Is Weight Loss Difficult During Menopause?

Cessation of menstruation is called menopause. It is a normal part of life like puberty and usually occurs naturally at an average age 51, but for some women, it can happen as early as 40 or as late as 55 years of age.

According to National institute of Aging, it has three phases: perimenopause, menopause and postmenopausal.1 Perimenopause is the time before the menopause; this can happen several years before the last menstrual period.

After having a full year without the period, you can say you have been through the menopause and perimenopause is over.

Postmenopause follows menopause and lasts the rest of life. Menopause happens when ovaries stop producing the main two hormones – estrogen and progesterone. And these reduced level of hormones causes a different set of symptoms such as irregular period, hot flashes, mood swings, sleeplessness and weight gain.

Weight Gain During Menopause

It is so common and frustrating. According to Academy of Nutrition and dietetics, “Menopausal weight gain is not just uncomfortable, but it is also hard for your health and often correlated with the increased risk

of heart diseases, high blood pressure and insulin resistance, which can lead to diabetes”.2 But on a brighter side, menopausal weight gain is not inevitable. Healthy eating habits and active lifestyle can reverse the changes.

Why Is There A Weight Gain?

During menopause, women tend to put more weight around their abdominal area, than hips, thigh, and rear, and have a typical “apple-shaped” body.

There are several factors that contribute to weight gain during menopausal period. According to scientific studies conducted by National institute of health, the hormonal changes during the premenopausal period contribute to abdominal obesity which may further lead to other physical and psychological changes.3

There are mainly 3 hormones that influence the fat distribution during the premenopausal and menopausal period.

3 Hormones That Influence

1. Estrogen

Although there aren’t any scientific studies, there are certain animal studies that suggested – during menopausal period, ovaries reduces estrogen production – the

drop in estrogen level influences the fat accumulation and causes lower metabolic rate (a rate at which the body converts stored energy into working energy).

During this period, the fat cells also have the capacity to produce estrogen so that the body works harder to convert calories into fat to increase the estrogenic level.

Unfortunately, fat cells do not burn the calories the way muscle mass do,  so that causes an increase in weight gain.

2. Progesterone

The increase in water retention and menopause often occur simultaneously. Since during menopausal period, there is a decrease in progesterone level which leads to water retention and bloating.

Though this does not result in weight gain, some women feel heavier, the bloating and water retention disappears within few months.

3. Testosterone

This is the third hormone that influences body fat distribution during menopause. Testosterone helps the body to create lean muscle mass out of the caloric intake. As the level of testosterone drops, it results in loss of muscle mass. Unfortunately, it means the slower metabolism. The lower your metabolism is, the slower your body burns calories.

Even though hormonal factors

has an influence on body weight, that alone do not necessarily cause menopausal weight gain. There are other factors which are very important that influences weight gain.

3 Factors That Influence

1. Decrease In Muscle Mass

Decrease in muscle mass is a common occurrence that begins usually after the age 40 and continues at a steady, downhill course into old age. And women who are physically inactive can lose as much as 3% to 5% of their muscle mass each decade after the age 30. This decreased muscle loss becomes an important factor for weight gain all over the body including the abdomen.

2. Genetic Factors

Genetic factors also play a role in menopausal weight gain. Women who have strong family history of obesity have a higher risk of gaining weight during menopause.

3. Lifestyle Habits

Of course, adopting a healthy lifestyle such as diet and exercise is a must for maintaining an ideal weight. It also helps in prevention of various metabolic disorders. Unhealthy eating habits, lack of exercise, poor sleep and the higher level of stress are a prominent contributing factor for weight gain during menopause.

Weight Loss Basics

Of course, “eat healthy and regular exercise” is the key to maintaining an ideal and healthy weight. As hormonal factors and decreased muscle mass creates more challenges in maintaining an ideal weight, it is mandatory to follow “weight loss basics” more vigilantly.

1. Regular Exercise

Regular exercise has numerous health benefits for everyone. Regular exercise especially aerobic activities can help you shed those extra pounds and also help in maintaining an ideal body weight.

According to National institute of health, people who keep themselves engaged in any kind of aerobic activities has 6 inches lower waistline than those who do not exercise.

Apart from that, strength training exercises also play a vital role in preventing the loss of muscle mass and osteoporosis. It helps in building muscle mass and improve the metabolism.

Experts recommend that it is good to do strength training exercises twice a week.

Regular physical activities help not only in maintaining an ideal body weight, but also improves overall mental and physical health. However, it is always recommended to take a professional medical advice before starting any kind of exercise program.

Eat Healthy And Balanced Diet

Having a healthy and balanced diet helps our body in many ways. It strengths our immune system and plays a great role in the prevention of cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, and cancers. It’s very important to have a check on your caloric intake.

According to Mayo clinic to maintain your current weight, you might need about 200 calories lesser a day in your 50s than in your 30s and 40s.4

Diet has a vital role in not only controlling the menopausal symptoms but also in prevention.

According to British nutrition foundation, women from the eastern and western countries often have different experiences of the menopausal symptoms.5 And it is because of the differences in eating and dietary habits.

Apart from weight management, a good diet can improve other menopausal symptoms too. And for that purpose, it is very important to get organized for getting the nutritional elements in order.

It is good to follow some simplest rules such as:

  • Eat in small portions. Do not skip meals, especially breakfast.
    Also, avoid the over-sized portions; prefer using a smaller plate, bowl and glass for maintaining the caloric intake.
  • Include whole grain, more fruits, and vegetables, low-fat dairy products in your diet. These essential nutrients are a must to strengthen the immune system.
  • Avoid excess sugar, processed and refined and fried foods. Always ensure that you are having the right foods to provide nutrients to keep you healthy during and after the menopausal period.
  • Keep a food diary for managing your caloric intake. Try to practice mindful eating. Always try to plan a meal ahead. Use healthy cooking methods and try to give a healthy makeover to a routine dish.
  • Lifestyle interventions are most important and these are the most obvious tool that can prevent weight gain during menopause.

According to results from 5 years randomized clinical trial, it concludes that “in midlife women weight gain and increased waist circumferences can be prevented with long-term dietary and physical activity interventions.6

3. Control Your Stress Level

The higher level of stress hormones is a major contributing factor for weight gain during menopause. Stress hormones might make weight loss or even maintaining the weight highly impossible. Stress lead to storage of extra calories in the body and sometimes might cause a metabolic disorder called “adrenal fatigue”.

So during menopause, when you are already struggling with maintaining an ideal body weight, it is very important to manage your stress level effectively by using stress relieving techniques.

Yoga, meditation, spending quality time alone, focus on your hobby, better sleep, are some tips to relieve stress and anxiety.

4. Do Regular Health Check-Ups

For ruling out thyroid and other metabolic disorders, regular health check-ups are very important. Also for early detection and treatment of various metabolic disorders, it is needed. These diseases may be hidden factors for weight gain. So be extra careful to rule out them.

5. Seek Support

Last but not the least, always seek support from friends and family. Pick a partner to exercise or walk with. Surround yourself with loved ones who motivate and encourage your efforts to eat a healthy diet and regular exercise.

Make these changes a part of your routine. In spite of this effort, you still feel uncomfortable, do not hesitate to take a professional help. These are some tips that can help you during and after menopause not only in maintaining your body weight but also in losing those extra pounds.