When looking in the mirror, so many middle-age women suddenly find that their curvaceous figures are a little fuller, especially in the middle. And as they step on the scale, they may see the numbers inching up as they gain weight.
So what’s causing these changes? “Actually, your diet matters more now than it did when you were younger,” said Dr. Holly Thacker of the Cleveland Clinic. “Your metabolism is slowing and your muscle mass is decreasing. Your body is producing less estrogen, which affects your organs and physical processes.” The Mayo Clinic website also points to the role of lifestyle and genetic factors. “The hormonal changes of menopause may make you more likely to gain weight around your abdomen, rather than your hips and thighs,” the website states. “Hormonal changes alone don't necessarily trigger weight gain after menopause, however. Instead, the weight gain is usually related to a variety of lifestyle and genetic factors.”
Dr. Thacker noted that while most women gain weight during or after menopause, it’s not a given. She suggests that it’s caused by lack of sleep due to hot flashes and night sweats. While that may be true for some women, I’d also suggest that some women going through menopause are also dealing with high levels of stress due to other factors, such as caregiving for elderly parents. “When you're under stress, you may find it harder to eat healthy,” said Dr. Edward Creagen of the Mayo Clinic. "Also, during times of particularly high stress, you may eat in an attempt to fulfill emotional needs — sometimes called stress eating or emotional eating. And you may be especially likely to eat high-calorie foods during times of stress, even when you're not hungry."
Weight gain can be hazardous to your health. Gaining weight after menopause can increase your risk of high cholesterol, high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes, all of which can increase the risk of heart disease and stroke. Weight gain also can increase the risk of some types of cancer. “In fact, some research suggests that gaining as little as 4.4 pounds (2 kilograms) at age 50 or later could increase the risk of breast cancer by 30 percent,” the Mayo Clinic website states.
So what food choices should you make in order to eat most healthily and to maintain your weight? Dr. Thacker recommends the Mediterranean diet, which looks a lot like the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s dietary recommendations. The U.S. News health website reports, “While some research has linked the Mediterranean diet to weight loss or a lower likelihood of being overweight or obese, the jury’s still out, according to a 2008 analysis of 21 studies in Obesity Reviews. Still, if you build a “calorie deficit” into your plan—eating fewer calories than your daily recommended max, or burning off extra by exercising—you should shed some pounds. How quickly and whether you keep them off is up to you.” This type of diet has other benefits, including a decreasing the risk for heart disease and lowering blood pressure and “bad” LDL cholesterol. Dr. Thacker also recommends soy, pointing out that some studies have found that Asian women who consume a lot of this have fewer hot flashes and lower rates of breast cancer than American women. She noted that soy is not a cure-all, and it doesn’t work the same for all women.
So based on this news, I hope you’ll spend a lot more time checking out the variety in the produce section of your grocery store (or the farmer’s market). Serve yourself smaller portions of healthy food and then head out for a walk or the gym!
Published On: December 17, 2011