Updated: Nov 27, 2021
Why Do Women Gain Weight During The Peri and Post-Menopause Years?
When I was younger, I used to look at older women and think to myself, I am never going to let myself gain weight like that when I am older. I know this may sound harsh, but I am sure many of you thought the very same thing and then you hit perimenopause and suddenly you feel like you have no control of your waistline anymore and you have no idea what is going on. If you can relate, keep on reading.
Perimenopause & Menopause
Just incase you don’t already know, perimenopause is the transition to menopause and can start as early as 35 but is generally more noticeable in your mid 40s. Night sweat, gains in belly fat and loss of muscle mass are common signs of hormonal change. Menopause is the day in time when you’ve no longer had a period for 12 months. After this point, you are considered post-menopause.
What Has Happened To My Waistline?
I want to keep this explanation as simple as possible, so some of the facts are a very short version of a more complicated physiological process for the sake of simplicity.
"One thing to know about muscle other than the fact that it keeps us strong, is the fact that it is highly metabolically active tissue that requires a lot of calories to maintain its existence".
Estrogen (Estradiol E2) is in part, responsible for driving the growth of muscle tissue in women. As women transition to menopause, they begin to lose E2 and as such lose a big driver for muscle growth. One thing to know about muscle other than the fact that it keeps us strong, is the fact that it is highly metabolically active tissue that requires a lot of calories to maintain its existence. As we lose muscle mass, we also lose the metabolic effect of muscle mass, so we use less calories at rest, making it easier to gain weight.
A decrease in muscle mass and decreases in E2 pushes women towards being more prone to insulin resistance. This means that circulating glucose from the food you eat finds it harder to enter your cells. Because high blood glucose levels are damaging to blood vessels, this excess glucose is quickly stored away as body fat within the muscles, fat cells and around your vital organs. What this can lead to, is an increasing waistline and fat that is harder to shift than ever before.
The Right Type Of Exercise Is Your Best Defence
Exercise that builds muscle mass is one of your best defences against weight gain. It is important to note that during a bout of exercise we benefit from the glucose transporter protein GLUT-4. GLUT-4 is able to deliver glucose into muscle cells without the aid of insulin during exercise. High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) and weight training are two forms of exercise that absolutely need to be incorporated into the workout routines of midlife women. This type of training builds muscle mass and provides the metabolic stimulus that we lose as a result of losing E2. This is why we MUST work WITH our body now more than ever and choose the right type of training and the right dose. The right amount of exercise creates positive stress, too much exercise contributes to negative stress which I will cover below.
"Make sure you are eating sufficient protein at every meal to assist with the process of building more muscle mass".
While I am here I would also like to mention that women generally are more efficient at using free fatty acids for fuel than they are carbohydrates. This becomes even more the case during menopause, so careful consideration of the type and timing of carbohydrates becomes even more important. Fill your plate with colourful vegetables and whole food sources of carbohydrates such as chickpeas, whole grain rice and quinoa. Make sure you are eating sufficient protein at every meal to assist with the process of building more muscle mass. I will cover this in more detail in another post.
Stress And You Waistline
Stress, a topic that you will hear me talk about a lot. We need stress, this is what builds muscle mass via exercise stress, but too much stress has the opposite effect, elevating cortisol levels (stress hormone), increasing muscle breakdown and encouraging weight gain around our internal organs (visceral fat). Visceral fat is more difficult to shift because this is a form of survival’ fat, that our body thinks it needs to save us from death and destruction. When we are under high stress, cortisol assists glucose to be released from the liver so that we have the energy needed to respond to the perceived stress. The thing is, in the modern day, stress can be endless, giving us little time to no time to recover. All the released glucose must go somewhere and it gets stored as even more visceral fat. Midlife and hormonal changes make this scenario even more common for women. Stress management needs to be an integral component of your weight management strategy.
"Saying ‘no’ more often especially when it drains our energy resources".
Stress management is different for everyone but can include:
Getting sufficient exercise but not over exercising.
Getting sufficient deep sleep.
Making time for ourselves to relax and recover.
Giving ourselves time with friends and family to fill up your cup.
Saying ‘no’ more often especially when it drains your energy resources.
Eating high quality nourishing foods that support your health and wellness goals.
Asking for help when you need it.
Midlife is not what we have been lead to believe. This is a time in a woman’s life where she gets to choose herself for maybe the very first time. Our body is asking to be nurtured and supported, held and loved. This is a powerful time of change for the better. Finding the ‘real you’ in amongst the noise of life. Empower yourself with knowledge, bring other women close to you and share this wisdom. Together we are stronger and our power is here now!