Peri/menopause and Weight Gain
A few years ago, when I was in my late forties, I was on a night out and can clearly remember catching sight of my reflection in the glass of a hotel lobby. I was wearing a favourite dress and until that moment had felt pretty confident…but clearly, I had not checked every angle in the mirror.
If I had, I would have realised that from the side, the dress no longer suited me as much as it used to and that my waistline had clearly expanded.
For me, this was a big wake-up call…I had decided a long time ago that I want to live the healthiest life I could and I have continued to adapt my eating habits and lifestyle over many years.
It is an ongoing project of self-care which needs to be regularly reviewed, especially during menopause.
Weight gain during perimenopause is common. And even if you don’t gain weight, you may find yourself experiencing a change in body shape and a shift in where you hold fat on your body. Many women find that their waistline starts to expand and they become more apple-shaped, holding more fat around their middle. Research has shown that these changes are rapidly accelerated during peri-menopause.
These changes can affect self-esteem and body image as well as increase potential health risks, both in the short-term and long term.
Increased fat around the abdomen has been associated with an increased risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease and certain cancers including breast and bowel cancers.
There is more than one theory behind weight gain and menopause. The most accepted hypotheses are that a change in body fat distribution is due to a fall in oestrogen levels and general weight gain is a symptom of ageing.
My recent master’s dissertation was on this very topic…I spent the best part of a year researching and reading the most recent scientific literature on why it happens and what you can do about it.
However, current research is pretty limited in terms of what works for weight loss in women at this particular life stage. Additionally, most studies are conducted on post-menopausal women who are already very overweight or obese.
What is known is that your metabolism also slows down and loss of lean muscle is increased.
Added to which research has shown that women generally move less from peri-menopause onwards. And so overall, less energy is being used on a daily basis.
Current research suggests that any “diet” which is restricted in calories can result in weight loss…But during menopause what once worked for you may longer work.
From reading this, you may be thinking that you can eat anything you like, as long as you are restricting calories…And in part, you could be right. But the thing is that although you may lose weight this way, there is so much more to food than just providing energy.
Food provides information to every cell in your body, so the quality and the nutrient content of your food matter. It matters for your energy levels, how you age, your skin and bone health, your brain health in fact, the health of your whole body physically and mentally.
Your diet also affects your hormones. Hormones are made from proteins and fats. So, you need to eat enough protein and enough fat to build them.
Sustaining weight loss longer term through dieting can also be difficult and willpower alone is often not enough…Dieting affects your metabolism and your body will start to slow it down in order to hold on to energy. This is why the vast majority of women regain their weight after a couple of years or at best reach a weight loss plateau.
In terms of exercise, the studies I looked at showed that exercise alone did not result in any significant weight loss. BUT in most cases, exercise did achieve a reduction in overall body fat.
Regular exercise is important at any age. It is important in terms of muscle mass as well as for its mental health benefits. For women at midlife, it becomes even more so, it can help you to manage your weight, prevent bone loss, which may lead to osteoporosis, and maintain muscle mass.
In addition to all of those things, exercise and good nutrition can positively impact your mind and mood, your sleep, your energy levels and your overall quality of life.
Lower levels of oestrogen can detrimentally affect your lean muscle tissue. One way of maintaining or increasing lean muscle is through heavy resistance or strength training along with nutritional support. High-intensity interval training (HIIT) can be another effective method of exercise for women in mid-life.
For best results
From my research, the best results for reducing body weight AND belly fat were achieved through a combination of diet and exercise.
So, no great revelations there…
BUT, the results showed that this was especially the case when supported by nutrition counselling. Or, in supervised groups for accountability and motivational support.
And another thing, the body is complex and the quality of your sleep, the way you manage stress, exposure to toxins and your genetics are also factors that can play a part in weight management too. A registered nutritionist takes these factors into account.
In my practice, I find that initially women are often focused on the short-term goal, which may include weight loss. Over time they begin to focus not just on their short-term goals but realise their long term health too. What you eat, how you nourish your body, how you manage stress and how you move can have a huge impact on that.
It is also important to note, that women with hormone imbalances can experience resistance to weight loss. This is something that I often hear about and know many women struggle with. Managing hormone imbalances can therefore be an important factor when considering losing weight and belly fat. The best way I know to start to do this is to test your hormones. To find out more about how you can do this click here.
The 3 Key Take-Aways
The 3 things I would like you to take away from this are:
- What you eat and how you move are important factors for managing weight gain and body fat changes in mid-life. The quality and quantity of the food you eat also matters for more than just your waistline, it can protect your long-term health. If you don’t currently exercise, then start now, slowly and preferably with a trainer or in a supervised group for continued motivation
- Lifestyle factors also play an important part in managing body composition. Addressing sleep quality and managing stress are essential parts of the puzzle.
- Consult a qualified nutritionist who can provide you with a personalised plan based on your own unique needs. A nutritionist can also recommend appropriate testing as well as supplements to address any nutrient imbalances.
As a final note, just because there is no scientific research, does not necessarily mean other approaches do not work. Whilst there are some general guidelines, we are all unique with different biochemistry, genetics and potential hormone imbalances. What works for one, may not work for another. And that’s why the best results come from personalised programmes which take all of these factors into account.
For more tips and advice on peri-menopause and menopause join a growing group of like-minded women here
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