Hormonal changes during menopause can cause weight to gravitate to your middle. If you’re finding that your midriff spare tyre is trying to escape from under your clothes, don’t start browsing for bigger dress sizes just yet. We explain why it happens and the practical steps you can take to keep yourself healthy.
The weight gain slowly crept up on me and, without really knowing it, I was a stone heavier. I can’t put it all down to hormones, as I was comfort eating due to stress and not sleeping. I felt out of control and it definitely affected my mental health”
It’s common sense that watching what you eat and increasing exercise helps keep your body healthy, but it’s not easy to put into practice at the best of times. You may find that menopause means it’s even harder due to fluctuating hormones and menopause symptoms.
Women can gain up to 5lbs on average during menopause, which can dent your confidence and self-esteem. There are positive steps you can take without extreme dieting, whether you want to be more healthy, trim off a few pounds or lose a lot of weight. Find out more about the stages of menopause.
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It’s not too late to look after muscle mass, bone density, blood sugar and your heart by taking control of your exercise and nutrition”
Top five things that can help weight gain
Be honest about your diet: Avoid snacking by learning your trigger points, such as tiredness or stress. Serve smaller portions, reduce your sugar intake, watch out for hidden calories in drinks and prepare meals in advance.
Avoid crash dieting: They encourage your body to store fat, not lose it, so say goodbye to them during menopause – one piece of good news! Eat foods that nourish and satisfy hunger.
Exercise: Increasing your exercise and being consistent will make a huge impact. Add walking, cycling or running into your day or choose an exercise you enjoy. Joining a class can help keep you motivated.
Manage stress: Challenge negative thoughts with cognitive behaviour therapy and relax with mindfulness and yoga.
Get a good night’s sleep: Overhaul your sleep routine, keep your bedroom as cool and dark as possible, avoid caffeine, nicotine and alcohol and limit screen time before bed.
Download Stella for a personalised plan to help manage your menopause symptoms.
Does menopause make you gain weight?
Your body produces fewer hormones during menopause and as you age. Reduced oestrogen levels can mean your body stores more fat and redistributes it differently, usually around your middle. This might be why the waistbands on your favourite outfits are getting a little snug.
Muscle mass decreases as we age, which slows metabolism and means extra calories are stored as fat. This is why healthcare professionals bang on about exercise – it builds muscle, which in turn burns calories. Makes sense!
Other things to look out for include insulin resistance, when excess sugar circulates in the body, or increased levels of your cortisol hormone due to stress and anxiety, which encourages belly fat. Find out more about weight gain in our symptoms library.
Keep a lookout for any gradual creep upwards on the scales and notice if your clothes are fitting differently. It’s time to put self-care first because what you do now will have an impact on your long-term health. Read Emily’s experience of improving her health and wellbeing.
Menopause symptoms that exacerbate weight gain
It’s not just your hormonal changes that can lead to your weight increasing, the following are also saboteurs:
- Insomnia: Nearly half of women experience insomnia during menopause due to the fluctuating levels of melatonin, oestrogen and progesterone. When you don’t get enough sleep you have increased levels of the hunger hormone ghrelin and decreased levels of the hormone leptin, which makes you feel full. This could lead to overeating.
- Low mood and anxiety: Low mood and self-esteem can mean you reach for comfort foods and crave sugary snacks.
- Problems with memory and concentration: Difficulty focusing and remembering can cause stress, especially at work. Feeling out of control can make you feel unmotivated to stick to a healthy lifestyle.
- Pelvic floor and incontinence: Menopause can affect your bladder as your pelvic floor loses strength. This can put you off exercising and building muscle mass.
- Medication and weight gain: Certain medications, such as antidepressants, can make it harder to lose weight. Chat to your doctor if you want to lose weight while on medication and don’t stop taking medications without your doctor’s advice.
How weight gain affects your long-term health
Losing weight as we age is important. Excess weight in your 40s is associated with serious long-term health risks, including:
- Lung discomfort
- Breast cancer
- Cardiovascular disease, especially when fat is stored around your middle
- Type 2 diabetes
- Pelvic floor problems, including incontinence and prolapse
- Liver disease
What’s the easiest and quickest way to lose weight?
I have never been thin, and so I wasn’t too bothered about gaining more weight when I hit my 40s. I just want to be healthy so I exercise and eat a varied diet. It has been harder to stop the weight piling on, but I recently joined a yoga group and I’m hoping that helps too. Plus, it’s fun”
If only there was a simple fix! It’s not easy but commitment and consistency in what you eat and how often you move are the best ways to tackle weight gain during menopause.
Resist the urge to panic and get stuck in a crash diet cycle. Track what you are eating but don’t go for a diet very low in calories or that excludes major food groups. It can reduce your lean muscle mass, accelerate the drop in metabolic rate as you age and even possibly lead to bone loss.
Plan your meals for the week, avoid adding snacks into your trolley when shopping and prepare your meals as much in advance as you can. Concentrate on eating well but healthily, reduce your calorie intake so there is a deficit and try to exercise between 20-30 minutes a day.
What should you eat to lose weight?
You don’t have to stick to uninspiring salads to lose or maintain weight. Forget the carrot sticks and eat nutritious, filling food as part of a balanced diet. Enjoy vegetables, fruit, lean meats, fish, beans, peas and lentils, pasta and rice. Get as much colour and variety as you can into your diet.
Avoid sugary and processed foods – you know the ones! Swerve the fatty cuts of meat, chips deep-fried in oil, high-fat pastries and stodgy pies. Swap high-calorie dressings and sauces for low calorie alternatives. Use oil sprays instead of that glug of oil you usually put in the pan. Go easy on the booze.
Help, I can’t control my weight!
Understanding what to do to keep your weight under control is one thing but putting it into practise is the difficult bit. It can help to have someone to boost you along to champion healthy swaps and take up healthy habits.
Try the Stella app, where a coach will help encourage you to reach your goals. Download and get a plan personalised just for you and your needs. It can specifically help with weight issues with plenty of resources to help.
Here are our top recipes to see you from breakfast to dinner.
What is the best supplement for menopausal weight gain?
At the moment there isn’t clear scientific evidence that supplements help in weight loss or maintaining a healthy weight. If you want to take supplements, chat to your doctor to discuss your medical history and any medications you are already taking.