Menopause & Weight Gain
It’s that dreaded ‘M’ word – Menopause! We all go through it and all we seem to hear is lots of negative things about it – the bad symptoms such as hot flushes, night sweats, sleepless nights, irritability, low mood, brain fog, sugar cravings, bloating and weight gain! It’s not a pretty picture, is it? Yes, lots of women will suffer from many of these symptoms but there are things that you can do to help to alleviate most of them.
Let’s look at weight gain and why you put on weight at this time even though you haven’t changed your diet or exercise pattern. Some women may have always struggled with their weight, but for others the gain weight due to the menopause can be a big shock. Age, lifestyle and family history are also reasons for putting on weight but once you reach menopause, the chances are that you will gain weight, especially around your middle section. It’s important to change the way that you eat to include more calcium for bones and more protein for muscle mass.
A woman will typically gain anything up to 1½ stone over perimenopause and the weight that you gain is due to the diminishing levels of oestrogen, which changes the way that the body stores fat. Women usually dip at the waist even if they are overweight but during menopause fat collects around the waist and changes their shape, often resulting in a square shape effect. This can have a have a serious impact on your health, increasing the risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease and many types of cancer, so making changes now can help to prevent these risks, improve your life, and ultimately save it!
There is no way to get rid of fat cells, no matter what you do. Fat cells will fill up and shrink but you cannot ‘burn’ them. However, there are some simple changes that you can make that will enable you to stay in control of what is happening to your body and your weight.
What can I do to manage my Weight Gain?
- Watch your portion sizes. This might seem obvious but sometimes we don’t realise just how much we are eating. Try putting less food on your plate, or even using a smaller plate. The chances are that you won’t even notice.
- Watch grazing! It’s easy to have a biscuit with a coffee, a few sweets, a piece of cake with a friend, a glass or two of wine etc. All these calories quickly add up, and you can have added 600-800 calories extra in a day without even realising. Try to eat three regular meals with two small snacks daily. If you are still snacking after your evening meal before you go to bed, you need to look at why. Is it mindless snacking or are you still hungry? If it’s hunger you might need to eat more throughout the day but make sure that you are not eating processed foods, saturated fats or sugary foods. Try to eat more fresh vegetables, chicken, fish, fruit, wholegrains, eggs and nuts. Also try to wait 20 minutes to see if you still feel hungry. It’s important to learn the difference between actual hunger and just fancying a snack. If it’s mindless snacking, try to plan snacks for between meals so that you have them at a specific time rather than grazing all day long. Try a glass of water if you feel hungry as the brain often confuses thirst and hunger and you could be wasting calories when all you really need is a drink!
- You need to have a deficit of between 300 and 500 calories per day to lose weight. It’s much easier to do this in bits rather than trying to save these calories in one meal. Simply by cutting out that morning latte and evening glass of wine, you’ve saved at least 270-300 calories! Remember, it’s not about eating as few calories as you can. You also need to make sure that you are eating the correct number of calories to stay healthy!
- Avoid quick fix diets such as liquid diets or extreme calorie restrictive diets. They really don’t work! You might lose a few pounds quite quickly, but these diets are unsustainable, meaning that as soon as you start eating properly, you will put the weight back on.
- Drink more water. Keeping hydrated helps to prevent infections, delivers nutrients to cells and keeps organs working properly as well as improving brain function and improving sleep.
- Cut down your alcohol consumption or cut it out altogether. Research has shown that alcohol may increase menopause symptoms in some women, such as hot flushes although this is not conclusive. However, if you are finding that alcohol affects you differently to how it used to, then this could be the reason. You could also find that you are drinking your calories instead of eating them as well as missing out on vital nutrients.
- Exercise, especially strength training/resistance training. Aim for 150 minutes a week. This is crucial for women who are going through the menopause as there is a far greater risk of osteoporosis as bone density is lost due to declining oestrogen. Oestrogen helps to protect bones, keeping them strong and healthy. Strength training increases bone density, making them stronger and reducing the risk of osteoporosis, meaning that, as you get older, you are more likely to have the strength to get up after a fall, reducing the risk of a fractured hip. Strength training/resistance training also makes your body more efficient at burning calories, burning them at a faster rate for up to 24 hours after exercising. You could even try just starting with 10 minutes of exercise a day to help build a routine.
- Increase your base exercise. This is normal daily exercise that you get from moving throughout the day, climbing the stairs, walking etc. Start by simply increasing your steps. Aim for 10,000 steps a day, more if you can. This can be broken up into smaller chunks. You don’t have to do it all in one go. Just make sure that the steps count by walking so that you are slightly out of breath. There are many free apps which count your steps for you, so that you can keep a check on how many you have done. If your base exercise is good, then you will get far better results from any extra exercise that you do at the gym. Don’t rely on just this extra exercise! Increase your cardio exercise too to look after your heart and lungs and to increase energy and stamina.
- Sleep. Oestrogen keeps our body temperature low at night so when these levels decline, we can find that we have disrupted sleep often caused by hot flushes or night sweats, which, in turn, can lead to anxiety and depression. Try to go to bed at the same time, avoid coffee or caffeinated drinks too close to bedtime, wear loose cotton nightwear or nothing and keep a window open if you can. Special cooling bedding and pillows may help, and a magnesium supplement an hour before bedtime has been shown to improve sleep.
Think about how you would like your next 30 – 50 years to be? Do you want to be the 80-year-old woman who can still do her own shopping and cleaning, and still playing with her grandchildren or do you want to be the 80-year-old woman who is sat in a chair waiting for someone to bring her food to her? A scary thought but one worth thinking about – those years roll round quickly so make the right choices now. It’s never too early.
Take a look at W Fitness and see how we can help you stay fit and active, well into old age.
Caroline & Hannah xx
*Please see your doctor or menopause specialist if you are concerned, and before taking any supplements.