Winning the War Against Menopausal Weight Gain

The Change of Life sent my cravings for sweet and salty foods soaring. One February, my

mom ordered us a gift basket for Valentine’s Day filled with chocolate hearts, gourmet popcorn, toasted almonds, peanut butter fudge, and sea salt potato chips. I devoured them all in 24 hours. My family barely got a taste. Cravings got the best of me during those years, and I began to see the scale climb.

Researchers are unsure why so many women gain weight during menopause. Lowered estrogen and testosterone levels may contribute to added pounds although a direct correlation has yet to be determined. Certainly fluctuating hormones cause cravings such as I experienced, and the stress of hot flashes, mood swings, and insomnia can make women turn to food for a quick pick-me-up.

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Metabolic rate may also be a factor in menopausal weight gain. Dr. Nanette Santoro, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, reports that “metabolic rate slows with age. This means that a woman eating the exact same number of calories a day will maintain her weight at age 20 but will gain weight at age 50.” The loss of muscle mass, which happens as we age, changes how fast your body burns calories. Genetics play a role in weight gain too, and menopausal women may not be as physically active as they were in their younger years.
While the science is still out on why women gain weight, most studies agree upon where: the midsection. Not only does a tight waistband make you miserable, but belly fat is also dangerous to your health. The Mayo Clinic website explains that “menopause weight gain can have serious implications for your health. Excess weight increases the risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and various types of cancer, including colorectal cancer and breast cancer.”
So how do you beat what some fondly call the “meno-pot? Here are a few tips:
Move: Find exercise you enjoy such as walking, dancing, swimming, or kickboxing. If you like it, you’ll stick to it. And mix up your exercise. I enjoy the companionship of walking with friends, the community mood of a yoga class, and the solitude of swimming laps.
Strength Train: “Exercises such as weight lifting can boost your metabolism, as well as increase muscle mass and strengthen bones,” says Dr. Santoro. “Building muscle mass is also more likely to protect against future weight gain.” I keep my hand weights near the television. I do some good reps during “Downton Abbey” and other favorite shows.
Choose Food Carefully: Select foods that pack a nutritious punch. Be careful of empty calories. Eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Watch portion size as well as mindless eating such as snacking while you read email. Although some will disagree with me, I indulge my cravings since deprivation can backfire. The trick is to have one or two chocolate kisses, not a handful.
Be Good to Yourself: Menopause is a time for treats (just not high-calorie treats). Indulge. Feed your senses. Buy hand lotion in a wonderful scent. Hike in a gorgeous forest. Have a long conversation with a friend. Slip on a soft fleece. Frame an art print that’s a feast for your eyes. And if you overeat, forgive yourself and then get back on track.
Dr. Cynthia A. Stuenkel, professor of Medicine at the University of California, San Diego, offers this advice: “Anticipate that weight gain is in the cards. Don’t wait for the weight to add up before switching to a healthier lifestyle.” With planning, vigilance, and an optimistic spirit, you can prevent weight gain in menopause. I wish I’d been more careful. Happily, I’ve been able to take those pounds off, and when Valentine’s Day arrives this year, I’ll do a better job of sharing my treats!

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