Recently I had two different conversations about the challenges of remaining a healthy weight with women who are around my age. Both of these friends are very active; in fact, one regularly teaches exercise classes. In my most recent conversation, my friend is revamping her eating patterns to try to drop some of the extra pounds that have crept onto her frame. “Welcome to menopause and a slowing metabolism,” I told her.
It turns out that our concerns about weight gain are common. In her book, The Cleveland Clinic Guide to Menopause, Dr. Holly Thacker said many of her patients come in complaining that they’ve put on 10 pounds when they were just as active as they had been when they were 25 years old. She notes that aging brings the double-whammy of a slowing metabolism as well as the loss of muscle mass (which burns calories). Furthermore, menopause also often leads to an accelerated loss of muscle mass. Obviously, exercise – especially weight-bearing exercise such as strength training – can help rebuild muscle mass.
But are there dietary choices that can help menopausal women keep the weight off? It turns out there might be. New research published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics identified specific eating behaviors that are associated with helping menopausal women keep weight off.
In this study reported by MedlinePlus (which is a service of the U.S. National Library of Medicine), researchers looked at data from an earlier study that involved 481 overweight or obese women who were in their late 50s. The initial study focused on lifestyle interventions’ impact on heart health. In that study, the women were randomly assigned to one of two groups. The first group focused on lifestyle changes through meeting with experts throughout the study and trying to following healthier eating habits. The other group took a health education approach with seminars on women’s health; however, these seminars did not specifically counsel the women on weight-loss. The women were assessed at the six-month mark and then had an additional follow-up assessment four years later.
Using this data, Dr. Bethany Barone Gibbs, an assistant professor of health and physical activity at the University of Pittsburgh and Connie Diekman, R.D., the director of university nutrition at Washington University in St. Louis analyzed the study participants’ dietary behaviors. Interestingly, they found that different behavior patterns were associated with weight changes at each of the assessments.
Using the data collected when the study participants were assessed at the six-month period, the analysis by Barone Gibbs and Diekman found that five behaviors seemed to lead to weight loss. Some of these behaviors are obvious, such as eating fewer desserts and fried foods and drinking fewer sugary beverages. Eating more fish also was found to help with this short-term weight loss. And eating fewer meals out at restaurants also was associated with this short-term weight loss.