Weight Gain in Menopause - Inevitable or Preventable?

May 28, 2022

Woman cooking

If you are a woman who is going through menopause and have put on a few pounds, you know how easy it is to gain weight after you have reached “a certain age.” But why does this happen and what can be done, if anything, to prevent it?

Surprisingly, in terms of science, there is no clear evidence that menopause itself plays a role in weight gain. Rather it appears that weight gain for most women of menopausal age is related to a decrease in metabolism, as well as a decrease in lean body (muscle) mass with a simultaneous increase in body fat. Plus, most women tend to become less physically active as they age which means a lower caloric expenditure. All of these factors added together could certainly explain menopausal women’s tendency to pack on the pounds.

But menopause has been implicated, if not in weight gain itself, in changes in body composition and fat composition. Research clearly shows that independent of age, perimenopausal women experience an increase in abdominal fat and a decrease in lean body mass. This means that menopause is associated with the transition from a pear shape with wide hips and thighs and more weight below the waist to an apple shape, characterized by a wide waist and abdomen and more weight above the waist.

The statistics are alarmingly clear: At mid-life, the majority of North American women are overweight. Not only does this extra weight bring with it the burden of low energy, reduced mobility, and a lowered self-image, but has real negative effects on a woman’s health. These negative effects include an increased risk of Type 2 diabetes, osteoarthritis, some cancers (particularly breast and colon), and high blood pressure.

So what can you do?

It’s important to remember that consistent small changes can bring big results. The loss of lean body mass during menopause means not only a loss in strength, but less muscle tissue means fewer calories burned. Some form of weight resistance training several times a week is essential for menopausal women. Not only does strength training build lean body mass it also helps to maintain your bone mass.

Weight training should be combined with a low-impact cardiovascular exercise such as brisk walking for 30 minutes a day, as often as you can during the week, preferably five out of seven days. This not only burns calories but it does 2 other important things; It also keeps your heart and lungs in shape, and it helps with bone tissue remodeling to maintain better bone density.

Good nutrition is vital. Avoid processed foods.  They are almost always high in sodium, sugar, artificial ingredients, refined carbohydrates, and trans fats. Because of this, they are a major contributor to obesity and illness around the world.  Choose whole grains, plenty of green leafy vegetables, and lean protein such as fish, lean cuts of poultry and beef, and free-range eggs.  This is always easy to say and harder to do when we lead busy lives.  It’s nice to make a few easy salads or salsas a part of your food staples.  A fresh salsa is just chopped up tomatoes, onions, cilantro and spices to taste.  A salsa isn’t just an appetizer for a dinner party.  You can put it on your morning toast, include it as a side salad for lunch and also as a topping on chicken or meats with your evening meal.  Here’s an easy recipe for you to try and just keep in the fridge

  • 2 to 3 fresh tomatoes -stems removed
  • 1/2 medium red onion
  • 2serrano or 1 jalapeño pepper, stems, ribs, and seeds removed (less or more to taste)
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • 1/2 cup chopped cilantro
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 1 pinch dried oregano (crumble in your fingers before adding), or more to taste
  • 1 pinch ground cumin, or more to taste

Also try a Mexican corn and black bean salad that can be used in the same way as the salsa above.  With this salad, you can mix it up and keep in the fridge and then when you eat it, just add fresh avocado.

  • 1 can of black beans rinsed & drained
  • 1 can of corn nibblets drained
  • 3 -4 tablespoons lime juice
  • 1 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoon red wine vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • pinch of ground pepper
  • 1 chopped red pepper
  • 2 chopped and seeded tomatoes
  • minced jalapeno peppers to taste (remove the seeds)
  • chopped purple onion to taste – chopped fine
  • chopped fresh cilantro to taste

Sleep is critically important, as it has been conclusively shown that inadequate sleep can lead to poor glucose control, which in turn can lead to weight gain. Unfortunately, many menopausal women also experience disrupted sleep due to hot flashes, and this sleep disruption could contribute to weight gain. Stress control practices such as mindfulness meditation, restorative yoga, or tai chi can also make a difference, as the elevated cortisol levels which come from chronic high stress can contribute to weight gain.

Weight gain during menopause is quite common, if not the norm. But with a multi-pronged program consisting of good nutrition, aerobic exercise, weight training, sleep, and stress control can help to get and keep that weight off!

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