Is Weight Gain at Menopause a Reality?
The general school of thought is that throughout midlife, women tend to gain on average 0.5kg of weight per year (around 1lb). For some this can be a worry. We know that being over-weight or obese is associated with a number of health issues from depression to hypertension and cardiovascular disease, not forgetting diabetes. But is weight gain at menopause a reality? We thought we’d take a look at the science.
Is Menopausal Weight Gain An Issue?
It is thought that around 1.5 billion of adults globally, are obese and around 300 million of these are women. There has been a steady increase in obesity since the 1980’s in Western countries, and this is largely due to lifestyle. But, for women, sex hormones are thought to play a role. With the fluctuations in sex hormones during the menopause, could menopause contribute to weight gain in females?
In 2012, a review was carried out which suggested that the absolute factors for weight gain during and around the menopause were non-hormonal, rather than the menopause itself. What they did find was that fat deposits change during the menopause. In short, what this means is that, regardless of whether women gain weight during midlife, they will experience a shift in fat stores to their abdomen.
So, the spare tyre that many report during the menopause, is real, but weight gain during midlife is more a consequence of environmental factors.
The other thing to note is that this review concluded that hormone replacement therapy (HRT) does not cause women to put on weight (despite the claims floating around the internet). There is actually good evidence that HRT can prevent abdominal fat increasing after menopause.
So where does this leave those heading for, or in the menopause?
If we know that weight gain isn’t a foregone conclusion, we can make lifestyle changes to improve our health and well-being during this period of life.
Avoiding Menopausal Weight Gain Through Diet
With the notion of weight gain during the menopause, many women will attempt to reduce their daily intake of calories, but there is another challenge that needs to be considered. Muscle loss will occur as we age and one of the ways we mitigate this is through sufficient intake of protein. Aim for 1-1.2g of protein per kg of bodyweight, or 20-25g of high-quality protein per meal. Great sources include meat, poultry, fish, eggs, and dairy. The great thing about protein is that it contributes to satiety – so if you find yourself looking for a mid-afternoon snack, check that you’ve been hitting your protein target.
Fill up on Fat!
There is an increased risk of heart disease as we age and eating a heart healthy diet can help; this includes those good fats.
Switch from saturated to unsaturated fats by cutting down on fatty meats, switching to low-saturate oils and spreads and grilling rather than frying your food!
Include plenty of nuts and seeds and aim for at least two portions of fish per week – think SMASH; sardines, mackerel, anchovies, salmon and herring.
Fibre is Your Friend!
Swap to higher fibre foods like wholegrain breads and rice, but also make a conscious effort to eat more plants. Aim for 30 plant points per week; 1 plant = 1 point and even if you have more than one portion of the same plant per week, you can only count it once. The aim is diversity! Plants include fruits, veggies, herbs, spices, nuts, seeds and legumes! So adding mint to your watermelon salad counts as two points already!
Avoid Processed Foods
Stick to wholefoods as much as possible and avoid ready prepared/processed foods. Ideally, we want to know everything we’re eating so if we notice a change in symptoms, we have a good chance at figuring out what helps/hinders.
Caffeine and Alcohol
Both of these can make menopausal symptoms worse, so drink in moderation. You may find that you need to limit your caffeine intake to earlier in the day only as it impacts your sleep, likewise you may find alcohol sends you to sleep, but then you have an unsettled night afterwards. Alcohol contains 7 calories per g, which is on a par with fat (but we need fat for many body functions) where protein and carbohydrates yield 4 calories per g!
Consider decaf options if you love the habit of sitting with a warm drink, or non-alcoholic drinks if you like a chilled drink at the end of the evening. Kombucha in a gin glass with some frozen berries is a great option!
Avoiding Menopausal Weight Gain Through Exercise
We know that it’s not as simple as calories in vs. calories out for weight gain and loss, but we do know that daily energy expenditure helps maintain a healthy weight. For this reason, it’s important to continue to exercise during and after the menopause for weight management, bone and muscle health, but also mental health.
Exercises that increase daily energy expenditure and help in building and maintaining bone density and mass are as follows:
Weight bearing, high impact exercises include dancing, high impact aerobics, running / jogging, jumping rope, stair climbing, and sports like tennis, basketball, volleyball or gymnastics.
Weight bearing, low impact exercises include walking (treadmill/outside), elliptical training machines, stair step machines, and low impact aerobics. This group of exercises may be considered to improve bone strength by women who cannot do high impact exercises.
Weight or strength training or resistance training exercises include lifting weights, using elastic bands or weight machines for exercise, using simple functional movements such as standing or lifting the own body weight.
Non-weight bearing, non-impact activities include cycling, swimming, stretching, and flexibility exercises. These should be included to increase overall activity levels.
Non-impact exercises involve exercises that help in the balance posture and attitude, for example, pilates or yoga.
An appropriate exercise plan may be resistance and weight bearing exercise three days a week (on alternate days). Brisk walking, cycling, treadmill, gardening or dancing may be done on the remaining days of the week.
It is thought that we should aim for two hours and 30 minutes of moderate aerobic activity each week.
If you’d like to learn more about weight loss specifically, check out our blog here.
If you’d like to learn more about the menopause, check out our blog here.
The great thing is that menopause isn’t the absolute cause of weight gain in midlife; we may just notice changes in fat deposit locations. If lifestyle factors are the main driver of weight gain during this period, then making appropriate changes could help.
If you would like to include any Instructor Live Programmes in your exercise routine, whether you’re heading for the menopause or are already there, then check out what we have on offer: