Depleting hormone levels mean even women who have maintained a healthy weight, may notice changes to their shape, and the rest of us just put on even more weight - and can’t shift it! Plus, piling on the pounds particularly around the middle, increases the risk of heart disease, osteoporosis, type 2 diabetes, and breast cancer post-menopause. A pretty good incentive to shift it…
“Ain't Gonna Bump No More (With No Big Fat Woman)”, Joe Tex's disco ditty may get us swinging our hips, yet now is the time to start doing a little more than just that.
There’s a cocktail of hormonal loss at work, impacting on weight gain and/or our inability to lose it during menopause. Oestrogen fluctuations slow our metabolism and cause mayhem in the fat storage department, making us hard-wired to gain weight, usually as belly fat. Then as progesterone levels dip, we retain water, making us feel bloated.
Testosterone, which previously helped build muscle mass, burning calories in the process, drops too. Typically, we gain a pound a year from the start of the perimenopause (usually in our early forties), which means by the time we make it to the other side of menopause we could be carrying an extra 15 pounds. And in our experience, no-one thinks to tell you this!
And the good news is…. Taking steps to address weight management should have a knock-on effect on your general health. You’ll feel healthier, look better and hopefully feel happier too.
The best ways to manage menopause weight gain With a little action, and more than a little willpower, you can grab your body back from the grips of menopause mayhem.
What to eat to help with weight gain
Food for thought Constant grazing, might be good for sheep and cows, but not for women hitting perimenopause and menopause. Eating either three regular healthy meals a day, or several smaller meals is the way to go. But pick which eating style suits you and stick with it, don’t mix the two or you’ll overeat. Allow yourself to get hungry, eat, and stop when you feel full.
Include protein at every meal to help you feel fuller for longer, eat more: chicken, eggs, fish, beans, nuts, seeds, yogurt and soy such as miso, tofu or edamame beans, (breast cancer.org say that ‘women who take hormonal therapy or who have estrogen-receptor-positive breast cancer avoid soy supplements because they contain high concentrations of isoflavones. But in general, it's fine to eat moderate amounts of soy foods as part of a balanced diet.’
Fibre-rich vegetables and fruits are your menopause mates as they help keep blood sugar stable.
Keep your carbohydrates complex, eat more: wholegrain brown rice, pasta and bread.
Low GI foods: avoid those afternoon sugar and carb cravings by eating slow release energy foods, eat more: oily fish, lean meat, fruit, vegetables pulses, oats, and scatter chia seeds on cereals or submerge in smoothies as this allows them to absorb liquid and form a gel which keeps you hydrated and tricks your stomach into feeling fuller for longer.
Enjoy healthy fats and oils from fish and vegetable sources: olives, nuts, seeds, avocados, salmon and sardines.
What to avoid to help with weight gain
Here’s a simple reminder of some weight gain no-nos:
Dieting doesn’t work. So let’s call time on those diets you relied on in your 20’s and 30’s. Eating healthily, eating fewer calories and doing more exercise is the way to go.
High GI foods. We need to avoid refined carbs like cakes, pastry and white bread that cause a spike in blood sugars that sluggish menopause metabolism can’t keep up with.
Loading up your plate. Metabolism slows down, you can’t eat the same quantity without it getting stored as fat. Less food, less fat!
Comfort eating. Identify what makes you want to eat. When we’re craving a treat we tend to reach for something sweet or the satisfying savoury snack that comes in a big bag. Snack on fruit or try making our Healthy Date and Raison Balls (link)made with dates, raisins, nuts and seeds, they’ll satisfy your sugar craving with health benefits to boot.
Food and drinks high in sugar are out. Full of empty calories.
Saturated fats - usually found in high calorie foods like cakes, pies, and sausages, contribute to weight gain (and increase cholesterol levels).
Low fat products: Good news, you can give low fat products the elbow. When fats are taken out, sugar is added, so increasing calorie value.
Artificial sweeteners – may further disrupt your already unbalanced hormones, causing headaches and digestive problems. Don’t fall for the diet drink con. Those artificial sweeteners trick the body, insulin spikes and the body goes into fat-storing mode.
Eating late gives you no chance to burn calories, causes digestive problems and will impact on the quality of your precious sleep.
