Menopause Mondays: Fight Menopausal Weight Gain

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It’s springtime! Are you still waiting for that winter weight to melt? For many of us, winter means seeing a shifting scale.

Most people gain about one pound over the winter months, according to research published in the New England Journal of Medicine. And while one pound seems relatively harmless, that extra poundage is the result of both fat gain and muscle loss, which can put your waistline—and your health—at risk. Gaining as little as 4.4 pounds after age 50 could increase your risk of breast cancer by 30 percent, according to Mayo Clinic.

Regardless of what number you see on the scale, women’s weight through menopause and perimenopause is largely determined by five factors: hormones, diet, exercise, stress, and genetics. Though we may not be able to control all of these factors on our own, a healthy weight is certainly within reach and should be an achievable goal.

Here are my five steps to help you shed those extra menopausal pounds:

1. Don’t let your hormones get the best of you. Research shows that estrogen receptors located in the hypothalamus of the brain control food intake, energy expenditure, and body fat distribution. When estrogen levels in the brain dip during menopause, this control panel increases hunger, slows metabolism, and encourages fat gain around the waist. Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) could potentially be improved upon to keep the brain’s estrogen receptors from promoting hunger, a sluggish metabolism, and a growing waistline during menopause. Currently, HRT may prevent abdominal fat gain, according to research from Gunma University School of Medicine in Japan.

2. Quit dieting. Deprivation diets cause weight gain, not loss. Since they don’t provide your body the energy (aka calories) it needs, they can cause your body to slow its metabolism to conserve resources, according to Mayo Clinic. On the flip side, in one study of 465 overweight and obese postmenopausal women by the University of Pittsburgh, women who simply ate more fruits and vegetables while reducing their consumption of desserts, meat, and cheese not only dropped pounds, but maintained that weight loss for four years. If you are looking for an actual program to help you eat healthier, Weight Watchers is frequently recommended by physicians and recently topped US and World News Report’s “Best Diets” list for weight loss. My husband and I tried it with great success! At first I was reticent, as I would rather have a Pap smear than have to add up points. But if you use the Weight Watchers app, all the adding is done for you. No math needed! WW taught us a new way of eating that was size shrinking and life changing!

3. Exercise. Physical activity not only wards off weight gain, but keeps the body young. Exercising during and after menopause can help maintain the muscle and bone mass that we tend to lose rapidly after menopause, according to the American Council on Exercise. If you’re unsure of where to start, try taking a walk! While all exercise raises your fitness and feel-good endorphin levels, breaking a sweat outside has been shown to increase energy and positive thinking while slashing tension, anger, and depression even better than indoor exercising, according to a review published in the Environmental Science and Technology. Wearing a pedometer—though it may seem geeky—could give you serious incentive to move more. So clip one on and start counting!

4. Slash stress. It’s hard to relax, especially when you’re going through the trials of menopause, but it’s important for your mind and body to decompress. Stress not only tends to add weight around your belly but can also boost your appetite, creating a vicious cycle. High stress is a predictor of weight gain and can break your will to stick with a diet, according to research from King’s College London. Here’s my prescription: Find some form of exercise that makes you smile. Grab your lover or friend and take a walk, ride your bike or go to the gym. Take the time to read a book, watch a favorite TV show or simply enjoy your family and friends. Whatever helps you decompress.

5. Control your genes. No, not the “skinny jeans” you bought last September and can no longer squeeze your bod into, but your actual genetics. They play a huge role in weight at any age. If your female relatives developed curves in their later years, you probably will too—unless you do something about it! Yes, you can change your genes. Walking briskly for an hour a day can cut the genetic influence toward obesity in half, according to a study from the Department of Nutrition at Harvard School of Public Health. However, a sedentary lifestyle (aka watching TV for four hours a day) increases the influence of your genes on weight gain by 50 percent, according to the study.

 

Suffering in silence is OUT! Reaching out is IN!   Remember: It’s totally normal to suddenly find that you are a member of the sisterhood of the shrinking pants, especially if you’re going through perimenopause and menopause. But it’s never too late to start living a healthier life. Your brain and body will thank you and so will those clothes collecting dust in your closet. Take the first step! Go ahead—you can do it!

 

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After struggling with her own severe menopause symptoms and doing years of research, Ellen resolved to share what she learned from experts and her own trial and error. Her goal was to replace the confusion, embarrassment, and symptoms millions of women go through–before, during, and after menopause–with the medically sound solutions she discovered. Her passion to become a “sister” and confidant to all women fueled Ellen’s first book, Shmirshky: the pursuit of hormone happiness. As a result of the overwhelming response from her burgeoning audiences and followers’ requests for empowering information they could trust, Ellen’s weekly blog, Menopause MondaysTM, was born.

21 Comments

  1. SHELLEY R ZUREK

    March 18, 2013 at 4:51 pm

    No physical activity is my problem. But I have taken up Yoga twice a week and may up it to 3! YEAH!

    • Ellen Dolgen

      March 18, 2013 at 8:05 pm

      Yay Shelley! Yoga relieves stress, which is a factor in weight gain. What kind of yoga are you doing? Now that spring is approaching, consider taking walks outside on your non-yoga days. The two practices complement each other.

  2. Helene Cohen Bludman

    March 18, 2013 at 5:30 pm

    Excellent advice. I also do not get in the physical activity I need, and I know I should do something about that.

