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How to Understand Your Body During Menopause

Women looking confused about the changes happening to their bodies

Menopause is a natural stage of a woman’s life, but from weight gain to hot flashes, it’s not always an easy adjustment. Gretchen Hong, ANP-BC, UnityPoint Health, explains menopause weight gain, why the weight might seem to sit around your belly and offers advice on how to get back to feeling like yourself.

What is Perimenopause and Menopause?

  • Perimenopause. This is the traditional time between a woman’s normal menstrual pattern and menopause. Most women will start having hot flashes, night sweats, mood swings and will go months without periods.
  • Menopause. The natural stage in a women’s life officially begins when she hasn’t had a period for a full year. Worldwide, most women enter menopause between the ages of 49 and 52.
  • Early onset menopause. Early onset menopause occurs before the age of 40 and is caused by ovaries that are not functioning normally. Sometimes, it is caused by radiation or chemotherapy.

What Causes Menopause Weight Gain?

“The same factors that cause weight gain before menopause are also present after menopause,” Hong says. “Without proper nutrition and exercise, women will gain weight steadily after their third decade of life and continue this steady gain through menopause.”

  • Gradual loss of muscle mass. Part of the steady weight gain is likely due to gradual loss of muscle that happens steadily as women age. Muscle burns more calories. Strength training with weights will increase muscle mass and also help improve bone strength. Aim for 30-60 minutes of cardiovascular and weight-resistance training most days of the week.
  • Eating too many calories. If you eat more calories than your body burns with activity, weight gain usually happens.
  • Medical conditions and medication. Some medical conditions or medications you take may contribute to weight gain, like those for thyroid disorder or diabetes.
  • Lack of sleep. Inadequate sleep is linked to weight gain because it throws off specific hormones that control appetite. If you don’t get enough sleep, you will feel hungry and eat more than your body needs.  We should try to get 6-8 hours of rest each night.
  • Hormonal shifts. Menstrual cycles are regulated by several hormones. When you enter perimenopause, the ovaries do not respond as well to the hormones that encourage ovulation. After menopause, the ovaries are no longer producing estrogen, so there is a shift in hormones in that way. The shift alone doesn’t cause weight gain but is a part of the equation.

Menopause and Weight Gain in the Stomach

If you feel like you’re gaining weight around your midsection, you’re not alone. However, Hong says you probably should not blame menopause alone for this struggle.

“Women tend to gain weight around the belly as they age. Genetics may also play a role in where women carry most of their weight. Hormones are also part of the story, as lower levels of estrogen influence where fat is deposited in the body.”

Diet for Menopausal Weight Gain

Unfortunately, there’s no magic bullet to keep you from gaining weight during menopause. Hong says the best thing you can do is make healthy food choices and get regular exercise. Think about things like cutting out sugary beverages, eating more fruits and vegetables and aiming for 30 minutes of exercise most days of the week.

“Women looking to make a change to their diet or lifestyle should have a conversation with a health care provider. Many women are trying to cut calories or exercise but not seeing results. A health care provider will ask about your exercise routine, learn about your eating habits and look for other causes of weight gain, like medication or medical conditions, that may be hampering your efforts,” Hong says.

Managing Hot Flashes

Perimenopause and menopause usually come with hot flashes. Take comfort in the fact that these changes happen to all women, and you’re not going through it alone. Hong suggests reaching out to other women you know for support. Hong says don’t forget to tap in to your provider’s knowledge. He/she can review your unique history and help you transition into this new phase of your life.

“I suggest dressing in layers and wearing cotton fabrics. Also, try using a fan or drinking cold beverages to keep your core temperature cool. It’s also best to avoid spicy and hot foods or beverages, which may trigger a hot flash. Also, set your thermostat to lower temperatures,” Hong says.


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