Any veteran of the “diet wars” is all too familiar with the stress and strain of never being able to claim victory over the scale. And once we turn 40, that battle feels even more difficult. Tactics that used to work suddenly fall short, while a new wave of symptoms like brain fog, low energy and insomnia hit. “The almost universal fallout from hormonal changes is weight gain,” confirms triple-board-certified ob-gyn Anna Cabeca, DO, bestselling author of The Hormone Fix. But she assures, “Even during and after menopause, we can lose weight and keep it off.” Keep reading to discover exactly how to stop menopause weight gain by using Dr. Cabeca’s ingenious diet cycles.
Why menopausal weight gain is so common
It seems like gaining unwanted pounds is an inevitable part of menopause for most women. But what exactly is causing that weight gain at midlife? It has a lot to do with hormonal fluctuations. While youthful, reproductive hormones decrease as we approach menopause, other hormones that age the body (like insulin and stress cortisol) increase, explains Dr. Cabeca. (She has a lot of personal experience with menopause since she went through it herself twice!)
This hormone shift causes inflammation to rage throughout the body. And scientists know that body-wide inflammation triggers fat cells to shut off their fat-burning powers. Quickly, the body gets locked in a phenomenon called “weight-loss resistance,” which Dr. Cabeca estimates affects up to 90% of women over 50. Unfortunately, a Johns Hopkins University study found that only 1 in 5 US-based ob/gyns have received formal training in menopausal medicine.
How weight drives worsening menopause symptoms
Even if most doctors aren’t helpful in this area, there are good reasons to want to fight off menopausal weight gain on your own. According to Brazilian research, as a woman’s size increases, her menopausal symptoms worsen. Dr. Cabeca says, “Women in America suffer greater menopause-related issues — up to 800% more — than other women around the globe.”
Dr. Cabeca witnessed this discrepancy as she watched her mother age rapidly through menopause and pass away from heart disease at 67, while family members in other countries lived into their 90s. After traveling the world studying how women eat, Dr. Cabeca concluded, “Our diet is to blame.” She determined, “Menopause is natural, but symptoms and weight gain are optional.”
How to stop menopause weight gain
The good news: It doesn’t take a major diet overhaul to rebalance hormones and melt fat during menopause. And surprisingly, it’s not about adopting one diet for the rest of your life.
Through clinical research, Dr. Cabeca discovered that switching up your eating habits for just six days reboots your metabolism, making weight loss easier. So she created several short dietary “pauses” in which you stop consuming certain foods like sugar, grains or meat for a brief period of time to reset your metabolism. (For example, you can start a plan every Monday and enjoy a “cheat” day every Sunday before cycling on to the next mini plan.)
Why diet switching works during menopause
“Just like you have to change up your exercise routine, you have to change your eating routine to keep your metabolism on its toes,” explains Dr. Cabeca. But how? “By switching things up, we make the body more insulin-sensitive, allowing women to drop one dress size a week,” says Dr. Cabeca. Her plan also increases body stores of oxytocin (the “joy” hormone), which counteracts the inflammatory stress of cortisol, while naturally suppressing appetite.
Metabolic switching targets belly fat
Quick-switching between plans can melt away the weight that accumulates in the midsecton during menopause. In a University of Southern California study, subjects on a short-burst diet had 86% less belly fat after three months than those on a standard diet. Study author Valter Longo, PhD, has seen that dieters doing short detoxes take 413% more inches off their waist compared to nondieters. He assures, “The body is better able to regulate everything after five days. It goes back to functioning optimally.”
These short dietary “resets” also guard against weight-loss resistance and its related health risks. In another study, folks who used a short liquid plan then leapfrogged to another healthy plan shed triple the weight and were 250% more likely to get off blood-pressure meds than those who stayed on one diet. The Detox Diet author Elson Haas, MD, says, “It’s a tremendous kick start!”
Mini diet plans lead to amazing success
“These programs are responsible for tens of thousands of women preventing and reversing menopause symptoms,” says Dr. Cabeca. For example, one of Dr. Cabeca’s patients went from having 60 hot flashes a day to zero! Other patients got off Rx medications for diabetes and cholesterol. Julie Trnavsky, 64, dropped 80 pounds and soothed her adrenals. “I feel better than I’ve felt since my 30s.” Keep scrolling to try the plans for yourself and find Karen’s success story of losing 92 pounds…
Start fighting menopause weight gain today
Choose one of the following mini plans, created by Dr. Cabeca, to start rebooting your metabolism. Each one allows you to diet for six days and feast for one, before moving to the next mini plan or repeating your favorite. No matter which plan you choose, always eat three meals a day, pausing to avoid sugar, alcohol and processed carbs for the week.
Mini Plan #1: Keto-green
On the six-day keto-green plan, you limit carbs and pause inflammatory foods, namely grains, eggs, butter, legumes, nightshades (like tomatoes and eggplant), nuts and seeds. Focus mostly on eating healthy fats (avocado and olive oil), then protein (meat, fish) and limit carbs from fruit and veggies to 40 daily grams. Your dinner formula: 1 protein serving + 2 servings of low-carb vegetables + 1 to 2 fat servings. Try this sample meal: Stir fry with sliced chicken thighs plus steamed veggies and cauliflower rice.
