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Menopause Is on Your Horizon. Does That Mean You’ll Gain Weight?

You had your last baby years ago, and afterward the pregnancy pounds came off. Since then, your weight has been (mostly) stable. Until now, that is. Nothing about your lifestyle has changed, and yet your pants are getting tighter. What gives?

It’s common for women to notice their weight creeping up during perimenopause. That’s the time before menopause, when your periods get erratic but haven’t stopped completely. Perimenopause can stretch for four to eight years before menopause, and most women reach menopause between age 40 and 58, according to the North American Menopause Society.

How menopause can lead to weight gain

Jennifer Hofmeister, an OBGYN physician assistant at Banner Health Clinic in Loveland, CO, said there are a few factors that combine to make weight gain more likely as you approach menopause:

  • Less estrogen. During perimenopause, your ovaries don’t produce as much estrogen. Low estrogen levels decrease your metabolism, and make it more likely you’ll store fat, especially in your belly.
  • Less muscle mass. As you age you lose muscle mass, which also decreases metabolism.
  • Poor sleep. It’s common for perimenopausal women to have trouble sleeping, and a lack of sleep increases your cortisol or “stress hormone” levels. When you don’t sleep well, you’re more likely to make poor food choices and skip your workout.
  • Poor diet. If you’re busy with work, family, and other commitments at this stage of your life, you’re more likely to grab fast food or processed food to save time.
  • Avoiding exercise. You may scale back your workout routine if you find it leads to hot flashes.

The sad truth is, during perimenopause and menopause, these changes mean that if your diet and exercise remain the same, your weight could increase.

How to fight this menopausal weight gain

The internet is full of supplements that claim to help you lose weight and boost your metabolism before and during menopause. But Hofmeister doesn’t know of any that actually work. “Unfortunately, there is no magical pill as the solution,” she said.

The tried-and-true weight-loss strategies that are effective in other life stages can work now, too. That means you should:

  • Choose a diet high in whole foods, vegetables, fruit, whole grains, and legumes
  • Limit processed foods and red meat
  • Watch your portion sizes

Hofmeister has a few more weight-loss tips for this stage of life:

  • Cut back on drinks that are full of empty calories, such as sweet coffees, energy drinks, juices, sodas, and alcohol.
  • Add in strength training a few days a week to increase your muscle mass.
  • Improve your sleep. “If you are getting less than eight hours of sleep per night, or if you are waking frequently at night with night sweats, you should talk with your provider,” she said.

The bottom line

It’s common to gain weight before and during menopause, but it’s not inevitable. Your doctor can help you make the changes you need to maintain a healthy body weight.

You may be facing other challenges at this stage as well. “Menopause is a huge change in a woman’s life. Some sail right through, but many experience a variety of bothersome symptoms. So, if you are struggling, talk to your provider about it,” Hofmeister said.

If you’re looking for a women’s health care provider to help guide you through this transition, Banner Health can help. Visit bannerhealth.com.

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