Why is it so Much Harder to Lose Weight after Menopause?

3 minute read

By: Vivian Manning-Schaffel|Last updated: May 10, 2022
Medically reviewed by: Sharon D. Malone

When we go through menopause, our bodies go through a metamorphosis much like they did in puberty — just minus the vertical growth spurt. 

Where puberty ushered in an estrogen surge that led to the onset of your period, perimenopause rapidly slows the production of estrogen and progesterone, which aside from ovulation and thickening your uterine lining, are also thought to regulate energy balance and appetite.

The result? An average weight gain of 5 to 8 lbs. between the onset of perimenopause and our last period.

Yay.

What’s happening here?

AW069 Why Is It so Much Harder to Lose Weight After Menopause? (1) (photo of scale on mosaic tiled floor)

According to the Mayo Clinic, women often gain weight during perimenopause because:

We lose muscle mass. As we age, it’s normal to lose muscle mass and gain fat more easily. When you lose muscle, your metabolism slows and you body burns fewer calories, which makes it harder to lose weight.

You’re genetically predisposed to weight gain. Genetics can contribute to adding pounds during menopause. If your mom or female relatives gained weight, there’s a good chance you will too.

You sleep less. If you suffer from hot flashes that interrupt your sleep, you get less sleep — and that slows metabolism even more. 

You develop insulin resistance. During menopause, your body fat is more concentrated on your mid-section, which can cause insulin resistance. This means your muscle, fat and liver cells don’t respond as well as they once did to insulin and your pancreas has to make up for it, so that enough glucose goes into your cells. This can make us feel hungrier and more likely to store the carbs we eat as fat.

Yay.

With so much stacked against us, is it time to hit the couch? #NetflixandChill

Yes, weight loss can be more difficult than usual for those of us in the throes of menopause but it is possible. You just have to get real and realize that for all of us, it’s even more important to consume less and move more. Here’s how.

AW070 Why Is It so Much Harder to Lose Weight After Menopause? (2) (photo of woman preparing vegetables in kitchen)

Don’t skip meals.

Low-carb diets more effective than other diets for short-term loss, but they aren’t great for long. The answer is to find what works for you. Eat right, watch your portions and don’t skip meals — that just tells your body to cling to stored calories instead of burning them. 

Up your cardio. 

To fight insulin resistance, you have to burn more calories than you take in. One way to do that is by doing more cardio: experts recommend 60 minutes of mild to moderate cardiovascular activity a day. Scientific evidence finds that regular cardiovascular exercise during perimenopause can help boost bone healthimprove cardiovascular function, and stave off depression

Add weights to your workout.

Because we lose muscle mass during perimenopause (also known as sarcopenia), our metabolism drops as well. Hence, the weight gain. Muscle burns more energy and calories than fat, so studies say adding weight resistance to your workouts can help rebuild muscle mass and thus up your calorie-burning potential.

AW071 Why Is It so Much Harder to Lose Weight After Menopause? (3) (photo of grey haired woman resting on sofa)

Get enough sleep (if you can).

It’s hard to do if your hot flashes strike at night, but sleep is key in maintaining your metabolism. Lack of sleep has long been linked to an increased risk of obesity and diabetes, because it’s harder for the body to regulate glucose leading to something called insulin resistance, which can cause weight gain. 

Eat fewer carbs

Cut down on carb-heavy foods (cookies, granola bars, muffins, bread) in favor of more filling protein and fiber options (yogurt, plain popcorn, a scoop of nut butter on an apple slice). An evaluation of diet pattern and weight gain during the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI) study, a long term study of menopausal women, found “postmenopausal women with high adherence to a reduced-carbohydrate diet, with moderate fat and high protein intake, were at decreased risk for postmenopausal weight gain.”

If you’ve done all of the above and the scale won’t budge, it’s time to think about hormones. Head to our product page to check out your options. A menopause-trained doctor will review your choices to make sure you get the right treatment.

Written by:

Vivian Manning-Schaffel

Vivian Manning-Schaffel is a women’s health writer and editor. She is currently a contributing writer at Today.com, NBC Better and Shondaland.

Medically reviewed by:

Sharon D. Malone

Dr. Sharon Malone is among the nation’s leading obstetrician / gynecologists with a focus on the specific health challenges associated with menopause.