Poll 100 women who have recently begun to experience full-fledged menopause and one complaint will top the list: sudden weight gain. Many of the women will also say that the weight gain seems to be mostly in the abdomen, though most will also say it’s sudden, depressing and stubborn. Is it really sudden? Is it really stubborn?
Let’s look at the five possible reasons that menopause brings weight gain.
1. You’re not lifting weights.
Call it strength training or resistance training or weight training. If you haven’t been engaged with lifting weights to create or preserve muscle mass, then you’re missing an important tool that helps to maintain or slightly increase your metabolism. Muscle cells are a bit more thermogenic than other cells in the body - they use energy and they use it more efficiently.
The key to building and maintaining muscles is lifting weights with some regularity, and making sure that the weight exercises continue to offer a challenge. You can build muscle mass at any age - but it will take some time if you’ve never lifted weights before. And yes, as you age, you do need to keep challenging yourself to maintain your muscle mass. Eating adequate protein will help as well. It’s important to track calories so that you don’t eat more protein than needed, despite the weight training efforts. Weight training two to three times a week for about 30-45 minutes is a good goal. You should perform 12 to 15 repetitions per set, and two sets per each individual exercise.
Start with three or five pound weights and set a goal of moving up to weights that weight ten or twelve pounds. You can also switch off using free weights with weight machines at a gym. Make the effort harder by performing some arm and leg exercises holding free weights simultaneously (lunges and bicep curls, squats and shoulder press).
2. You’re not getting enough exercise.
If you are gaining weight, then you either have to eat less or move more. Once you hit the forth decade, most people experience a decline in their metabolism because of lack of muscle mass and declining hormones. You can’t eat the same amount and expect to not gain weight. You were probably also gaining the weight for some time, you just didn’t acknowledge the excess weight until it became significant
Get moving: walk hills, jog, run, bike, skate, or hit the gym and use a treadmill, elliptical, stair-stepper or rowing machine, or take a class like Zumba or kickboxing. It’s time to get out of denial - you very much are what you eat, calorie-wise, especially as you get older. Get your heart rate elevated for a minimum of 30 minutes to 60 minutes daily. Need guidance? Work out with a trainer once or twice and have them craft a program for you.
3. You’re emotional eating.
Moving into menopause is a downer for some women. Turning to food for solace will grow that waistline faster. Women typically "medicate" with sweets and drinks. To top it off, we sit around while consuming quite large quantities of these foods. Rethink how you manage your emotions and then consider swapping out exercise and hobbies for moments when you are tempted to overeat. Certainly, if you feel that you’re experiencing profound depression, you should seek a professional opinion. Food should not be therapy.
4. You’re drinking too much.
Menopause can often coincide with fewer responsibilities involving the kids, so you feel more at ease drinking frequently. There’s nothing wrong with a glass of wine (6 ounces) most evenings, but more than that on a regular basis may again relate to managing your mood with liquid food, in this case alcohol. If your drinking involves sugary, mixed alcoholic beverages, you may be consuming lots of calories, hundreds in fact, with each drink. You may also be indulging in blended coffee drinks and smoothies as well. Manage your alcohol budget wisely, and **choose whole foods over liquid calories. ** If you are drinking more than a glass of wine nightly, you may want to have a session with a health professional.
5. You’re not sleeping well.
Research tells us that poor sleep raises the risk of weight gain. When menopause hits, sleep does seem to go off kilter. You may be experiencing hot flashes at night, which can definitely interfere with quality of sleep. Try to sleep in cotton pajamas and use a light cover. Keep chilled water bedside and a small portable fan. Keep the room dark and cool. Be aware if your sleep patterns are off. Exercise during the daytime can also help you to feel more tired so you fall asleep and stay asleep.
My client Judy began working out with me at age 55, after menopause. She had never exercised before. We’ve had a seven-year relationship and in that time she lost 45 pounds and achieved a BMI of 24. She has developed incredible muscle tone in her arms and stomach, and she has the energy of someone closer to 40. She credits these accomplishments with daily exercise, including weight training three days a week, keeping a food journal, and praticing mindful eating. Losing weight and gaining muscle mass can happen at ANY age, even after menopause.
Amy Hendel is a Physician Assistant and Health Coach with over 20 years of experience. Noted author, journalist and lifestyle expert, she brings extensive expertise to her monthly shareposts. Her most recent book, The 4 Habits of Healthy Families is available for purchase online, and you can watch her in action on her shows Food Rescue and What’s for Lunch?_ Sign up for her daily health tweets or catch her daily news report at_ www.healthgal.com.