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.
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 reduces it is normal for your waist to thicken slightly as fat stores shift to that area. 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!
The same principles apply at any time of life. I like the simplicity of Michael Pollan’s rules: ‘Eat food, mostly plants’.
Women around the menopause and certainly after the menopause need a protein rich diet. This is because they are less likely to build muscle than men of a similar age; in fact mostly they lose muscle. Muscle is important not just for strength, it is a metabolically active tissue and higher muscle mass protects against a number of long term diseases.
Protein foods include fish, lean meat, eggs, dairy products, beans, soy products and plant based proteins. Soya beans, lentils, legumes and chickpeas contain phytoestrogens; natural chemicals which may help relieve some of the symptoms of the menopause, although more research is needed.
0.75 g per kg body weight per day (Reference Nutrient intake). This is 56g per day for the average woman.
The average UK protein intake for women is 64g, but it is worth thinking about what you eat regularly. Type of protein as important as the amount of protein, and variety is important too. Most women will need to eat at least two protein portions a day to achieve this.
One portion might be:
Not all women gain weight, but some women do notice a change on the scales. Women who are affected badly by menopausal symptoms with poor sleep and tiredness may be less active. Some studies have shown that the weight gain around the menopause can be due to decreased physical activity. Another reason to stay active.
Hormone swings and changes can affect both mood and cravings in some women. In particular there may be increase in cravings for sweet foods and carbohydrates if you are susceptible to this. It is a good idea to reduce high sugar foods that can cause cravings. Switch the chocolate for fruit and veg!
Women will need fewer calories if they have reduced their physical activity, if they maintain the same level of activity, and maintain their muscle the calorie requirement does not change. However it is important to eat healthy calories, and avoid increasing body fat at the expense of muscle.
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 and good for you, and 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
Couch to 5k
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 reach 10,000 a day.
Reduce your added sugars, and highly processed foods. Increase your vegetables and fruit.
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, but if troublesome seek help, and consider CBT or wellbeing interventions. Chatting to friends of the same age is usually reassuring and helpful, or look at helpful websites.