Menopause weight gain can potentially be an unfortunate side effect of the life stage.
But the good news? According to experts, it's not inevitable. But what causes menopausal weight gain and bloating, and what can you do about it? Does HRT help or hinder? And will that pesky bloating ever go away? Find out how to beat the stats with our complete guide to menopause and weight gain.
Menopause weight gain: why it happens
Getting older and becoming less active causes loss of muscle mass, which slows down the metabolism. According to experts, it's this, rather than the menopause itself, that bears the brunt of the responsibility for weight gain in middle age. However, fluctuating hormone levels also play their part.
New evidence suggests that plummeting estrogen levels may encourage us to eat more and exercise less, lowers the metabolic rate, and increases insulin resistance, making it more difficult for our bodies to deal with sugars and starches.
Our hormones also influence fat distribution. Perimenopause weight gain is often associated with the laying down of fat around the abdomen and internal organs, as opposed to the hips and thighs. Feeling stressed? Stress hormones like cortisol promote the growth of that pesky spare tire. It's not simply a cosmetic issue, either - the more inches you add to your waistline, the higher your risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and even certain cancers.
Dr. Fatima Cody Stanford, instructor in medicine at Harvard Medical School, explained, "'The change' actually does bring changes for many women, including weight gain that can resist even the most diligent efforts to reverse it."
"Women often assume that they are the source of the problem when it comes to anything regarding their weight." But that's not always the case with menopause weight gain - with our hormone fluctuations - among other things - certainly not helping the problem.
Whether or not you gain weight, you're likely to feel bloated and uncomfortable during the menopause and perimenopause. Erratic hormone levels encourage water retention and intestinal gas, while reductions in bile (which keeps the intestines lubricated) can cause constipation, resulting in further bloating. Bloating can also be a side effect of HRT.
Minimise bloating by swapping processed carbohydrates like white bread, pasta and rice for whole grains, drinking plenty of water and herbal teas (peppermint, spearmint and fennel fight fluid retention) and cutting back on salt, caffeine and alcohol. Try switching 'gassy' foods like broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, sprouts, peas, beans, onions, potatoes, pears, soft cheese and oats for foods that reduce gas, such as grapes, bananas, watermelon, watercress, cucumber, peanut butter, eggs, yoghurt and hard cheese. Cooking with hot peppers and black pepper can also help. A gentle post-dinner walk or yoga session may help to move gas around the digestive system, relieving the symptoms of bloating.
HRT and weight gain
Many women attribute their weight gain to hormone replacement therapy medication. However, according to experts, this is a myth. Although HRT may promote fluid retention and bloating, it can actually increase your resting metabolic rate and help you avoid or lose the belly fat associated with perimenopausal weight gain.
Long-term weight gain
The good news? That pesky bloated belly should deflate as you go through the menopause. The bad news? Reductions in oestrogen and muscle mass will leave you liable to weight gain. Don't panic though: you can still lose weight after the menopause - simply follow the tips below and above. Eat right, move more and whittle that waistline away.
What you can do about menopause weight gain: losing weight during menopause
Reducing your waistline can be super tricky at any time in your life, let alone during the menopause. So can you avoid, curtail or reverse menopausal weight gain? According to experts, the answer is a resounding ‘yes'.
Most women need about 200 fewer calories a day in their fifties than they did in their thirties and forties. Pick more filling, nutritious foods and eat smaller, more frequent meals to keep your metabolism revved up and your blood sugar stable.
Try to eat a small meal or snack including protein and complex carbohydrates every 3-4 hours, limiting alcohol and sugar.
Staying (or getting) active is also key. The waistlines of those who do just 10 minutes of aerobic activity a day are, on average, 6 inches narrower than the waistlines of those who do no exercise at all.
Want to age-proof your figure? Try to reduce the amount of time you spend sitting down and combine aerobic activities like walking and swimming with strength-training exercise. Remember, the more lean muscle you have, the more calories your body will burn at rest.
Menopause diet: foods for menopause
A menopause diet - which involves eating the right foods for menopause - can help to ease the menopause weight gain we all experience as we reach our mid-life.
So which are the right foods for menopause?
As is correct for anyone hoping to lose weight, a diet rich in fruit and vegetables and starchy fibres, such as brown rice and wholemeal bread, is always preferable.
According to the British Nutrition Foundation, women who are post-menopausal are also at an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, so keeping your heart healthy is imperative during and after the life stage. Post-menopausal women should avoid saturated fats, instead replacing them with things like olive and sunflower oils and spreads.
Oily fish should also be eaten twice a week, whilst salt intake should be kept to an absolute minimum. And of course, alcohol should not be consumed to excess - the NHS recommends no more than 14 units a week, with alcohol free days too.
To find out more about the food and supplements you should be taking during the menopause, click here.
But most importantly, it's important to remember to love and accept your body as much as you can, even if you are working on improving your health in this way.
Lauren is deputy editor at woman&home.com in the UK and became a journalist mainly because she enjoys being nosy. With a background in features journalism, Lauren has worked on the woman&home brand for four years. Before woman&home Lauren worked across a variety of women's lifestyle titles, including GoodTo, Woman's Own, and Woman magazine. After starting out working for a local paper in Yorkshire, her journalism career took her to Bristol where she hunted out stories for national papers and magazines at Medavia news agency, before landing a job in London working as a lifestyle assistant.
Lauren loves helping people share their stories, bringing experiences to life online, honing her interview techniques with everyone from authors to celebrities, headteachers to local heroes. As well as having a good nose for a story, Lauren has a passion for the English language and years of experience optimizing digital content to reach the widest audience possible. During her time at w&h, Lauren has worked on big brand campaigns like the Amazing Women Awards and assisted in developing w&h expert-approved Buyer's Guides—the place to go if you're looking to splash out on an important purchase and want some trusted advice. In addition to her journalism career, Lauren also has a background in copywriting for prestigious brands such as Inhabit Hotel, eco-development K'in in Tulum, social enterprise The Goldfinger Factory and leading London architect Holland Harvey, using language in all its glorious forms, from detailed guidebooks to snappy social content.
A big fan of adventure, Lauren is also a keen travel writer and loves sharing tips on where to find the best places to eat, drink, and be merry off the beaten track. Lauren has written a series of travel guides for London hotels and loves sharing her insights into a destination's cultural and culinary offerings. If you need a recommendation on any UK destination, she's more than happy to help. At the weekend, you'll usually find her hanging out with her pet cat (or anyone else's pet she can get her hands on), escaping to the countryside, or devouring a good book.
Follow her adventures @laurenkatehughes
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