Losing Weight During Menopause: 6 Strategies for a Healthier You

Last updated 12.02.2023 | by Sabrina Johnson | 11 Minutes Read

This article has been reviewed and fact checked by Dr. Karen Pike, a senior physician administrator and board-certified emergency room doctor actively working in northern California. Read more at our medical disclaimer page.


If we were to look at what the data says, the statistics about weight gain in menopause aren’t too satisfying. It has been documented that women transitioning into menopause gain a pound each year. The amount of weight a woman may gain in menopause varies from one individual to the other. Around 20% of them gain at least 10 pounds while transitioning into menopause, which takes 4-5 years on average. 

My weight gain story was a little stressful. From my mid-40s, due to added stress, all because of the umpteen changes I was going through, I couldn’t look after myself as much as I did before. I would eat unhealthy and sometimes wouldn’t find time for exercise. Added to this was work pressure. All these took a toll on my health, and the immediate aftereffect was that I started gaining weight at a pace I couldn’t imagine. 

This is not just my story. Most women transitioning into menopause may have faced such a situation. Has it happened to you as well? Is your steady weight gain bothering you? In that case, this article of mine will help you to a greater extent. You will get answers to several questions here, like why women gain weight in menopause and the ways to lose weight. 

Shedding off the extra pounds may be challenging when you’ve gained a lot of weight too fast. It isn’t impossible, though; you could surely do it with dedication and effort. Read on to know more:

Why Does Menopause Cause Weight Gain?

Why does Menopause Cause Weight Gain?

While mentioning the reasons behind the menopausal symptoms, the hormonal imbalances surpass everything else. But they are not the only culprit. There are other causes for women to put on those extra pounds during menopause. Take a look at some of them mentioned below.

1. Low Estrogen Levels

During menopause, there is a major drop in estrogen levels. This leads to fat storage, especially in the belly. Although low estrogen levels aren’t directly linked to weight gain, they do cause an increase in abdominal fat and total body fat. Did you know? In postmenopausal women, belly fat contributes to a significant proportion of their body weight -15-20% on average. In contrast, it is less on average in premenopausal women – 5-8%.

2. Loss of Sleep

Getting proper sleep is often difficult during menopause. This could be due to night sweats, hot flashes, sleep apnea, sleep disorders such as insomnia, and so on. As a result of this, one builds up sleep debt.

The difference between the sleep one needs, and the amount of sleep one gets is known as sleep debt or sleep deficit. When you do not get the amount of sleep you should, then you will:

  • Consume more calories and unhealthy foods.
  • Store more body fat.
  • Have lower energy levels, due to which they also exercise less.
  • Don’t burn enough calories as energy expenditure gets reduced following less sleep.

When I would not get ample sleep at night binge eating had become my favorite thing. I knew by resorting to unhealthy habits to soothe my mind, I was harming my body. But at that time, it seemed as if my heart wouldn’t listen to my brain’s call. Eventually, common sense prevailed, and once I worked on fixing my sleep through relaxation techniques, my health got better as well. 

3. Menopause Medication

Many women take medication to handle the symptoms of menopause. These include hormone treatments to deal with the low estrogen levels and antidepressants to handle the moods where they feel low. However, these medications can result in weight gain.

4. Stress

There are many reasons that trigger stress in women during menopause, such as:

  • Coming to terms with growing older
  • Having to look after their grandkids or elderly parents
  • Brain fog that makes it difficult for them to work
  • Low libido that often strains their relationship with their partner
  • Fluctuating hormones leading to depression and anxiety
  • The sudden realization of retiring or having an empty nest

Any of these symptoms, or perhaps a combination of many of them, amplifies their stress levels and often makes it tough for a woman to have an active lifestyle. This causes many to indulge in emotional eating or overeating, just as many do when they get insufficient sleep.

Cortisol, which is the primary stress hormone, could cause one’s body to store fat, particularly in the belly region. Stress also makes it tough for people to fall asleep, which in turn begins the cycle of sleep debt mentioned above.

When we’re stressed, we tend to binge-eat while turning into couch potatoes, thereby attempting to find comfort in food and pop culture instead of feeling motivated to hit the gym. Therefore, this can lead to serious weight gain during menopause.

5. Aging

If you consider the menopausal age, i.e., 45-55 years, then that’s also the time when one age. So, weight gain that happens during menopause is not just because of hormonal imbalances but also due to the natural aging process. With age, there’s a loss in muscle mass. This, in turn, leads to a slow metabolism. Now, when your metabolism isn’t as fast as before, it means you are burning a few calories. 

In this case, your body becomes prone to gaining weight fast, especially if you don’t watch your diet. For instance, if your calorie intake doesn’t lessen, and if you do not implement ways to burnout the excess calories (like exercising regularly), then weight gain may be inevitable.

Health Risks of Weight Gain During Menopause

Excess weight gain or obesity can impact one’s health negatively at any stage in life, including menopause.

The following are the health risks associated with weight gain during menopause:

  • Stroke
  • Gallbladder disease
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Issues with mental health
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Metabolic syndrome

How to Lose Weight During Menopause?

How to Lose Weight During Menopause?

Losing weight during menopause may seem like a monumental task, but there’s nothing you can’t achieve through dedication and sincerity.

So, whether you’re going through menopause or wish to avoid weight gain when you get to that stage, here are some ways to lose weight during this period of transition:

1. Indulge in Exercise and Movement

By indulging in regular exercise, you get to:

  • Maintain muscle tone
  • Promote weight loss
  • Improve bone density health

Exercising regularly is crucial for the health of any human being, but even more so during menopause since the overall level of energy expenditure and physical activities decline at this stage. Therefore, one needs to be mindful that they’re burning calories along with consuming them.

