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menopause and weight gain

By | Fact Checked By Andrea Donsky |

Although it’s true that most women gain weight as they get older, especially around menopause time, packing on the pounds is not a given. Yes, maintaining your weight can be a bit frustrating as well, but if you make a few adjustments to your lifestyle, you can beat the gain and learn to maintain!

What is weight gain around menopause?

You just don’t understand it. You walk three days and week and go to the gym twice a week. You eat salads for lunch and steer clear of the doughnuts at the office. You’re down to one glass of wine a week. Yet you still gained weight. Hello menopause. Grrrrr!

Putting on a few pounds around the transition from perimenopause to menopause is common, even when you take precautions. It’s reported that women usually gain 4.5 pounds at the start of the transition to menopause. From that time on, women put on about 1.5 pounds each year in their 50s and 60s.

Typically the weight appears around the thighs, hips, and abdomen. According to Deborah Clegg, MD, “After menopause, your ovaries stop producing estrogen, and the only place where it can be generated is in your abdominal fat cells.” The result of this change is that the body stores fat in the abdomen “in an effort to get estrogen,” says Clegg.

Yet menopause is not the only reason for weight gain around this time of life.

When the flow of saliva declines, you can develop a dry, sore feeling in your mouth and throat, and your lips and tongue become dry as well. In some cases it can lead to burning mouth syndrome.

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If you get dry mouth and dry tongue, you may be more susceptible to oral health problems, such as cavities and swollen gums. You may also experience bad breath, sore throat, grooved tongue, a changed sense of taste, constant thirst, difficulty speaking, swallow, and chewing, and problems with dentures.

Dry mouth can be caused by the use of numerous over-the-counter and prescription medications, including antidepressants, antihistamines, antianxiety drugs, and blood pressure medication. In fact, dry mouth is one of the most common side effects of medication use. Other causes include aging, radiation therapy for cancer, nerve damage to the neck or face, diabetes, stroke, and mouth breathing.

Why do women gain weight around menopause?

True, the drop in estrogen and progesterone that is the hallmark of menopause can make you more likely to gain weight. However, we cannot place all of the blame on hormonal changes. Other factors, including aging, genetics, and lifestyle choices also play a part. And this is good news, because you can make changes that can have an impact on weight gain.

For example, as we get older muscle mass declines while the amount of fat increases. When we lose muscle mass, metabolism slows down, which can result in weight gain. To avoid weight gain, you need to make up for the slower metabolism by exercising more and/or eating less calories. 

look at your parents and grandparents. If they have excess weight around their midsection, you’re more likely to carry the same weight. Other reasons for weight gain around menopause can include insufficient exercise, unhealthy eating habits, lack of sufficient sleep, and stress.

How can I treat weight gain naturally?

It’s important to manage extra pounds around the abdominal area because menopausal weight gain can increase your risk of health issues, including breathing problems, type 2 diabetes, and heart and blood vessel disease. You also can be at greater risk for breast, colon, and endometrial cancers.

That said, let’s work on eliminating that excess weight.

  • Be more active. Because you lose muscle mass as you age, and this can translate into weight gain, it’s important to increase your muscle so you get stronger and burn more calories. Try strength training twice a week using hand weights, exercise bands, or even bottles of water! Don’t worry: you won’t look like Ms Atlas after your workouts! Also spend at least 2.5 hours a week doing moderate aerobic activity, such as fast walking, spinning, or tennis.
  • Drop 200. We’re talking about calories per day. You need about 200 fewer calories per day when you hit your 50s than when you were younger. To cut those calories without feeling deprived, focus on high-fiber fruits and vegetables. A plant-based diet that includes fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids is a good choice. Avoid fast foods and fried foods.
  • Don’t be sweet. Did you know that added sugars make up nearly 300 calories a day for most Americans? If you eliminated those sugars, which are mostly in soft drinks, sweetened coffee, and juices, you would have cut your 200 calories per day! Also watch your intake of doughnuts, ice cream, and other sugary foods.
  • Count alcohol. Alcoholic beverages contain a lot of empty calories. If you do drink, limit yourself to one to two drinks per week.
  • Gather round. Who doesn’t love people who support your efforts! Seek help from friends, family, and other loved ones to achieve your goals. You can get great support from other women going through menopausal challenges themselves.
  • Correct sleep habits. During menopause, lots of women experience sleep problems. Too little good quality sleep can cause you to eat more and gather more fat around your abdomen. If you are having sleep issues, evaluate your habits. Eliminate use of electronic devices at least one hour before going to bed. Keep your bedroom cool (65⁰F) for sleeping. Practice stress reduction techniques before bedtime (e.g., deep breathing, meditation, visualization, listening to soothing music). Drink chamomile tea.
  • Practice mindful eating. When you become more conscious of your eating habits and your food, you can prevent weight gain. Research shows that mindful eating can reduce the amount of food and calories people consume. Basically, mindful eating involves slowly chewing each bite and savoring the texture, flavor, and other qualities of the food. Put your fork or spoon down after taking each bite and don’t pick them up again until you have swallowed.
  • Check your meds. Some medications used to treat menopausal symptoms can actually cause weight gain. If you are taking pregabalin (Lyrica) or gabapentin (Neurontin), for example, and you’ve put on a few extra pounds, talk to your doctor about finding an alternative medication without this side effect.
  • Reduce stress. Chronic stress, such as caring for aging parents or financial worries, can cause systemic inflammation and result in weight gain. Incorporate ways to reduce stress in your life; meditation, tai chi, dancing, yoga, and deep breathing are just a few examples.

when to see a health provider

So you’ve done it all: you’ve cut back on calories, increased your physical activity, lowered your stress level, and improved your sleep. Yet you still aren’t able to control your weight. It could be time to get advice from a weight-loss professional or your physician. This is especially important if you are taking any type of medication or you have a medical condition.

bottom line

Just because you’ve arrived at menopause doesn’t necessarily mean you will have to live with additional pounds. Even if you do put on a few, you can take a variety of steps to manage them effectively. 

Andrea is a Registered Holistic Nutritionist (RHN) & Menopause Expert. Andrea is in menopause & has been researching for the last 5 years science-based ingredients and methods to help women manage their symptoms. She’s the Founder of NaturallySavvy.com—a multiple award-winning website. Andrea co-authored the book “Unjunk Your Junk Food” published by Simon and Schuster, as well as “Label Lessons: Your Guide to a Healthy Shopping Cart,” and “Label Lessons: Unjunk Your Kid’s Lunch Box.” Andrea co-hosts the Morphus for Menopause podcast and appears as a Healthy Living Expert on TV across North America. Andrea has more than 20 years of experience in the health & wellness space and is a multiple award-winning Influencer.