Weight gain during menopause
Many women dread menopause because they are afraid that they will gain weight. This fear is justified to some extent, but there are positive steps to take that can greatly help with managing this problem.
Causes of weight gain
There are several factors that may contribute to the weight gain associated with menopause:
- Lack of female hormones, which slows down metabolism
- Use of hormone replacement therapy (HRT)
- Slowing down of basic metabolism with increasing age
- Lack of exercise
- Increased food intake due to emotional problems such as depression.
Let’s consider each one of these factors and how best to manage them.
The gradual decline in female hormone levels which occurs when women pass through menopause can have very different effects on different women. Some women lose their appetite and get thinner as they age. The majority of women, however, are at risk of gaining weight because their basic metabolic rate (BMR) slows down once their oestrogen and progesterone levels decrease.
The way to deal with this risk is to keep track of your food intake so that you don’t start eating more than you did before menopause, and to make sure you do as much exercise as possible, not only to burn excess energy, but also to stimulate your metabolism.
It’s also a good idea to have your thyroid levels checked: hypothyroidism (low thyroid) is common in women from about the age of 40, and this can also contribute to a slowed metabolism.
It is ironic that some women will gain weight because they lack female hormones and others will gain weight because they use HRT. Unfortunately any female hormone preparation (the Pill, HRT or hormone treatments for acne) can potentially cause an increase in body weight. The benefits of HRT are considerable, so if you find that this treatment is causing weight gain, then first talk to the prescribing doctor to see if the type of hormone you are taking or the dose can be adjusted to decrease this tendency.
Also follow a healthy diet low in saturated fat and refined carbohydrates and high in fibre, and do plenty of exercise.
There is no doubt that all of us slow down as we get older, and one needs to reduce the number and size of food portions somewhat. It’s not just a matter of reducing calories though – rather, the aim is to keep plenty of nutritious foods in the diet and to cut down as much as possible on those high in saturated fats, added salt and added sugar, and alcohol.
The Australian Dietary Guidelines recommend that, per day, women over 50 should aim to eat:
- 5 servings of vegetables
- 2 servings of fruit
- 4 servings of grain/cereal foods (choose wholegrain)
- 2 protein servings (lean meat and poultry, fish, eggs, tofu, nuts and seeds, legumes/beans)
- 4 servings of low-fat dairy or alternatives like calcium-enriched soy.
As mentioned above, exercise is one of the most potent means of stimulating your BMR. One hour’s brisk walking in the fresh air increases your BMR for hours afterwards.
Lack of exercise
Many women feel sluggish and lethargic when they enter menopause, and this may cause them to neglect their exercise routines. If you have always been active, then keep up the good work during and after menopause. If you are feeling tired and that you haven’t got the energy to exercise, try taking a good vitamin and mineral supplement to boost your energy levels. Also remember that high-fibre carbohydrates are low in fat and release energy in a slow, sustained way, so they are good choices for energy-boosting snacks.
Menopause can make some women more vulnerable to depression, and this negative psychological state can also lead to overeating as a form of self-medication. It’s very important to consult your doctor or a clinical psychologist if you feel you may be suffering symptoms of even mild depression if it persists longer than two weeks. Depression is a highly treatable condition, but early intervention, as with any medical problem, is best.
Eating sensibly and staying active are vital for both staving off depression and aiding in recovery. The vitamin and mineral supplements mentioned above will also help.
Thus, while weight gain during or after menopause is a very real risk, you can avoid it by decreasing your energy intake, especially of unhealthy foods, eating more high-fibre foods, taking a good vitamin and mineral supplement, and keeping fit and active.
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