According to the SWAN Study and The Healthy Women's Study, 50% of women will gain weight during menopause. It begins in perimenopause with around 1.5kg a year from the age of 46 with an average weight gain of 10kg by the time menopause is reached.
Most of this excess weight accumulates around the abdomen and upper body.
When women gain weight these extra pounds and belly fat it brings about an increase in chronic health risks like cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes, not to mention the effect they have on a woman's confidence.
So, is there anything you can do to buck this trend during the menopause transition? And what can you do to get back to a healthy weight and feel like your pre-menopause self? We’ve got all the answers right here in this article.
Firstly, what causes menopause weight gain?
So your usual tactics for keeping your weight down have stopped working? Think there's something else to explain why you're gaining weight? It's easy to blame your hormones for significant weight gain and belly fat , whether your own or hormone replacement therapy. And you can…to an extent. But they aren’t solely responsible for weight gain during menopause. Some of it is on you, so let's take a look!
Your body composition changes
The NHS leaflet on menopause weight gain suggests before menopause if you consume 1000 calories you'll burn off 700 and store 300 as body fat. After menopause you'll burn only 300 and store 700 as body fat. An age related loss of muscle mass ( muscle mass burns more calories than fat) and being less active makes it harder to lose weight as it doesn't do a lot to promote weight loss.
Changes to your fat distribution
It’s not just declining oestrogen levels that contribute to menopausal weight gain. WHERE your body stores fat changes, too. Before perimenopause hits, fat is evenly distributed on your thighs, hips, and buttocks - which gives you that fertile, curvaceous shape.
But after menopause, fat accumulates around your waist and abdomen.As oestrogen levels reduce, visceral fat increases from 5-8% total body weight before menopause to 10-15% total body weight
It's thought this happens because the body tries to access a weaker form of oestrogen which is stored in fat and builds up this fat to make more oestrogen available.
Not only does this result in you not being able to button up your jeans and develop the dreaded back fat , but it also spells bad news for your overall health. Visceral and abdominal fat is linked to an increased risk of type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease, heart attacks and strokes.
Hormone levels are out of balance
A lesser-known function of oestrogen (estrogen) is that it helps regulate our metabolism. This helps keep our body fat in check. Testosterone, as important a hormone for women as men, helps us to retain muscle, feel motivated and supports metabolism. Muscle mass burns more calories even when you're at rest. Testosterone also decreases during menopause which means less muscle mass.
As menopause approaches and oestrogen stores start wearing thin, the way your body works is under pressure. Oestrogen affects so many bodily functions not just your metabolism. Oestrogen also helps to keep other hormones like insulin, cortisol and adrenalin in balance.
Your appetite may increase
If you don't get enough sleep - which is very common in perimenopause and menopause, hunger hormones ghrelin ( which stimulates hunger) and leptin ( which makes you feel full ) can be affected which can cause you to eat more.
Stress can cause weight gain
Cortisol and adrenaline, your stress hormones also increase in response to the drop in oestrogen levels and they are directly associated with an increase in abdominal fat. For many women the menopause years are also one of the most stressful periods in their lives as they juggle senior careers, teenaged children and ageing parents. Comfort eating is also very common.
Not only that, but lower levels of oestrogen make it more difficult for us to manage blood sugar and become insulin resistant. When you eat anything, your blood sugar rises and insulin takes the sugar from your blood and stores it in the liver to be used for energy or turned into fat if there is excess sugar.
After insulin has done its job your blood sugar levels fall. Insulin resistance is when your body has been making too much insulin for a long time and doesn't respond well to insulin anymore. It doesn't go a good job of extracting the glucose from your blood. Too much sugar in the blood is very damaging to the body and needs to be moved into cells as soon as possible. If there is too much sugar to be stored the liver sends the excess blood sugar to fat cells to be stored as body fat.
Low Oestrogen Symptoms
You’re probably all too familiar with the crop of symptoms menopause brings – most women will suffer from from hot flushes or night sweats or mood swings. Women sure have a lot thrown at them at this time in their lives. And when it comes to weight gain, some of these symptoms can make the matter worse. There are other factors as well.
If you’re suffering from depression or anxiety, for example, you might turn to sugary, fatty comfort foods to help you feel better. Or, if tiredness hits you hard, you’ll be more likely to reach for unhealthy convenience foods over home-cooked meals and skip being physically active. All of this inevitably contributes to your risk of gaining a few extra pounds. Read more on How to Recognise and Manage Menopause Anxiety
How to Stop Gaining Weight in Menopause
Gaining too much menopause weight kills your confidence, disrupts your hormones even further and ramps up your risk of developing a chronic disease like cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. And in order to minimize weight gain, cut health damaging visceral fat and get to a healthy weight, the NHS recommends getting plenty of exercise and reducing your calorie intake. You may need to review your lifestyle habits.
Here are a few things that will help.
