The bane of many women’s lives, menopause is simply a natural process that the female body goes through when menstruation comes to an end and estrogen and progesterone levels decrease. Since these hormones are responsible for a wide range of critical body functions, menopause can lead to a host of physiologic changes that require a bit of maneuvering.
Known for bringing on a range of frustrating symptoms from hot flashes to insomnia, menopause can also sometimes lead to unwanted weight gain. Many women have this struggle during midlife, and it’s easy to wonder what options are out there for managing sudden weight gain during menopause.
If you’re struggling with unwanted weight gain due to menopausal hormone changes, this article can provide you with some helpful information about what’s happening in your body and how you can maintain your preferred weight more effectively.
Why Does Menopause Cause Weight Gain?
The main reason why menopause causes such extreme and sudden changes in the body is due to a drastic shift in hormone levels that occurs when the ovaries stop producing estrogen and progesterone. As a result, the body must adjust to an environment with far lower levels of two of its most important hormones.
Below, we will go into more detail about why exactly hormone changes can lead to weight gain. But first, it’s important to note that many of the reasons why some women experience body weight fluctuations during menopause may not actually be directly related to the menopause process at all.
Let’s look at a few of the main reasons weight gain is so common during menopause.
Loss of Muscle
Around the same periods of perimenopause and menopause, the body is also going through a natural process of aging which involves loss of muscle mass. As the human body ages, maintaining muscle becomes more difficult, and muscle around the abdomen may be replaced with fat .
This, however, does not entirely explain menopausal weight gain, as muscle weighs more than fat. So, you would have to gain a larger volume of fat than muscle to account for an increase in overall weight.
Diet and Lifestyle
Perhaps the most likely culprits for age-related and menopause-related weight gain are diet and lifestyle. As we age, particularly in the Western world, our lifestyles become more sedentary, and we may fall into some unhealthy eating habits. A lack of regular movement combined with a diet that contains excessive amounts of sugar, processed ingredients, etc… can quickly lead to an increase in body weight and fat.
Maintaining a physically active lifestyle as you get older is extremely important not only for preventing unhealthy changes in body weight but also for maintaining your overall health, from heart health to mental health.
Making sure you maintain healthy eating habits is also extremely important if your goal is to prevent or correct weight gain during midlife. For most people, that means eating a high-fiber, low-sugar diet that contains lots of colorful vegetables and fruits as well as healthy proteins and fats. In fact, keeping a healthy, balanced diet (which includes eating enough food and not skipping meals) is one of the best things you can do to take care of your hormones while also giving your body its best shot at maintaining a healthy weight.
It’s very important to note here that despite the persistence of outdated assumptions and beliefs, eating fewer calories than our bodies rely on to function is not a healthy strategy for losing weight.
Especially when our bodies are navigating hormone changes, it’s critical that we consume adequate calories each day for our bodies to function effectively. An active person going through menopause should aim to eat about 1800 calories per day, derived from healthy, nutrient-rich sources.
So, forget about skipping meals or resigning yourself to a diet that makes you miserable. Eating well, eating often, and getting plenty of exercise is a sure-fire road to health at any age.
Now, let’s look at how the hormonal changes brought on by menopause can sometimes lead to weight gain.
As we’ve already seen, menopause is synonymous with a drastic drop in the body’s estrogen production. According to WebMD, “lack of estrogen may […] cause the body to use starches and blood sugar less effectively, which would increase fat storage and make it harder to lose weight” .
However, the science around this isn’t entirely understood, and it’s generally accepted that weight gain during menopause is closely linked to aging and lifestyle factors as well as hormonal changes.
Sometimes things just come down to genetics. If you’re experiencing weight gain during menopause despite eating well, exercising regularly, and practicing good hormone maintenance, then it’s possible you might be experiencing the result of hereditary weight gain.
According to an article published by Harvard Medical School, genetics can account for anywhere from 25% to 80% of a person’s predisposition to being overweight .
Managing Weight Gain During Menopause
Deciding how to manage weight gain during menopause is an extremely individual process and often comes down to what works best for you. Most effective interventions include lifestyle changes, but there are also some products on the market that may help the body optimize its metabolic processes and maintain hormone balance during menopause.
A Note About Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT)
Despite being the most common treatment method for almost all menopause-related side effects, hormone-replacement therapy (commonly known as HRT) cannot be regarded as an effective treatment to prevent or reverse weight gain during menopause. Although HRT helps restore hormone levels to close to pre-menopausal levels, there is currently no substantive data showing that women taking estrogen or progesterone experience weight loss as a result.
Managing Menopausal Weight Gain Naturally
By and large, preventing or reversing weight gain during menopause should involve at least some lifestyle strategies, primarily exercise. While there are some supplements, including one we will discuss in detail below, that can help support the body’s systems and processes during this time, lasting and significant weight loss can truly only be achieved through committed lifestyle changes.
1. Get Plenty of Exercise
Whether you’re going through menopause or not, the single best thing any aging person can do to take care of their body and maintain a healthy weight is to live an active life. Making sure to get regular exercise, even if that just looks like going for a walk around your neighborhood every day, is an excellent way to not only manage your weight but also take care of your heart, improve your mental health and acuity, and give a daily boost to all of your body’s essential systems.
