Menopause + Weight Gain

Weight gain happens, especially in the menopause transition.  Even if you have not changed your diet or exercise habits.  Frustrating.  Normal hormonal changes in women over 40, and then more so over 50, encourage a decrease in our usual metabolism, and many times a shift in the fat stores to the mid-section.  Not to anyone’s surprise, exercise and nutrition remain the mainstays of weight maintenance.  It just become a little bit harder over age 40.

Maintaining muscle mass through menopause is important to reduce weight gain.  This is best achieved with weight bearing exercise.  Incorporating weight or bodyweight training (so often skipped by women!), or even just walking, swimming, yoga, and pilates can maintain muscle mass, and enhance your metabolism.  So, don’t just do “cardio” alone, looking for calories burn.

The other big factor in weight maintenance, is nutrition.  Take a good look at your plate. Half of your plate needs to be filled with lean sources of protein, and green, leafy vegetables. While we all love a plate of spaghetti or basket of bread now and again, make sure to consume nutrient-dense complex carbohydrates in moderation, while limiting the simple ones such as white flour, sugar, pasta, etc.  Also, watch the wine and other alcoholic drinks, because empty calories add up quickly.  A mindset switch to eating for health, and viewing food as fuel for your body, as opposed to a restriction mindset to achieve less pounds on the scale, is imperative.  You can actually “think” yourself to weight loss if needed, improved energy and overall health, if you start truly believing in this mindset switch.

What about stress?  Is it my thyroid?
Additionally, other factors such as stress levels, medications, and health concerns like insulin resistance and hypothyroidism can also contribute to the “why” of your menopausal weight gain.  Stress is often underestimated, but must be managed – with exercise, and mental health optimization with either a psychiatrist, and/or a counselor.  Mental health is so important to overall health.  Consulting with your physician about your overall health is important before just assuming it is your hormones that need treating.  

Will hormone therapy help me achieve weight loss?
The short answer is - no.  Studies on a variety of hormone therapy options have not been shown to achieve weight loss.  It is more common that we regard them as “weight neutral” – not causing substantial weight gain or loss.  It really is a combination of factors as above, but an individualized consult with your gynecologist will help determine if hormones are indicated, or not in the menopause transition.  

An ounce of prevention
Making small adjustments to what you eat, and increasing the amount that you move, may be what your menopausal body needs to regulate its weight throughout the change. It is important to remember to not be harsh on yourself if you’ve gained weight. With self-care, time, and patience, you can lose the weight no matter your age or life stage.