Eat more fibre
If you don’t eat a healthy diet, you’ll struggle to lose weight – no matter how much exercise you do. You should aim to eat a diet that’s high in fibre to keep you regular. This is important in times of hormonal upheaval. If you're constipated, hormones stay in your body longer than they should, can become dominant and then that makes symptoms worse!
Balance your blood sugar
Every time your blood sugar drops your stress hormones kick in which can make menopausal symptoms like anxiety worse . You'll have enough stress already if you're menopausal! Eating a diet to help you balance sugar is super important. When your sugar levels fall, your body sends in the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol which make you feel worse you feel worse.
Your adrenal glands also have no capacity to give you the oestrogen they can create to top up supplies because they're too busy pumping out stress hormones, so you lose on all fronts. Put down the chocolate, cakes and refined sugars. We know... it's not fair..but it's what you have to do to shift that weight during the menopause.
Get some complex carbohydrates will stop you getting sugar spikes because they are released more slowly into the body. Wholemeal bread, brown rice, sweet potatoes. Lean protein takes longer to digest, will help you to feel full and stop cravings.
Healthy fats like avocado and greek yoghurt can also help to keep you satisfied. Decrease saturated fat and processed foods in your diet, your cholesterol level is something menopausal and post menopausal women need take care of.
Try Low calorie meal replacement shakes
Meal replacement shakes are a great way to help you eat few calories short term and help you to get to a healthier weight. They’re designed to be nutritionally complete while keeping you in a calorie deficit and have been successfully tested by the NHS to help people lose weight and maintain the weight loss.
Eve Biology’s meal replacement shakes don’t just help you shift your excess weight, (The Menopause Diet 5 Day Plan To Lose Weight ). The shakes target menopause symptoms and increase your fibre intake to keep you fuller for longer, ease bloating and keep you regular.
Made with plant based protein ( easier to digest when oestrogen declines and may affect your digestion) and a whole host of nutrients, including B vitamins, folic acid, iron, vitamin A,C, D, and E.
Shake up your exercise routine
To keep your weight at a healthy level, you’ll need to keep moving. Sorry ladies - there’s no way around it. Keeping physically active is really important when in menopause – not just for weight loss, but also to help combat other issues, like anxiety and mood.
The NHS recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity a week or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity exercise a week. Moderate intensity exercise should raise your heart rate and your breathing gets harder, you can talk but not sing.
Vigorous exercise however, raises your heart rate and your breathing changes so you can only say a few words between breaths.
So, put on your comfiest walking shoes and take to the pavement. Walking is great for toning and mood. To hit the moderate exercise bar you could do short spurts of brisk walking. Free NHS app called Active 10 for your phone can track how fast you're walking. Its free! Longer walks are good for toning and fat loss, catching up on audio books.
Moderate intensity exercise could include high intensity interval training ( short spurts of intense exercise) and lifting weights. Muscle strengthening exercises can be done with body weight, exercise bands, dumbells or kettlebells.
Strength training is important to combat lean muscle loss too, will get you more toned, stronger, and can get your heart rate up. Try a YouTube channel, a training app like FIIT or join a local gym. Muscle burns more calories than fat and metabolism slows when muscle mass decreases. So, if you increase your muscle strengthening activities you burn more calories even at rest, avoid gaining excess weight and decreasing your risk of chronic diseases.
Learn to manage stress
It’s really tempting to reach for comfort foods when you feel stressed, anxious, or depressed to help get you through or to distract yourself. The problem is, if you’re feeling stressed (in menopause years your tolerance to stress may fall dramatically) your adrenal glands are going to be producing the hormone cortisol instead of supporting your oestrogen supply - which is associated with an increase in abdominal fat.
And if you’re struggling with your confidence already, it’s a vicious cycle that could make the problem worse. Many women find that going for a walk or practising deep breathing helps them feel less stressed, and stops the urge to reach for sugary snacks.
The bottom line
Menopausal weight gain is no joke – the combination of falling oestrogen and testosterone levels, age related changes in body composition and low oestrogen symptoms can wreak havoc on your waistline, increase your fat mass, visceral fat and belly fat.
The good news is, there’s plenty menopausal and post menopausal women can do about it. this can involve hormone replacement therapy to help minimise symptoms. Lifestyle changes, such as eating a healthy diet, getting more physical activity and managing stress can go a long way towards helping you feel like you again.
How long does menopause weight gain last?
Weight gain tends to start in perimenopause and can continue for a couple of years after menopause. The majority of women gain around 10 pounds overall if they stay active and watch their diets.
What are the best supplements for menopause weight gain?
Low calorie meal replacement shakes have been proven in NHS trails and multiple clinical studies to help people lose weight while getting nutritional needs met.
What are natural remedies for menopause weight gain?
You can shed a few pounds naturally by eating a healthy balanced diet with fewer calories and getting plenty of exercise.