Menopause is such a difficult time for many women.
As you get older, you might notice that maintaining your usual weight becomes more difficult. In fact, many women gain weight around the menopause transition. Menopause weight gain isn’t inevitable, however. You can reverse course by paying attention to healthy-eating habits and leading an active lifestyle.
In this blog I’m going to explain what causes weight gain during menopause, and what you can do to cure it once and for all.
What causes menopause weight gain?
The hormonal changes of menopause might make you more likely to gain weight around your abdomen, hips and thighs. The hormones that are responsible for this are estrogen and progesterone. These two hormones are lower on the fat burning totem poll compared to insulin and cortisol or thyroid and adrenaline, nevertheless do impact a woman’s fat burning metabolism. Estrogen is an insulin sensitizing hormone and a hormone that controls the negative impact of cortisol. Progesterone opposes the action of estrogen on insulin, but works together with estrogen in controlling the negative impact of cortisol.
Why is this important?
Because insulin and cortisol are a bad hormonal combination for fat loss. These two hormones, when combined together in high amounts over long periods, push the female physiology towards storing fat when calories are high (as opposed to building muscle), and reduce the amount of fat burned when calories are low (burning muscle instead). This is a bad combination for any woman, but a menopausal woman is affected to a much greater extent.
Since insulin and cortisol may be the primary culprits in female belly fat storage, the transition into menopause often results in fat gain especially around the mid-section.
How risky is weight gain after menopause?
Menopause weight gain can have serious implications for your health. Excess weight increases the risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes and various types of cancer, including colorectal cancer and breast cancer.
What’s the cure?
Realize you are far more carbohydrate reactive and stress sensitive after menopause. Which means the carbohydrates you used to be able to eat that did not affect your waistline may now be too many and do just that. The stressful exercise and lack of sleep you could tolerate in your younger years, while still remaining lean, will now start to show itself on your waist.
To deal with these hormonal impacts, requires a far more insulin centric approach versus a caloric one. In other words, whereas a lower calorie diet may have been enough in your younger days, you now need a hormonal approach to body change.
What should you eat?
Now you need to know that it is not just refined sugars that are the issue. You will need to start controlling all the foods that have potential insulin promoting action. This includes many foods that are regarded as “healthy”. Whole grain breads, sweet fruits, dairy foods, and starchy vegetables, which may have once been a central part of your lean diet, may now be working against you. Reducing these foods while simultaneously increasing low starch vegetables, low sweet fruits (berries, apples, and pears), good fats, and protein foods has to become your new solution to burning fat.
How should you exercise?
A few hours of strength training a week can help build lean muscle and keep your waist trim. Some women worry about bulking up and looking like a bodybuilder but, the truth is, not even female bodybuilders can achieve the same amount of muscle mass as men can. For best results incorporate strength training into your routine 4x a week and keep the duration between 30-45 minutes. While strength training can build muscle, adding cardio along with it increases stamina and burns extra fat, including that pesky layer around your midsection. I suggest doing 2 metabolic conditioning sessions each week for 30-40 minutes.
Why is this important?
All of this is important because the dominant message sent to menopausal women, from their nutritionists and doctors, as well as the mainstream press, runs completely counter to all we just covered. Their message is to do more jogging and power walking, not less. They are instructed to eat more grains and dairy and less protein. And they are rarely told to lift weights or educated on the benefits of rest and recovery centered activities.
Together, a lower insulin promoting diet and a smarter exercising regime can make a huge difference in your body. Remember, the menopausal physiology is more carbohydrate reactive (estrogen is no longer there to help offset insulin) and more stress sensitive (estrogen and progesterone are not there to dampen cortisol’s negative effect).
The changes to diet, exercise, and lifestyle can help combat menopause weight gain.