What exactly is menopause?
Simply put, menopause is a very natural aspect of the female aging process. It is not a disease, but we may think of it as a “disease” because of the problems that can occur while in this stage of life. The average age for menopause is 51 years of age. At this point, the ovaries are no longer producing estrogen. This lack of estrogen comes with a laundry list of changes for most women. Not too many women escape this stage of life unscathed in terms of symptoms. The symptoms experienced are in large part due to this decline of estrogen in the body. This decline in estrogen can affect women both physically and mentally. Common problems include menopause weight gain, brain fog, depression, and sleep difficulties.
Menopause weight gain and estrogen
Estrogen is a power packed hormone. As our production declines in aging, there is a physiological impact on both our bodies and brains. You are definitely not imagining that you feel differently! As estrogen levels drop in approaching menopause, several factors occur that impact our weight and our outward appearance.
- Our fat distribution changes. More fat is now settling in where your waistline used to be!
- There is loss of muscle mass. This is known as sarcopenia. This occurs with aging in both women and men.
- And, if that wasn’t enough, decreased estrogen levels actually drive us to eat more. And, as our energy requirements decline with aging, this helps contribute to weight gain. We actually need less fuel or calories, but want more!
- Lower estrogen levels can also contribute to depression, so if you are emotional eater that eats in response to being sad, that further complicates weight management.
- Tackle menopause weight gain with these tips
Tackle menopause weight gain with these simple tips
It’s important to keep in mind that you can alter how you feel in menopause in many ways. As weight related issues often prevail as an area of concern in menopause, here are some easy and practical steps to help manage those weight related issues. It is easier than you think!
1. Move your body as much as you can
If you need to self-talk yourself into this, then so be it. Be thankful you can move your body and then embrace that movement. Even if you only walk a few blocks outside or do intentional movement inside your home, it will help your energy balance. If you stroll outside, you will also be making vitamin D, which can affect your mood as well. Got a dog? Walk that wonderful animal double what you usually do!
If you can move beyond a stroll, mix up your exercise. Do stretches, yoga, a hula hoop (we know you are cool), and even YouTube videos on exercise. And, resistance exercise is key as we age. Find some weights, or if need be start with soup cans. Then find an activity that moves your body that you actually enjoy. I enjoy gardening and am always amazed at what “work” it is and how strong it makes me. It all counts toward being called exercise. Doing activities you enjoy will make the activity less like a chore. This will help with energy balance to whittle your waist and help to preserve your lean muscle mass.
2. Consider disavowing the willpower concept
I don’t think I’ve ever had a client manage weight on the concept of willpower. To me, willpower seems foreign and torturous. I feel it is so much better to be in control of your eating environment. If you set up your home and kitchen to nurture yourself with healthy options, then you will be making healthier food choices. In contrast, if you have a sweet tooth and constantly have chocolate candy in your cabinet, it’s easy to be constantly eating it. Consider making it difficult to access those higher temptation foods. Don’t bring them into your home eating environment. Instead, enjoy as occasional treats that you need to seek out with some difficulty (like a separate trip to the grocery store difficulty)!
3. Boost the quality of your diet to fight menopause weight gain
This is so critical on so many levels. As women enter menopause, they are more susceptible to diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, osteoporosis, and cancer. It is never too late to improve your diet to prevent or lessen the likelihood of developing these diseases that will affect the quality of your life. And, the good news is you do not need a degree in nutrition to quickly improve the quality of your diet! Attempt to add more plant based foods to your diet. Colorful foods that are plant based will give you both fiber and antioxidants. Aging and diseases are thought be be caused by oxidation in our bodies. And, colorful foods like fruits and vegetables can counter that oxidation. These colorful foods also protect your eyes as you age.
And don’t forget some good food derived calcium (instead of just supplements)! Our requirements for calcium are at the highest point in our adulthood from 51 years of age on. At this age, we need 1200 mg of calcium (calcium resource).
4. Don’t be a meal skipper
While you are improving the quality of your diet, consider how frequently you are eating. Many older people have a tendency to eat only two larger meals and maybe a snack or two for a whole 24-hour cycle. In some women, there is an increased insulin resistance and it is helpful to control the volume of food at a given meal. By spreading your fuel for the day into multiple feedings, you can help counter this situation to help stabilize blood sugar levels.
5. Sleep as a tool to fight menopause weight gain
Let’s face it, the world seems less challenging after a good night’s rest. I once had a doctor tell me that sleep difficulty was the most common complaint of middle aged women. That lack of refreshing sleep can often hinder our ability to manage our weight in menopause. We may feel poorly, and respond with more mindless eating. In my case, a bad night’s sleep also makes me sit more! So, while it is not always easy to get that great night’s sleep, here are a few tips to try:
- Sleep hygiene. You know, turn off the screens with blue light before trying to sleep. Consider a good book instead!
- Some research suggests that all that blue light actually causes our bodies to make less melatonin. Melatonin is the hormone that helps our body to shift to sleep mode. As we age we also make less melatonin so blue lights and aging are a double whammy.
- Consider taking 5 mg of supplemental melatonin and then avoid the blue light screens (phones, computers, iPad) a few hours before you want to mentally wind down. And, try that distraction with a good fiction book.
6. Be kind to yourself
As you transition through menopause, it’s important to be kind to yourself with regard to your weight. If you can implement self-care techniques, it can help with your weight and mental health. But, don’t feel you need to do this alone either. Your gynecologist can consider medical intervention and a therapist or dietitian may be able to help as well. You are not alone at this stage of life, and there is plenty of support available! I know when my menopause came, I was fortunate to have had literally only one hot flash. While I was lucky that way, I had extreme brain fog and had to reach out to my doctor. And the symptoms will pass as your body adjusts to less estrogen.
Menopause is a stage in our lives and should be viewed as such. The most important recommendation I can make to manage your weight at this point in your life is to eat and be physically active in order to manage your health. By choosing a colorful diet that is nutrient dense and full of fiber, you are taking steps to both manage your weight and health. Don’t set yourself up to eat a poor diet because you have unhealthy foods in your home. Always figure out how to get the healthier foods to your own kitchen so that those will be your food choices readily available to you on a daily basis. Try not to skip meals. And, clean up your sleep hygiene if your find that you are restless every night.
How do you cope with menopause?
Sue Rose is an IL licensed dietitian and nutritionist. She provides both corporate and individual telehealth nutritional counseling. For more healthy eating and lifestyle strategies, visit my blog at:
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