Yes You Can Lose Weight During Menopause

Group of women

Menopause is still somewhat of a taboo topic, it is a trendy topic in the world of health and wellness, but most women are still reluctant to be open about their symptoms and how it is affecting their work and family life. There is also a belief that it’s all downhill once a woman hits the menopause, it is inevitable that they will slow down, gain weight, and be prone to an array of health conditions. But this is simply not true. So, what is menopause? What is the truth about weight gain during menopause? And how can you be in the best shape of your life in your 40’s, 50’s and 60’s? 

What is Menopause?

Simply, menopause is when a woman’s menstrual cycle stops, and is defined as when a woman hasn’t had a period for 12 months. The years, yes years, prior to this definitive point are known as perimenopause and this is when hormones begin to fluctuate, as oestrogen levels reduce, and the body transitions into menopause. During this time symptoms start and can include:

  • Hot flushes
  • Poor sleep quality
  • Mood changes
  • Poor concentration
  • Loss of libido
  • Redistribution of body fat
  • Joint pain
  • Increased anxiety and depression

The average age of menopause is 48-52 years old, with perimenopause usually starting at around 40-44 years. Meaning that this affects a significant portion of a woman’s life and impacts their ability to care for a young family and build a career. 

Weight Gain During Menopause: The Truth

Two symptoms of menopause not on the above list are:

  1. Weight gain
  2. Muscle loss

Now, it is true that a lot of women experience both during perimenopause and menopause, but that doesn’t mean that it is inevitable. 

There is a myth that due to reduced metabolism during menopause it is almost impossible for woman to lose weight, and weight gain should be expected. It is common to hear women say:

“I’m not eating any differently but I’m gaining weight now I’m at that age”

Hormonal changes in the body do affect metabolism, but not by a significant amount. In fact, there is no denying, that the trend is for weight gain during menopause. But the good news is that this is usually caused by behaviour change bought on by the symptoms. 

Think about it, perimenopause isn’t an instant change like breaking your leg, it slowly builds, slowly bringing increasing symptoms that you probably don’t even notice or identify as menopause until they are numerous and affecting your daily life. Symptoms such as poor sleep and joint pain are likely to be causing you to move less, and often in subtle but increasing ways that have an impact on your overall energy expenditure, eventually leading to weight gain. Lack of sleep, anxiety, and mood changes can result in increased hunger or emotional eating, again this might be subtle but eating even a little more combined with moving less results in increased body fat.

Likewise, decreasing levels of testosterone making it harder to build muscle, and less movement and a poorer quality diet will result in muscle loss. However, again this is not inevitable and with the right approach you can maintain and build muscle mass during and beyond menopause. 

How To Lose Weight During Menopause 

There are two strands to maintaining a healthy and active life during menopause:

  1. Medical treatment
  2. Diet and lifestyle considerations 

Medical treatment is usually Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) and has a wealth of benefits for most women, although there is a minority that shouldn’t take it, so it is vital to discuss the pros and cons with your GP or medical professional. 

Diet and lifestyle considerations on the other hand sound a bit vague but can have a huge impact on symptom relief as well as the ability to help women maintain or lose weight during menopause as well as increasing muscle mass. 

“Exercising beyond menopause is the only noncontroversial and beneficial aspect of lifestyle modification and must be adopted by all.” Mishra et al 2011

Being aware of symptoms and how they might be impacting your weight is important. There is no denying that it can feel harder to get started, and maintain a routine during menopause, particularly if you are at a point in your career that is demanding as well as having children at home to care for. However, it doesn’t need to be complicated or time consuming and the benefits are numerous. 

Diet During Perimenopause and Menopause

Eating a healthy and nutritious diet is important at every stage of life, but during menopause it becomes even more so. The best advice is the most obvious, and that is to eat a balanced diet, with most meals based around lean protein with plenty of fruit and vegetables. A Mediterranean style diet is often recommended for health, and this would be a good option to follow during menopause with lean chicken and fish for protein, beans, and pulses, at least five to six portions of fruit and vegetables daily, healthy fats such as olive oil and wholegrains. 

A special mention should be made of protein which is increasingly important during menopause. Muscle mass begins to decline after age 30-40 and this decline accelerates through perimenopause and menopause. Eating a higher protein diet along with stimulating the muscles can help to preserve muscle mass. Menopausal women should aim to get at least 1.6g of protein per kilogram of body weight per day.  Overall eating a balanced diet of primarily whole foods can help to reduce the symptoms of menopause and improve quality of life during this time. 

Exercise During Perimenopause and Menopause

Many women reduce or stop exercising during perimenopause and menopause due to symptoms causing pain and fatigue. However, this is one of the most important times to be exercising. Oestrogen is important for maintaining bone health, and as this declines woman are more at risk of osteoporosis and subsequent fractures.  Muscle mass also decreases, as can balance and coordination which may increase the likelihood of falls that result in fractures. 

Staying active such as walking, cycling, or swimming plus a regular routine of resistance exercise at the gym or using bands, bodyweight, or training methods such as yoga or Pilates can help to prevent loss of muscle mass and support bone health. It is even possible to build muscle during your 40’s, 50’s, 60’s and beyond with proper nutrition and adequate resistance training. Exercise can also help to reduce the symptoms of menopause and promote improved sleep.  Overall regular exercise is essential for women during perimenopause and menopause and can help them to live in good health for longer. 

Get Support To Be In the Best Shape of your Life 

Losing weight and exercising isn’t easy at any time of life, doing these things during perimenopause and menopause is even more challenging. Getting the right support and advice to help you understand what you should be eating and for programming workouts is essential. A coach will not only plan exercise sessions, provide meal plans or ideas and education, they will also help you overcome challenges that are unique to your lifestyle and individual menopause symptoms to help you keep moving forwards and progressing toward you goal of being as fit and healthy as possible during perimenopause, menopause, and beyond. 

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