Menopause and weight gain. Let’s say it together: Ugh. Of all the frustrating things our body does to us during “the change,” those extra pounds can often feel like the worst — because they tend to linger around long after our hormones have settled down.
Most of the other common symptoms of menopause usually fade away. Hot flashes cool off, mood swings even out, and sleep patterns return to normal. But stubborn inches, especially ones that cling to our midsection, refuse to budge.
Does that mean we have to just live with a “menopause belly” for the rest of our life? Absolutely not! We rounded up the best tips to help beat menopause weight gain and the dreaded “menopot” that comes with it.
What is the average weight gain during menopause?
According to the Obesity in Action Coalition (OAC), the drop in estrogen that occurs during perimenopause and menopause causes an average weight gain of about five to ten pounds. Of course, this will vary for each individual dealing with the issue based on their own personal health.
Along with the hormonal fluctuations packing on pounds, symptoms like fatigue, joint pain, and digestion issues can all add up to more numbers on the scale. You might not be overindulging or changing your diet in any way, but still find yourself with gaining weight because you lack the energy or feel too uncomfortable to hit the gym or go on as many walks as you did before hitting menopause.
You might also notice — and be irritated by — that your clothes don’t fit as well as they used to, even if you actually haven’t gained any weight. This happens when our hormones shift the way our bodies store fat. “Prior to perimenopause, estrogen deposits fat in your thighs, hips, and buttocks,” the OAC explains. “During and after menopause, the drop in estrogen leads to an overall increase in total body fat, but now, more so in your midsection.”
This becomes what is known as visceral abdominal fat which causes menopausal belly fat. Aside from affecting the way we look (and how we feel about it), this type of fat is associated with increased risk for serious conditions like heart disease, breast cancer, uterine cancer, diabetes, hypertension, stroke, sleep apnea, and many other troubling diseases.
So, finding a way to shed menopause weight gain is not only essential for feeling our best, but also living long, healthy lives once the change is over.
How can I stop menopause weight gain?
For those just who are just beginning to enter perimenopause or menopause and looking for ways to stop the weight gain before it takes over, there are thankfully some simple tips out there.
Elizabeth Ward, MS, RD, co-author The Menopause Diet Plan, A Natural Guide to Managing Hormones, Health, and Happiness (Buy on Amazon, $15.29), explained to TODAY that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to avoiding menopause belly fat. However, after spending decades observing women and their experiences with the change, she shared some insights that can help.
Ward suggests switching to a plant-based diet. More specifically, “A balanced eating plan rich in plant foods supplies the right mix of healthy fats, fiber, vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients.” She says this will promote “better health in women, particularly those ages 45 and older who may be going through the menopause transition.”
If nixing meat entirely doesn’t appeal to you, Ward also recommends the Mediterranean diet and says it may even help women experience fewer menopause symptoms. In this case, the idea is to eat meals rich in whole, non-processed foods, including nuts, seeds, whole grains, healthy fats like olive oil, and moderate portions of protein from things like beans, eggs, dairy products, fish, and chicken.
Recent studies have shown that combining both ideas for a plant-based Mediterranean diet is especially beneficial for weight loss and boosting heart health, so you might want to give them both a try!
If you really want to kick things into high fat-burning gear during menopause, more research claims that adding an intermittent fasting component to your diet might do the trick. A study found that women who just limited their meals to shorter time windows — such as only eating during an eight period during the day — but no other restrictions resulted in the same weight loss as women on more strict calorie-counting diets.
On top of diet changes, maintaining regular exercise is another key to keeping menopause weight gain at bay. If you’re finding it difficult to move as easily because of new aches or joint pain, you can try natural pain relievers like CBD creams and oil or supplements with ingredients like aronia berry or comfrey. You can also talk with your doctor about other treatments or physical therapy to help you keep you moving.
How do you get rid of menopausal belly fat?
Getting too distracted by everything else going on during menopause and paying less attention to your weight is totally understandable. There are also a couple diets that can melt those extra inches after you’ve finally finished menopause.
The Galveston Diet was created by Mary Claire Haver, MD, OBGYN, and is specifically targeted toward menopausal weight gain with a focus on inflammation-fighting food. This eating plan will have you consume high amounts of lean proteins and limit your intake of carbs. It adds in an intermittent fasting component as well, encouraging those following it to fast for 16 hours each day. That basically means you’ll pick an eight hour window in which you eat all your meals.
As for the food you eat during that window, Dr. Haver recommends anti-inflammatory options like lean, grass-fed protein from poultry, beef, and salmon. You can also have non-starchy vegetables like spinach, cauliflower, broccoli, celery, and zucchini on the side, plus low-sugar fruits like blueberries and raspberries.
If that doesn’t sound quite up your alley, another popular diet might be the way to go. Bret Scher, MD, medical director of Diet Doctor, explains that a ketogenic diet could be the best bet for post-menopausal women. “The keto diet lowers insulin levels, which can become elevated as we age,” says Dr. Scher. “And when insulin is high, it encourages the body to store fat rather than burn it.”
As you may know, keto diets focus on a low-carb, high-healthy fat intake in order to trigger ketosis. Ordinarily, our bodies burn carbohydrates to churn out energy, but ketogenic diets aim to shift things around to burn fat instead. To achieve this, you’ll need to eat only around 20 grams of carbs a day, or have it make up roughly five percent of your daily calorie intake. “Some may not notice a change in the scale, but your clothes will start fitting differently,” says Scher. “That’s because you’re burning fat around your waist, hips, and thighs, but you’re also building more muscles.”
And again, making sure to stay active is important, too! You can try easy strength training exercises to boost your muscles and bone health. We also recommend going on daily walks, hopping on a treadmill, or even just walking in place at home, to get in some good cardio.
Can you beat menopause weight gain?
Hopefully after reading all of this information, you’ve learned the answer to this question is a resounding, yes! It might not be as easy to drop pounds as it was when you were younger, but it’s by no means impossible.
Whether you follow one of these suggestions outlined here is completely up to you, but we also recommend talking with your doctor before making any drastic changes both during or after menopause.
Remember, everyone is different, so the best menopause weight loss technique might not be the same for you as it is for your best friend, sister, or anyone else — but there are definitely solutions out there just waiting to help you live a long, healthy, and happy life!
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