This mini plan is great to use if you’re struggling with blood sugar. It stabilizes levels, which is good news for women who suffer from hot flashes that are caused by blood sugar–impacted changes in blood pressure. Also incorporate these helpful plan tips…
- Eat broccoli. Cruciferous veggies contain natural compounds that halt the expansion of fat cells, while reducing a “bad” form of synthetic estrogens in the body.
- Stay hydrated. Dr. Cabeca says, “Drinking water is critically important when starting a new regimen to help your body with detoxification.”
Mini plan #2: Carnivore
On this six-day plan, you’ll pause all food groups except animal products: meat, fish and eggs. (Try hard-boiled eggs for breakfast, chili for lunch and fish for dinner.) “This plan is an effective way to smash past a weight-loss plateau,” says Dr. Cabeca. “Protein can help you spot-reduce your tummy, so expect to lose a pound a day or more.” (Click through for amazing carnivore before and after photos.)
This approach is also ideal for people who are bothered by aches and pains or autoimmune symptoms. It also supports healthy blood vessels to ease hot flashes. Some users call it a “pain eraser.” And thanks to the amino acid arginine, found in meat, this plan helps restore muscle tissue lost with age. Also consider these top tips:
- Opt for anti-aging protein. Sip a cup of collagen-rich bone broth to quell cravings between meals. Functional medicine expert Amy Myers, MD, says, “Collagen turns your body into a fat-burning machine, even when you’re at rest!”
- Take digestive enzymes after meals. They speed nutrient absorption, signaling “fullness” faster.
Mini-Plan #3: Plant-based
For six days you’ll pause acid-forming foods like meat and cheese and enjoy three alkalinizing plant-based meals a day. Reach for fruits, veggies, beans, tempeh, tofu, lentils and seeds, plus healthy fats and healing spices like garlic. For a sample meal, try hearty red lentil soup made with veggie broth.
This plan is great for women struggling with menopausal constipation. “Most of us don’t get enough fiber and don’t realize how constipated we are,” says Dr. Cabeca, but this fiber-rich plan restores regularity while maintaining the ketosis of a low-carb diet. (Click to learn more about following a 30-day plant-based diet plan.) Also, check out these bonus tips…
- Chew well. To extract the healing properties of hard-to-break-down plant proteins, “slow down and really chew your food,” says Dr. Cabeca. Not only will you digest food more easily, research shows that chewing 40 times per bite curbs production of hunger hormones.
- Eat probiotic foods, like coconut-milk yogurt and fermented sauerkraut, which heal the microbiome to improve digestion and ease pain and bloat. As a result, you’ll shed what Dr. Cabeca calls “toxic waist” that collects in the midsection.
Mini-plan #4: Liquid detox
To boost energy and improve your mood you’ll pause solid foods on this liquid detox plan, built around juices, broth, caffeine-free teas and smoothies made with leafy green veggies, low-sugar fruit and nuts. Try whipping up a delicious smoothie bowl made with 1 cup unsweetened cashew milk, 1 cup spinach, 1⁄2 avocado and a dash of cinnamon. Top with berries and unsweetened coconut.
This plan is ideal for people who are plagued by anxiety or worry. Dr. Cabeca says, “In one smoothie you can sip a combination of nutrients that reduce cortisol, normalize insulin, regulate estrogen levels, improve mood and increase metabolism.” In one study conducted by Thomas Jefferson University Hospital, all the women on a similar plan felt less anxious and depressed in a week. Top tips…
- Feast on gratitude. “This is a detox, so you’ll also detox from negative thoughts and focus on what you’re grateful for,” says Dr. Cabeca. This quiets the brain to reduce cravings.
- Add fat. Start the day with 2 Tbs. of olive oil and a squeeze of lemon. “It gives the body nutrients that end cravings,” says Dr. Cabeca. “At first, women think, ‘I’m not doing that,’ but soon they look forward to it. And the weight-loss results are insane.”
What to do after rotating through your mini plans
To keep slimming after cycling through these dietary pauses, simply introduce some carbs (healthy non-keto meals) back into your routine. If you find symptoms or pounds creep back, return to the mini plans to reset. Find additional recipes and Dr. Cabeca’s extra fifth “pause” plan, check out her book MenuPause.
How to stop menopause weight gain success story: Karen Evans, 75
Looking at happy photos from her daughter’s wedding, Karen Evans felt a pang of regret knowing she was at her highest-ever weight for that special day. She realized, I may not be able to change these photos, but I can make other changes…
Not knowing where to start, Karen joined her local TOPS.org support group for advice. There, she was encouraged to explore different ways of eating. She experimented with a low-carb keto plan, slowly refining her habits along the way and seeing great results. At times, she focused on eating more meat or green veggies, next she set her sights on making Instant Pot soups and other times she mastered plant-based food swaps like lettuce-wrap sandwiches and zucchini noodles. Karen had been facing curveballs with her weight for decades, but finally, she was the one throwing her metabolism some helpful change-ups. “I was trying new things all the time,” she recalls. “My knowledge — and TOPS — came to my rescue!”
As the weight steadily came off, a doctor praised, “Keep up the good work!” All told, Karen ditched six pant sizes, along with chronic knee pain, fatigue and emotional eating. Now, she’s hopeful her nutrition tweaks will lengthen her life. She says, “At 75 years of age, I believe I am healthier than I’ve ever been!”
This content is not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis. Always consult your physician before pursuing any treatment plan.
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For more on weight loss after age 50, keep reading!