The Menopause Middle: Myth Or Rubbish RealityKeris Marsden •
I was asked a question this week about how to tackle the dreaded “Menopause Middle.”
The term itself is problematic by implying that weight gain is inevitable with the hormone transitions.
Research has shown that planting that seed of belief can have a negative impact on healthy habits. Women who anticipate weight gain are more likely to have a greater calorie intake than those who don’t.
The other concern I have around any information regarding menopause is that the declining hormones get blamed for everything.
Whilst these are powerful chemicals they are NOT the boss, but rather the emails whizzing around your body trying to get stuff done.
Essentially hormones seek a situation of balance for you.
As you age, there are fewer emails flying about which means you have to do your bit to support function within your body. The sooner you start the better because multiple health improvements will be experienced and mitigate what most people blame on ‘aging.’
Menopause and Weight Facts
As a starting point let’s look at the facts around body composition and menopause:
- On average a woman may gain 2-5 pounds (approx. 1-2.2 kgs) during menopause.
- Body fat distribution also shifts towards more abdominal deposition (apple shape as opposed to pear-shaped) at menopause, increasing the risk of chronic, inflammatory conditions.
- Low estrogen causes alterations in metabolic health. As estrogen supports muscle health, pancreatic function, and the body’s response to the hormone insulin, lower levels may predispose a woman to obesity, metabolic syndrome, and type 2 diabetes.
- Low estrogen may contribute to a decline in joint and bone health (estrogen lubricates and regenerates joint tissues and builds bone) making exercise and movement more problematic.
- The decline in estrogen may increase the appetite hormone ghrelin and decrease satiation signals that help you feel full.
That said, it’s not just the menopause
- Weight gain with age is also common from age 30 onwards, averaging 0.6 – 1.7 Ibs (0.3-0.8 kgs) annually.
- Sarcopenia (muscle loss) also increases with age. Muscles are a metabolic must have as they can control blood sugars and lipids independently of insulin.
- Testosterone declines with age in most women, the symptoms of female androgen deficiency include a lack of motivation, energy, and stamina, also depression, and low libido. It may also negatively impacting bone health.
Something else that’s rarely mentioned in menopause yet I observe frequently with clients is the impact of decades of dieting.
- It causes ongoing body image struggles and low self-esteem which impact emotional health and a woman’s relationship with food.
- Diet damage is common in women of every age, however, decades of the process alters mental health, daily habits possibly leads to obsessive-compulsive behaviours and food dependencies that easily negate weight loss efforts and alter metabolic health.
- The Minnesota starvation study identified several behaviours that develop during food deprivation. I see many amongst clients which can make the process of weight loss seem harder including a preoccupation with food (reading menu’s, watching food programs, and licking plates), addiction to chewing gum and hot drinks, altered appetite signaling, and in some cases binge eating patterns or starvation.
And finally, the comfort and cravings factor…
- Some of the menopause symptoms negatively impact quality of life, especially sleep deprivation, chronic pain, and brain fog. This can cause a reliance on comfort eating, alcohol, sugar, and lattes for stamina and an escape, all, of course, can lead to weight gain.
- It makes a difference if you enjoy your job and day-to-day routine.
I’m not sure there’s research on this but I can confidently say that having supportive partners, family, colleagues/bosses and friends makes a huge difference to your body composition. The people in your life hugely influence your need for another double G&T with a side of Percy Pigs. See Motherland (on Netflix or iPlayer) for more insights.
The Good News
Declining hormones don’t determine the outcome, even when it comes to body composition. How do I know?
I had menopausal levels and now I’m on HRT.
My weight and muscle mass are pretty much identical as you can see in these photos taken 12 months apart because I consistently prioritised daily habits that support my metabolic health. I would add it was a little harder minus the hormones in terms of motivation so I employed more accountability.
If you’re struggling with menopause weight gain here are a few suggestions to get you back on track.
Menopause Weight Loss Wins
- Consider revisiting current calorie and macro intake. It may be helpful to track intake for two weeks to see what’s not working and identify where improvements can be made.
- Favour quality, whole foods with any weight loss measures you implement to ensure you have the vitamins and minerals to function and your gut is happy – it influences metabolic health too.
- Identify any low-hanging fruit? Alcohol consumption, cooking oil use, domino foods (don’t buy them), weekend eating habits.
- Find excuses to move more, exercise, and employ accountability (e.g. training partners, group exercise, or personal trainers)
- Prioritise fun and self-care to decrease reliance on food and alcohol to bridge this gap in your life.
- Do enough structured exercise to burn calories, build muscle (think resistance training and HIIT), give you a dose of endorphins BUT don’t derail your appetite, and knacker your joints.
- Consider BIGGER changes, a new job, new friends, or learning a new skill. Menopause really is a chance to pause and reassess your life, your needs, and your happiness.
If you’re looking for more detail you can grab my Menopause Power Pack with calorie signposted recipes, a 28-day meal plan, a guide to supplements and HRT, plus a 28-day strength and HIIT training plan to get you building some serious menopause muscle.
If you have any questions or need any support don’t hesitate to reach out to us.