I often refer to menopause as The Perfect Storm for weight gain because at that time in a woman’s life there are many factors that converge to encourage weight gain. We cannot change everything, but we can change enough to interrupt the storm and reverse the consequences. In this post, I explain what we are up against and what we can do to get in control.
Menopause Weight Gain Summary
- The natural drop in muscle mass and sex hormones that a woman experiences at menopause reduce the number of calories she needs to run her body.
- Hormonal changes at menopause make it is easier for a woman to put on belly fat.
- By changing her diet to reduce carbohydrates and increase healthy fats, a woman at menopause improves weight loss.
Menopause – A Weight Gain Perfect Storm [Video]
In this video, you’ll learn…
- How our relationship with calories changes after menopause.
- The best food choices to make in order to control your weight.
- Additional strategies for weight loss.
Calorie Needs at Menopause
The average age for menopause is 51. As we approach or enter that fifth decade of our lives, changes take place that impact how our bodies utilize the calories we take in.
For instance, it is common for our muscle mass to decrease with age. Muscle is a very energy-demanding tissue, so with less on your body, you require fewer calories to run your metabolism.
We also see from the research that the decline of sex hormones that come with menopause further reduces the energy we expend at rest (resting energy expenditure, REE), which further reduces the number of calories we need to make it through our day. (1)
Menopause Belly Fat and Insulin Resistance
The drop in estrogen also changes the way fat is distributed on the body. After menopause, fat is more easily deposited in the belly area than the hips and thighs.
When you carry more fat around your waist, it contributes to something referred to as insulin resistance, which literally means that your cells resistant insulin’s attempt to give them energy. That energy, which is mainly in the form of sugar, stays in your blood.
Insulin Resistance and Weight Gain
Insulin resistance sets us up for weight gain in two ways. First, because your cells are not getting the energy, cravings are triggered to get you to bring in more energy.
Second, your body pumps out more insulin to try to force your cells to take up the sugar. Since insulin is a storage hormone, when it is high, you are storing energy, not releasing it.
The fat that is stored on your body cannot get released and the vicious cycle or perfect storm is started. If we add to that, things like sugar in our diets, a lack of exercise, high stress, and poor sleep, and the storm gets even stronger.
How to Lose Weight after Menopause
We can’t turn back the hands of time but there are effective things that we can do to short-circuit the storm and lose weight after menopause. It starts with accepting how our bodies have changed and giving them what they need so we can get what we want. There are two things to focus on. The first is making insulin’s job easier.
Lessening Insulin’s Workload
Many of the factors that work against us as we age have to do with insulin resistance. The solution is to lessen insulin’s workload. You do this by making better food choices specifically choices that do not raise your blood sugar. Because when there is a lot of sugar in the blood, your body needs a lot of insulin to move it out.
There are three macronutrients that we get from our diet. They are carbs, protein, and fat, and each one of these nutrients affects your blood sugar differently.
Carbs raise your blood sugar and insulin the most, protein causes a modest rise, and dietary fats cause little or no rise in blood sugar and insulin. So it makes sense that if you want to lessen insulin’s workload, the first thing to do is pay attention to the carbohydrates that you are eating.
Picking the Right Carbs
Carbs come in many forms from cookies to broccoli. They run the gamut from unhealthy to healthy, and that can make picking the right carbs somewhat confusing.
We can categorize carbs so that it’s easy to rank them from the poorest choices to the best. Basically, the more a carb is refined, the quicker it will be absorbed into your body and spike your blood sugar.
On the flip side, the more a carb resembles the original plant that it came from, the slower it will move through digestion, and therefore, the less of an impact it will have on your blood sugar.
With that in mind, you want to cut out the refined carbs, which are the one’s that I often refer to as the three C’s which are cookies, cakes, and candies. You will also find that it helps to reduce starchy carbs, which are your grains, potatoes, and corn.
Even in their whole state, they have a low fiber-to-carb ratio, so they can be a problem for a stubborn metabolism. You may also find that you do best when you limit fruit. Fruit has fiber and nutrients. However, too much fruit can make it hard for a weight resistant body to lose weight.
The carbs you want in your diet are the non-starchy vegetables. These are the vegetables that you would normally add to a salad like leafy greens, peppers, and onions as well as side-dish style veggies like broccoli and cauliflower.
Picking the Right Fats
Getting the right carbs into your diet will help you lose weight after menopause, but with the refined carbs gone, you need something satisfying to take their place. This is the second thing to focus on and where dietary fats become important after menopause.
Dietary fats have the least impact on blood sugar and insulin. In fact, they stabilize blood sugar making it easier for you to control hunger. However, like carbs, there is a difference in health value when it comes to fatty foods. Whole fats are healthy fats and come from both plant and animal sources. These are things like nuts, seeds, avocados, and high-quality meats, dairy products, and fish.
Oils can also be healthy but choosing the right oil is important because the oils you choose will impact the health of your cell membranes. You want healthy cell membranes because they are what allow for the transport of hormones into your cells.
Good choices are olive oil, avocado oil, and coconut oil. The oils to avoid are vegetable oils of which there are many including soybean, corn, sunflower, and safflower oil. These oils degrade when exposed to heat, so they are not good for cooking and they also promote inflammation inside of your body, which leads to disease as we age.
There are things that we can do to disrupt weight gain after menopause, and there are things we can do to improve insulin sensitivity, like being more physically active and not eating late at night.
But you will see the most progress when you eat in a way that keeps your blood sugar stable. Start by cutting out the refined carbs and taking in the right fats and you will create the internal environment that favors fat burning.
If you’re not sure how to get the sugar and refined carbs out of your diet or even what that looks like, I encourage you to learn my 0,1,2,3 strategy for weight loss. Thank you for reading and have a wonderful week!
(1) Melanson, Edward L., et al. “Regulation of energy expenditure by estradiol in premenopausal women.” Journal of Applied Physiology 119.9 (2015): 975-981.
About the Author:
Dr. Becky Gillaspy, DC graduated Summa Cum Laude with research honors from Palmer College of Chiropractic in 1991.