Menopause and weight gain: Myth or reality?

Menopause is an important time in a woman’s life. It’s a time when we cease to have periods which in turn marks the end of us risking being kicked in the ribs by some future karate pro!  A new period of life is around the corner ladies, but don’t panic, it will be just as beautiful (if not more…) than the previous one, that much i can promise you. And I promise you, you will keep your beautiful body if you follow these tips. So NO, weight gain and all the scary trimmings associated with it, doesn’t have to be as dramatic as most people make it out to be.

Do we inevitably put on weight during menopause?

So, I know what you’re going to answer: yes! Well….no, , I can promise you that menopause is not always accompanied by weight gain. But why do women always feel like they’re getting fatter? Well, let me explain….

Menopause is actually composed of several phases:

  • Pre-menopause, that lasts 2 to 4 years, is characterised by irregular cycles and all those wonderful symptoms like hot flashes, insomnia, sweaty nights  etc… Don’t over-stress about this, it doesn’t actually concern everyone, in fact some of you will glide through this period. However, a lot of things can happen in your ovaries during this period: fluctuations in oestrogen levels cause the depletion of oocyte reserves while  progesterone production gradually decreases.
  • the full-on menopause: oestrogen production ceases and ovarian activity comes to a complete end.

Over the course of several years, with the decline of female hormone activity (after the famous and invincible puberty!) women’s bodies enter a new hormonal phase. Many women blame this hormonal change to be behind their weight gain however this isn’t true. It is believed that from the ages of 20 to 45 weight gain is progressive and not particularly targeted at the age of fifty. In fact, it is not really weight gain that is observed but more a redistribution of body fat. Throughout adult life, oestrogen ensures that most fat is stored in the buttocks, thighs and hips: this is called the Gynoid shape. However, when female sex hormones start to decline at the onset of menopause, androgen hormones (testosterone that women also produce in small amounts) continues and their effects on the body are no longer weakened by the oestrogen. Consequently, the fat mass formerly stored around the lower body is, under the effect of androgens, redistributed evenly around the stomach area. This explains why women feel like they put on weight in their fifties. As mentioned before, it is simply the fat mass that has been distributed differently.

Well, having said all that, it is still possible that you could put on 2-3 pounds if you are not careful! Indeed, it is important to know that as the years go by the basal metabolic rate (the energy expended at rest) decreases. Around the age of menopause, this tendency is accentuated. Your body therefore needs less energy to perform its vital functions, so, unlike when you were a teenager, you can no longer afford to eat sweets without putting on the odd pound.

Weight gain is not specifically caused by menopause itself, but it is more to do with poor eating habits that have a significant consequence during this period of fragility. The increased sedentary lifestyle, stress, and emotional instability associated with the transition into this new period of life are all factors that can lead to compulsive snacking and a need for “comfort foods.” This, therefore, may be the right time to have a good look at the contents of your larder ladies!

A special menopause diet?

Well… no, don’t get over excited, i can’t just supply you with some gourmet diet specially prepared to avoid weight gain during menopause. Unfortunately, they just don’t exist!

This is the only advice I can give you (and no doubt you already know what it is): rebalance your diet and play sport! This will help you boost your metabolic base and that will prevent you from ending up with little rolls of fat around your belly. And let’s not even get into aesthetics! The increase of fat around the viscera increases the risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes … Hmm, not much fun, eh? We forget that slimming programmes can help you lose up to 10 kilos in a month and give you a flat stomach in no time at all. But losing weight quickly has never been a long term solution! Whether you want to save the potential hormonal effects of menopause or want to lose weight: always look to rebalance your diet!

You can also increase your calcium and vitamin D intake by increasing your intake of dairy products and dark green vegetables as well as eating fatty fish like sardines, herring, mackerel … or even good farm eggs; and don’t forget, a good tan for a source of vitamin D. And why? Well, because it is oestrogen that helps you fix your calcium and if your oestrogen levels are down, you run an increased risk of osteoporosis.

So, make the habit of introducing healthy snacks into your day between your meals, to avoid nibbling rubbish that will eventually cost you several kilos on the scales.

What if my current diet influenced the onset of my menopause?

It could be the case. It’s all well and good to worry about all this at the time of menopause, but you should know that your present diet can also cause the onset of those hormonal changes! And yes, a study (1) has found that underweight women in their early stages of development or in their adult life are at higher risk of an early menopause. Indeed, when the body mass index (BMI) is less than 18.5kg / m2, you have 30% more risk of developing early menopause. The multiplication of yoyo diets and large variations in your weight can also be a factor in increasing these risks.

In other words, throughout life, it is important to remember that keeping a normal body weight is an important factor to consider for a healthy transition to menopause. As it stands an estimated 10% of women are affected by early menopause making them more susceptible to cognitive decline and osteoporosis.

So, it is no longer just a question of worrying about your tummy that has suddenly appeared in your early fifties, but your general health as well. Learn to eat a balanced diet adapted to your needs and the period of your life as soon as you can,. You will protect yourself from many evils, that much i promise you!

Studies : (1) Szegda, K. L., Whitcomb, B. W., Purdue-Smithe, A. C., Boutot, M. E., Manson, J. E., Hankinson, S. E., … & Bertone-Joh

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