50% of women will experience menopause weight gain with a lot of that thickening their waistline. When you're in your fifties, keeping your weight in a healthy range is less about aesthetics and more about health. Being overweight in your fifties can increase your risk of developing type 2 diabetes, heart and circulatory diseases including heart attacks, strokes and vascular dementia.
In this article we're going to outline why weight gain is an issue for some women in menopause; how specific symptoms, caused by lower oestrogen levels, can contribute to why women gain weight and some practical lifestyle tips to help to take back some control starting with a 7 day plan to target menopause weight gain. Ready to find out how you can get to a healthy weight, feel better, get your heart healthier and your chronic disease risks lower?
What is the average weight gain for menopausal women?
Ready for this?? The average weight gain by the time a woman reaches menopause is 10kg. The British Menopause Society references the SWAN study and the Healthy Women's Study when it comes to average weight gain for menopausal women. On average women in perimenopause gain approximately 1.5kg per year resulting in an average weight gain of 10kg by the time menopause is reached.
Why is weight gain common during menopause?
Why women gain weight during menopause is due to a combination of
- hormonal changes
- the symptoms lower hormone levels cause
- a natural, age related change in body composition
- a more sedentary lifestyle
- eating more calories than you think you need
Menopause symptoms, specifically sleep disruption and stress can affect hunger hormones and cortisol levels, which increase appetite and abdominal fat.Changes in body composition ( less muscle mass and more fat mass) and not enough regular exercise means women burn fewer calories which can contribute to an increase in weight.
Menopausal symtoms can affect weight loss
Unfortunately, sleep problems are part of both perimenopause and menopause for a lot of women. Before menopause, oestrogen and progesterone both support quality sleep by helping to produce melatonin and GABA ( gamma aminobutyric acid ) which calms and relaxes us but both hormone levels drop.
On top of that lack of sleep support, lower hormone levels also kick off other menopause symptoms such as night sweats, heart palpitations, anxiety, stress and nocturia which can all make a sound sleep impossible. Quality sleep helps us control blood sugar levels and maintain a healthy weight and you're no longer getting any.
What causes the belly fat, or menopause belly?
As you get older, there are some age related changes in body composition, weight and fat distribution
As oestrogen levels fall you begin to store more fat and you lose lean muscle mass - unless you're actively ensuring this doesn't happen. Less muscle mass means your metabolism slows down and your body burns less calories. If you're consuming the same calories this means you'll gain weight.
On average, belly fat DOUBLES in menopause
Your body also changes WHERE it stores fat and your body shape changes. When your hormone production is at it's peak fat is evenly spread around the hips and thighs. When you're approaching menopause it starts storing fat around your abdomen and waist as visceral fat (belly fat).
Visceral fat increases from 5-8% total body weight to 10-15% total body weight. This is to store a weaker type of oestrogen to make up the ovarian shortfall.Visceral fat is the kind of fat you want to do your best to keep as low as possible
Hormones can affect the way you handle sugar
Your ability to manage sugar declines in menopause which is directly related to the fluctuations of your hormones. Oestrogen and progesterone can both affect the way your body responds to insulin. Insulins role is to clear out excess sugar from the blood and send it to your liver to be stored as glycogen where it can be used to create energy when you need it. Any excess sugar the liver can't handle is stored as fat.
High levels of cortisol can stop fat mass being used for energy
Three, stress, very real for a lot of overstretched women juggling work and family commitments, releases hormones from the adrenal glands - cortisol and adrenaline. High levels of cortisol can deposit fat directly in the abdominal area and also encourages the body to break down muscle instead of fat for energy instead of the other way around.
Lack of physical activity means you don't lose weight
Many women in menopause and perimenopause who led a physically active lifestyle before menopause, don't have a good balance when it comes to food and exercise which can lead to them gaining weight. Poor food choices, too much processed foods and refined carbs are often an easy choice for busy women when they're time pressed.
Hormonal fluctuations and the menopause symptoms they create can also lead to increasingly sedentary behaviour - and weight gain. Fatigue, bleeding between periods, lack of body confidence, not getting enough sleep, hot flashes, urinary incontinence and psychological symptoms like low mood and anxiety can all make exercise a little challenging.
All these factors don't make it easy to lose weight at a time in your life when extra weight gain can steal your confidence and more importantly your health outlook.
What risks does menopause weight gain carry?
A menopausal woman has an increased risk of weaker bones (osteoporosis), cardiovascular disease, higher cholesterol levels and type 2 diabetes.
Living with excess weight or obesity during this time can increase your risk of vascular dementia, heart disease, heart attacks and strokes. Heath risks can be cut by keeping your weight within a healthy range and exercising regularly.
How to support weight loss in menopause
Losing weight during menopause follows the same principles as losing weight before menopause with the exception of one thing which is making sure you address the nutritional requirements to manage menopause symptoms as well as reviewing nutrition and regular physical exercise.
Support menopause symptoms
Menopausal symptoms such as hot flushes, not getting enough sleep, joint pain, mood swings, fatigue, anxiety and brain fog can make life very difficult. Work and family commitments aren't as easy to navigate when your energy levels are low, you can't quite trust the way your body or brain works anymore and your self confidence is wavering.
- Hormone replacement therapy - available from your doctor or healthcare professional, hrt patches, gels, creams and sprays or a combination containing oestrogen or progestogen or both can be prescribed to replace lost hormones and help keep symptoms in control.