Engaging in 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise can aid tremendously. This could include:

  • Aerobic exercise or cardio
  • Swimming
  • Something as fun as dancing
  • Walking
  • Doing chores around the house

Strength training exercises or resistance training are also encouraged during this time to maintain muscle and bone mass. These could include:

  • Gardening
  • Yoga
  • Resistance Bands
  • Lifting weights

2. Develop Healthy-Eating Habits

Eating unhealthy foods is not uncommon during menopause. Even if you don’t make any changes to your diet, your body burns fewer calories during menopause. Therefore, changing your eating habits is imperative at this time.

Keep the following tips in mind to consume healthier meals:

  • Eat foods that are rich in nutrients, such as fruits, vegetables, legumes, and lean proteins.
  • Be mindful of what you’re eating and avoid emotional eating.
  • Track your meals and weight.
  • Control your portion sizes and pay attention to what you eat when you’re eating out.
  • Have smaller meals throughout the day instead of skipping meals and eating too much in one go.
  • Reduce your intake of carbs.
  • Increase your consumption of proteins.
  • Go for a Mediterranean diet comprising fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts, and grains.

3. Improve Your Sleep Cycle

I’ve already mentioned that your food cravings are high when you do not get sufficient sleep. However, everything doesn’t happen just like that. There is a science behind the same. I would like to share some inputs I gathered on the same. Ghrelin and leptin are appetite-regulating hormones. 

When you don’t sleep well, there is an alteration in their levels. More specifically, if you are sleep-deprived even for a single night, the ghrelin levels will go high. Meanwhile, chronic sleep deprivation causes leptin levels to fall. Such imbalances trigger hunger cravings, leading to weight gain. To improve your sleep cycle, here are some tips for you:

  • Go to bed earlier.
  • Consume a high-protein breakfast if you don’t get enough sleep the night before.
  • Stick to a proper sleep schedule and nighttime routine.
  • Don’t take too many naps in the afternoon.
  • Exercise during the day, but not before bedtime.
  • Stay away from caffeine and large meals too close to bedtime.
  • Avoid watching TV or looking at any other devices right before going to bed.

4. Explore Hormone Replacement Therapy

Hormone replacement therapy boosts the estrogen levels in a woman’s body and aids in dealing with the symptoms of menopause. Even if it doesn’t directly help you lose weight, it can ease many symptoms that make weight loss difficult during this period.

Women can also consider alternative therapies such as herbal treatment, meditation, and yoga.

5. Manage Anxiety and Stress Levels

High-stress levels and anxiety can also be a contributing factor to weight gain. Cortisol (the stress hormone) increases as much as nine times when stressed. A rise in cortisol levels often stimulates food cravings, leading to weight gain.

When there’s so much happening during menopause, keeping calm is a challenge. Yet, you would have to attempt to manage your stress levels consciously. Here are some tips for you:

  • Give yoga and meditation a try.
  • Look into relaxation techniques such as diaphragmatic breathing.
  • Do relaxing activities before bedtime, such as reading or listening to soothing music.
  • Start journalling and make a to-do list for the next day.
  • Professional help can be useful during this time. Cognitive behavior thrapy is one of the most effective stress-management techniques. A friend benefitted from it immensely as it helped her get over faulty beliefs, which were troubling her even more as she was transitioning into menopause.

6. Get Help from Friends and Family

If you’re finding it difficult to lose weight, talk to your family and friends about it and come up with ways in which they can hold you accountable and get you to engage in workouts. You can also ask one of them to become your workout buddy to motivate you more.

FAQs

Is weight gain a common problem during menopause?

Yes, weight gain is a common problem most women face during menopause, mainly due to the fluctuating hormone levels alongside lifestyle changes, and ageing.

What are the risk factors associated with weight gain during menopause?

The risk factors associated with weight gain during menopause are type 2 diabetes, diseases related to the heart and blood vessels, and breathing difficulties.

Does limiting alcohol intake help with weight loss during menopause?

Increased alcohol consumption comes with a lot of banes, which is even more common in menopause. It will not just aggravate your hot flashes and sleep problems but will also lead to an increased weight gain. That’s why limiting alcohol intake, mainly when you are in the menopausal phase, is of utmost importance.
Do not exceed your alcohol intake to more than a drink a day. It would be even better if you could be alcohol-free for some days of the week. Some drinks are too high in sugar, with Rum and Coke being one of them.

How can you lose weight fast in menopause?

Yes, it’s possible to lose weight during menopause. There aren’t any shortcuts to losing the weight you have gained. You’ve got to be patient. Yet, when you fix a proper exercise schedule for yourself – a combination of moderate and vigorous workouts, it will help you lose weight.
However, before including too many workouts in your routine, getting in touch with the doctor is always advisable. Sometimes, your health might not tolerate a heavy exercise regime. It is always advisable to go slow.

Conclusion

The period that comes both before and after menopause makes weight loss quite difficult due to various factors such as low energy levels and fluctuating hormones. While the symptoms of menopause can’t be stopped, there are things that women can do to keep the weight gain under control.

Engage in regular exercise, fix your sleep cycle, and reduce your intake of calories, among other things. Although losing weight is the primary goal for many during this period, it’s important to set realistic expectations to maintain the changes long-term.

Also, the main thing to remember is to focus on your mental health and not let the number on the weighing scale bring you down.

Reference:

Author

  • Sabrina Johnson

    Meet Sabrina Johnson, a compassionate author and a seasoned expert in Obstetrics and Gynecology. She is a driving force behind Simply Menopause, where her extensive medical knowledge and empathetic nature come together to empower women in their menopausal journey. Sabrina offers culturally sensitive guidance and support through her approachable writing, making her a trusted friend on the path to menopause wellness.