When we begin the long, slow process of menopause, it’s not uncommon for our weight to start to climb. Most medical professionals will agree that these additional pounds are not directly caused by the process of menopause, but could be considered a sort of consequence of that process. For most women, menopause also comes with an increase in stress and a reduction of physical activity. In some cases, the emotional irregularities caused by fluctuating hormones can drive us to seek comfort in food, increasing our caloric intake. Depending on your body type, you may have had a lifetime of weight fluctuations placed evenly throughout your body, or focused more in the hips and thighs. Some of you may be used to weight being added around the midsection.
During your menopausal years, regardless of how your weight distributed itself before, you’re more likely to see these pounds adding themselves around your middle. It has been called the ‘middle age spread’ Not a pleasant saying, huh?
It’s not at all uncommon to see women begin to lose their waistlines. Some people compare the look to a beer belly or even early pregnancy. So the question is, what can we do to prevent gaining these menopause-related pounds, or to reverse the menopause weight gain if it has already happened? The first step, as always, is knowledge.
During menopause, our bodies begin to exchange muscle cells for fat cells. You may have heard the saying “muscle weighs more than fat,” which is true. Another way that muscle and fat are different is that it takes fewer calories to sustain fat. If your body has added fat and less muscle, your diet needs to change if you’re going to maintain or lose weight. If we continue to eat as we have always eaten, we will gain weight. Without eating more, we still manage to gain weight because the calories that we are eating just aren’t being used as quickly, even though our activity level remains the same. It’s as if our bodies are running in slow-motion. If you increase the amount you eat and reduce physical activity like a lot of menopausal women do, that weight gain is only going to happen faster. It isn’t fair, but there you have it!
To maintain or lose weight, the menopausal woman needs to figure out the math of balance. If her body is only burning 1800 calories on an average day but she’s consuming 3600 calories, there will be weight gain. 3600 calories may seem like a lot, but it can, and does, happen without women even realizing it a lot of times. Some restaurant salads with dressings can be well over 2000 calories all by themselves. Add a glass of soda or even just another healthy meal into that day and the calorie count can skyrocket despite her best intentions. Simple substitutions can do a lot to help decrease those calories. Choose fruit over cakes or candies when you want something sweet. Choose proteins like legumes, lean fish or chicken. When eating a salad, ask for dressing on the side or just squeeze lemon or lime over it-or a great Balsamic vinegar. Being mindful of the calories we eat is one way to help achieve and maintain a healthy weight.
Remember, though, calories in are only one portion of the equation. Increasing physical activity will also address weight issues. Again, simple choices will make a difference. Choose to walk or ride a bike when you can. Park farther away, take the stairs, go for a walk instead of watching television. Don’t relegate yourself to the sidelines when you’re with children. You may look silly, but go ahead and join in their play! It will increase your calorie burn, strengthen your muscles and reduce stress. When you are ready to do focused and purposeful exercise, look for things that you enjoy. Dance, swimming, bike riding, martial arts, and even stretching are all wonderful ways to work out. Lifting weights is another choice that not only builds muscle and strength but creates a longer increased caloric burn than cardiovascular exercise does.
Whatever you choose, find a combination that works for you and is sustainable. You don’t have to pack on unwanted pounds during menopause. There are ways to not only avoid weight gain but to work towards the healthiest body you’ve ever had.