- Supplement key vitamins and minerals and/or adaptogens to support your brain, your bones and your heart - HRT isn't for everyone, by choice or because of a medical condition. B vitamins for brain health, Vitamin D and Calcium for bone health, Vitamin E, Thiamine , Iron and Folate, Selenium and Omegas for heart health.
Review your calorie intake and eating plan
Even if you have a healthy diet you could still gain menopausal weight if you're eating more calories than you're using. But how do you know whether you are overweight or how much you should be eating.
Measure your waist size
The National Institute of Health and Care Excellence recommends that your waist size should be less than half your height. This measurement and where you are on a Body Mass index table will be ale to give you a good idea of how much weight you need to lose to avoid the chronic diseases associated with carrying excess weight.
What Body Mass Index Means For Adults
- Between 18.5 and 24.9 – healthy weight.
- Between 25 and 29.9 – overweight.
- Between 30 and 39.9 – obese.
- BMI of 40 or more – severely obese.
Check your lean proteins intake
We are a nation obsessed with protein but in reality in the UK average intakes of protein are above the Reference Nutrient Intake (RNI) including in vegetarians and vegans.The RNI is 0.75g of protein per kg bodyweight per day for average-weight adults (~56g/day for men and ~45g/day for women depending on bodyweight).
The average daily intakes of protein in the United Kingdom are 76.0g/day for adults aged 19-64 years, and 67.0g/day for adults aged 65 years and over. That's around 35% more protein than is recommended.
Look at your overall calorie intake
The recommended calorie intake for a menopause woman recommended by the NHS is 1800 calories a day. To lose weight you need to be in a calorie deficit. By dropping your calorie intake by 500 calories you should be able to achieve a healthy, sustainable weight loss of 1lb a week. Use a tracking app like My Fitness Pal to start understanding what your food intake should be.
Eat a healthy diet - nutritionally dense
Ensure you're getting quality nutrition which includes whole grains, at least 156g of oily fish per week, 20g -30g of fibre a day , 5 servings of fruit and vegetables a day. Saturated fat and sugar intake should be kept to a minimum. When it comes to women's health these lifestyle changes are particularly important as women with less oestrogen have a higher increase in cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.
Need a few good reasons to exercise during menopause?
Physical activity has so many benefits apart from helping to reduce body weight. For menopausal and postmenopausal women regular exercise can help to decrease low oestrogen symptoms of such as high blood pressure, stress, depression, anxiety. On top of that exercise can improve your balance, tone your body and increase muscle mass and strength. This will help you to burn more calories and stop weight gain.
How much exercise are we talking about?
The NHS recommends adults do least 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity activity, or 75 minutes a week of vigorous-intensity activity or an equivalent combination of both. You should aim to get moving at least 5 days a week. The more minutes you exercise over the 150 minutes, the better your results will be.
- Aerobic exercises include brisk walking, swimming and running, aerobic classes.
- High intensity interval training such as cycling on a stationary bike really fast to get your heart rate up for a few minutes, then peddling slowly to recover for a few minutes then repeating a few times.
- strength training - using handheld weights, dumb bells or weighted balls - strength training can also increase your heart rate even if you aren't moving around that much.
- muscle strengthening activities - these are usually low impact and use exercise bands or body weight such as squats and press ups.
Be sure to consult your doctor before starting an exercise regime.
How to target menopause weight gain in 7 days
First, weigh yourself and measure your waistline. This will give you two baseline measurements for goal setting.
Schedule in 5 days of exercise - 30 - 45 minutes per day with a mix of aerobic, strength training and muscle strengthening activities. Try the Free Active 10 App - you can get your heart rate up with brisk walking. There are also tonnes of free 30 - 45 minute, low impact workouts for beginners on YouTube. Joe Wicks does a 7 days of Sweats using just body weight.
Plan your meals for 7 days with a daily calorie goal which will support weight loss. 1300 calories a day - 500 calories below the recommended 1800 calories for menopausal women should see a healthy weight loss of 1lb-2lb a week. Use MyFitnessPal to plan meals - this will help you to make sure your protein intake and portion sizes are right.
Alternatively you could use meal replacements for one or two of your three main meals a day to simplify things. They can help to support fat loss while giving you all the nutrition you need and the energy to keep active while keeping you out of the kitchen and away from temptation.
Eve Biology Meal Replacements For Menopause target menopause symptoms of brain fog, anxiety, bloating, tiredness and sleep disturbances plus help to control weight as they come in at only 209 calories which means you can have a satisfying healthy evening meal. See the Guide to Meal Replacements for Weight Loss.
The bottom line
When it comes to the menopause transition, the effects of lower oestrogen levels can have an affect on how your body works and the way you feel. Hormone therapy can help to relieve symptoms like hot flashes and anxiety but when it comes to your health outlook it really pays you to minimize weight gain. That bit is on you.
Exercising regularly, keeping to a healthy diet with moderate protein, 5 servings of fruits and vegetables a day and enough fibre can help to keep your belly fat low.
What's the best way to prevent menopause weight gain?
The best way to prevent menopause weight gain is to make sure you know what a healthy weight looks like for you and you make sure you're getting quality nutrition and enough physical activity to keep your weight within a healthy range. Your body may not manage sugar or saturated fat as well as it used to so you should make sure you are keeping these to occasional treats.
What is the best diet for menopausal weight gain?
Reducing menopause symptoms with an enriched nutrition plan and introducing moderate intensity physical activity a few times a week can help you to feel more energised and clear headed, lose weight, reduce body fat and also reduce health risks.