Menopausal Weight Gain
A normal transitional phase, or a deficiency disease state?
Well this is debatable amongst experts & health professionals alike, and regardless of your viewpoint, it most definitely is a process of obvious deficiency as ovarian function reduces and as a result oestrodiol (the most potent oestrogen) declines rapidly. But hang on, maybe this could be ‘normal’. Let’s face it, it’s been happening for thousands of years!
Menopause literally means to cease menstruation. The word is made up of the Greek words, meno (monthly) and pausis (to stop), and ordinarily occurs between the ages of 48 & 53 (1).
Certainly from a man’s perspective the process of ceasing menstruation sounds like a marvelous idea, but menopause will either be an easy journey for a woman, or one full of distractions as one’s quality of life becomes affected by an array of unwanted symptoms: Hot flushes, night sweats & subsequent insomnia, vaginal dryness, poor bone density, mood changes, fatigue and weight gain. HMMM… did you say weight gain???
The words no-one wants to mutter. Yes, it is common for women to experience annoying increases in body fat, particularly viscerally (stomach & love handles) where they perhaps have never stored weight before.
So why is this & what can be done about it??
There are various factors that influence a rise in body fat for women of this age.
There are the obvious culprits like inactivity often combined with a desire for travel and the compulsory ‘happy hour’ afternoon drinks as the BBQ cooks. But this is a small percentage of women. The major reason is this…
As ovarian oestrodiol (E2) production reduces, the body rushes to action to normalise the hormonal shift. While the ovaries are functioning to produce small amounts of androgens (male sex hormones), the adrenal glands largely take the role of producing a hormonal precursor called Androstenedione which is converted to oestrone in peripheral tissues such as the liver, kidneys & fat tissue.
As the struggle for hormonal stabilisation continues, the body is well aware that more fat = more oestrone production, and so it works hard to produce extra fat for this reason.
Typically, women with very low body fat go through menopause earlier, and suffer greater climacteric symptoms due to the low hormonal production. Overweight women on the other hand typically go through menopause later (due to the higher oestrogen conversion) & suffer fewer symptoms as the body makes up for declining ovarian function with peripheral conversion of hormones in the extra fat tissue.
The greatest problem I find clinically, is that the surge in body fat is ordinarily secondary to age related muscle loss, or sarcopenia. As we age, muscle loss is normal and expected to a certain degree. In saying this it isn’t optimal, and the declining muscle = more fat gain due to the high calorific requirement of skeletal muscle. By this I mean the more muscle you have the higher your rate of thermogenesis (heat released by cells) and therefore the more calories you burn at rest. As our skeletal muscle quantity falls we basically become very ineffective machines, and our metabolism slows. The problem is, the average woman continues to consume calories at the same daily rate, leading the body no choice but to store the surplus unused calories predominantly as fat.
Sarcopenia before the age of 52 normally occurs at a rate of 0.8% per year assuming inactivity & low dietary protein intake. After 52, this rate increases to 1.2% where it will remain until death. To calculate your risk, simply multiply your current weight by the sarcopenic percentage specific to your age and this will give you the amount of skeletal muscle (in grams minus the decimal point) you have the capacity to lose that year with inactivity & poor dietary habits.
So menopause aside, low muscle = poor calorie burning and as a result a slow but consistent rise in body fat.
What do I do you ask?
So here is the answer…..
1) Make weighted exercise a predominant part of your exercise routine. Consistently challenge yourself by increasing the weight you lift as your strength increases. It’s OK for lifting weights to be hard!This is also the best way to increase your bone density rates. ALL women should be lifting weights before & after menopause.
2) Consume a minimum of 1.2g of protein per kilo of body weight. More isn’t necessarily better, but personally I would work up to 1.5g per kilo of body weight. Most women will find they are consuming far less protein than this.
3) Minimise ‘dead’ calories. These include added sugars, fruit juice, jams, alcohol, powdered cafe drinks, margarine, carbonated drinks, excessive caffeine and excessive starches like breads and other grains. The amount of ‘sugars’ we require for life is far less than we naturally ingest. If you’re not happy with your current progression, continue to reduce your ingestion of carbohydrates until a reduction in weight is noted.
4) Consume small but regular meals. Nothing reduces your metabolic rate more than NOT EATING. To lose weight you must eat smaller meals every 2.5-3 hours. Make sure you only ever eat until satisfied and not full. This will make eating in 3 hours achievable.
5) Allow only ONE day per week to blow-out on non-essentials. This means all sugars, alcohol and other treats become a weekend ‘special treat’. It is not OK to drink wine every night & have a Tam Tam every afternoon with a coffee because it’s “what i’ve always done”. Your body is different now, and so what worked for you prior may not be the case anymore.
You ladies are my passion & the people I love working with the most. If you have further queries please comment in the section below or contact me on facebook.
1) Trickey, Ruth. Women, Hormones & The Menstrual Cycle. 1998. Allen & Unwin