While weight gain is not an inevitable part of aging, it is all too common, and it seems like extra pounds often accompanies menopause. Some women jokingly calls her growing belly as “menopots.” But there’s nothing funny about excessive weight gain. Being overweight is associated with many diseases and conditions, including heart disease, cancer, and diabetes. Losing weight is never easy, and certainly not in menopause, but it is possible
As people age, they generally become less physically active. Also as they get older, muscle replaced by fat, and fat tissue burns fewer calories than muscle. This causes them to gain weight, even if they do not eat more. Their slow metabolisms (on average 10 to 15 percent lower than when they were young) burn fewer calories and make them more likely to reach for that afternoon candy bar to get through the day.
Effects of Menopause
Menopause leads to weight gain because as women’s estrogen levels drop, their appetites increase. The unpleasant symptoms of menopause — hot flashes, emotional disturbances — making it difficult to maintain your willpower to avoid fattening foods.
Midlife is often a stressful time for women. They can balance many responsibilities: children who need help with college planning, aging parents who are becoming increasingly dependent, work and their own health challenges. These stressors can lead to a depletion of hormones that help to deal with stress, especially serotonin and cortisol, when hormone levels drop, women tend to reach for foods that are heavy in refined carbohydrates — think Twinkies
The best way to deal with menopause weight problems is eating frequent meals and watch portion sizes. Dr. Christiane Northrup, author of The Wisdom of Menopause, suggests cupping together your two hands to visualize the size of the stomach capacity and not eat more than that at any meal. Eating too much causes the body to produce insulin, another factor in weight gain, so portion control is a must. Avoid large meals, eat breakfast every day and has a mid-afternoon snack to stabilize blood sugar.
Dr. Northrup has several recommendations on how menopausal women can best meet their nutritional needs. She recommends eating protein with every meal: eggs, lean meat, fish or vegetarian products. Northrup suggests following a diet of 40 percent protein, 35 percent with low glycemic carbohydrates and 25 percent fat. Foods containing high-glycemic carbohydrates, those who quickly raises blood sugar should be avoided. These include foods made with white flour, alcohol and sweets. Eat plenty of vegetables, fruits, and foods with healthy fats, like fish, seeds and nuts.
Exercise is more important than ever at midlife. Walking, aerobics and cycling are all great ways to get your heart rate high enough to burn calories. It’s a good idea to add weight training, too, because of the body tend to lose muscle as it ages. Incorporating small changes into your routine: park farther from the store entrance, take the stairs instead of the elevator, and get up and walk around every so often during the workday. Making small, positive changes in routine often leads to several changes that could open the door to better health.