Avoid being a couch potato. Try to keep moving as much as you can to burn off calories.
Lifestyle & wellbeing to help with weight gain
Exercise Sadly, from around 40 years onwards, the speed at which the body burns calories, starts to drop. Far too many of us do too little exercise so start to pile on the pounds. A Public Health England study published in 2016 found that 63% of women in middle age are overweight or obese! Time to find your exercise and stick with it. See our Vlog Fighting Fit with Sally for a little fitness inspiration. Wine makes you whine when you measure your waist! Alcohol contains seven calories per gram, almost as much as fat, but we often ignore or overlook these. Download the App ‘One You Days Off’. Personalise it with your typical weekly alcohol tally, it calculates the level of risk linked to your drinking, the calories consumed and money spent. The app encourages you to have at least 3 alcohol-free days off each week as advised by The British Liver Trust to avoid a fatty-liver. You'll receive prompts each evening to remind you when it’s a drink free night. Quite sobering. Another reliable online alcohol calculator can be found at Drinkaware.co.uk.
Reach for the water and not a chocolate biscuit Your metabolism needs water. Sometime we grab something sugary or salty – mistaking thirst for hunger - when all we need is a glass of water. Stay hydrated.
Stress As if the menopause isn’t stressful enough as we flush, worry, lose sleep and gain weight, we’re told that we need to avoid stress to avoid weight gain! We release cortisol when we’re stressed, making us crave sweet or savoury treats. Cortisol persuades your body that it’s not going to see food any time soon, so as well as luring you towards those junk treats, it lays down fat stores, making you gain weight. Deal with this stress, find a stress-busting activity. Exercise, yoga, mindfulness, you pick. Take up knitting, pick up a Rubik’s cube or do a crossword! Eating can be an emotional response to life’s situations and there’s lots to respond to now. We bet that when snacking is an emotional response you reach for chocolate, rather than a celery stick. Recognise when you do this. If it’s a case of needing to fill an emotional gap, do something with your hands that’ll take your mind away from the biscuit tin or the tube of Pringles, and as we know, one is never enough! Busy hands keep minds busy. And if your hands are busy, you can’t use them to snack!
Sleep Blood sugar levels can soar after a poor night’s sleep, leading to weight gain. Sleep, exercise and diet are a holy trinity that will help manage weight. Unfortunately for many women, sleep is affected as night sweats and insomnia routinely disrupt sleep.
Alternative help for weight gain
Aromatherapy Hormonal imbalance can cause weight gain in menopause. Therapists may use adaptogenic essential oils to help restore balance when different glands are under or over functioning. These adaptogens are natural substances thought to help the body deal with stress, try basil lavender, anise and liquorice. Find a local practitioner through the British Homeopathic Association www.britishhomeopathic.org.
Acupuncture & Traditional Chinese Medicine The British Acupuncture Council (BAcC) say that the evidence for acupuncture on its own helping to manage weight gain in menopause is not available. Most women will be taking other steps such as dieting and exercising to deal with this. Traditional Chinese medicine does not necessary put weight gain down to menopause. A practitioner looks at an individual’s energy balance and constitution to see where acupuncture could help. To find out if this is for you, consult a BAcC member to see whether acupuncture might be appropriate, check out their website, www.acupuncture.org.uk.
Homeopathy Consult a homeopath for remedies including folliculinum, which may stimulate the production of oestrogen, potentially slowing weight gain. Graphites, Pulsatilla and Nat mur may also help. We’re not experts but just trying to show you that there are homeopathic options for menopause symptoms.
When to see your doctor about weight gain
If you’ve tried and failed to lose weight, a visit to your doctor may help. Once they have a clear idea of your diet and level of physical activity, they will work together with you and work out a game plan to help you lose weight healthily and for the long term.
And what about HRT….
HRT has been linked with menopause weight gain. NHS Choices website says that there’s no evidence for this claim against HRT, rather, that for all the reasons we’ve covered in this article, women naturally gain weight when they hit menopause so it is a natural gain rather than a consequence of HRT. The usual caveat here, that HRT is something to be discussed with your doctor. There are pros and cons to taking HRT. We don’t take a view. It’s for you to decide whether it’s for you or not. Read related article: Does Menopause Raise Cholesterol Levels