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Weight Gain

Many women experience some weight gain, or a change in their shape as they approach and pass through menopause. Our medical advisor Dr Hughes writes about exactly why this happens and how we can avoid it.

Understand that your health is not just about your weight. It is easy to get fixated on numbers - Emma Bardwell

From Dr Hughes...

It is not inevitable that you gain weight around the menopause, but it is a time of biological change. As your hormones change and oestrogen production in your body reduces, it is normal for your waist to thicken slightly as fat stores shift to that area. Your fat cells try to compensate by producing oestrogen themselves. You body wants to hold on to as much oestrogen as possible, making it very hard to lose these fat cells. As a result - many women do find that they gain weight, which unfortunately doesn't feel good!

Your genetics also have a role in defining where you store fat. Apple shaped fat distribution is associated with more risk of cardiovascular disease (heart disease and high blood pressure) than pear shaped fat distribution. At last good news for women with generous hips and thighs

Why do women gain weight around menopause?

Poor sleep and tiredness, brought on by your menopause or other stresses in your life, may cause you to be less active. Studies have shown that a common reason for weight gain during the menopause is due to decreased physical activity.

Bouncing hormones can also affect your mood and cravings. In particular, you may feel yourself craving more sweets and carbohydrates. These foods get stored directly as fat. Your metabolism will also begin to slow during your midlife, making it harder for your body to burn excess calories. It is a good idea to reduce high sugar foods that can cause cravings. They are quickly addictive and can be unforgiving!

Do women need fewer calories after menopause?

As you age, you will need fewer calories. This is because your metabolism slows and you begin to lose lean muscle mass. Lean muscle burns calories! Additionally, you will need fewer calories if you have reduced your physical activity. However, it is important to eat healthy calories and avoid increasing body fat at the expense of your muscle.

Most importantly, however, listen to your body. Eat when you are hungry - just think about what you are eating. Chose healthier alternatives as snacks and fill up on vegetables during meal times.

How to tackle your weight gain

Tackling your weight gain during your menopause is very doable. There are a number of lifestyle and dietary changes you can make which will make you feel healthier and happier. This includes adding more physical activity into your daily routine and prioritising a healthy and balanced diet. Let's be realistic though. As we age, our bodies change and it can be a lot harder to lose weight. Set practical goals and respect the time and discipline that it will take.

Most importantly, understand that your health is not only about your weight. Your health encompasses a lot more than the numbers you see on the scale. Your bone health, your heart health, your mental health, your overall fitness level - being 'healthy' doesn't always mean being thin.

Important lifestyle tips to consider during your menopause:

  1. Take stock of your current diet, exercise and sleep patterns. Consider using an exercise tracker to find out what you are currently doing, and then make a plan with specific goals to improve your lifestyle, such as increasing your steps to 10,000 a day.

  2. Reduce your added sugars, and highly processed foods. These are highly addictive and unforgiving. Substitute them with more vegetables and fruit.

  3. Accept that you may get menopausal symptoms, including increased anxiety and mood swings. Do NOT blame yourself, or feel inadequate. You are NOT going mad, these symptoms will pass. If, however, they are very troublesome then seek help, and consider CBT or wellbeing interventions. Chatting to friends of the same age is can be very reassuring or even looking at some helpful websites.

  4. Be accountable and find a balance. Set practical goals and be patient when waiting for results.

What exercises would you recommend for someone starting a new fitness regime in menopause?

Choose something that you will enjoy, and consider exercising with a friend on a regular basis. Starting with walking is always safe and easy. Any amount of physical activity is good for you. The most health benefits are seen in those who change from being inactive to moderately active. You don’t have to run a marathon!

If you are interested in running then consider the following:

NHS apps library
Park Run
Couch to 5k

No impact activities can also be incorporated into your daily routine. Swimming or pilates are both great ways to up your fitness level. Try and change up your exercises so you don't get bored and look forward to your workouts.