Menopause weight gain can lead to feelings of major frustration and a lack of control. You may be feeling that you are doing everything right and you’re eating the same diet you have been eating your whole life – so why are you gaining weight now?!
Weight loss and menopause seem to go hand in hand. It is common for women to gain weight, especially around their abdomen. As we travel through perimenopause and menopause, some diet and lifestyle changes are required in order to maintain (or even lose) weight. My clients often tell me that they have always been able to eat whatever they want until they hit their 40s and then the weight started piling on. However, previous diet and lifestyle choices may have been setting them up for metabolic dysfunction that eventually reached a peak when the hormones started to rollercoaster during the natural hormone changes that occur heading into menopause. In other words – they were never really getting away with it – it was always going to come back and kick them up the butt at a later stage.
That doesn’t mean you can’t do something about it right now and get your body and health back to where they need to be for a lifetime of good health and weight management.
Weight gain is not the only problem that comes hand in hand with menopause. Other symptoms can also accompany the hormone transition and make the person feel nowhere near their best. The hormone changes associated with perimenopause can start as early as our mid-thirties. Signs of menopause include:
Hot flushes and night sweats
Irregular and heavier periods
Insomnia and sleep disturbances
Mood changes, increased irritability or depression
Decreased sex drive
Itchy and/or dry skin
More pronounced PMS
Many of the symptoms on this list such as thyroid disorders, lack of sleep, fatigue and heavy periods can have a major impact on a woman’s ability to exercise regularly and have the motivation and energy to cook healthy meals.
DOES MENOPAUSE CAUSE WEIGHT GAIN?
The hormonal transition that comes with menopause can make it easier for this steady weight gain to happen. Our hormones are all linked together in a hormonal spiders web and an imbalance in one hormone can have a profound effect on the others.
As we head into perimenopause (which means before menopause), hormones start to go on a bit of a roller coaster. It’s a general belief that estrogen starts to steadily fall heading towards menopause, but this is not the case. Estrogen can actually start to increase as we transition into perimenopause. It’s partner hormone, progesterone does the opposite and starts to fall. This can lead to a state of estrogen dominance i.e. estrogen is too high and progesterone is too low. Estrogen is anabolic – that means it builds. Progesterone is our happy hormone – it makes us feel relaxed, it helps us sleep well and keeps us in a balanced frame of mind. When estrogen increases it continues to build and without progesterone to keep it in check it can drive issues such as fibroids, breast cysts, heavy periods and weight gain. Low progesterone can take all of our happiness away – sleepless nights, low mood and anxiety.
Estrogen and progesterone levels are going to alter as we move through menopause and the production of hormones moves from the ovaries to the adrenals, skeletal muscle etc. However, how dramatically they alter can be very much influenced by other hormones such as insulin, thyroid and cortisol. For example, when we reach perimenopause our insulin sensitivity reduces, which changes the amount of carbohydrate our body is able to handle and our diet may have to change to accommodate that. Again, a leaning towards insulin resistance is something that may have been building up over decades of unhealthy diet and lifestyle choices.
Our stress hormone, cortisol, is a master hormone that can have a major effect on all other hormones. Therefore, if you are constantly stressed, over scheduled, over exercising and under the pump you may be having a major effect on how well you manage menopause and beyond. As I mentioned earlier, the production of sex hormones moves to the adrenals during perimenopause so if they are a bit burnt out they are not going to do very well. Thyroid hormones are also greatly affected by cortisol, insulin and disturbance in the sex hormones. Thyroid disorderscan become more prevalent during perimenopause and menopause. When the thyroid is out of whack it is a real challenge to get the unwanted kgs off, so you really need to get thyroid and other hormones balanced before you can achieve long term and real success.
Along with hormonal changes, psychological stress, low physical activity, Westernised eating patterns and emotional eating can contribute to menopause weight gain.
Too much, too little or not the right type of exercise may cause a lack of success when it comes to weight loss during menopause. Too little exercise leads to insulin resistance, a reduced basal metabolic rate and insufficient calorie expenditure. Too much exercise or too much high intensity exercise can lead to excess cortisol which encourages fat storage around the middle. This has a knock-on effect on other hormones including thyroid, estrogen and progesterone.
Finally, mindset plays a huge part in menopause weight gain. Women spend most of their lives looking after others – partner, children, pets, parents etc. Sometimes we lose sight of our passions in order to stay on the hamster wheel of responsibility. It is very important to recognise issues such as emotional eating, stress eating, sugar addiction, wine addiction etc. These mechanisms may be in place because you have lost sight of your passions, goals and aspirations. Helping you to recognise these issues through vision boards, mindfulness etc can really help to settle hormones down.
HOW TO COPE WITH MENOPAUSAL CHANGES
Menopause comes with many huge changes that alter your relationship with your body, most are extremely normal and just a fact of life. However, menopause weight gain is not ‘normal’ and you can do something about it. Lifestyle and nutrition can play a big part in coping and even improving your symptoms.
When I work with my perimenopausal and menopausal clients, I look at all aspects of their diet and lifestyle that can be affecting the spider’s web of hormones. What does their diet look like? Are they exercising? Do they have any other health issues? Do they manage stress well? Has the weight gain been rapid or a slow steady onset? Does their gut work well? How are their energy levels? What does their blood results look like? etc. This information allows me to compile the best personalised diet for my clients that can help them reach their target weight and provide them with boundless energy.
