Written by Amy Shapiro MS, RD, CEO/Founder of Real Nutrition
As you may have experienced or heard about from a friend or family member, weight gain can be a side effect of menopause that is troubling to many women struggling to feel connected to their bodies amidst so much change.. In fact, 90% of women going through menopause will experience weight gain to some degree. As a Dietitian, I work with many clients who are looking to manage their weight during this period of life. While some of the same old tactics for shedding a few pounds might not work any more, there are plenty of new ones to adopt and reasons beyond vanity to be consistent with them. Let’s get to it!
A Decrease in Hormones Can Change How Our Bodies Store Fat
Did you know the shift in estrogen and progesterone experienced during menopause are often the main culprits of weight fluctuation? The decrease in these hormones allows for the natural increase in testosterone and insulin resistance, changing where the body stores fat. This is why you may start to notice a new “bulge” around your middle instead of on your hips and thighs. Additionally, research shows that women in different stages of menopause may have increased levels of Gherlin (“the hunger hormone”) and decreased levels of Leptin (the “full hormone”) leading to an increase in appetite and caloric intake. While weight gain during menopause is normal (and – by the way – totally okay),visceral fat, which is the type of fat that accumulates around our belly, can be a cause for concern. Visceral fat is associated with health issues ranging from insulin resistance to type two diabetes, heart disease, depression, and anxiety.
Lifestyle and Metabolic Changes Play An Important Role
We can’t put all the blame on our hormones however. Lifestyle and metabolic changes play a role too. As we get older our activity level may naturally decrease due to the stage of life we are in. The less active we are, the fewer calories we need. Additionally, after the age of 30, muscle mass begins to decline, reducing metabolic rate and the calories burned at rest. Maintaining or building muscle mass will increase metabolic rate and in turn aid in weight management. In addition to maintaining an active lifestyle (30 minutes of movement daily), I also recommend adding weight-bearing exercises to your routine (think pilates, weight training, and yoga). Choose exercises you enjoy; the more you like them the more consistent you will be and consistency is ultimately what determines results. By staying active you’ll not only protect your heart and your health, you’ll also boost your mood and energy.
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How You Fuel Your Body Is Important
In my experience, exercise is the easiest place to start as it provides instant gratification. But you can’t outrun a poor diet, so let’s turn our attention to food. As mentioned above, our caloric needs begin to decline as we age, but walking around feeling hungry all the time will only lead to unhealthy eating and a cranky mood. So how can you fill your plate while keeping your goals on point?
Let’s start with carbs. We have been led to believe all carbs are evil and should be avoided. It is true that due to the increase in insulin resistance we are more efficient at storing carbs as fat than we are at burning them for fuel, making it important to focus on the quality and quantity of carbs consumed. I recommend consuming lots of non-starchy vegetables (2 cups at every meal), high fiber fruit (think berries, apples, and citrus), whole grains in moderation (⅓ of a cup per meal), and limiting the processed white foods and sugary treats. This doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy them, just focus on frequency. Limiting the quantity of carbs you consume on a daily basis will help you manage weight fluctuations and fat stored around your middle. Remember that carbs provide energy so try timing them around active times of the day.
Protein is essential in keeping us full and fueled as it is the macronutrient that takes the longest time to digest. It also helps to rebuild and repair muscles (remember muscles = metabolism), and does not influence our insulin levels. I recommend consuming around 21 grams of protein (that’s about 3-4 oz) at every meal to keep your blood sugar even and cravings at bay. From tofu to tempeh, chicken to fish, and red meat to beans, protein can be enjoyed in a variety of ways.
And what’s life without healthy fats? Plant-based fats are important for energy, satiety, taste, nutrient absorption, hydration (inside and out), brain, and heart health. To balance out your plate be sure to add 1 - 2 tablespoons of healthy fat to each meal.
By incorporating all 3 macronutrients into your meals you’ll find that you’ll feel more satisfied, which will lead to fewer cravings, fewer calories, and greater success in managing your weight and staying healthy. Yes, holidays, treats, celebrations and tough days happen, but keeping these general tips in mind will allow you to better manage your health over time keeping you healthy for years to come.
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