Every phase of our lives comes with a physical change; we lose our baby teeth as children and we deal with pimples and mood swings as teens. Then, finally, when we hit menopause, we’re met with hot flushes and fluctuating weight. But have you ever wondered how all of these things tie in together?
Metabolism, hormones, and weight are all undoubtedly interconnected, particularly when we reach menopause. In this article, we’ll look at the links between menopause and how our metabolism can sometimes work to cause weight gain.
How does menopause cause weight gain?
Menopause-related weight gain is a concern for many people, given how common it is. Around 30% of women between 50 and 59 are overweight. With this weight gain comes a higher risk of heart disease, breathing problems, Type 2 diabetes, and high blood pressure. But what happens when the body reaches menopause and why does it so often lead to an expanding waistband?
Menopause causes fluctuations in hormones leading to cravings, irritable moods, hot flashes, and even changes in the metabolism. And the hormone that plays the biggest role in this process is estrogen. Estrogen is the main sex hormone in females, and it influences the menstrual cycle, cholesterol, physical sex characteristics, skin, hair, and even bone health.
During menopause, a significant dip in estrogen levels occurs.
Why does a drop in estrogen matter?
While lower estrogen levels during menopause don’t cause weight gain directly, issues like this may cause an increase in abdominal fat and overall body fat. It’s worth noting here that the abdomen is usually the first thing that doctors flag as a concerning area of weight gain. It’s often associated with heart problems and cholesterol.
When estrogen levels are changing during the perimenopause and menopausal period, the metabolism slows, leading to insulin resistance, increased fat, and lower muscle mass. As the body ages, muscle mass tends to decrease, and fat retention increases. Uncomfortably rapid changes in body temperature (also known as hot flushes) can make it hard to sleep, leading to irritation and fatigue.
The Mental Aspect
On top of all of these physical changes, the psychological stress of going through menopause can affect sleep and hunger hormones, leading to cravings for carbs and sugar. And while the occasional cake or candy bar is fine, many people find themselves leading more sedentary lifestyles as they age. This makes it harder to maintain a healthy weight and work off the extra food they’re consuming.
Is there a way to help curb these changes?
Yes, you can influence these physical changes by applying simple (but effective) weight-control tactics:
Eating nutrient-dense foods will help with the regulation of hormones, including insulin (fiber being the most important here). Focus on plenty of fresh produce, protein, healthy fats, and fiber.
Move around during the day. Physical activity can help you lose excess weight. As the body gains muscle, it burns calories more efficiently, which makes it easier to maintain a healthy weight.
Keep an eye on your beverages. Sugar-sweetened drinks, soda, and alcohol can all be huge proponents of weight gain, even if we don’t eat large amounts of junk food.
If you’re experiencing any changes you feel aren’t normal or are disrupting your daily life, reach out to your doctor to discuss if anything can be done to make this transitionary period easier.
Dr. Nancy Rahnama, MD, ABOM, ABIM, is a medical doctor board certified by both the American Board of Obesity Medicine and the American Board of Internal Medicine. Her specialty is Clinical Nutrition, that is, the use of nutrition by a medical doctor to diagnose and treat disease. Dr. Rahnama has helped thousands of people achieve their goals of weight loss, gut health, improved mood and sleep, and managing chronic disease.