Menopause is not the end of any kind of road – not for your sex drive, not for hormone health, and definitely not for weight loss! Menopause changes all your hormones, and might make it harder to find the balance to lose weight, but it is not impossible. It might take a little bit of hard work – but “menopause” doesn’t have to be a reason that you never reach your goals. It isn’t a reason to give up on eating healthy and exercising because “it doesn’t work anyways.” The key to handling menopause and weight loss is finding out what works for you, and how your body is going to respond to different stimuli (like food and exercise).
What is Menopause
Menopause is the point in a women’s life when they lose their mensural cycle due to lack or hormone production. It usually happens between the ages of 40 and 50, but can happen earlier depending on lifestyle. Menopause is diagnosed after 12 consecutive periods are missed and this marks the permanent end of fertility.
Blood tests can also be done to determine menopause because FSH (follicle stimulating hormone) will be high and estrogen will be low, which are hormones found in the blood. Blood tests can be more accurate to diagnosis menopause for some depending on the use of hormone therapy, birth control, and pervious medical conditions that can alter mensuration.
Signs and Symptoms
Other signs and symptoms of menopause other than the end of mensuration include:
• Hot flashes/night sweats
• Mood swings
• Decreased sex drive
• Vaginal dryness/painful intercourse
Menopause is inevitable, but lifestyle choices can lessen the physical impact it has on your body.
Menopause and Weight Loss
The changes in hormone production during menopause it what makes can make it so difficult not to gain weight, and even to lose weight. Several different things occur in the body during this menopausal time that is not on the side of weight loss. Factors that play a role in weight gain during menopause are:
• Hormones: the decrease in estrogen production can lead to weight gain
• Loss of Muscle Mass: aging plays a role in this, in general, because of the decrease in hormones
• Sleep: sleep is imperative for everyone. It plays a key role in recovery and hormone production, and without sleep our bodies cannot regenerate. During menopause, women have a hard time sleeping, which can lead to weight gain due to hormone imbalances.
• Insulin resistance: changes in estrogen lead to increases in insulin, which can cause insulin resistance, which can lead to worse things like Diabetes.
It’s also important to note that most women gain weight in their hips and legs because of excess estrogen, but when menopause hits and estrogen decreases – weight gain starts to shift to the abdomen.
So during menopause, all signs and directions point to weight gain. All the shifts during that time add up and can make it really tough to see weight loss results. But here are a few things to focus on during that time:
A very key component whenever someone is trying to lose weight is cleaning up your diet! Especially with the rise in insulin because of the decrease in estrogen, menopausal women should keep their carbohydrate intake at a moderate level. Consuming more fiber and whole foods, and less starches is going to keep blood sugar from spiking and causing insulin resistance!
Prioritizing protein is also important! As women age then tend to focus more on either cutting carbs, or going “low calorie” and never think about the other macronutrient they really need! Protein is necessary for not only preserving/building muscle mass, but also for healthy hormone production as protein is made from amino acids our body needs! So make sure you are consuming about 1g of protein per 1lb of bodyweight (whatever your ideal bodyweight is).
Either way, with the slow down in metabolism and decreased hormone production – a caloric deficit has to happen in order to lose weight. This might mean having to drop calories down even more than before because 1. We tend to move less during the day as we age but 2. less muscle mass means less calories burned at rest. And when we reach age 40, muscle mass decreases every decade by 10-15% if we are not prioritizing resistance training! I would suggest a calorie deficit of 400-500 calories – and adhere to that for a long period of time to allow the body to provide the results. This isn’t a 4 week transformation like when you were younger!
Another thing that occurs in the body during the aging process is your bodies response to exercise. Whatever used to work when you were 20 might not work anymore because of adaptations. This is going to mean changing your routine – finding what works for you, but also making sure the intensity is there. You may need to increase your resistance or the duration you are working out. If you continue to do the same thing over and over again and never see results, can you really blame the issue on “exercise”?
Sleep, as I said earlier, is important for everyone in terms of recovery! If we are not allowing our bodies to recharge for enough time at night, we are not going to actually be at 100% to start the next day over fresh. So this leads to a lack of “production” for day after day whenever we do not get enough sleep. Sleep is also directly correlated to weight gain because if we are only sleeping for 4-6 hours per night, our cortisol levels never actually decrease. This leaves us in the fight for flight mode for too long and can cause weight gain!
The black plague of our time. We are constantly on the go, with 30 things we need to be doing at any given time. This turns into our brains always being turned “on” so the stress response is also always on. If our stress is constantly high and we are never managing it, our bodies will stay in that up-regulating mode and never shut down. This is again a cortisol hormone issue…which we do not want to have.
We know that menopause causes a change in hormones that we cannot control – but we can manage it! This means that just because the natural course of estrogen dropping doesn’t mean we shouldn’t keep an eye on other hormones to make sure they are at optimal levels! I would get a full hormone panel done regularly so that you know exactly where you stand, and can supplement as needed. The Dutch Test is a great test for women to take as it tests a wide range of hormones and can tell you exactly what is going on. You also want to get regular thyroid tests done, as well as vitamins and minerals. Because a deficiency in anything can cause the tracks to fall off and stall weight loss results!
So as difficult as it may seem to lose weight during menopause, it is possible! It isn’t going to be overnight, or even in a month…but adhering to a program and making sure all of the above things are in check will lead to results!