Women in Menopause
Guide to Menopause
Obesity in Women
|Is Weight Gain Inevitable In Menopause?
Many women start to gain weight during perimenopause, the early years of menopause. Between the ages of 35 and 55 women gain on average 10 to 15 pounds of excess fat. Yet, despite the fact that most of them will put this down to menopause, recent studies do not support this claim. Two important studies published in 2001 in the International Journal of Obesity concluded that neither perimenopause, nor menopause or HRT is the cause of weight gain midlife. The long-term studies looked at hundreds of women 17 year prior to menopause and followed them for 22 years into their postmenopause years. It appears that most of the women gradually and steadily gained weight, but researchers concluded it was not due to the decline in hormones in their body or the use of HRT. The World Health Organization substantiated this in their 2001 obesity report which stated that a decline in activity was the cause of midlife weight gain, and not menopause. The average net weight gain in menopausal women is about 0.43 percent of body weight a year. That works out at about 1 pound a year for a woman who started at 140 pounds (10 stone/half a kilo). Even then however, there was a blip in the research which showed women lose 3 percent of their body weight 3 years into menopause. Researchers could not account for this. Perhaps this is when women were most likely to become conscious of their weight and follow a calorie controlled diet plan. So is weight gain inevitable? There is no doubt that a small change in the shape of a woman’s body does occur midlife. Weight starts to gathers in the stomach area, and the woman develops the so-called apple shape. Prior to perimenopause, weight traditionally would have rested around the hips, thighs and buttocks (pear shape). That said, avoiding large weight gain is still perfectly achievable with a balanced diet and exercise (aerobic and weight-bearing) to keep calories burning. Studies consistently show that maintaining physical activity levels is key to maintaining a healthy body mass index (BMI).
What Causes Weight Gain?
Less Physical Activity
As women become older research shows that they tend to become less active, and as we previously discussed, physical activity is key to maintaining a healthy weight.
Body Shape Changes
Changes in the body shape, caused by lower levels of estrogen can result in redistribution of fat on the body. Gradually the tummy and waist becomes larger while the legs and arms become thinner. Although she may not weigh particularly more than she used to, the new shape may necessitate an increase in dress size, which mentally the woman registers as weight gain. See also, effects of menopause on the body.
Lack Of Sleep
Studies show that people who do not have enough sleep are prone to gaining weight. This is because the hormones which control appetite levels are regulated in sleep time. If the person does have enough sleep they do not generate enough hormones to trigger the feeling of fullness, so then tend to overeat. This is why sleep is particularly important to those who want to lose or maintain weight. Lack of sleep is one of the common side effects of hot flashes and night sweats associated with menopause. One way to help ensure a good night’s sleep is to exercise. Not only does it tire you out (!), but is also increases the amount of melatonin in the body - that is the hormone which regulates sleep. Melatonin levels are highest in children and stores appear to deplete over a lifetime. Even though melatonin levels actually decrease when we exercise, exercise kick starts the pineal gland into producing it at night time.
Research shows that women who begin perimenopause overweight are more likely to gain weight during menopause. This is because they tend to produce more estrogen (linked to body fat) which might encourage weight gain.
To date there is no sign of scientists discovering a 'menopause weight gain' gene, but it can't be ruled out. Genetic testing has discovered a gene called 825T which may explain why some women regain their figure after childbirth quickly and why others do not. About 30 percent of white Western women are estimated to have the 825T gene, and those with the gene are the ones who tend to struggle.
Some women become prone to insulin resistance as they age. This causes the body to mistakenly convert more calories into fat than it needs. One of the primary causes of insulin resistance is consuming a diet high in fats and processed carbs. Women who are overweight to begin with as a result of diet are more likely to develop insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes.
Not sure if you have started? Check: Menopause testing. You may also find our list of books on menopause useful.
Does HRT Cause Weight Gain?
All the large-scale studies carried out in the US indicate that HRT, primarily estrogen replacement therapy, does not cause weight gain. In fact research shows that women taking HRT maintained a slightly lower weight on average than those not taking it. HRT may cause fluid retention in some women which makes them feel fat, but this is fluid and not fat. A diet low in salt and high in fruit and vegetables will help to counteract the effect of fluid retention.
Is It More Difficult To Lose Weight In My 50's?
After the age of 35 we start to lose lean muscle tissue which causes our metabolism (the rate we burn calories) to slow down. This is why a calorie controlled diet and exercise regime in your 50's may not be quite as successful as it was in your 30s. In other words, you need to tread harder just to stay in the same place. So as you age, you need to increase your activity levels and include resistance/strength training exercise (weights), or you will find it difficult to lose weight. This means about 1 hour exercise a day combined with a calorie controlled diet. A Low GI Plan is the most effective for women in menopause as it helps to control hormones and blood sugar fluctuations. As a general guide, if you want to maintain weight aim for 1500 to 1600 calories a day. If you want to lose weight aim for 1300 or 1400 calories a day. With regards to exercise, an hour's brisk walk taken 3 times a week and 2 one-hour sessions in the gym is ideal. Only if you exercise for an hour or more than a day should you add 100 calories to your allowance, so your allowance then becomes 1400 to 1500 calories a day to lose weight.
Beauty Tips: Menopause Skin Problems.
Should I Eat Less After Menopause?
After the age of 35 our metabolic rate starts to slow down. On average every 5 years of life after 35 we require 50 calories a day less. So by the age of 55 for example we require 200 fewer calories a day than we did at 35. This means if you want to avoid gaining weight after 40 you will need to either eat less or exercise more.
Is It True That Weight Gain In Menopause Is Sometimes Healthy?
Somewhat true in certain circumstances. Women who try to maintain a low body weight during menopause can expose themselves to risks of osteoporosis. This is because body fat helps a woman maintain higher levels of estrogen, and lower levels directly affect bone density levels. This is why overweight women may experience fewer menopause symptoms, although this has not been substantiated by research. So if you were very slim in your 20s and gain 10 or 15 pounds in menopause, it may even be good for your health as long as your BMI stays in the healthy weight range (up to BMI 25). However, what is not healthy is to gain weight which puts your BMI into an unhealthy zone (over BMI 25). Doing so increases your risks of developing Syndrome X, insulin resistance, breast cancer, heart disease in women, hypertension and arthritis. The message is, if you do gain weight in menopause, keep it small.
What Is A Menopause Diet Plan?
Some health experts claim that women can minimize menopause symptoms by eating certain foods and supplements. This is a contentious issue as certain health factors associated with the natural process of aging and menopause cannot be changed. Nevertheless some foods may help prevent or postpone certain health issues occurring postmenopause. For example, eating foods rich in calcium can help prevent osteoporosis. Ensuring enough vitamin D in your diet has been linked with reduced risks for diabetes, breast cancer, colon cancer, arthritis, falls and multiple sclerosis.
See also: Menopause Treatment.