Have you noticed your jeans fit a little more snuggly? During peri menopause (the phase leading up to menopause) many women begin to notice weight gain and changes to their body, particularly in the abdominal area where fat cells accumulate. 

There are a number of reasons why weight gain occurs as women reach their mid 40s. You may also be surprised that the things you did in your younger years to shed some weight in fact don’t work anymore. It is incredibly frustrating. Let’s explore the reasons for weight gain and strategies to maintain a healthy weight in menopause. 

What are the reasons for weight gain?

As we age our body composition changes. Our metabolism slows down, our hormone levels fluctuate, there’s changes to our lifestyle and stress can hit a peak. All these factors contribute to our body’s change in weight composition.

1. Declining Oestrogen Levels

Declining oestrogen in menopause brings about a shift in the rate that a woman’s body uses energy and this has a knock on effect to her metabolism and changes to body weight distribution as menopause approaches.

2. Stress 

With the decline in oestrogen production from the ovaries, the body likes to keep a small amount of oestrogen ticking over to support the body, so it looks to the adrenal glands to pick up the slack. Our adrenal glands become another source of oestrogen as our ovaries wind down but due to the stressful demands of our modern lives, our adrenal glands will prioritise production of our stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline rather than the production of oestrogen.

3. Physiology 

Our clever bodies realise that the adrenals are not able to keep up with the production of oestrogen, so it encourages the storage of fat cells around the middle. It’s a compensatory mechanism that enables oestrogen to be stored in this area which causes weight gain.

Foods for managing your weight in menopause

A well balanced diet is important in menopause to help maintain good bone, brain, heart, liver and gut health, as well as supporting the management of menopause symptoms like weight gain. Ensure what you put in your mouth serves and supports you, and is what your body needs. 

Foods to avoid

  • Soft drinks, alcohol and caffeine 
  • Highly processed foods
  • Foods high in sugar
  • Highly saturated foods
  • Convenience foods

Foods to include

  • Brightly coloured vegetables such as carrots, sweet potato, beets, cabbage, peppers, tomatoes
  • Green superfoods such as broccoli, kale, bok choy, brussel sprouts and green leafy veggies
  • Fruits such as blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, kiwi, pears
  • High quality protein such as chicken, fish, grass fed beef, eggs
  • Healthy fats such as avocado, nuts, olives, oily fish
  • Whole grains such as barley, quinoa, freekeh, faro
  • Herbs and spices such as ginger, garlic, turmeric, cayenne, rosemary, sage, basil, oregano, cinnamon 
  • Complex carbohydrates such as nuts, seeds, legumes, whole grains

All of these nutritious whole foods support your gut health which has a direct impact on your fat storage hormones. You may also like to read our article, Supporting Your Nutritional Needs in Menopause

Also, go easy on yourself… just remember when weight gain due to hormonal changes happens it can be difficult to shift those extra kilos. It’s not necessarily due to any indulgences. 

Lifestyle factors to avoid weight gain in menopause

Nutrition is one component of managing a healthy weight. In addition to your diet, there are many other factors that will positively impact your whole health and wellbeing. From personal experience we advocate a holistic approach to whole health and thriving through this life phase. 

1. Move your body

Moving your body and exercising helps with more than just your physical health and maintaining a healthy weight. It assists you mentally and emotionally as you deal with other symptoms and changes associated with menopause.

Make exercising a regular part of your day or week so that it becomes a habit. Aim for 30 minutes of moderate exercise that elevates your heart rate. Do something you enjoy and find a buddy that will help keep you accountable and motivated. 

2. Minimise stress levels

High levels of stress hormones encourage your body to break down muscle instead of fat when exercising. This can explain why some women don’t see a change in their weight or muscle tone as a result of regular workouts or gym visits. 

We’ve also covered off how our adrenal glands produce excess cortisol and adrenaline to support our response to stress which will have a negative impact on your weight. It will also have a flow on negative impact to other areas of your life.

Aim to minimise stress and its impact on your mind and soul. Find some strategies that work for you such as meditation, yoga, journaling, walking in nature, etc. Also aim to simplify your day… do what you need to do and don’t put pressure on yourself to do things that can wait.

3. Sleep well

Menopause can cause havoc with your sleep patterns. Lack of quality sleep can make you feel irritable, anxious, forgetful and increase the incidence of hot flushes and night sweats

Aim to get a good night’s sleep with a restful routine before bedtime. You can try to: 

  • Maintain a regular schedule for going to bed and waking up each day.
  • Avoid any stimulants such as sugar, caffeine and alcohol before bed
  • Relax your mind and body with a warm bath, reading or meditation
  • Avoid bright lights and loud sounds such as tv’s, computers and phones

4. Stay hydrated

You may not realise how important it is to maintain hydration for a well-functioning mind and body. Being even slightly dehydrated can have a big impact on your health. 

Simply having a couple of extra glasses of water each day can help in many ways:

  • Improves brain performance including memory and concentration
  • Aids digestion by minimising gas, bloating and heartburn 
  • Helps to detoxify and eliminate waste from your body
  • Increases energy levels by maintaining flow of oxygen through your body
  • Maintain healthy weight by maintaining metabolism levels and feelings of fullness between meals

To maintain hydration drink lots of water, herbal teas and broths, especially in winter when you need that added immune boost.

More on Menopause

There’s no denying it, all women will experience peri menopause and menopause. It’s a life phase that we can either positively or negatively look upon. The more you know about it and understand your body, the better equipped you will be to positively navigate this time in your life. It’s likely you will thrive and come out the other side of it empowered and renewed.

We are here to help. We support women with education, coaching, menopause programs, nutritional support, yoga and meditation practices.

Peri Power Podcast: Join us for our weekly podcasts where we will bring you learning, strategies, stories and new research for how you can tap into your power during Peri Menopause and beyond. Click here to listen.

Menopause Health Coaching: We take a holistic approach to your menopause health. We will explore what you are experiencing and guide you through our 5 pillar framework to thriving health, focussing specifically on your physical, mental, emotional and spiritual self, and what you need. Click here to book an initial session. 

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