Weight gain occurs before and during menopause partly because of a drop in estrogen levels.
Low-quality sleep and regular, age-related reductions in metabolism and muscle tone can also contribute to this weight gain. The weight tends to develop in the abdomen.
Although losing weight can be more challenging during menopause, there are various methods that many people find effective.
This article will discuss the relationship between menopause and weight, as well as proven ways to lose weight during the transition.
Menopause and weight
Females reach menopause after going a full 12 months without a menstrual cycle.
During menopause and perimenopause — the period leading up to menopause — people may gain body fat and find it harder to lose weight.
Menopause is linked with increases in body fat for the following reasons:
A drop in estrogen levels
Changes in levels estrogen contribute to weight gain.
Estrogen is one of the primary sex hormones in females. It plays a role in:
- physical sex characteristics
- regulating the menstrual cycle
- maintaining bone health
- regulating cholesterol levels
During menopause, estrogen levels dip substantially.
Low estrogen during menopause does not directly cause weight gain, but it may lead to increases in total body fat and abdominal fat. Doctors associate excess weight during middle age with heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
Hormone replacement therapy may reduce the tendency to gain abdominal fat.
Natural aging processes
Weight gain during menopause is also linked with regular aging processes and lifestyle habits.
As people age, they tend to become less physically active. Their metabolism also naturally slows down. These variables lead to a reduction in muscle mass and an increase in body fat.
Doctors also associate menopause with poor sleep, which can stem from hot flashes or night sweats. Research in animals links sleep deprivation with weight gain.
The following are strategies that can help people lose extra weight during menopause.
1. Increasing activity
Regular exercise is an excellent way to promote weight loss and overall physical health.
Many people experience decreases in muscle tone as they get older, and a loss of muscle tone can cause an increase in body fat. Exercise is a key way to build muscle and prevent age-related muscle loss.
Research shows that aerobic exercise can decrease body fat after menopause. Another study has found that resistance training three times a week can improve lean body mass and reduce body fat in postmenopausal women
The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommend that people should aim for at least 150 minutes of aerobic activity every week and that people should do muscle-strengthening activities on two or more days each week.
A combination of aerobic exercise and resistance training will help reduce body fat and build muscle.
Menopause-related weight tends to settle around the abdomen. Find tips for losing belly fat here.
If a person is not already active, they may find it easier to increase their activity levels gradually. Little ways to build more activity into the day include:
- doing yard work, such as gardening
- taking a dog for a walk
- parking farther away from the building entrance
- taking the stairs instead of the elevator
- standing up to take phone calls
- going for a walk or getting another type of exercise at lunchtime
2. Eating nutrient-rich foods
People can replace saturated fats with healthful fats, such as avocado.
To lose weight, people need to consume fewer calories than they use up. Making dietary changes is a key part of losing weight.
Healthful, nutrient-dense foods should be the basis for all meals and snacks. A person’s diet should contain a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and lean sources of protein.
A Mediterranean-style diet is a very popular and effective diet for health. A 2016 study has reported that this diet can improve heart disease risk factors, such as blood pressure and lipid levels, and result in weight loss.
People should make a point to eat:
- a variety of fruits and vegetables
- lean proteins, from beans, fish, or chicken, for example
- whole grains in bread and cereals
- healthful fats, such as from olive oil or avocados
People should avoid processed foods and those containing high amounts of trans or saturated fats. Some examples include:
- white bread
- pastries, such as cakes, cookies, and donuts
- processed meats, such as hot dogs or bologna
- foods with a lot of added oils or sugar
Reducing the consumption of sweetened drinks — such as sodas and juices — can also help. Sugar-sweetened beverages carry a lot of extra calories.
A dietician or nutritionist can help establish a healthful eating plan and track progress.
3. Making sleep a priority
Getting enough high-quality sleep is vital for maintaining a healthful weight and overall health. Low-quality sleep can lead to weight gain.
Research has linked sleep disturbances to aging processes and metabolic disruption during menopause. Alteration in sleep quality and circadian rhythms can affect:
- appetite hormones
- body fat composition
- energy expenditure
In addition, symptoms such as hot flashes and night sweats can disrupt sleep.
Focusing on getting a sufficient amount of restful sleep can help reduce menopause-related weight gain.
4. Considering alternative therapies
Overall, there has not been a lot of well-conducted, conclusive research into whether alternative medicine is effective in reducing symptoms related to menopause.
While these therapies may not lead to significant weight loss, they may help relieve some symptoms and reduce stress.
Potential complementary and alternative therapies include:
- herbal treatments
5. Mindful eating
Practicing mindfulness while eating can help change eating behaviors and may prevent weight gain.
Mindful eating can help a person become aware of internal, rather than external, cues to eat. It can be a helpful approach to binge eating and eating related to emotional states.
In some studies, mindful eating led to reduced food intake in overweight individuals and people with obesity.
6. Keeping track of food and weight
Tracking meals can help a person identify which unhealthful foods they regularly consume and in which contexts. This information can help with making specific dietary changes.
Research shows that people who keep food logs, weigh themselves regularly, and maintain high activity levels are more likely to have clinically significant weight loss.
7. Controlling portion sizes
Avoiding distractions, such as watching the TV, can help prevent overeating.
Portion sizes in restaurants have increased over the years, and people are eating out more, so it can be difficult to gauge how much food a person actually needs per meal and per day.
To determine how much to include in a meal, it can help to understand standard serving sizes of some common foods. For example, some standard servings are:
- bread – 1 slice
- rice and pasta – ½ cup cooked
- fruit – one small piece
- milk or yogurt – 1 cup
- cheese – 2 ounces, or the size of a domino
- meat or fish – 2 to 3 ounces, or the size of a deck of cards
The following tips can help people control portion sizes:
- Measure out snacks instead of eating them from the bag.
- Avoid eating in front of the television — sit at a table instead.
- When eating out, opt for less bread and fewer appetizers.
- Use a kitchen scale and measuring cups to measure portions at home.
8. Planning ahead
Meal planning and having healthful foods on hand will make a person less likely to choose unhealthful foods in a pinch.
Stock the kitchen with healthful foods for simple meals, and plan for these meals, to prevent quick, less mindful eating. Carry healthful snacks to prevent trips to the vending machine.
9. Getting help from friends and family
Having the support of family and friends is an integral part of weight loss. Having a workout buddy, for example, can help people stay motivated to exercise.
Some people like to track their progress on social media, which can help with accountability.
10. Making lifestyle changes
The key to keeping weight off is to maintain healthful habits in the long term.
Fad diets tend to result in short-term weight loss, while adopting healthful habits, including cooking routines and getting regular exercise, are more likely to result in long-term effects.
People often experience an increase in body fat during menopause. This is linked with reduced estrogen levels, lower-quality sleep, and reductions in metabolism and muscle mass.
Researchers have linked low estrogen levels with an increase in body fat, particularly abdominal fat. Maintaining healthful lifestyle habits can help with losing weight.
People who have concerns about their weight or symptoms of hormonal fluctuations should speak with a doctor about appropriate treatment.