Because we learned that aging often leads to loss of muscle, practicing targeted exercises such as strength training to maintain muscle mass during menopause is a great way to stay active and maintain general fitness and strength.
2. Maintain a Healthy Diet
Second only to exercise, maintaining a healthy diet is one of the best ways to prevent or even reverse weight gain during menopause. Think high fiber, low sugar, plus lots of vegetables, fruits, and healthy proteins and fats.
It’s also important to eat regularly and avoid diet fads that involve intermittent fasting. Despite the exploding hype around intermittent fasting, the research is extremely limited, and there have been no studies performed to examine the effects of intermittent fasting specifically in menopausal women. What we do know is that eating regular, balanced meals helps support hormone health in the female reproductive system.
Another often-overlooked culprit of hormone disturbance and unwanted weight gain is frequent alcohol consumption. If you’re trying to prevent or reverse weight gain during menopause, it’s best to limit your alcohol consumption as much as possible, particularly at night.
3. Prioritize Sleep
You might have noticed by now that managing hormones and weight gain during menopause is all about maintaining basic healthy habits. Whether it’s exercise, diet, or sleep, these straightforward approaches to optimize physical health are the surest way to hit your target weight, regardless of your age.
On that note, sleep is another important factor to consider if you’re experiencing unwanted weight gain during menopause. Sleep is a critical process our body relies on every night to restore, repair, and refresh. Without adequate, restful sleep, the body may experience a range of troubling symptoms, which can include a slowed metabolism and, ultimately, weight gain. So, if you’re trying to maintain your personal ideal weight, make sure you’re prioritizing good sleep hygiene.
4. Reduce Stress
Lowering stress levels is important for optimizing many different areas of our health. But some people might not realize that the stress we experience in our brains and bodies is a product of our hormones. Cortisol, a word which has become ubiquitous with stress, is one of the body’s primary hormones released during stress, and the levels of cortisol in our bodies can have a significant effect on the balance of our other hormones.
In pre-menopausal women, high cortisol levels are associated with low progesterone levels, which can lead to a host of problems including cycle irregularity, painful periods, and fertility issues. This is because cortisol and progesterone are built from the same pre-hormone called pregnenolone. When the body boosts cortisol production due to high stress, pregnenolone is diverted away from progesterone production and prioritized for the production of cortisol . So, making sure your cortisol levels are within a healthy range is a fundamental step in maintaining hormone health.
As we age and start moving through the process of menopause, stress reduction can help us maintain as much of a healthy hormone balance as possible while also helping us maintain our target weight. Elevated cortisol levels have long been associated with unwanted weight gain and difficulty losing weight. So, no matter which way you look at it, reducing stress during menopause is important.
Here are some methods for reducing stress and increasing a sense of calm in your daily life:
- Practice meditation or other mindfulness strategies
- Take daily walks in nature
- Develop a breathwork practice
- Maintain a healthy life-work balance
- Prioritize time for doing things that bring you joy
- Spend time with people who help you feel at ease
- Reduce time spent in front of screens
- Get plenty of restful sleep
Herbal and Alternative Remedies
Although lifestyle and diet changes should be the first steps in any plan to lose weight, there are some herbal and alternative remedies that can be supportive in this process.
Herbs like cinnamon have been known to help regulate blood sugar and cravings . This can be a big help for those looking to lose weight or prevent unwanted weight gain during menopause, as overconsumption of sugar and other sweets is sometimes associated with unwanted body weight.
· Green Tea
One of the most popular herbal remedies for weight loss is green tea. In recent years, green tea has gained a ton of popularity as a weight loss supplement, with some studies showing that green tea can in fact assist with weight loss.
A study conducted in Canada and published by the Canadian Pharmacist’s Journal tested a control group against a group of study participants given green tea preparations containing active catechins and caffeine. The study found that “those in the green tea group lost on average 0.2 to 3.5 kg more than those in the control group over 12 weeks” .
· Ginger and Turmeric
Other popular herbal remedies like ginger and turmeric have been shown to boost metabolism, the body process responsible for converting food into energy . Elevated metabolic rates are typically associated with easier weight loss and maintenance of target body weight.
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Unlike traditional hormone replacement therapies, ReiSHE™ does not contain estrogen. Rather, it contains a unique blend of herbs that can help reduce the weight gain related to hormonal imbalances due to menopause.
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- Mayo Clinic staff, 2021. Menopause weight gain: Stop the middle age spread.
- Stuart, A. (WebMD), 2021. Menopause, Weight Gain, and Exercise Tips.
- Harvard Health Publishing (Harvard Medical School), 2019. Why people become overweight.
- Icer, M. A., Tek, N. A., 2021. Effects of Red Pepper, Ginger, and Turmeric on Energy Metabolism: Review of Current Knowledge. National Library of Medicine.
- Johnson, T. C. (WebMD), 2022. Sleep and Menopause.
- The Fork Functional Medicine, 2017.
- Cleveland Clinic, 2020. Can Taking Cinnamon Supplements Lower Your Blood Sugar?
- Jurgens, T. PhD, Whelan, A. M., 2014. Can green tea preparations help with weight loss? Canadian Pharmacist’s Journal.
- Pacheco, D. and Callender, E. (Sleep Foundation), 2022. Menopause and Sleep.