Understanding the Hormonal Changes that Cause Weight Gain During Menopause
Women may feel that it is harder to maintain their weight as they get older. Many women often approach menopause, already struggling with their weight. However, weight gain during the menopause is common.
What Causes This Weight Gain in Menopause?
During menopause, the levels of hormones in our body, which govern body fat, begin to fluctuate and fall, such as oestrogen. This is because our bodies are trying to preserve fat mass for later in case we need it. So, while you may be doing everything you can to shift those extra couple of pounds, there is an in-built hormonal regulation in your body fighting this response.
Menopause and Obesity
A nationally representative study in the US found that over 43% of menopausal women are living with obesity (1). Obesity is a complex and chronic disease linked with hormonal, lifestyle and environmental changes that can occur during the menopausal transition.
Factors Contributing to Weight Gain During Menopause
While advancing in age, we tend to move our bodies less – aches and pains and stiffer joints make exercising harder. The menopause can also hinder bladder control which can put some women off exercising completely, which is understandable. This all means that we are using up less energy. An overall increase in body weight is seen when we consume more energy than we are using up. This is called being in a calorie surplus. During the menopause, this extra body fat has been found to deposit around the abdomen or middle region (1). This leads to more of an apple than a pear body shape.
Consequences of Menopausal Weight Gain – Central Adiposity & Menopause
The accumulation of fat mass in the abdomen region is known as central adiposity. Central adiposity is associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, insulin resistance or diabetes, certain types of cancers, reduced physical activity and poorer quality of life (2). Prevention of weight gain is key to reducing your risk of developing these diseases.
Sarcopenia and Its Impact on Weight Gain in Menopause
Sarcopenia or age-related loss of muscle mass occurs during menopause, at a rate of about 8% per decade after the age of 40 (3). This is significant because sarcopenia can put women at heightened risk for falls and fractures as they age. Muscle is also more metabolically active than fat mass – which means it uses up more energy (3). This means that the less muscle mass we have, the less calories we burn = the more weight gain.
What Can We Do to Prevent Weight Gain in Menopause?
- Keep active – try to get out for a walk every day if you can and engage in muscle-strengthening activities such as weight training, dancing, or even climbing the stairs.
- Focus on including nutritious foods in your diet like whole grains, fruits, vegetables, dairy products, lean meats, fish and poultry. Avoid processed foods like sausages, bacon, crisps, chocolate and biscuits, as these tend to be higher in energy and are easier to overconsume.
- Ensure you’re getting adequate, good-quality protein at each meal to help support your muscles and help you feel full for longer.
- Cut back on alcohol and caffeine – these can worsen hot flashes and interfere with sleep.
- Manage your stress – the stress hormone cortisol encourages weight gain in the abdomen region. Find what works for you to manage stress. Some women find yoga, meditation, or relaxation apps work well to reduce stress.
- Talk to friends, family and healthcare professionals about your menopause symptoms if you have any concerns.
Navigating Menopause With the Help of a Specialist Menopause Nutritionist
Over the past year, the team at Inside Out Nutrition Ltd. have developed a bespoke nutrition and lifestyle programme for women in peri-menopause and menopause. This might just be the very course for you to help you gain control of symptoms and embed new habits for the long term. To find out more and book into this month’s programme, click here https://insideoutnutrition.ie/my-menopause-quest/
- Hales CM, et al., Prevalence of Obesity and Severe Obesity Among Adults: United States, 2017-2018. NCHS Data Brief, 2020(360): p. 1–8. [PubMed] [Google Scholar].
- Davis SR, et al., Understanding weight gain at menopause. Climacteric, 2012. 15(5): p. 419–29. [PubMed] [Google Scholar].
National Health Service (NHS). Menopause and weight gain patient information leaflet. Available on https://www.liverpoolwomens.nhs.uk/media/3538/menopause-and-weight-gain-patient-information-leaflet.pdf.