Summer’s on its way and with people eager to go on a sunny holiday by the beach, body image anxiety starts increasing. So let’s talk about weight gain. Why do we gain weight during the menopause? How do we avoid getting thick on the middle?
Menopause and weight gain
Menopause represents a time of change for women. Physically and mentally. One of the most visually obvious change, is weight gain. This is one of the 34 symptoms of the menopause.
The most common place that people notice weight gain, is around the middle. There are so many words for it, thick in the middle, budge, muffin top. It seems that during menopause your fat storage is all-around your belly. It’s NOT an even distribution of fat. In other words, menopausal weight gain is just not fair!
Why do we gain weight?
Weight gain occurs before and during menopause partly because of a dramatic drop in oestrogen levels, we’ll talk about that soon. On top of that, low-quality sleep, age-related reductions in metabolism, and muscle tone can contribute to this weight gain.
Mental symptoms such as anxiety and depression make it so much harder to get the motivation to exercise and eat well. And a glass of wine ‘here and there’ seems to solve every kind of problem in the short run (and it is a very big illusion). Alcohol and menopause do not mix..
How is oestrogen involved in weight gain?
Oestrogen, represents one of the primary sex hormones in females, and it has many different functions. It plays a role in:
- sex characteristics
- menstrual cycle regulation
- bone health maintenance
- regulating cholesterol levels
What happens then in menopause?
During menopause, oestrogen levels dip a great amount. Low oestrogen during menopause is not directly responsible to weight gain though, but it may lead to increases in total body fat and mostly abdominal fat. Doctors also associate excess weight during middle age with heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Loss of oestrogen, in fact, has been associated with the development of cardiovascular diseases.
Our bodies are meant to work in harmony, so when one hormone goes missing, other things that might seem unrelated, tend to change.
Increase in body fat
Central distribution, accumulation of fat and insulin resistant state are important components of metabolic abnormalities that are related to coronary heart disease. (Insulin resistance is when cells in your muscles, fat, and liver don’t respond well to insulin and can’t use glucose from your blood for energy)
Oestrogen deficiency may affect cardiovascular disease risk by mediating changes in body fat distribution. Recent studies that use radiologic techniques such as DEXA to analyse body fat distribution, led to the conclusion that the menopause accelerates the selective deposition of intra-abdominal fat (hence the reason why we gain belly fat).
Many other studies also support that fat around the belly occurs with menopause. There are though some inconsistencies among studies so we need more information to clearly establish the effects of menopause on abdominal body weight gain.
Natural aging processes
Weight gain during menopause is also due to regular aging processes and changes in lifestyle habits. It is pretty normal for your metabolism to slow down. As people age, they tend to become less physically active. This leads to less muscle mass and more body fat.
Doctors also associate menopause with poor sleep and I think most of concur. Poor sleep can be caused by having hot flashes or night sweats, anxiety or anything else really.
Poor sleep quality can affect:
- appetite hormones
- body fat composition
- energy expenditure
Research links sleep deprivation with increasing weight gain. And that second ‘midnight snack’ we eat because we can’t sleep does not help!
What can you do to counteract weight gain?
Increase physical activity
Even if you feel very tired (which is pretty common during menopause), regular exercise is an excellent way to promote weight loss and overall physical health. Many people also experience decreases in muscle tone as they age, and this can cause weight gain. Exercise is a key way to build and maintain muscle thus preventing age-related muscle loss.
Eating a healthy diet
Healthful, nutrient-dense foods should be the basis for all meals and snacks especially during menopause. Empty calories should be avoided more than ever. A healthy diet should contain a variety of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and lean sources of protein.
You can check out nutritional therapist Rosemary Ferguson for more nutritional information and recipe ideas.
Making sleep a priority
Of course, if poor sleep can cause weight gain, let’s focus on getting a good night sleep. If you’re having troubles sleeping, read this. CBD also helps improve sleep, check out my CBD range, The M Blend.