Okay. We’re about to have a conversation about menopause weight gain. So here’s an idea: can we please talk about this kindly?
Can we actually have a conversation about weight that doesn’t see larger bodies as “incorrect”? Can we shift the conversation to be about feeling healthy and strong rather than hitting a certain number on the scale?
We just spend way too much of our lives being given messages about our bodies and their “wrongness”.
It’s time we took charge of the conversation.
So here goes.
The relationship between menopause and weight gain
What causes weight gain during menopause?
The truth is—it’s complicated.
Let’s start from the beginning:
Menopause is officially diagnosed 12 months after you have your last period. Perimenopause is the term used to describe the time around menopause—so when we talk about menopausal weight gain, we’re likely talking about perimenopause weight gain.
There’s a lot that happens to our bodies over this time—some of it related to the specific changes that menopause brings and some of it just to do with the fact that we’re getting older.
So, here are the most common causes of weight gain during menopause:
Changes to your hormone levels. One of the real showstoppers of menopause is estrogen fluctuation. Ever since you hit puberty, estrogen has been a key part of how your menstrual cycle functions. When you get to menopause, you no longer need estrogen to do this job for you, so your ovaries stop producing it. In a rather strange turn of events, estrogen sometimes goes through a surge before disappearing for good. Both high and low levels of estrogen can have an impact on all sorts of things that go on in your body—one of which is weight gain.
Getting older. Yup, it happens. And with it comes an increased risk of certain illnesses like thyroid disorders. We also naturally lose muscle mass as we age. All of this impacts our metabolisms and makes it easier for us to gain weight.
Dealing with other symptoms of menopause. Yes, that’s right. Sometimes symptoms cause other symptoms. You may not be sleeping so well. You may have some weird cravings for foods that are high in sugar and salt. You may be too tired to do anything but the bare minimum. And having to negotiate all of this can lead to weight gain.
Depression. There’s so much going on at this stage of life that can challenge our mental health. Not only are your hormones shifting around but you may also be dealing with a bunch of life stresses—families, relationships, money, work, the general state of the world. It’s a lot. Depression and weight gain have a complicated relationship—one causes the other causes the other.
Increased insulin resistance. And this can make weight loss more of a challenge. However, there are some people who experience unintentional weight loss during menopause. After all, all bodies are different.
The other crazy thing about weight gain during menopause is where it happens on your body. Fat storage often shifts from your hips and thighs to your belly. Why does this matter? Because it’s more of a health threat. Belly fat puts you more at risk for developing heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and other illnesses.
How long does menopause weight gain last?
Because there are so many factors involved in the relationship between menopause and weight gain, there’s no easy answer to this.
On average, perimenopause lasts between four and eight years, after which your hormones may settle.
But hormonal fluctuation may not be the only reason for weight gain. So any changes you make in your lifestyle to counteract menopausal weight gain should be sustainable if you want them to have a long-term effect.
How can I stop menopause weight gain?
Well, you can’t necessarily, but you can create healthy habits that benefit you in all sorts of ways.
- Avoid crash diets. They wreak havoc on your system and often mean that you put on even more weight down the line.
- Eat a nutritionally balanced diet that includes protein, healthy fats, and lots of fruits and veg. Head here for some ideas.
- Make mealtimes a thing. Try not to eat on the run. Dish up your food. Sit down to eat it. Make it mindful and meaningful.
- Manage your intake of salt, sugar, and saturated fats.
- Limit your alcohol consumption. Alcohol can exacerbate a host of menopause symptoms.
- Get daily exercise. You don’t have to compete in a triathlon. Do something you love to do. And do it often.
- Look after your mental health. Seek help if you’re struggling. Prioritize having healthy relationships. Take time to address your own needs. Self-care shouldn’t be an optional extra.
- Consider taking supplements. Some menopause supplements may be able to help with weight loss.
Be kind to yourself. 💝