By Rachel Lankester, Mutton Club editor
This article is adapted from Rachel’s book – Magnificent Midlife: Transform Your Middle Years, Menopause and Beyond.
We often assume menopause weight gain is inevitable. Those pesky fluctuating hormones don’t help, but it’s also age and decreasing muscle at fault. But we can do a lot about it and here are 6 natural remedies to help you beat menopause weight gain. Start by not assuming weight gain is inevitable and be wary of fat around the middle.
A few extra pounds may not really matter, but there are two things to consider here. First, are you comfortable carrying those extra pounds? If you are, that’s probably fine. But if they’re accumulating around your middle, which is where they do for most of us, it’s not good for your health. So we’re focusing on health rather than looks here. That’s an important point consider when it comes to menopause weight gain.
1.Reduce your stress.
During and after menopause, we tend to store our fat around the middle more. Stress increases this tendency for menopause weight gain. We can store more fat around our middle for years without actually realizing it or dealing with our stress.
We know that menopause issues can be exacerbated by stress. Estrogen is also found in our adipose (fat) tissue, so the menopausal body may be reluctant to let go of fat stores. Midlife, menopause, and the stress that goes alongside them can create the perfect storm in which it becomes harder to maintain a healthy weight. But it’s not impossible! See here for tips on reducing stress in midlife.
2.Be willing to change your lifestyle especially if carrying extra weight around your middle.
If you are carrying significant weight and it’s around your middle then you’re best advised to instigate a long-term weight maintenance plan (otherwise known as a change in lifestyle) so weight gain doesn’t become a pattern. In her book Fat Around the Middle, Dr. Marilyn Glenville writes: “Scientists now know that storing fat in the middle of your body rather than anywhere else has major health implications and studies show that it increases the risk of heart disease, diabetes, stroke, cancer and high blood pressure.”
3.Calculate your healthy weight
For our personal sense of well-being and our long-term health, it pays to maintain a healthy weight. But what is a healthy weight? There are three things to consider. A commonly accepted measure of whether or not you’re overweight is the body mass index (BMI). This is the ratio of your height to your weight. But be aware: there are drawbacks to the BMI, as it cannot allow for variations in fat, bone, organs, or muscle.
Muscle can weigh three times as much as fat, and it’s extremely important to consider where your fat is situated, as we’ve seen. How do you measure your body fat, assuming it’s pretty clear where it is? There are machines available, often in gyms or to buy, that you can use to measure what proportion of your body is made up of fat. These were completely new to me, and I have to confess I’ve never even seen one! But if you fancy actually measuring your fat, using one of these machines will give you a percentage score that will fit in the following categories for women.
Age Healthy percentage
Maybe they think no one will bother with what proportion of their body is fat by age 80? Ageist! The easiest and potentially most important figure to use in determining your future health is a very simple measurement, the difference between your hips and your waist. Dr. Glen- ville says:
“This is the true measure of fat around the middle and the best indicator of whether or not you are going to be vulnerable to all the health risks associated with it. Take a tape mea- sure and compare your waist measurement at the narrowest point with your hip measurement at the widest point, and divide the waist figure by the hip figure to get what is known as your waist to hip ratio. A figure greater than 0.8 means that you are apple shaped and would benefit from getting rid of some of that fat.”
4.Maintain your metabolism
Some of our midlife weight gain is due to not maintaining muscle mass. Muscle burns calories faster than fat, and from the age of around 30, our muscle mass starts to naturally decline. If we’re not doing exercise, particularly weight-bearing exercise, to maintain our muscle mass, we have no way of slowing down its deterioration.
Our metabolism may slow down as the proportion of muscle in our bodies relative to fat declines. I hear women say they don’t understand it when they eat the same as they ate before and do the same amount of exercise, and they still put on weight. It used to be thought that this was because our metabolism naturally slows as we age.
However, recent studies have found that our metabolism doesn’t actually start to decline because of age until we hit 60. But, if we are burning less fat because we have less muscle, we will still put on weight if we consume the same as we did when we had more muscle. If we’re fit, do regular, sufficient (and the right kind of) exercise, and have strong muscle mass, it’s possible we won’t experience weight gain in midlife or later on.
5.Maintain a stable blood sugar level
We tend to store fat when we’re under stress as noted above. One of the easiest ways our body believes we’re under stress is through fluctuating blood sugar levels. Eating small, regular meals and snacks is a better way to go than having long periods when we don’t eat. This approach effectively means eating three not overly substantial meals a day, including some kind of protein and healthy nutritional snacks in between.
There are many sources of protein, both animal and plant based. You can get protein from eggs, fish, meat, dairy food, nuts and seeds, and all forms of soy (including soybeans, tofu, or tempeh). Intermittent fasting may not be an easy way to lose weight during menopause because it will cause fluctuating blood sugar levels which may impact the body’s stress response.
Foods with a high glycemic index, such as refined carbohydrates, cause an immediate and substantial increase in blood sugar, and also a big drop afterward. Better to eat foods that have a low glycemic index, where energy is released slowly over time without causing a spike in blood sugar levels. Eating this way will help with menopausal symptoms in general.
A modern diet high on the glycemic index is another of the many reasons, I believe, why menopause symptoms in the West appear to have gotten worse as time has gone on. Nowadays, we consume far more processed foods and sugar than our ancestors ever did.
Sugar will have the biggest impact on your blood sugar level of any food, and we just don’t need it. If you want to lose weight, cut out sugar as much as possible. When you become aware, it seems sugar is absolutely everywhere. Get into the habit of checking labels if you want to avoid it.
For lots of information on what to eat and when during menopause check out How To Have A Happy Menopause featuring nutritionist and author Jackie Lynch.
6.No starchy carbohydrates after six in the evening
We only really need starchy carbs if we’re doing lots of physical activity. If you eat carbs after six in the evening when you’re likely at your most inactive, these will turn straight into fat. Avoid rice, potatoes, or pasta, even the brown and whole grain varieties, if you can. It may not be an option all the time, such as when you’re eating out, but at least try to follow this rule most of the time.
There’s so much good information out there about how we can maintain a healthy weight or lose excess weight, especially when it comes to diet. There isn’t room in this book to cover it all, and I’m not a nutritionist, but I hope I’ve given you a good place to start. I recommend Dr. Glenville’s book because she focuses on the issues of midlife women. She says we should aim to eat healthfully at least 80% of the time, allowing ourselves 20% off for good behavior.
Rachel Lankester is the founder of Magnificent Midlife, author, host of the Magnificent Midlife Podcast, a midlife mentor and editor of the Mutton Club online magazine. After an initially devastating early menopause at 41, she dedicated herself to helping women vibrantly transition through the sometimes messy middle of life, helping them cope better with menopause and ageing in general, and create magnificent next chapters. She’s been featured in/on BBC Woman’s Hour, The Huffington Post, The Sunday Times, Thrive Global, Authority Magazine, The Age Buster, Woman’s Weekly, Prima Magazine, eShe, Tatler HK and Woman’s Own amongst others. She believes we just get better with age. Get her book Magnificent Midlife: Transform Your Middle Years, Menopause and Beyond.
Last Updated on January 16, 2023 by Editorial Staff