As women, so many of us spend so much time comparing our looks with those of other women – be it our friends, our sisters, our co-workers, or even completely unknown women who stare straight into our eyes from the glossy pages of magazines or the television screen. We model our idea of everything that’s beautiful and perfect on these people and end up struggling to accept that our nose will never be as aquiline, neither will our waistline be a size 24.
As we grow older, we finally make peace with our bodies, learning to love ourselves for who we are, when all of a sudden – we’re hit by menopause and all of its challenges, from headaches to hot flashes. For a lot of women, these hard-to-deal-with hormonal upsets of menopause also come with a side-order of unwelcome extra pounds. Women in their menopausal phase are already susceptible to frequent dark moods, and gaining weight, unfortunately, doesn’t make things for us any better.
Although this is inevitable, understanding why this happens can definitely help us take the necessary steps to make menopausal life a lot easier.
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Why Do We Gain Weight After Menopause?
Menopausal weight gain is very common and usually, starts during the menopausal transitional phase or the perimenopausal phase. The International Menopause Society (IMS) states that middle-aged women typically put on an average of 0.5kg (about 1lb) each year, so a woman who has just entered perimenopause at 45 years could easily find herself weighing 10lb more by the time she becomes 55.
The tendency to put on weight is really a natural part of aging and isn’t necessarily just due to menopause itself. However, the sudden drop in estrogen levels that happens after menopause causes redistribution of body fat, very often resulting in extra fat settling near the waist and the stomach.
This is just our bodies’ way of adjusting to our fluctuating hormone levels and supporting us during the changes designed by nature as we move on from our reproductive years.
Age-Related Causes Of Weight Gain After Menopause
Apart from the natural aging process and declining estrogen levels, there are several other factors that may play a role in contributing to gaining weight after menopause such as:
- Little to no physical activity
- A decrease in metabolic rate
- Loss of muscle mass
- Family history of obesity
- Stress and depression
- Taking anti-depressants
- Emotional eating
- Loss of sleep
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Complications Involved With Menopausal Weight Gain
Worse than looking ‘apple-shaped’ is the large amount of health risks that come with it. Fat collecting within the abdominal walls and other internal organs (called visceral fat) is known to be linked to serious illnesses such as:
- Cardiovascular disease and stroke
- Increase in blood pressure
- Breast cancer
- Increase in low-density cholesterol (LDL) or “bad cholesterol”
- Kidney disease
- Sleep apnea
- Insulin resistance leading to an increase in risk of type II diabetes
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How To Fight Menopausal Weight Gain
Just because gaining weight after menopause is common, doesn’t have to mean its mandatory. Weight gain can be seen as just another symptom of imbalance within your body. With a little discipline, effort, and care, you can maintain — even restore — your ideal weight during perimenopause, menopause, and beyond.
1. Move More
Exercise especially the aerobic variety can help you shed unwanted fat and maintain a healthy weight. Strength training can also be beneficial; developing muscles helps your body burn calories much more efficiently thus making it much easier to keep your weight under control.
2. Eat Small
Eat small regular meals throughout the day to help maintain your weight or to shed those excess calories. Your body needs much fewer calories per day during your 50s than it did during your 30s and 40s.
Remember to not skimp on nutrition though, just to reduce calorie consumption, in fact, you need to start paying special attention to what you eat and drink if you weren’t doing that already.
- Eat lots of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains that are rich in fiber and will help aid in efficient metabolic activity.
- Choose healthy proteins like legumes, soy, lean chicken meat, nuts, and salmon.
- Substitute butter, margarine, and shortening with healthier options like olive or vegetable oil.
3. Control Your Sweet Tooth
Artificial, added sugars such as processed fruit juices, soft drinks, energy drinks, flavored waters, and sweetened coffee or tea make up most of the calories that you consume in a day. Other foods that include an excess of harmful sugars include the commercial bakery and confectionary goods like cakes, pastries, doughnuts, cookies, candy, and ice cream.
4. Limit Your Alcohol Intake
Alcohol and alcoholic beverages only cause you to consume excess calories, further increasing your risk of gaining weight. Heavy drinking may also be responsible for increasing the risk of cardiovascular diseases and strokes.
5. Seek Support
Stay connected with your close family members and friends who will encourage and support your efforts to eat healthy and exercise more often. Even better – team up and make healthy changes to your lifestyle together; you’ll find it a lot more fun!
6. Practice Self-love And Gratitude
Learn to love yourself for who you are, instead of disliking yourself for not matching up to your idea of perfection. Put yourself on your to-do list, and indulge yourself every once in a while by doing something that makes you happy. Also, teach yourself to focus on what you have, instead of what you don’t have. Make it a point to note down even the little things that you would’ve otherwise taken for granted and you will realize you have a lot to thankful for. This will help curb frequent low mood points and will also help curb emotional eating which is another cause of menopausal weight gain.
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When To See Your Doctor
As mentioned earlier, it is very common for women to experience menopausal weight gain but this doesn’t mean you are automatically doomed when it comes to controlling your weight maintenance. Being aware of the problem and being proactive about is practically half the battle won. If you are someone who is yet to hit menopause, you could start making healthier changes to your lifestyle right now to prevent the adverse impact of menopause on your body.
If you’ve already reached menopause, don’t worry. It’s still not too late. Start by making small changes at a time until they translate into habits. Remember to be patient, for you won’t see positive results overnight. This may not be too easy, but sticking with a weight loss plan with diligence and discipline will make you look and feel a lot better about yourself.
Sometimes, however, in spite of making significant changes to their lifestyle, women still find it very difficult to manage their weight after menopause. In case your body continues gaining weight even after eating healthy and exercising regularly, it is advisable that you consult your doctor, as this could be an indication of a different underlying health problem.