How to Combat Weight Gain During the Menopause?
When we think of the menopause, we think of battling hot flashes, mood swings and night sweats. But did you know weight gain is also symptomatic of this hormonal change? In fact, women are thought to gain an average of 5 pounds during the menopause i. While there’s no scientific evidence to suggest a direct correlation between this hormonal transition and weight gain (supposedly, it’s more age-related than anything else), the drop in oestrogen that characterises the menopause doesn’t help the ‘middle-aged spread’. The good news? Gaining weight isn’t inevitable. And there are plenty of ways to fuel your body and stay trim at this stage of your life.
Focus on filling foods
The secret to staying slim is satiety – in other words, eating foods that enhance feelings of fullness and satisfaction. This means steering clear of those highly refined treats that offer up no nutritional value and will only leave you craving more (yup, chocolate bars, crisps and biscuits, we’re looking at you). Instead, reach for foods that actually fill you up. Say hello to our friends’ fibre, protein and complex carbohydrates. Eating more of these food groups won’t only crank up the nutritional value of your meals and snacks, but they will keep nagging hunger pangs at bay. Try to eat a quality protein source with every meal (oily fish, lean meats, eggs, legumes, nuts and seeds). And throughout the day, fill up on fibre-rich foods like whole grains, fruit, vegetables; and complex carbs, such as brown rice, sweet potatoes and oats.
We hear it time and again, but refined sugar really is the devil on your shoulder when you’re trying to maintain a healthy weight. Problem is, artificial sugar is everywhere: in pasta sauce, yoghurt, cereal, bread, jam and granola bars. If it’s packaged and preserved, chances are it contains the white stuff. The solution? Eating quality foods in their whole form. Think: a handful of almonds, an egg, a piece of fruit, or a chicken breast. Avoid white, starchy foods that will only spike your blood sugar and get stored fat. And if you’re really craving a sweet hit (because who doesn’t once in a while), opt for two square of premium, 70% dark chocolate. Psst…did you know sugar is thought to exacerbate hot flashes, too? ii. Yet another reason to ditch dessert, don’t you think?
Nourish with proper nutrition
If you want to shift those stubborn pounds, you need to eat fewer calories than your body needs, so your fat stores will provide the shortfall. To zap the fat, your body uses large quantities of minerals and vitamins to oversee the biochemical reactions involved. But think about this for a moment: if you’re consuming fewer calories, you’ll probably be consuming less essential nutrients, too. Indeed, food cravings may actually signal your body is crying out for minerals, vitamins, and essential fatty acids – and this could be slowing down the weight loss process. Taking a high quality multivitamin and mineral in tandem with a potent fish oil supplement should plug any nutritional gaps you encounter. Better still, this power duo will support other symptoms of menopause.
Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate
Newsflash: water really is the secret to overall health – and this is particularly true during the menopause. Not only does H20 support digestive function and help eliminate waste toxins – both vitally important for fat metabolism and weight loss – it can actually help you eat less iii. See it as a zero-calorie, weight-loss aid. Aim to drink 8-10 glasses of water every day. And when hunger strikes, try guzzling some aqua to satisfies your craving. On the topic of hydration, watch out for calorie-laden drinks like alcohol, fruit juice and fizzy beverages. These can sabotage your weight loss goals!
Step up your sleep hygiene
Getting enough kip can be challenging when you hit the menopause – and poor sleep tends to triggers a slew of unhealthy eating habits. You see, compromised rest throws two vital hormones, ghrelin and leptin, out of whack. These compounds are responsible for hunger, so when you’re sleep deprived, you’re chemically driven to munch more in order to feel satisfied iv. The antidote? Practicing good sleep hygiene that will send you into a dreamy slumber every single night.
