Menopause Related Weight Gain

Ask the Expert

Q:

Since I've gone through menopause, I've gained a lot of weight and can't seem to lose it, no matter how healthy I eat or how much I exercise. Is this normal? Are there things I can do or foods I can eat to help initiate weight loss?


A:

You are not alone. Many women put on weight during the years leading up to and during menopause. At the rate of a pound per year, women can add anywhere from six to 12 additional pounds during this time. And, as you may have noticed, the additional pounds tend not to be spread evenly over the body. Before menopause, women tend to add weight in a pear distribution on the hips and thighs. During menopause this changes to more of an apple distribution around the midsection.

The causes for the weight gain are not completely understood. Hormone changes seem to play a role. During menopause the ovaries stop producing estrogen. The body seeks to maintain estrogen levels by looking for additional sources. One source is fat cells. Although not proven, declining estrogen levels may predispose the body to convert calories into fat cells. In addition, testosterone levels decline during menopause. Testosterone helps create muscle. If you do not exercise to maintain muscle mass, the reduced testosterone levels can lead to increased fat cell mass and reduced muscle mass. Since muscle burns more calories than fat, weight gain often results.

Unfortunately, there are no magic foods or nutrients that can turn the tide on weight gain. As we get older we tend to eat more and move less. Together, these two behaviors lead to weight gain. Often without realizing it, we gain a pound or so each year. It is important to follow a low-fat diet containing fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean sources of protein; reduce excess calories from extras; and practice both aerobic exercise and strength training. This can help stop weight gain and loss of muscle mass.

You may find that you hit a plateau with your diet and exercise program. If so, make an appointment with a dietitian or exercise physiologist who can review what you are doing and make suggestions to get you back on track.

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