Reader Question: Can We Lose Weight Gained After Menopause?

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Does menopause have to mean an apple shape?

Does menopause have to mean an apple shape?

Is it possible to lose weight and thickness gained after menopause?  Sharon sent us this question via our Ask Our Healthy Weight Loss Team a Question feature (look to your right).  It’s a question near and dear to my heart as I’ve personally dealt with this and work with many women as they are going through this stage of life and worry about how their bodies are changing.

Abdominal weight gain is one of the most common complaints we see among women who are going through perimenopause or menopause.  We are often told to just accept it, but do we have to?   Let’s look at the causes and whether we can do anything about them.

Why Do Women Gain Weight during Menopause?

It’s different for every woman but hormonal fluctuations as we go through menopause do seem to trigger varying degrees of increased abdominal girth for many women.  Some of the weight gain might be viewed as the natural course of things, but much of it is not. Let’s discuss what seems to be natural first.

As our ovaries stop producing estrogen, our bodies begin to seek out other sources.  One of the best  sources is abdominal fat.  All fat cells produce estrogen but abdominal fat is a particularly available source.  Why our bodies do this isn’t absolutely clear but some experts speculate it may be an attempt to preserve bone mass.  Other natural hormonal processes also go on that likely contribute to our change in shape, too.

What’s important to understand, however, is that this natural process doesn’t have to mean significant amounts of increased abdominal fat.  If we are developing the “middle-aged spread,” it’s likely a symptom of other things that may have been going on in our bodies for a while.  In particular, inflammation and the related problem of insulin resistance may be at the root of many women’s struggles with weight during this time.  Menopause simply makes it glaringly clear.

Avoiding Menopausal Weight Gain

How does inflammation start?  With years of eating the standard American diet (SAD) (which by the way is not just American anymore) combined with unrelenting stress created by everything from yo-yo dieting and unrecognized food sensitivities to hectic, busy lives and emotional distress, we’ve got a sure recipe for knocking our bodies out of balance.  Not only does it set us up for metabolic problems like insulin resistance, it can also lead to adrenal fatigue, which basically means we’ve exhausted our bodies’ system for managing stress.  This exhaustion can leave us tired even when we get plenty of sleep, depressed, craving carbohydrates and, you guessed it, gaining weight.

The solution is to restore the basic health and balance in our bodies.  How do we do that?  With a healthy lifestyle program that’s based on eating whole, real foods, learning to manage stress and emotions, and physical activity that supports our well-being instead of stressing us more.  We may also temporarily benefit from nutritional supplementation, but it’s best to work with a qualified health professional such as a registered dietitian to determine that. We want to develop an personalized plan that addresses our individual needs.  Randomly taking supplements probably won’t help and it might harm.

It comes down to getting healthy.  A good message for those of us who have worried about our weights for years.  Taking the focus off weight during this time, and putting it where it can really help, is our best recipe for coming through menopause with our bodies functioning well without unwanted weight.

Many women have told me menopause was easy for them; others not so.  What about you?  If you haven’t experienced it yet, do you have any role models for breezing through this natural phase of life?

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  • Oh boy, my mother has so much trouble keeping off her “menapausal weight”. I know she eats a lot of sugar though, and doesn’t work out enough, so if she would work on those two I KNOW she could lose some weight! I just try not to nag her and instead I give her support and guidance.
    .-= The Candid RD’s last blog post..Not Allowed to Eat Apples? Yeah Right! =-.

  • Vivian says:

    I went into menopause an obese (5’6″, 220lbs, 39″ waist) diabetic junk food vegetarian. 3 years after full menopause, I’m a 145lb (28″ waist), more muscular, whole food omnivore with (unmedicated) blood sugar readings in the normal range. So it can be done. The ‘recipe’ that worked for me: NO processed food, no CAFO meat (but lots of grass-fed/organic), no grain, no sugar (unless it occurs naturally in fruit/veg). Added to that: lots of walking, and regular heavy weight training, along with fish oil and vitamin D3. It really does come down to getting healthy – when the focus changes from regaining your pre-menopausal waistline to regaining your health, everything seems to fall into place.

  • Cindy says:

    I appreciate this article and your story, Vivian. I am 52, three years into full menopause and heavier than I’ve ever been. My ob/gyn did tests and confirmed I am “insulin resistant”. She put me on metformin but I couldn’t tolerate it so I’m trying to control things and lose weight through diet and exercise. The hard part is that the hormone stuff that is causing the insulin resistance also causes cravings for sugar, fatigue which doesn’t help motivate to exercise, etc. It’s a vicious battle but hopefully not a losing one.
    .-= Cindy’s last blog post..Choices During the Holidays =-.

  • Gloria says:

    I am 53 and still perimenopausal. I have struggled with symptons for almost 3 years. Mood swings, the weight issue, no energy, hot flashes, etc. I have no role model. I was not close to my mother before her death and my mother-in-law had a hysterectomy. I am trying to change my life style so it is more healthy by exercising more and including more vegetables & fruit. DH is diabetic with heart problems so we are low-carb, low-fat already. However, I do think there is room for improvement in the diet.
    .-= Gloria ’s last blog post..Again Today =-.

  • Marsha says:

    Thanks for your comments, everyone. Vivian’s story is telling. The type of diet she describes does dramatic things for our health. People often react that it’s too extreme, makes them give up things they like, etc., but when we think about how it makes us feel, maybe it’s something to think about? It’s a personal choice but I encourage everyone to give themselves the choice. Try something like that (although I’m not sure it has to be no grain, maybe just look at the type and amount of grain), see how you like the results, then choose which way you want to feed yourself. Once we regain our health, it’s likely we can occasionally enjoy foods that are off-limits in this type of eating so that we don’t miss out on special occasions such as the upcoming holidays. But it’s also possible that we won’t want those foods as much as we thought we might have.

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