    • Ellen Dolgen

      March 18, 2013 at 8:04 pm

      Hi Helene – Thank you for reading the article and I hope you take the advice to heart and get moving. I know how hard you and all of us work so it’s important for that “me” time and get your exercise. If you need help getting started, yoga is a great workout and you can control how hard you push yourself. I also like to recommend swimming or water aerobics and biking.

  3. Cathy

    March 18, 2013 at 7:06 pm

    Thanks for the reminder. The pounds crept up little by little. I dread going back to WW after being on it so many times. But I need to do something. I hate hiding behind capris and mumu’s on the beach and elsewhere ovet the summer b/c I hate my legs, belly, arms, etc! I love your reminder. Very timely.

    • Ellen Dolgen

      March 18, 2013 at 8:09 pm

      Hi Cathy-Thank you for reading the article and sharing your feelings on a personal level. I love Weight Watchers for it engraved a new way for me and my husband to live our lives so even off the program we still follow the main principles. HATE is a strong word. LOVE yourself and your body and appreciate everything you have. Once you accept what god gave you, the confidence will come, you’ll feel better and hit the gym harder. Hugs, Ellen

  4. Laurie A

    March 18, 2013 at 9:27 pm

    Awesome read – had a chuckle at first though reading the average weight gain is 1 pound! I certainly must gain for others in the past winters :P Not this winter though, decreased stress, increased activity and voile – the magic formula for me :)

  5. Jennifer

    March 18, 2013 at 10:38 pm

    I’ve found that exercise is most important. When I exercise regularly I keep the weight off. When I stop, even if I eat the same amount, I gain weight.

    • Ellen Dolgen

      March 19, 2013 at 4:59 pm

      Hi Jennifer, Thanks for stopping by and commenting! You’re not burning the calories that you were when exercising thus gaining weight. An expression among athletes who retire from the sport is “backing away from the table.” When athletes retire they have to change their diets dramatically and fast to compensate for cutting back on the exercise. When you can’t exercise you have to cut back on the calories too. Ying and yang. Hugs, Ellen

  6. Bonnie

    March 18, 2013 at 10:39 pm

    Ellen, I love your information! It always make me feel like I’m not alone! thank you

    • Ellen Dolgen

      March 19, 2013 at 5:00 pm

      THANK YOU BONNIE! YOU ARE DEFINITELY A PART OF THE CLUB! xo

  7. carol (middle-aged-diva)

    March 19, 2013 at 3:22 am

    I am definitely relating. Thanks for the encouragement to not let this get the best of us.

    • Ellen Dolgen

      March 19, 2013 at 5:01 pm

      Thank you Carol. Your comments and support encourage me each day to continue to help women understand their bodies and make positive changes.

  8. Janie Emaus

    March 20, 2013 at 5:04 am

    I try to walk at least every other day and go to the gym for arm and weight exercises.

    • Ellen Dolgen

      March 20, 2013 at 4:48 pm

      Janie- That is why you look fabulous and are so sharp! Thank you for commenting and motivating more of us to follow your lead!

  9. Michelle

    August 6, 2013 at 3:11 am

    Why am I thin everywhere but my belly. Perimenopause?

    • Ellen Dolgen

      March 19, 2014 at 5:09 pm

      This is so common for menopausal women….that muffin top!!! Search weight gain on my website and check out some of the latest info! Good Luck!

  10. Liz C.

    January 22, 2014 at 3:09 am

    I am always confused on exactly how many calories to have to balance with the daily exercise. I walk 2.2 miles faithfully on my office lunch hour, this includes summer and winter! I am trying to keep my caloric intake at 1200-1400 per day and find myself still gaining weekly. Needless to say I becoming quite frustrated and defeated. I grew up with the mind set that less is better and of course when I was younger could lose more with less and don’t always trust “eating more to lose”. Could you help me with this? Thanks, Liz

  11. Lucy

    October 28, 2014 at 4:10 pm

    I am Hispanic and have always have had curves…generics…. but I was aware of it and watched what I ate and kept myself active but this year I have turned 50 and I am in menopause and it has hit me so much I have researched and fought it for the first 6 month but losing my job and having to relocate has hit me hard. I have gained 25 pounds. Depression and anxiety has also joined my life. Reading your blog today has helped and I have just joined WW for the first time in my life. It feels great!!! I am looking forward to get the help and getting out of the house. Thanks you for sharing and any advise is greatly appreciated.

    Lucy

    • Ellen Dolgen

      October 29, 2014 at 7:40 am

      Lucy, my husband and I have had GREAT success with it. WW taught us how to eat properly. WW is not a diet that you go on and off. We are still eating WW style today! We have both kept off our weight…this way of eating is easy and fits into real life! Keep me posted on you!!! As for your depression and anxiety…this can be due to hormonal imbalance. I would defintiely get checked out by a menopause specialist. You might find this blog helpful. http://ellendolgen.com/menopause-blog/2014/04/07/how-to-get-a-grip-on-menopausal-depression/ If you want to chat further, feel free to email me at ellendolgen@ellendolgen.com anytime. Good Luck and keep me posted!

  12. Ellen Dolgen

    March 19, 2013 at 5:38 pm

    Thank you Susan. Have you filled out my menopausal symptoms chart? It’s useful when documenting and communicating symptoms to your doctors so they can create a specific treatment plan for you.

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