Are you a woman in your mid-40s to mid-60s? Have you found that your belly is getting thicker? Are you gaining weight no matter what you do?
Maybe you’ve been dieting and exercising but the pounds are stubbornly hanging on?
We’re here to help.
This guide tells you what you need to know about menopause, plus how to manage (and potentially lose) weight during the menopause transition. In short, a low-carb diet and certain lifestyle changes can greatly help.
Millions of women around the globe are currently going through “the change.” When adding the years lived after age 60 — called postmenopause — it’s estimated that close to 1 billion women in the world today are going through menopause or are postmenopausal.
Given that most women spend one-third of their lives in this non-reproductive state, it helps to understand what is going on with your metabolism and hormones.
What changes can you make that will help prevent or even reverse any menopausal weight gain? How can you best protect your health?
Here are our top 8 tips:
For more details about what happens during menopause and why these eight tips can help, read on.
First, what is menopause?
Menopause marks the end of a woman’s menstrual cycles. It is defined as a full 12 months without a menstrual period for women over the age of 45.2 While the average age in North America is around 52, the hormonal changes can start in a woman’s mid-40s and last into her 60s.3
Research shows that the timing of menopause is a complex mix of genetics, ethnicity, geography, socio-economic status, and lifestyle factors. 4
The symptoms of menopause are well known: hot flashes, night sweats, mood changes, brain fog, headache, disrupted sleep, vaginal dryness, bloating, and more. Unfortunately, weight gain and increased body fat, especially around the abdomen, are very common complaints.5
It’s estimated that most women, without changing anything in their diet or lifestyle, gain an average of 2 to 5 pounds during the menopausal transition. However, some gain much more than this.6
Why do these symptoms and weight gain happen? Blame your hormones.
A woman’s reproductive hormones change dramatically at menopause: estrogen and progesterone decrease; follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinizing hormone (LH) increase —and FSH stays elevated for the rest of a woman’s life. But these are not the only hormones that change.7
The change in estrogen is the one thought to be related to most of the symptoms of menopause. Secreted from the follicles of a woman’s ovaries, and called estradiol, or E2, it declines because no more eggs are being released, no more follicles being developed.
The decline of estrogen can be erratic. About one-third of women first experience a sharp rise in E2 in their mid-40s (called perimenopause) and then a sharp decline. Others just have a steady, slow decline. But by the time of the last menstrual period, all women have experienced a large decrease in estrogen levels. 8
Also related to weight gain, especially around the middle, some women during menopause experience a significant increase in the secretion of the stress hormone cortisol, especially during the night.9
Why cortisol secretion increases significantly for some but not all women is not fully known. It may be aging, biology, or the result of poor sleep due to night-time hot flashes and night sweats.10
Cortisol increase may also be due in part to menopause occurring at a stressful time of life, such as many women being sandwiched between teenage children and aging parents, working full-time, experiencing financial or relationship stress or the loss of loved ones.11
In short, however, these dramatic hormonal changes of menopause impact a woman’s metabolism, her body composition, and, all too often, her weight.
The weight-loss challenge of menopause
Losing weight can be hard for anyone. Do menopausal women have an especially tough time?
While most women believe it’s definitely more difficult for them to lose weight during “the change,” among researchers, it is a bit controversial whether or not menopausal women face unique weight-loss challenges.
Some studies have suggested that women’s weight gain in midlife is simply a factor of aging — which impacts both sexes — more than menopausal changes in hormones.12
Others note, however, that declining estrogen at menopause decreases women’s energy needs, slows down metabolism, and shifts body-fat accumulation from the hips to the abdomen.13
These factors are part of a number of metabolic and body composition changes that likely set women up for greater challenges losing weight, including:
Loss of muscle mass, increased body fat
At the start of the menopause transition, a woman’s rate of fat gain doubles and her lean muscle mass declines. This phenomenon, researchers say, is related to hormonal changes of menopause and not simply age. It lasts until about two years after the final menstrual period and then stabilizes.14
Loss of muscle mass and reduced muscle strength combined with increased fat has a specific name, sarcopenic obesity. This is a new field of study, with a number of challenges in definitions and consistent research approaches.
However, there is an emerging consensus that sarcopenic obesity is associated with a number of health problems, including weakness and falls, reduced mobility, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and higher rates of death from all causes.15
Higher and higher insulin levels, called hyperinsulinemia, lead the body to ignore insulin’s signals, creating insulin resistance. When insulin is high, fat stays locked in cells and cannot be burned as easily for fuel.16
Insulin resistance has been shown to increase during menopause and may be caused by the loss of ovarian function and declining estrogen levels.17
When a collection of concerning health measurements come together — insulin resistance, obesity, and blood lipid issues — this is called metabolic syndrome. Having this collection of risk factors puts people at higher risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
Unfortunately, menopause increases the risk of developing metabolic syndrome.18
Metabolic syndrome in women is present if three or more of the following five criteria are met: waist circumference over 35 inches, blood pressure over 130/85 mmHg, fasting triglyceride (TG) level over 150 mg/dl, fasting high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol level less than 50 mg/dl and fasting blood sugar over 100 mg/dl.19
Resting energy expenditure
The loss of muscle mass, the decline in estrogen, and the increase in body fat create another problem: a woman’s resting energy expenditure (the speed of her metabolism) goes down. This naturally happens to everyone with advancing age, but menopause itself amplifies the process.20
8 top tips for managing weight at menopause
Has reading this far made you depressed and discouraged? Don’t be. While you cannot prevent menopause, you can prevent some of its negative health impacts on diet and lifestyle changes.
Remember, however, good health is more than simply a number on the scale. As we have noted in other places on our site, you do not have complete control over how much weight you lose, how fast you lose it, and what body parts you lose it from. Managing these expectations is part of long-term success. Make sure you read our guide on setting expectations.
This content was originally published here.