Menopausal weight gain is common and is caused, in part, by two major hormonal changes:
- Declining estrogen levels due to menopause
- Declining testosterone levels due to aging
Together, these hormonal shifts contribute to a loss of muscle mass, which in turn leads to fewer calories being burned whether you’re at rest or active. They also have an impact on where fat is stored, leading to a tendency to gain weight around the midsection versus the hips or thighs.
Beyond hormonal changes, lifestyle and genetic factors can play a role. Not getting enough sleep, for example, can get in the way of feeling your best. Having parents or relatives who carry weight around their abdomens can increase your chances of doing so as well.
The good news
Menopausal weight gain, while completely normal, is not inevitable. Nor is it irreversible. It begins with understanding that as your hormones shift, the way you look and feel may shift as well. Something that does not change, however, is the positive impact of health promoting behaviors. Health promoting behaviors can look like:
- Managing your stress
- Getting adequate sleep
- Engaging in physical activity
- Nourishing your body with food and water
As your body goes through menopause, and your metabolism slows, it might be helpful to know about some health conditions that are strongly associated with living in a bigger body, including type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and cardiovascular disease.
This is not a cause and effect relationship, but a correlative one. Nonetheless, knowing about challenges you might face can help you identify specific symptoms to bring up to your provider so you can work together to optimize your long term health.
Here are a few tips:
- Cutting out entire food groups or significantly limiting your calorie intake can lead to nutrient deficiencies, binge eating, and fear or obsessive thinking around food. Plus, these strategies are rarely effective in the long term. Instead, focus on having nutrient rich meals that leave you feeling satisfied, like whole grains, vegetables, and other fiber-rich foods.
- Strength training with weights helps you build muscle and boost your metabolism, starting with trying this twice a week is a great place to start.
- Try to limit the “empty calories” that come from alcohol as well as sugary beverages like juices, sodas, energy drinks, and sweetened coffees or teas.
- Experts recommend moderate aerobic activity for at least 150 minutes a week — or vigorous aerobic activity for at least 75 minutes a week, but the right amount may be different for you.
- Team up with others who are also focused on feeling their best. Exchange support or use the “buddy system” to meet up for activities, such as a walk, jog, or hike.
- Remember that the number on the scale does not determine your value. Focus on feeling healthy and making sustainable lifestyle choices over the long haul.
Reviewed by the Ovia Health Clinical Team