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There are several reasons for weight gain and menopause, including stress levels and hormone-related shifts in physiology.
It's a fact that many women experience weight gain during menopause, before menopause or just after menopause. There are several reasons for this. First is our biological design. This we cannot change. However, the other three areas are all lifestyle-related, meaning you have control over them. These areas are diet, stress levels and activity levels.
The Biological Design: Estrogen, Fat Cells and Metabolism, and What it Means for Weight Gain and Menopause
Your body is designed to compensate for the ovaries' falling production of estrogen. It does this by making more and bigger fat cells, many of them right around your middle. These fat cells take over the production of estrogen as your ovaries slow down their production, helping to create the problem of weight gain and menopause.
This is your biological design, and I'm afraid you're stuck with it. Starvation diets may just make your stubborn fat cells even more stubborn. Fortunately there are things you can do to offset this problem (see below). And if you're already thin, then gaining ten pounds will help prevent osteoporosis.
Lower estradiol (one of the forms of estrogen made by your ovaries) decreases serotonin. Serotonin makes you feel good. When you get that feeling of needing some food high in carbohydrates, it's often because your serotonin is low. Serotonin also helps you sleep. More and better sleep increases growth hormone, which helps you build more muscle and less fat.
As estradiol decreases in your body, cortisol (one of your stress hormones) rises. Cortisol interferes with thyroid function, which will lower your metabolism.
Your metabolism slows down in midlife, by 10-15%, making weight gain and menopause even more likely. And some of this may be related to low thyroid. It is estimated that 25% of women have low thyroid by the time they hit perimenopause.
Thyroid hormones and estrogen stimulate growth hormone. With less thyroid and estrogen, you have less growth hormone. With less growth hormone, you have less muscle and more fat. Muscle is better at burning calories than fat. All of these factors contribute to weight gain in menopause.
Most people eating modern diets are nutritionally deficient and have been for many years. Many of us eat far too many refined carbohydrates, which turn directly into sugar in your body.
We also eat many fake foods, or foods that have had vitamins and minerals processed out of them. These nutrients are critical for health, especially for carbohydrate metabolism.
If you don't efficiently process carbohydrates, you will not only end up overweight, but possibly insulin resistant as well. This will contribute to weight gain and menopause.
Sugar and refined grains deplete chromium, which is already lacking in our diet.
Zinc, another mineral which most of us are deficient in, is needed for building lean muscle mass. Zinc is also needed by the pancreas for optimum insulin secretion and effectiveness.
Insulin is your storage hormone. It is stimulated by eating, especially carbohydrates. It's job is to take the sugar out of your blood and into your cells, where it is used for energy. What isn't used gets stored as fat.
Excess sugar equals excess insulin and excess storage (fat). (This is a very simplified explanation; the process is actually quite complex).
Many women lead extraordinarily stressful lives in our society today. We probably don't even realize it, because it's become the norm. Long-term stress has many negative effects on your body, and, like everything else, it will show up magnified in menopause.
Stress raises cortisol levels in your body. Excess cortisol contributes to abdominal fat, interrupts sleep, and reduces the ability of insulin to carry sugar into cells. In short, high stress can contribute to weight gain and menopause.
For herbs to help your body deal better with stress, see stress and menopause.
Do I need to say it? We were not designed to sit in an office all day, or drive around in cars, with no exercise. Exercise is highly effective for reducing excess insulin, which will help you manage weight gain and menopause.
Whatever your level of activity is now, you probably need to increase it. Whatever way you can. Ten minutes a day is better than none. But plan and do something consistently.
I recently made a change to my plan that has made it easier for me to stay consistent, which is the most important component. I do twenty minutes of walking/running in the morning before work, three days a week (around my neighborhood, with my son's dog - multitasking!).
I do thirty to forty-five minutes of weight training three days a week. I bought resistance bands for the days I can't get to the gym. It's been working great for me. It may not fit into the perfect exercise plan, but I am doing it, which is more than I could say about my previous plan.
I can't say this enough. The most important thing about exercise is that you do it. So whatever it takes to get you motivated, that's what you want to focus on.
A few years ago I decided I wanted to do some reading and reflecting from a spiritual book I had. The book recommended doing this for thirty days straight. I decided to hook it up with something I did every day, no matter what. I never miss my morning coffee (I'm still not perfect), so I decided to read during that time. Needless to say it worked extremely well.
If you've been exercising all along, good for you! You may need to change it around a bit at this time. Your muscles and body are used to your routine, and it may not be challenging enough. You can switch from walking to aerobics classes, or swimming, or from the elliptical machine to rowing, etc.
It doesn't matter what you switch to, just that you do something different. This will also relieve boredom if that's a problem for you. Exercise is the number one approach for managing weight gain during menopause.
For effective strategies and approaches to losing weight during menopause weight loss after menopause.
References and Resources
Challem, Jack, Berdson, Burton, M.D., Smith, Melissa, Syndrome X
Enig, Mary, Ph.D., Fallon, Sally, Eat Fat, Lose Fat
Heller, Richard, M.D., Heller, Rachael, M.D., The Carbohydrate Addict's Life Span Program
Northrup, Christiane, M.D., The Wisdom of Menopause
Rosedale, Ron, M.D., The Rosedale Diet
Schwarzbein, Diana, M.D., Deville, Nancy, The Schwarzbein Principle
Vliet, Elizabeth Lee, M.D., Women, Weight, and Hormones
Waterhouse, Debra, M.P.H., R.D., Outsmarting the Midlife Fat Cell