Collective sigh. It’s not the freshman fifteen, but the menopause many. And many of you want to know what to do about weight gain during menopause.
You may choose not to make any new year’s resolutions (that’s me!), but if one of them is losing weight (that’s many of you!) don’t give up on the idea.
It is a resolution that you don’t have to break.
Recently, I reached out to my readers to see what they wanted to read about.
And one of the most popular topics was weight.
Why am I gaining weight? How can I stop the weight gain that started in my 40s and continues to plague me into my 60s? I never had a weight problem before; why now? I’m eating like I’ve always eaten, yet I’m gaining weight.
While it’s true that menopause and weight gain are as tightly woven as peanut butter and jelly, macaroni and cheese and cereal and milk – okay, I’ll resist more food references here – one can exist without the other.
And although it’s also true that most of us gain weight as we go through menopause (and really, as we age), excess poundage is not something you have to lug around with you.
Eat Less, Move More
You've heard it a zillion times; this conventional “advice” doctors give their patients. And while there is truth to that credo, it’s more upsetting than helpful in may cases.
Problem is, it’s more abstract than actionable, says a new study. The advice leaves people floundering rather than finding ways to lose weight.
Perhaps it’s best to understand what’s behind the gain.
The Whys of Weight Gain
· Shifting hormones make weight gain more likely, especially around your abdomen.
· Weight gain is not just about menopause and hormones, though. It’s also about aging, lifestyle and genetic factors.
· Muscle mass typically diminishes with age, and muscle burns more calories than fat. You need to nurture and continue to build those muscles!
· Since your metabolism slows down (see above), if you don’t increase your physical activity – and make sure to include muscle-building exercises in the mix – you’ll gain weight.
· Inactivity, unhealthy eating habits and not getting enough sleep add up to more pounds.
The Health Dangers of Weight Gain
Weight gain is not just upsetting when you can’t button your pants, have to go up a size, or don’t like the way you look.
It’s unhealthy and risky.
Gaining weight – especially around your midsection (the place menopause deposits it) – puts you at risk for many health issues, including:
· Type-2 diabetes
· Heart disease
· Breathing problems
· An increase in the risk of many cancers, including breast, colon and endometrial.
A word (or two) from our Nutrition Maven:
“Carrying around unwanted points can also, literally, weigh you down, making you feel depressed and uncomfortable thereby impacting your mental health,” says Bonnie Taub-Dix, RDN, creator of BetterThanDieting.com .
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The Hows of Weight Loss
You may not want to hear this, but I’ll say it anyway: There is no magic bullet to weight loss. That’s why every year, more diet books hit the shelves, and are frantically read by millions of people, desperate answers. The U.S. weight loss market was estimated to be north of $72 billion, according to this article in Business Wire.
Back in 2018, I researched and wrote this article for Parade Magazine on why we overeat. Here are a few of my favorite tidbits from it. I think these might be helpful in giving you an aha moment as for some reasons – and hopefully solutions - for your weight struggle:
· “We live in an environment surrounded by food, and our brains are constantly being prodded to eat.” Susan Roberts, Ph.D., a professor of nutrition at Tufts University.
· Although exercise is essential for good health, we overestimate how many calories we actually burn. “You can’t outrun your fork.” Scott Kahan, M.D., director of the National Center for Weight and Wellness in Washington, D.C.
· If you like eating out, you could be doing yourself in. “Take a large plate of food, throw in some good friends and some wine, and you have the perfect overeating storm. Those large dinner plates encourage you to eat more, because portions appear smaller.” Brian Wansink, PhD. (Pro tip: Swap out your large plates for smaller ones. Easier to do this at home, of course.)
Drinking alcohol fuels overeating too, by loosening inhibitions and making you less aware of what, and how much, you’re consuming.
· Why blame sleep? “Several things happen to a sleep-deprived body,” says clinical psychologist and sleep expert Michael Breus, Ph.D. Levels of hormones responsible for controlling hunger get out of whack: ghrelin (the “hunger hormone” that stimulates appetite) increases, while leptin (the “satiety hormone” that triggers fullness) decreases. To make things worse, low levels of leptin have been shown to increase your cravings for carbohydrates, which often don’t curb hunger (like a healthier protein snack would).
· Don’t skimp on fat. “Although the word ‘fat’ doesn’t sound very appetizing, healthy fats can actually help us feel more satisfied and may assist us along our weight loss journeys,” Taub-Dix says.
Dietary fat makes food taste good, which helps you enjoy the taste and texture of food, and not feel deprived.
Important to note: Eating fat does not make you fat; rather, it’s critical for health and weight loss. Just make sure to avoid trans fats and focus instead on healthy fats, like those found in avocados, nuts, seeds, salmon, olives, olive and canola oil and other liquid oils.
The Bottom Line Still Remains
Move More. The expert recommendations for most healthy adults is moderate aerobic activity (like brisk walking) for at least 150 minutes a week; or vigorous aerobic activity (like jogging) for at least 75 minutes a week. “It’s more likely that you’ll move your body if you don’t call it exercise,” Taub-Dix tells us.
Eat Less. Perhaps sad, but true, is this fact: In your 50s, you need about 200 fewer calories a day to maintain your current weight than you needed in your 30s and 40s.
The bare truth: Any diet is going to help you lose weight. That’s because when you’re “on a diet,” you’re conscious of what you are putting in your mouth.
But I’ve always thought that if you’re “on a diet,” then there comes a time when you’re “off a diet.” And that’s when all your hard work is erased as you gain it all back.
Maintaining a healthy weight is a long-term goal, and with that comes a sustainable plan that includes healthy lifestyle choices (like exercise and healthy eating) and maybe even changing your relationship with food.
Try as we might, we will not go back to the bodies we had pre-menopause. Alas, there are body changes (I’ll be back another time to address one of those culprits, crepey skin, ugh! ) that are inevitable.
But we will gain a lot in the pounds we lose – and that’s our health and vitality!
Happy Chanukah. Merry Christmas. Happy New Year and Happy Everything!
I appreciate each and every one of you!
Until next year…stay healthy, stay strong, stay safe!