining estrogen levels may also increase hunger, and you might start eating more and munching on more snacks. Some studies show that as estrogen drops, hormones that regulate hunger and satiety become less effective at reining in appetite.
Factors Conspire That Cause You to Eat More
The changes that happen during and after menopause aren't merely physical; they're also mental. It's not uncommon for women to experience vasomotor symptoms (hot flushes, etc.) that make sleep difficult. Studies show that lack of sleep increases the appetite hormone ghrelin and boosts hunger and cravings for refined carbohydrates and sugar. It's also harder to exercise when you're exhausted from a lack of quality sleep. Plus, some women feel anxious and depressed around the time of menopause and eat more comfort foods.
Less Physical Activity
Studies show that women become less physically active after menopause. Factors like hot flushes and lack of sleep may explain why some women are less enthusiastic about working up a sweat. However, physical activity may help with some symptoms, including vasomotor symptoms. Studies are conflicting, but women who are physically active sleep better and may suffer from less pronounced hot flushes.
Exercise also helps with fatigue and mental symptoms such as depression. Exercise becomes even more important after menopause, as the risk of cardiovascular disease increases and muscle loss speeds up. Strength training, cardio, and mind-body exercises are all beneficial during this time to preserve muscle, lower the risk of heart attack and stroke, and for stress relief.
Body Composition Changes
After menopause, muscle and bone loss increases and that's harmful to your health and metabolism. When you lose muscle, you also shed metabolically active tissue that keeps your resting metabolism from slowing too much. Another frustrating change that occurs after menopause is a shift of body fat toward the center of the body. In other words, the dreaded belly and waistline fat, also known as central obesity. A drop in estrogen after menopause contributes to this shift.
Is there a solution? Women who take hormone replacement therapy tend to have less waistline and belly fat than women who don't, but there are other downsides to taking hormone replacement therapy. The pros and cons are something to discuss with your physician. Changing your eating habits, eliminating refined carbohydrates, and exercising consistently also reduce belly fat.
Certain medical issues that cause weight gain become more common after menopause. Two of the most common are prediabetes and hypothyroidism, an underactive thyroid gland. Both conditions can cause weight gain. Did you know that one out of three adults is prediabetic, and according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), only 16% know it?
The best way to find out whether you're prediabetic is to check your fasting blood sugar regularly. Your doctor can also check a HgBA1C if it's high. HgBA1C gives a clearer picture, as it measures blood glucose control over the past 3 months, rather than at one point in time.
The most common cause of hypothyroidism in women is Hashimoto's thyroiditis, an autoimmune condition where the immune system attacks healthy thyroid tissue. That's why it's important to consult your healthcare provider and get a wellness check-up, including lab studies that check your lipids, fasting glucose level, and if your thyroid is functioning normally. The symptoms of both of these conditions are subtle and easy to miss, and both can cause weight gain.
Preventing Weight Gain after Menopause
Lifestyle plays a key role in staying lean and healthy after menopause. It comes down to four lifestyle habits - eat whole, nutrient-dense foods, exercise, improve your sleep quality, and manage stress. Each component is an integral part of the equation, because falling short in one area is a weak spot that will make it harder to keep your weight under control. So, menopause is a time to work on lifestyle - eat better, move more, sleep longer, and manage stress. There are no shortcuts to lifestyle management.
Medscape Family Medicine. "Exercise, Weight Gain, and Menopause"
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