If you’re in your 40s or 50s, you’ve probably noticed that it’s getting harder to stay slim. Even though you exercise and watch your diet, the numbers on the scale keep going up. It might seem that you can’t avoid packing on the pounds as you approach menopause, but middle-aged spread isn’t inevitable.
Why You Need to Start Watching Your Weight (If You Aren’t Already)
Are you one of those women who, until now, has always been slim? Did you once eat whatever you wanted, as often as you wanted, and still struggled to gain weight? You might have noticed that you can’t be so carefree with your diet anymore. A between meal snack or a rich dessert now shows up on the scale.
On the other hand, if you’ve always had to work to keep weight off, you might find that maintaining a healthy weight is harder than it ever was before.
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As menopause approaches, many women simply continue their old habits and resign themselves to the fact that they will never be as thin as they used to be. Sadly, they may be endangering their lives.
In women, the risk of heart disease increases after the age of 55. The weight gain that many women experience around this time may be the reason for this increased risk. Excessive weight gain is associated with high blood pressure, high total cholesterol, high LDL cholesterol and high triglycerides—all of which increase the likelihood of heart disease.
Weight Gain Isn’t Inevitable
Research shows that lifestyle changes during menopause can help you stay slim.
Here’s what you can do:
1. Be active
While changing hormones can cause your weight to be redistributed so that you carry more fat around your belly, you can’t blame hormones for your overall weight gain.
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The factor most consistently associated with weight gain around the time of menopause is reduction in physical activity.
This means that it’s more important than ever for you to stay active; whether that means walking instead of driving, climbing stairs instead of taking the elevator, running outdoors, working out at home or joining a gym.
It can be hard to find time to exercise. You might have to spend many hours at a desk in front of a computer. Maybe you have to take care of household chores in the evening. Perhaps you care for children or an elderly parent.
Make the time, whether that means waking up a half hour early and working out while the rest of your family is asleep, or asking family members to prepare their own dinners once a week so you can stop at the gym after work. Acknowledging the importance of caring for your body will improve your mental health as well as your physical health.
2. Cut the calories
Low-carb? Low-fat? High protein? Scientists still aren’t sure which type of diet is best.
However, one thing is certain. Reducing your calorie intake, regardless of the type of diet you choose, will help you lose weight.
Avoid fad diets, and choose a healthy diet that makes you feel good and that you can stick with.
3. Eat more fruits and vegetables
Research shows eating more fruits and vegetables decreases the risk of weight gain in middle-aged women.
A diet high in fruits and vegetables provides you with essential vitamins and minerals. In addition, many fruits and vegetables contain antioxidants, which can prevent free radical damage. Many also contain phytoestrogens: chemicals that are structurally similar to estrogen. Phytoestrogens may help prevent hot flashes and night sweats, although research is inconclusive.
4. Take your vitamins
If you’ve reduced your food intake, you could be missing important nutrients. Be sure to supplement with a good multivitamin.
Taking calcium and vitamin D supplements can prevent weight gain and decrease the risk of osteoporosis in people aged 50 and over.
5. Get enough sleep
Other factors besides lack of exercise and a poor diet can predispose you to gaining weight. One of these is insufficient sleep. If you’re not getting enough sleep, your body will store fat more easily. Research shows that the fewer hours you sleep every night, the more weight you are likely to gain.
Unfortunately, menopause is the time of life when getting a good night’s sleep can be harder than ever. Hot flashes, night sweats and palpitations—not to mention stress—can keep you tossing and turning.
Do what you can to enjoy a restful night. Wear light, comfortable clothes to bed. Try sleeping with a window open so you can enjoy cool, fresh air. Cut down on caffeine. To avoid stress at night, exercise or meditate during the day.
Don’t Go Overboard
Be careful. Gaining too much weight around menopause can cause serious health problems, and it is important to keep your weight under control. However, you can be too thin. A body mass index of less than 21 increases the risk of osteoporosis in post-menopausal women.
Excessive weight loss can be a sign of an eating disorder.
See a doctor if you are losing too much weight.
Association between Reduced Sleep and Weight Gain in Women, American Journal of Epidemiology
Calcium Plus Vitamin D Supplementation and the Risk of Postmenopausal Weight Gain, Journal of the American Medical Association
Characteristics of Middle-Aged Women in Inpatient Treatment for Eating Disorders, Eating Disorders: The Journal of Treatment and Prevention
Comparison of Weight-Loss Diets with Different Compositions of Fat, Protein, and Carbohydrates, New England Journal of Medicine
Health Benefits of Fruits and Vegetables, Advances in Nutrition
Osteoporosis: Useful Information, Oxford University Hospitals
Who Is at Risk for Coronary Heart Disease? National Institutes of Health
Weight Gain at the Time of Menopause, Journal of the American Medical Association
Weight gain during menopause. Is it inevitable or can it be prevented? Postgraduate Medicine