Menopause and perimenopause are times of transition for women, when hormonal fluctuations result in many changes—some welcome and others not so desirable. Among the latter is weight gain, which drives countless numbers of women to seek ways to lose weight during menopause.
Why do many women gain weight before and during menopause? A combination of factors are the culprits, including:
- Hormone changes. Menopause is marked by a dramatic decline in estrogen levels. Low estrogen is associated with an increased risk of obesity. In fact, menopausal women are three times more likely to become obese and develop metabolic syndrome (which often leads to type 2 diabetes) than premenopausal women. Lower estrogen levels also can reduce metabolic rate, which contributes to weight gain.
- Poor sleep. One of the most common features of menopause is poor or insufficient sleep. Numerous studies have linked insufficient sleep with weight gain.
- Depression. Mood swings and depression are common in perimenopausal and menopausal women. When you’re depressed, you can lose your motivation to exercise, eat right, and take initiative.
- Poor insulin resistance. During perimenopause and menopause, women often experience insulin resistance, which means although the body produces insulin, the cells do not absorb it effectively. The result is a build up of sugar (glucose) in the blood since the insulin is not doing its job. Weight gain and development of metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes can result.
- Loss of lean muscle mass. We all tend to lose muscle mass as we age, and with it comes a lower metabolism rate, which then makes it easier to gain weight.
How to lose weight associated with menopause
1. Don’t adopt a very-low-calorie diet. I know that sounds counterintuitive, but if you dramatically reduce calories, you will send starvation signals to your body. It will respond by going into survival mode. That means your metabolic rate will drop even more, making it even harder to lose pounds, plus you will lose more muscle mass.
2. Think Mediterranean. The Mediterranean diet is one of two dietary programs that can help menopausal women not only lose weight, but enjoy an eating plan they can live with for the rest of their lives.
In a new study (April 2016) published in the American Journal of Medicine, researchers reported on a comparison of the Mediterranean diet with a low-fat diet, a low-carb diet, and the American Diabetes Association diet.
They found that those who followed the Mediterranean diet experienced greater weight loss than the low-fat diet at 12 months or longer. The Mediterranean diet produced similar weight loss with the other two diets.
Other advantages of the Mediterranean diet is that it is also associated with improvement in cardiovascular risk factors and a reduced risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Another plus of the Mediterranean diet: it’s easy to follow because it includes a wide variety of readily available foods, which makes it convenient when eating at home or away.
3. Go veggie. Another option is a vegan diet, which has been shown to promote and support weight loss, as well as be associated with lower risk of cardiovascular disease, arthritis, and other health issues. In a study of postmenopausal women, 62 overweight volunteers followed either a low-fat vegan diet or the National Cholesterol Education Program (NCEP) diet for 14 weeks.
Researchers checked weight and adherence to the diet at 1 and 2 years. Women in the vegan group lost more weight at both 1 and 2 years than did the women in the NCEP group. In another study that compared the same two types of diets, women who followed the vegan diet lost more weight, even though they had no restrictions on portion size or calories consumed.
4. Practice mindful eating. One practice that is not limited to menopausal women is mindless eating. If you engage in mindful eating, you are likely to eat less, enjoy your food more, and feel full before you even finish what’s on your plate.
5. Include protein at every meal. Unlike sugary foods and fats, protein is metabolized more slowly, which helps you feel full longer. Foods high in protein also boost your metabolism and help prevent the loss of lean muscle.
Adding protein is easy to do; a handful of beans in your salad, chia seeds to top your cereal, a cup of yogurt for dessert.
6. Join the resistance. Resistance exercise that uses weight or resistance bands can preserve or increase lean muscle mass while also reducing belly fat. A new study (April 2016) reports that doing more repetitions is best for chasing away abdominal fat among postmenopausal women.
7. Embrace aerobics. Along with resistance exercise, you need to enjoy aerobics (cardio). Not only can aerobics (e.g., jogging, spinning, jumping rope, rowing, tennis) reduce belly fat, it also can help you preserve muscle while you are dropping those excess pounds.
8. Don’t skimp on sleep. Insufficient sleep is associated with elevated levels of ghrelin, a hunger hormone, and deficient levels of leptin, which is associated with satiety. If you are having trouble sleeping, try meditation or deep breathing before going to sleep, drink chamomile tea, listen to soothing music, try a white noise machine, keep your room in complete darkness, and turn off your computer, TV, and cell phone.
Menopause is a whole new chapter in a woman’s life. Don’t let that chapter be marked by excess pounds. You can lose weight during menopause by embracing a few healthful tips.