As women hit middle age, they suddenly come face to face with the difficult condition called menopause. There is no end to reasons that can be attributed to it – and these reasons make menopause a very difficult time to deal with. With menopause, there is complete upheaval of the reproductive hormones in the female human body. And considering these are the same hormones that have regulated not just your reproductive system, but also your general health and even your moods for the last 35-40 years or even more – the sudden fluctuations in these hormones wreak absolute havoc.
Yet, even as women have to deal with widespread depression, mood swings, hot flashes, vaginal discomfort and many other problems, the one that possibly affects middle aged women’s confidence the most is the change in body image. A majority of women hitting menopause will experience weight gain – current estimates stand at around 90%! Even those women, who have remained fairly active throughout their lives and have managed to keep the extra pounds off pretty effortlessly so far, will suddenly see the dynamics change. And as you pile on the pounds – in spite of trying everything to prevent it – the weight starts to become noticeable. And this affects many women’s self image.
So, this brings us to a major question…
What causes weight gain during menopause?
You may be asking – why is the cause important? Well, this is because preventing weight loss during menopause using the usual weight loss methods (chiefly working out, dieting, etc.) doesn’t usually yield very successful results. In fact, while these are important, the key to maintaining a healthy weight during this difficult time actually depends on a few other factors. And to understand those, it is necessary to first analyze the mechanics behind the weight gain.
Weight gain can be caused by the addition to muscles, or fat cells or even water retention. And it is when the weight gain is being caused by fat tissues that your boy is at real risk. In the case of menopausal weight gain, there are two major reasons – fat tissues as well as water retention and bloating.
Now we will take a look at all the reasons individually that contribute somewhat equally to the extra weight:
- Firstly, the lowering of estrogen levels in the body is to blame. Your body is ‘addicted’ to the estrogen – without any negative connotations. As the estrogen levels drop, the body is seen to struggle to make up for it. Now, some studies show that excess fat tissues, particularly visceral and abdominal fat cells, actually store and secrete small amounts of estrogen into the blood stream. And in a bid to increase the amount of estrogen, increases fat buildup.
- On the other hand, the first hormone to drop during menopause is progesterone. This one actually balances out the estrogen. But in its absence, the existing estrogen has free reign. And the bad news is that estrogen actually increases the build up of fat tissues in the body – which in turn release more estrogen into the blood. This is actually a cycle of weight gain that doesn’t have a natural end!
- Besides the hormonal causes, there are others. The first one being age related degeneration of muscles. As muscles degenerate, your body uses less of the calories you take in. And more of them are stored as fat.
- Secondly, as you age, and as you hit menopause, your metabolism also starts to slow down gradually. And it is common knowledge that the slower the metabolism, the more fat is accumulated in the body.
- With menopause comes depression and mood swings – which can all lead to binge eating. Along with the other factors, the binging will only worsen the situation.
- Also as women age, they tend to become less conscious of their body image. This is actually in direct opposition to the fact that as they age, any slight change in their body image will actually lead to greater depression. However, the reduced concern means that as women age, you may start to relax with your physical workouts and diet. Both these factor only increase weight gain.
The result of all these is a complex web of causes that all work in tandem to increase the weight you start to put on and carry around. Also, unlike during in women of child bearing years who carry most of the weight around the hips, in menopause, the major weight is put on around the abdomen.
Now you know the major contributing factors that are causing the weight gain. But only that isn’t enough… You also need to know…
What to do about the weight?
Well, since the weight gain in this case isn’t only due to your lifestyle, only taking the diet and workout approach isn’t enough. However, what you must note here is that proper diets and exercise are very essential for menopausal women – for various reasons.
But in the case of weight management, you need to take a 4 pronged approach that work together:
1. Hormonal support or treatment
Since the hormones are the most important contributing factor, their replacement, preferably in natural ways, can actually help you to control the weight issues. These treatments usually involve taking natural supplements that help your body to balance out the hormonal imbalances naturally – so that you are left feeling better – and the weight gain is also tackled inside out.
Exercise is still very important. While this alone will not help anymore – as we have already discussed, stopping it altogether will actually increase the amount of weight you put on. Ideally you should work with a trainer so as to develop a regimen that allows for low impact but effective exercises. You should mainly look at interval training – that gives your metabolism a boost. Another thing to incorporate is weight training to help build up those failing muscles. About 30 minutes in a day is fine.
3. A proper diet
We cannot stress this enough. Crash diets aren’t good for anybody. But a younger body can still deal with the ‘shock’ of one – but once you are at the door of menopause, this can actually prove to be exponentially more harmful than helpful. In the absence of essential energy (which is what crash diets do by butting out carbs), they encourage your body to eventually start losing out on muscles that die off due to energy starvation! This reaction also increases the amount of the hormone leptin in your body. Leptin will increase your appetite unnecessarily, and decrease your metabolic rate further.
Instead, always aim to have a well balanced diet consisting of the right amounts of all the food groups. And keep in mind that decreasing fats and increasing fibers is a good step to take.
4. Regular consultation with a doctor
This is imperative – your doctor is the best person for advice on what’s happening and why in your body. They are also the best people to guide you on what you should be doing and what you shouldn’t. Also, keep in mind that any preexisting conditions you may have, can and will interfere with your weight loss strategy. And your doctor is the best person to help you to adapt accordingly.
The risks of menopausal weight gain are considerable. In the long run, this extra weight can contribute towards cardiovascular diseases, osteoarthritis, sleep disturbance, diabetes, kidney problems, breast cancer and also high cholesterol. In case you have any of these conditions preexisting – then the warning bells should be going off now! The best course of action is to understand that the mechanism of menopausal weight gain differs considerably from that of regular obesity – and tackle it accordingly. Remember, the fight against weight isn’t an easy one – but it isn’t also an unwinnable one. All you need is to genuinely understand the risks and then practice determination – and you’ll be able to do it!