In your 20s, you could live on pizza and donuts and still button your jeans without a second thought. Now you’re squarely in middle age and it seems that you can put on 5 pounds just by looking at a box of cookies.
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Is menopausal weight gain inevitable?
“Weight gain is more common before and especially after menopause,” confirms internist Lynn Pattimakiel, MD, a certified menopause practitioner. But that doesn’t mean you have to grin and bear it. “It may take more mindfulness to maintain your weight, but it’s possible,” she adds.
Weight gain during perimenopause and menopause
Why (oh why) is it so much easier to put on pounds as you get older? During perimenopause (the years leading up to menopause), estrogen levels start to decline. That hormonal shift slows your metabolism, says Dr. Pattimakiel. “Every year we get older, our metabolisms slow down. Then around menopause, it’s common to see a significant drop.”
That sloth-like metabolism means even if you eat the same (mostly) healthy diet you ate in your 30s, you’re more likely to gain weight. It also makes it that much harder to drop pounds you’ve already put on. “When your metabolism is slower, it’s harder to lose weight,” she says.
As if that’s not frustrating enough, mid-life pounds tend to settle around your middle. (So long, waist, I hardly knew ye…) Unfortunately, extra fat in the abdomen increases the risk of heart-related problems, Dr. Pattimakiel says. So it’s worth making some changes to keep your weight in the healthy zone as you get older.
6 tips for menopause weight loss
Whether you’re just starting perimenopause or have already bid a fond farewell to your last period, it’s never too late to get your eating back on track. These strategies can help you avoid weight gain after menopause.
- Look at the big picture. “You can’t avoid your metabolism slowing down. But that’s rarely the only factor contributing to weight gain,” says Dr. Pattimakiel. Maybe recurring knee pain is interfering with your exercise plans. Or your busy caregiving schedule doesn’t leave much energy for planning and cooking healthy meals. By identifying the hurdles to a healthier lifestyle, you can brainstorm ways to sidestep them.
- Keep track. It’s easy to lose track of the chips you munch mindlessly in front of the TV or not realize how much oatmeal you’re eating every morning. A food journal can help you keep tabs on how much you’re really eating and identify reasonable places to cut back.
- Focus on healthy calories. Build your meals around healthy calories like lean proteins and veggies. Try to cut back on the not-so-healthy fare. “It can be harder to burn starchy carbs like bread, pasta and baked goods, so be mindful of cutting back or avoiding those,” Dr. Pattimakiel says. Beverages, too, are often a source of sneaky calories. To cut back, reach for sparkling water in place of wine or soda. Add a splash of milk to brewed coffee instead of ordering a latte.
- Structure your meals. Eating regular meals and healthy snacks will help you keep weight off and feel more satisfied. “Don’t skip meals or try fad diets. Those can further slow down your metabolism and make it even harder to lose weight,” Dr. Pattimakiel says. She also recommends avoiding late-night eating. And try to have your bigger meals earlier in the day, so you’ll have more time to burn calories before you hit the pillow.
- Try intermittent fasting. While skipping meals outright is a no-go, Dr. Pattimakiel says some people have success with intermittent fasting. Try to eat all your healthy goal calories within an 8-hour window. (For example, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.) Outside those hours, stick to water, tea and black coffee. “This type of eating pattern can help you burn calories more efficiently,” she says.
- Ask for help. If you’ve made healthy lifestyle changes and the scale isn’t budging, talk to your doctor. “There may be other reasons for weight gain, such as thyroid problems, medication side effects or depression, so you’ll want to rule out other causes,” Dr. Pattimakiel says.
Your doctor can help you pinpoint the problems and work toward a healthier weight. Nutritionists and dietitians can also help figure out a sustainable way of eating to avoid putting on unwanted pounds in middle age.
“It’s easy for life to get in the way sometimes, so you have to figure out what works for you,” Dr. Pattimakiel says. “Weight gain after menopause can feel inevitable, but if you are mindful about what you eat, it doesn’t have to be.”