Menopause brings plenty of unpleasant symptoms for women, such as night sweats, hot flashes, mood swings, and sleep issues. Among those several symptoms, there is one that is common in many, and that is weight gain.
Not only does menopause cause several women to gain weight, but it also doesn’t make it easy to get rid of the excess weight one might accumulate. The worst part is that the weight gain often happens in the tummy area, which is a problematic region for many.
The menopausal symptoms often worsen for women who struggle with obesity. However, losing weight during menopause is not impossible. In fact, by doing so, you get to fix some of the other menopausal symptoms, such as sleep problems and hot flashes.
In this article, we will be discussing why menopause leads to weight gain and how to lose weight during menopause. Let’s get into it.
Why Does Menopause Cause Weight Gain?
Listed below are some of the reasons why menopause causes weight gain:
1. Drop in 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.
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 a person’s sleep debt is high, they usually:
- 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 the expenditure of energy gets reduced following less sleep.
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 often have the side effect of weight gain.
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.
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.
While menopause does cause weight gain, it is also the natural process of aging that contributes to it all. With the decrease in lean mass during menopause and as a human being ages in general, there is also a decrease in a person’s basal metabolic rate.
Due to less mean mass, there’s a calorie surplus that occurs if a person burns fewer calories on a daily basis but consumes the same amount of calories as they did earlier every day. Therefore, this causes them to gain weight.
With age, women also face increased insulin resistance, thereby leading them to put on weight. Owing to factors such as low muscle strength, knee and back pain, and stiff joints, one might also indulge in less exercise.
Menopause often contributes to these factors as the dwindling estrogen levels affect a woman’s bone health and could lead to osteoporosis, joint issues, and knee and back problems.
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:
- Gallbladder disease
- Type 2 diabetes
- Cardiovascular disease
- Issues with mental health
- Metabolic syndrome
- Early death
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
- Something as fun as dancing
- 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:
- Resistance Bands
- Lifting weights
2. Develop Healthier 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 stay away from 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.
3. Improve Your Sleep Cycle
Not getting enough sleep is often linked to obesity. The following are some ways in which you can improve your sleep cycle during menopause:
- 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.
- 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 factors to weight gain. Manage your anxiety and stress levels by doing these:
- 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, including cognitive behavior therapy.
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.
Yes, weight gain is a common problem during menopause.
Weight gain happens during menopause due to decreased estrogen levels, hormone level fluctuations, muscle mass loss, and inadequate sleep.
You can lose weight during menopause by exercising properly, maintaining a healthy diet, limiting your alcohol intake, and consuming less sugar.
The risk factors associated with weight gain during menopause are type 2 diabetes, diseases related to the heart and blood vessels, and breathing difficulties.
Yes, limiting alcohol intake does help with weight loss during menopause.
Yes, it’s absolutely possible to lose weight during menopause.
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 so that the changes can be maintained 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.