FOODS TO AVOID FOR WEIGHT LOSS AFTER MENOPAUSE
Our eating patterns may have to change when going through menopause. Avoiding certain foods can help improve symptoms such as hot flashes and poor sleep, as well as help with weight loss.
As I said earlier, when we reach perimenopause our insulin sensitivity reduces. This means that we cannot handle the same glucose load as we could before. Therefore, the amount of carbohydrates consumed may have to reduce for long term weight management. If you have lots of carbohydrates (bread, rice, pasta, noodles etc) and refined sugars in your diet this will lead to glucose overload and fat storage. High blood sugar and insulin resistance have also been linked to increased hot flushes. Removing these processed sugars, reducing your serve size of carbohydrate on your plate and sticking to brown/wholemeal options will decrease the amount of glucose your body has to tolerate and help you keep off those few kgs.
Our relationship with alcohol may have to change as we progress through menopause. You may find that hangovers get worse, hot flushes increase when you drink and the weight can often refuse to budge if those Friday and Saturday night wines stay in the program. Working with clients to negotiate reductions in alcohol intake is big part of my job!
Believe it or not you can also under eat as well as over eat. Years of yoyo dieting may have driven your basal metabolic rate so low that you can no longer eat 3 regular meals because you are burning very little calories. I often have to up-feed clients before we get long term success.
Foods high in saturated fat and trans fats contain a lot of calories that your body may have trouble burning, and can also increase your risk of heart disease. Processed foods high in fat and salt are also linked to heart problems and high blood pressure. Limiting the amount of fat and salt you eat can help improve symptoms and help you with your weight loss goals.
LOSING WEIGHT AFTER MENOPAUSE
After menopause losing weight does become harder, however it can be done. Creating long term healthy habits before and after menopause can help you with maintaining your weight and staying healthy.
Keeping to a diet full of fruits and vegetables, a good amount of lean protein and healthy fats (olive oils, oily fish, nuts and avocado) is a good start to make sure you’re getting all the vitamins and minerals you need.
Fruits and vegetables in particular give you plenty of fibre for gut health. The gut microbiome plays a big role in weight gain and the development of conditions such as hypertension, cancers, heart disease and liver problems. Menopause has been shown to alter the health of our good gut bacteria, putting us at increased risk of these negative health outcomes. It’s super important to do our best to keep our good gut bacteria happy and healthy by upping our fruit and veg intake and staying away from processed foods with lots of sugar and saturated fat that feed our bad gut bacteria.
Making sure to have adequate protein intake from sources such as lean meats and poultry, fish, eggs, dairy, nuts and legumes is great for helping you lose fat mass while keeping muscle mass. Make sure to include a source of protein with every meal – this will also keep you feeling full for longer which may help stop snacking in between meals. Plant proteins such as tofu, tempeh, edamame, legumes and nuts have been found to be of extra importance to menopausal women as they help increase insulin sensitivity and are beneficial for weight loss.
Drinking enough water aids with digestion of foods, hunger levels and cell function, which can help relieve hot flushes and with weight loss. Keeping hydrated can also help with any dryness symptoms and bloating that can sometimes occur along with hormonal changes.
As stated earlier, menopausal women will naturally develop some insulin resistance, meaning we have to be more careful about the amount of sugar and carbohydrates going into the body. Choosing more brown/wholemeal breads, rice and pasta better controls the amount of glucose that enters your bloodstream and won’t overload your body. Having a source of protein and healthy fats with your carbohydrates will also help decrease the glucose load put on the body. Many menopausal women have to take out bread, rice and pasta completely to achieve weight loss success. Carbohydrates in this case come from big serves of fruit and vegetables.
Phytoestrogens are compounds found in plants that act similar to estrogen. When your estrogen is low in the body, phytoestrogens have a bigger effect. It has been found that phytoestrogens can decrease the frequency of hot flushes. They are found in foods such as flaxseed, soy, whole grains, legumes, fruits and vegetables, so adding more of these foods into your diet may cause some improvement in menopause symptoms.
As mentioned before, lifestyle factors such as a sedentary lifestyle and high stress can make it harder for you to lose weight after menopause. Incorporating mindfulness and stress-relieving activities to control stress levels as well as exercising regularly will complement diet changes in achieving your weight loss goals.
MENOPAUSE DIET FOR WEIGHT LOSS
At Physical Nutrition, we understand the multi factorial approach required to achieve long term weight management as we transition through menopause and beyond. Eating the right macros, balancing hormones and working on mindset requires a multi-pronged approach.
We have a few options available to you. Our 1 To 1 Weight Loss Program provides an in-clinic 12-week program loaded with personal nutrition programming, exercise videos, meal plans, coaching and resources designed to get those unwanted kgs off and keep them off. You can also get some great health and hormone tips on the Physical Nutrition Facebook Page
The healthy food and exercise habits you can create before and after menopause will help keep your symptoms, including menopause weight gain in check. Get the right help and you can achieve your weight management goals.
Let’s all stay super fit and fabulous well into our old age.
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