Numero uno is making your bedroom a tech-free zone: no mobiles, no laptops, and no TVs. The blue light that emanates from your gadgets seriously interferes with your sleep hormone, melatonin, and totally skews your sleep cycle. Use your bed for sleeping and sex – nothing else. In addition to a digital detox, you need to create a healthy snooze sanctuary. Keep your bedroom dark, quiet and temperate. The National Sleep Foundation suggests 18 degrees is the best temperature to doze off to v. Still struggling to clock off? Try reading, yoga, meditation, or relaxing in a long, hot bath before heading to sleep. These soporific activities are masters at promoting sleep. Last – and probably most important of all – avoid loading up on sugar, caffeine, and alcohol too close to bedtime. They are sleep thieves! Top tip: refrain from indulging in that cuppa joe past 2 pm – it will only disrupt your quest for rest.
If the physical and emotional stress of the menopause wasn’t enough to deal with, middle age welcomes new challenges that add can fuel to the fire. Career changes. Ageing parents. Children leaving home. Marriage disputes. Not only can this stress grind down on your emotional health, but your waistline will pay the price for it, too. Stress increases your body’s cortisol levels, which can result in weight gain vi. Sadly, you can’t change many of the events you encounter at this stage in your life. Jobs come and go. Kids leave home. And parents age. What you can do it change the way you deal with stress…
One weapon in your arsenal is good ol’self-care. Prioritise time for yourself every day: meditate, read, connect with a passion or hobby, spend time with good friends, or bake. Do something that ‘fills’ you up. Other quick stress busters include diffusing lavender essence, doing some cardio, petting a furry animal, listening to your favourite song, or simply watch a funny video! Take your emotional health seriously. Your body, mind and weight will thank you for it.
Yup, it’s that little E-word you’ve all been waiting for – exercise. Let’s face it, as you age, life can become a little more, well, sedentary. Your kids have grown up. You may have retired. And your back is giving you aggro. But this isn’t an excuse to become a couch potato. The less you move, the more fat you store: simple. Building up a sweat won’t only keep you trim and svelte, but it will safeguard your joints and bones, too.
Try and live by the motto ‘I must move every day’. Cardio cultivates a healthy heart, floods your brain with feel-good endorphins, increases your energy levels, and can help shed excess weight. The NHS recommends 30 minutes of aerobic activity (the kind that gets your heart pumping), 2-3 times per week vii. Jogging, brisk walking and cycling are excellent choices. Oh, and don’t forget walking the dog, taking the stairs and gardening all count, too. Strength training is another important tool for zapping fat and managing weight. Aim for 2 weight-bearing workout sessions per week, focusing on legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders and arms.
It’s true: the menopause can throw all sorts of challenges your way, but you don’t need to make weight gain one of them. Stay positive. Stay strong. Stay determined. It’s your body and you can and will feel fabulous in it. This stage of your life calls for putting yourself first and focusing on your needs.
Menopause.org. (2018). Chapter 2: Midlife Body Changes. Available online: https://www.menopause.org/publications/clinical-care-recommendations/chapter-2-midlife-body-changes [Accessed 5 Oct. 2018].
Gerrie-Cor, M., Mishra, G.M. (2013). Fruit, Mediterranean-style, and high-fat and -sugar diets are associated with the risk of night sweats and hot flushes in midlife: results from a prospective cohort study. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 97(5), 1092–1099.
Thornton, S.N. (2016). Increased Hydration Can Be Associated with Weight Loss. Frontiers in Nutrition, 3, 18.
Beccuti, G. & Pannain, S. (2011). Sleep and obesitys. Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition and Metabolic Care, 14(4), 402–412.
Sleepfoundation.org. (2018). NationalSleepFoundation.com. Available online: https://sleepfoundation.org/bedroom/touch.php [Accessed 5 Oct. 2018].
Scott, K.A., Melhorn, S.J. & Sakai, R.R. (2012). Effects of Chronic Social Stress on Obesity. Current Obesity Reports, 1(1), 16–25.
nhs.uk. (2018). Physical activity guidelines for older adults. Available online: https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/exercise/physical-activity-guidelines-older-adults [Accessed 5 Oct. 2018].
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Olivia Salter has always been an avid health nut. After graduating from the University of Bristol, she began working for a nutritional consultancy where she discovered her passion for all things wellness-related. There, she executed much of the company’s content marketing strategy and found her niche in health writing, publishing articles in Women’s Health, Mind Body Green, Thrive and Psychologies.