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.
Not all of these behaviors, though, were identified in women who achieved long-term weight loss. Avoiding desserts and sugary beverages were still on the list. For instance, the researchers found that decreasing the amount of sugary beverages consumed by 16 ounces daily also was associated to a weight loss of approximately three pounds at the four-year mark .Barone Gibbs and Diekman also found that women who lost the most weight during the four-year period had cut back on the amount of cheese and meat and also increased the amount of fruits and vegetables they ate. For example, they found that that increasing the amount of fruits and vegetables by two servings daily over what was previously eaten was associated with a three-pound weight loss at the four-year mark.
These changes seem small, but doable (although one of my friends and I both are sad that we’ll have to cut down on cheese). Still, focusing on these specific dietary behaviors along with getting regular exercise can help menopausal women maintain a healthy weight and an active healthy lifestyle as they age.
Primary Resources for This Sharepost:
MedlinePlus. (2012). 4 eating habits may help older women maintain weight loss.
Thacker, H. L. (2009). The Cleveland Clinic Guide to Menopause.
Published On: September 04, 2012