Is menopause the cause of my weight gain?
There a several possible reasons why your weight may change while going through menopause:
- Hormonal changes may change your food preferences and where your body stores fat. As you gain weight, it is more likely to be found creeping up in the abdomen, rather than the hips and thighs. Carrying extra weight around your middle can increase the risk of metabolic conditions such as diabetes and heart disease which may be a good motivator for making some positive lifestyle changes.
- Eating habits change as we go through life. Are you reaching for salty or sweet snack foods a bit more than you did? Do you drink more alcohol now than 10 years ago (or before COVID)? It is pretty hard to accurately remember what you ate 5-10 years ago (unless you happen to have a food diary from that time hanging around). Some research in the US looked at both short and long term lifestyle changes in women in their 50’s and the relationship with their weight. In the long-term, women who cut back on desserts, soft drinks, cheese and meat but ate more fruit and vegetables as well as increased to their physical activity had the least amount of weight increase. In particular, the best results were seen in women who cut back on sugary foods and ate more fruit and vegetables.
- Reduction in metabolism can be caused by reduction in muscle which is a normal part of the ageing process. If you are exercising less because of an injury or a busy lifestyle, this can also contribute. Another less well-known reason for a reduction in metabolism is under-eating. It is very tempting to eat less to lose weight, but there is a point at which your body will fight back and it does this by conserving energy. This can lead to a frustrating situation where you are eating less than ever before but still your weight stays the same. This is a good time to seek the help of a dietitian who can guide you on the right amount of food and nutrients to meet your body’s needs while still encouraging weight loss (although perhaps a little slower than you were hoping for). You can ask us questions through email@example.com
Eat to beat the menopause spread
The best way to reduce weight gain around your middle during these years might be easier than you think. There are no quick fixes but rather, a daily dedication to looking after your body’s basic needs for nutrients and movement is the key. Below are my top things to focus on:
- Make highly processed sweet and fried foods (such as crisps, doughnuts, cakes, biscuits etc) very occasional fun foods. The less often you have them, the more fun they are!
- Sip and sit with alcohol so you can drag out each glass as long as possible (and drink as little as possible). Watering it down with loads of ice or soda water is a common trick. Alcohol has as many kcals per gram as fat and it also disrupts the digestion of food (leading to gut issues). Every large glass of wine has the same kcals as an ice cream sundae!
- Load up on vegetables and salad so they make up the main part of your meal. This is one of the best changes you can make to protect your health. The more vegetables you eat, the lower your risk of cancer, heart disease and diabetes. Try getting into the habit of building your meals around vegetables. For example, do you want to have them stir-fried, roasted, steamed, boiled or raw in a salad – then think about what other foods will go well with that. If you are not that keen on vegetables – invest in some high-quality versions from a local farmers market. You are more likely to put in some solid effort to eat them and not waste money… and usually these taste better too!
- Fill up on fibre so you feel satisfied through the danger zones such as morning and afternoon tea. Choose wholemeal versions of everything and look at the label of breads and cereals to find the foods with the highest amount of fibre. At least 3-5g of fibre per serve is a good starting point!
- Eat until you feel satisfied (or no longer hungry) rather than full. It takes 20mins for your body to fully register what you have eaten and turn off your hunger. That familiar feeling of a stretched and full belly is a red flag that you have eaten too much. The stretch of the stomach is the body’s way of managing over-eating (so you don’t bring it back up) and not a goal when eating.
- Enjoy getting your body moving and heart rate going every day. You will build a habit quicker if you do this every day. Exercise will also get easier this way. Find some movement that doesn’t feel like a drag. It will certainly make it easier if you actually enjoy it.
- Think of eating for your health, rather than your weight. This change in mindset is much more motivating so the natural ups and downs of the scales won’t be as deflating! Having a bigger reason other than weight can be a much more positive and long-lasting approach. You might find that weight loss is a nice surprise along the way but isn’t the only reason for keeping up with the healthy habits! Make the goal to eat foods that your body needs (such as a wide range of vegetables and fruit, regular protein and dairy through the day and wholegrain carbs). If you are not meeting your body’s basic needs (energy and nutrients) then your metabolism will slow down.
Accredited Practising Dietitian, My Nutrition Clinic