Menopause and Weight Gain
Going through menopause? Have you been noticing a few extra pounds around your belly lately? Well, you will be happy to know that you are definitely not alone. One of the foremost menopause symptoms seems to be weight gain and a change in the overall shape of your body. Though you may not be so happy about this, it is important to keep in mind that this weight gain is normal and to be expected. About 90% of menopausal women gain some weight between the ages of 35 and 55. But you may not necessarily have to blame yourself for this newly acquired weight - research now shows that weight gain during menopause is caused by shifts in your hormones, not greedy eating.
If you are going through menopause, then you have probably already started to notice a change in your body shape. Most women will gain about 10 to 15 pounds during their menopausal years. Most of this menopause weight gain will come on gradually (about a pound a year) during perimenopause. Women who have experienced early menopause or surgical menopause may experience more rapid and extreme weight gain. You will start to notice that the weight isn't distributing itself as it used to.
During menopause, you will begin to put weight on around your abdomen, instead of around your hips, thighs, and rear. People commonly refer to this as an "apple" shape, because the stomach area becomes rounder. You may miss your old "pear" shape that you had during your childbearing years, but it will be harder and harder to redistribute your weight evenly around your body.
It's Not Your Fault!
Many women are quite shocked and frustrated when they begin to notice those extra pounds graciously provided by menopause. You may be eating and exercising exactly the same as you always were but still can't seem to maintain your weight. As you enter the early stages of menopause, maintaining weight becomes more and more difficult, and losing weight becomes almost impossible. This is because of the fluctuation in your hormones.
Your body's hormones have a direct impact on your appetite, metabolism, and fat storage. This is why it is so difficult to control your weight during menopause ' no matter what you do, fluctuating estrogen, testosterone, and androgen levels will fight you all the way.
Hormones Involved in Weight Maintenance
Estrogen: Estrogen is the female sex hormone that is responsible for causing monthly ovulation. During female menopause, your estrogen levels decline rapidly, causing your body to stop ovulating. However, estrogen also seems to play a big role in menopausal weight gain. As your ovaries produce less estrogen, your body looks for other places to get needed estrogen from. Fat cells in your body can produce estrogen, so your body works harder to convert calories into fat to increase estrogen levels. Unfortunately for you, fat cells don't burn calories the way muscle cells do, which causes you to pack on the unwanted pounds.
Progesterone: During menopause, progesterone levels will also decrease. Like estrogen, lower levels of this hormone can be responsible for many of the symptoms of menopause and that includes weight gain, or at least the appearance of it. Water retention and menopause often go hand in hand since water weight and bloating are caused by decreased progesterone levels. Though this doesn't actually result in weight gain, your clothes will probably feel a bit tighter and you may feel a bit heavier. Water retention and bloating usually disappear within a few months.
Androgen: This hormone is responsible for sending your new weight directly to your middle section. In fact, weight gain during menopausal years is often known as "middle age spread" because of the rapid growth of the mid-section. Often, one of the first signs of menopause is an increase of androgen in your body, which causes you to gain weight around your abdominals instead of around your lower half.
Testosterone: Testosterone helps your body to create lean muscle mass out of the calories that you take in. Muscle cells burn more calories than fat cells do, increasing your metabolism. In natural menopause, levels of testosterone drop resulting in the loss of this muscle. Unfortunately, this means a lower metabolism. The lower your metabolism is, the slower your body burns calories.
Other Factors Involved in Weight Gain During Menopause
Insulin Resistance: Insulin resistance can occur during your menopausal years. This is when your body mistakenly turns every calorie you take in into fat. Most women follow a low-fat, high carbohydrate diet. After time, processed and refined foods may make your body resistant to insulin produced in the blood stream. This is often a cause of weight gain after the age of 40.
Stress: Stress is also a contributing factor in weight gain in menopause. Stress hormones can prevent weight loss as they signal to your body to go into a storage mode. This is referred to as the "famine effect" - your body, thinking it won't get food again for a long time, stores every calorie it takes in causing weight gain.
It may be difficult, but it is important to learn to accept weight gain and menopause as something natural and even good. A little extra weight can help to lesson other symptoms associated with menopause, like anxiety and hot flashes. During menopause, weight gain is regulated by your body, and helps prepare you against osteoporosis and other illnesses. Instead of hating your new body, try to be more accepting of yourself. Focus on being healthy and active, not trying to fit into your old clothes. Here are a few tips to help you out on the way:
- Eat a balanced diet. Avoid refined sugars and indulge in fruits and vegetables.
- Avoid crash diets. Starvation will only cause your metabolism to slow down, causing you to gain more weight later on.
- Don't lose large amounts of weight. Being very thin can lead to an increased chance of developing osteoporosis.
- Limit your intake of caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol. These can exacerbate water retention.
- Remain active. Do aerobics to increase your metabolism and burn fat. Do weight bearing activities such as walking and cycling to increase muscle mass and ward off osteoporosis.
Some women do put on excessive weight during menopause. This could be a sign that something is wrong with your hormone levels, blood sugars, or eating habits. Get checked out by your doctor if your weight gain is out of control. Excessive fat stored around the abdomen can lead to an increased risk for heart disease and high blood pressure.
Learn more about what you can do to keep your body healthy during the menopause years by checking out our sections dedicated to healthy diet and weight loss and exercise. Also find out more about vitamins and nutrients so that you can ensure that you are getting all your body needs for a healthy next phase in life.