How to Lose Weight During Menopause
3 minute read
You might be slipping on a form-fitting dress or trying to button your favorite pair of jeans when it hits you: You’ve put on some weight.
Given your age and the fact that menopause is likely approaching — or maybe you’ve recently gone through the transition — you may assume some changes to your shape are inevitable. Still, who wants to see their waistline expand? You may resolve to change your diet and exercise more, but still, you wonder: Is it even possible to lose weight during menopause?
The good news is that, yes, a menopausal woman can absolutely lose weight. It won’t necessarily be easy (was it ever?), but you certainly have the power to ditch those unwanted pounds if they’re messing with your healthy weight or self-image.
The link between menopause and weight loss
If you’re a woman of a certain age who’s recently gained weight, you might be questioning, “Why do women gain weight during menopause?” It’s easy to assume that your changing hormone levels are the sole culprit. In reality, however, the hormonal shifts that occur around menopause mostly impact weight distribution (a.k.a. where you store excess fat).
In general, younger women tend to carry fat in their hips and buttocks, but the decline of estrogen changes things so that your midsection becomes the favored resting spot. For many years, scientists believed that changes in hormone levels were also responsible for making menopausal women store more fat, but in recent years, the tide has shifted. Many studies now suggest that aging, rather than hormonal changes, most often leads to menopause weight gain.
Menopause, of course, doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Going through menopause and dealing with all sorts of menopausal symptoms almost always means you’ve at least made it to your 40 or 50s, and the physiological changes that occur along with aging very often lead to weight gain. As you age, your muscle mass decreases, which can cause your metabolic rate to take a nosedive. Also problematic is the fact that older adults tend to move less throughout their day, and even seemingly small decreases in physical activity can really take a toll.
Lack of good quality sleep — a common problem among both older men and women who lead an otherwise healthy lifestyle — can also mess with your hunger and satiety signals and cause you to eat too much. For women, the night sweats and mood swings that often accompany other menopause symptoms can make getting a good night’s rest extra tricky.
While it might seem like the odds are against you, there are a number of changes you can make to fight back against those extra pounds so you can get to a healthy weight, feel better, and reduce your risk of diseases, like type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
How to lose weight during menopause
While positive thinking alone won’t help you lose body fat, you should know that recent research has suggested that simply being older does not necessarily make it more difficult to lose weight. That said, to combat menopausal weight gain, you do need to be committed to tweaking (or, depending on your current habits, perhaps overhauling) your lifestyle. Some of the most important changes to consider when trying to lose weight during menopause:
Cut calories. Maybe this one’s obvious, but you simply cannot lose weight unless you figure out how to burn more calories than you consume. The harsh truth is that you may need to cut calories even if you just want to maintain your current weight.
As you age, your metabolic rate slows, which means a 50-year-old’s calorie intake should be lower than a 20-something’s, specifically 200 fewer calories per day, and that’s just to keep the scale steady. If your goal is to lose a pound each week, you’ll need to cut (or otherwise burn) an extra 500 calories every day.
Power up on protein; cut back on carbs. Unless you’re following a specific low-carb plan like Keto or Atkins (check with your doctor first), carbohydrates aren’t your enemy. That said, curtailing your intake of bread, pasta, and cereal while adding more lean protein to your healthy diet is often wise.
Research has shown that older adults who eat more protein tend to be trimmer than their carb-loving counterparts. Protein helps you build or maintain muscle mass, which keeps your metabolism kicking along. It also helps you feel satisfied for longer.
Get more fiber. Most Americans don’t get enough fiber, and there are lots of good reasons to eat more. While many people know that fiber is key for good digestion, it also plays an important role in weight loss. For starters, it helps regulate your blood sugar levels, which, in turn, helps keep hunger in check. Fiber also adds bulk to foods, so it can wards off weight gain by helping you feel fuller for longer.
In fact, the amount of fiber you consume might be more important than the specific “type” of diet you choose to follow. While the Mediterranean diet is a common favorite among nutritionists, a group of Polish researchers found that obese postmenopausal women who instead followed a “Central European diet” were equally likely to lose weight, provided they adhered to either plan with a reduced calorie intake and consumed adequate dietary fiber.
Mix up your cardio. Some activity is better than none, so if you’re currently pretty sedentary, it’s fine to start by simply adding an after-dinner walk around your neighborhood. Once your body becomes accustomed to basic aerobic exercise, however, you’re going to have to do more in order to keep the fat-burning engines firing.
While turning your 20-minute walk into a 60-minute one or doing a 20-minute run instead of a walk are options, neither might be appealing. That’s where high-intensity interval training, aka HIIT, comes in. HITT enables you to get better results in the same amount of time by combining bursts of very intense activity with slower recovery periods. For instance, you might run as fast as you can for 30 seconds, walk for 4-5 minutes, then run again, and so on.
Perhaps the best part is that your total workout time doesn’t necessarily have to be any longer than it was before—and research has shown that postmenopausal women have an easier time sticking to a HITT program compared to an endurance one.
Don’t skimp on strength training. One of the best ways to give your metabolism a kick is by building more muscle, and strength training is key to doing that. You don’t have to pump major iron (unless you want to); resistance training using your own body weight or resistance bands is also worthwhile.
That said, you need to keep challenging your muscles. While it might be fine to start out lifting 5-pound weights and just doing a few reps, you’ll need to progressively increase the amount of weight/resistance, number of reps, and sets that you do as you get stronger and your body composition changes.
Get good shut eye. A good night’s sleep might seem like a luxury, but emerging research suggests it may be essential for weight loss and maintenance. Studies show that disrupted or inadequate sleep can mess with your levels of ghrelin and leptin, hormones that control how hungry or satiated you feel. People who don’t sleep well also tend to have higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which can lead to food cravings that prompt you to overindulge. Whether you're trying to lose body fat all over or just belly fat, the last thing you want is to consume more calories.
Sleep issues like insomnia and disrupted sleep are common, unfortunately, especially among menopausal women. Following a relaxing nighttime routine, keeping your room at around 65˚F (to minimize the likelihood of being awoken by night sweats), and going to bed and waking up at the same time every day can all help. If you’re still struggling, consult your doctor or a psychologist who’s trained in cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) for insomnia.
About the author:
Barbara Brody is a freelance writer who specializes in health and wellness. Her work has appeared in a variety of outlets including WebMD, Health, and Prevention.