Menopause marks several positive changes in a woman’s body: no more periods, no more monthly premenstrual symptoms. You can also engage in a healthy sex life without fear of unplanned pregnancy.
This time also introduces significant changes to the mind and body. Two particularly challenging symptoms are increased chance of weight gain and reduced ability to lose weight.
Read on for more about how menopause impacts weight loss and tips for managing unwanted weight gain.
How Menopause Affects Your Body Overall
Fortunately, menopausal women can achieve healthy weight management by knowing what to expect and adopting a few lifestyle changes.
- Perimenopause: As estrogen production slows, your body begins the menopause transition. Although some symptoms occur, you’re not considered a menopausal woman until you’ve gone twelve months without a period. The perimenopause phase may last years or more.
- Menopause: Many women reach menopause around age fifty-one, but it can happen decades earlier or later.
- Postmenopause: Postmenopausal women are more at risk for certain health conditions, like osteoporosis or cardiovascular disease. Many menopause symptoms dissipate as you reach a new normal.
Specific symptoms vary, including duration and intensity. Common physical and mental symptoms include the following:
Mental changes, including mild mood swings and depressive symptoms, come from shifts in hormone levels. Fortunately, women rarely develop serious depression without a prior history. Affected women should talk to their doctor about potential treatment options.
You may see changes in your focus and memory, and some women experience new or worsening psychological disorders or symptoms.
Hormone fluctuations have a domino effect on other parts of the body. Physical menopause symptoms might include
- night sweats
- hot flashes
- vaginal dryness or burning
- breast changes
- cold flashes
- low libido
- bladder urgency
- frequent urinary tract infections
- painful sex
- difficulty sleeping
- hair loss or thinning
- body aches
- changes in heart rate
- inability to lose abdominal fat
- weight gain
Several changes—including vaginal and bladder-related symptoms—could indicate a chronic medical condition called genitourinary syndrome of menopause.
What Causes Menopause Weight Gain?
Menopause occurs during an era of significant stressors in a woman’s life. You’re balancing a lot of responsibilities and changes, like busy workloads, raising a family, and caring for aging loved ones. When combined with menopausal symptoms, weight control problems are fairly normal.
As estrogen levels lower, you could see an increase in fat gain around your abdomen, hips, and thighs. As you lose muscle mass, your metabolism slows, making it harder to maintain or lower your weight without some lifestyle changes, like staying fit or eating less junk food.
One study found the average weight gain during perimenopause is about five pounds, though many women gain ten or more.
That said, weight gain is rarely linked to a sole cause. One report listed age, dietary fiber, fat, alcohol intake, and smoking habits as leading contributors to menopause weight gain. Other studies connect the body’s declining hormones with an increased appetite.
Health Risks Associated with Menopause Weight Gain
Your changing body composition during menopause could increase the risk of cardiovascular disease, and you might develop problems with blood sugar, like type 2 diabetes.
Weight gain and increased belly fat can worsen existing menopause symptoms, like hot flashes, poor sleep, and night sweats. Breathing problems, decreased mobility, joint pain, and increased risk of heart disease are also associated with excessive weight gain.
Lifestyle Changes That Positively Impact Weight Loss during Menopause
You can develop new routines to help your body overcome weight-related changes with the right weight loss tools and habits.
Incorporate More Physical Activity
Reaching and maintaining a healthy weight is easier with regular physical activity. Exercise can help you
- build muscle mass
- improve cardiovascular health
- get better-quality sleep
- have less stress
- keep joints strong
- increase endurance
- reach a calorie deficit
- improve balance
- build strength
Choose a sustainable fitness routine that makes you happy, and customize workouts to fit your body’s restrictions and target heart rate.
Focus on Nutrition
Good nutrition is essential—but don’t fall victim to common dieting myths. You can lose weight with calorie management, or consuming fewer calories than your body burns.
A healthy menopause diet means avoiding foods that worsen symptoms or increase health risks, like high-fat, high-sodium, or fried and processed foods, and focusing on positive nutrition changes to feel your best:
- Dairy to promote stronger, healthier bones
- Healthy fats for possible symptom reduction
- Whole grains for better cardiovascular health
- Adequate protein for your changing body and lifestyle
- Phytoestrogen-rich foods to help fluctuating hormone levels
Prioritize Quality Sleep
Regular high-quality sleep is an important part of boosting metabolism, and poor sleep is linked with slower metabolism and weight gain. Being tired impairs judgment and may lead to poor nutrition or feeling too tired to exercise.
Prioritize sleep by setting a regular schedule, avoiding stimulants and alcohol, and engaging in relaxing rituals to let your body know it’s time to wind down.
Seek Medical Help If Necessary
Many symptoms of menopause can cause discomfort, but talk to your doctor if you experience intense symptoms that affect your daily life. Treatment options may be available.
Some menopausal women consider hormone replacement therapy to manage symptoms. It’s also connected to a significant reduction in visceral fat. Although hormone therapy is controversial and associated with serious health risks, it could be the right approach for some symptoms.