Weight gain at menopause is inevitable for most, but the health benefits may astonish you!

Weight gain at menopause.

It strikes dread in the hearts of women everywhere. And for good reason, but many women are amazed to find out that respecting your body’s wisdom to add a few pounds during your perimenopause years has significant health benefits too!

Weight gain at menopause has a multitude of side effects – helpful and not so helpful.  Extra pounds can feel like a threat to our pride and self concept. It’s a sobering and maddening vision to look in the mirror and see your mother’s body! Weight gain at menopause can dampen interest in being sexual if you don’t love the body you currently have.

If that wasn’t bad enough, most of us know that weight gain will contribute towards our risk of serious health conditions such as breast and colorectal cancer, high cholesterol, high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes, which are connected to an increased risk of heart disease and stroke.

The odds of avoiding weight gain at menopause are not in your favor. Best estimates are that 90 per cent of women aged 35 to 55 will have to deal with a weight gain of between 10 to 20 pounds – approximately one pound of fat added per year before they achieve menopause.

Why is there weight gain during the menopause years?

  1. Hormone imbalances are the main reason for weight gain at menopause.
    1. Declining estrogen, progesterone, androgen, DHEA and/or testosterone may make you more likely to gain weight around your abdomen, rather than your hips and thighs where you likely noticed weight gain when you were younger.
    2. An underactive thyroid, adrenal stress hormones (excess cortisol), and insulin resistance can all contribute to an inability to lose weight. All hormones are interconnected and changes in the amounts of one or two of them will affect all of them.
  2. Your metabolism slows with age. If you don’t adjust lifestyle habits that you developed when you were younger, you may be surprised to notice weight gain in your 40s and 50s. While it’s true that successful weight loss at any age requires permanent lifestyle changes in your diet and exercise, getting rid of unwanted body fat involves more than the simplistic weight loss advice “eat less; move more”. See below.
  3. Stress caused by emotional and physical challenges, traumas and life events.
  4. Depression can lead to inappropriate eating and lack of exercise.
  5. Body toxicity is caused by eating food sprayed with pesticides & herbicides, milk, cheese or meat that has residual amounts of antibiotics, growth hormones or other drugs given to the animals, chemically treated water, and air pollution. Your body attempts to protect your internal organs from these toxins by coating them in fat or water. Diets don’t help because toxins remain in the body which holds onto more fat once the diet is over.
  6. Body inflammation caused by food sensitivities and food allergies
  7. Wheat products – ‘Wheat Belly’ is the phenomenon of seeing your belly enlarge 10 pounds – seemingly overnight – after eating a pasta dinner or other food made with any type of wheat-based product. Cardiologist Dr. William Davis noticed that more than 80% of people he met were pre-diabetic or diabetic and that got him curious. He knew that, with few exceptions, foods made of wheat flour raise blood sugar higher than nearly all other foods.  In an effort to help his patients reduce blood sugar, he asked them to remove all wheat products from their diet. Several months later, these patients had lower blood sugar, often enough to reverse their diagnosis of being pre-diabetic. But it was the other results they described that surprised him: “weight loss of 25 to 30 lbs over several months, marked improvement or total relief from arthritis, improvement in asthma sufficient to stop using 2 or 3 inhalers, complete relief from acid reflux and irritable bowel syndrome symptoms, disappearance of leg swelling and numbness. Most reported increased mental clarity, deeper sleep, and more stable moods and emotions.” If you want to learn why this happens and how to cut wheat products out of your diet, I suggest you read Davis’s book called ‘Wheat Belly’.
  8. Poor diet: If you continue to eat whatever you want as you did in your 20s and 30s, you’re more likely to gain weight. If you enjoy junk food such as desserts, wine with dinner, potato chips, chocolate bars, etc. and think you can continue to consume them daily after about age 40, you’re setting yourself up for a weight problem and serious health challenges. It’s essential that you find healthy foods you enjoy and commit to eating them DAILY. I have lots of information on this site about which foods you should focus on and see Susun Weed’s suggestions below. Remember, in all things, “what you focus on expands”.
  9. Inadequate protein – muscle mass naturally diminishes 2 to 3 percent a year after age 40. If you don’t regularly eat high quality protein to replace the lean muscle you lose, your body composition will shift to more fat and less muscle — which slows down the rate at which you burn calories.
  10. Inactivity – If you aren’t doing regular daily exercise, go for a 30 minute walk every day! It’ll be enough to make a positive difference in your health and wellness.
  11. Life events and how you respond to them such as: children leaving, or returning home, divorce, the death of a spouse may contribute to weight gain after menopause. For others, a sense of contentment or simply letting go leads to weight gain.

Susun Weed, who is a respected herbalist and author of several books about women’s health issues says it’s a bad idea for women in their menopausal years to diet. She says ‘The best ally you can have on your menopausal journey is ten “extra” pounds.’

Huh?

Weed writes: “You want ten pounds of healthy fat supported by healthy muscle and bone. And you want to gain that weight very, very slowly. Ideally about a pound or two a year during menopause.”

Why?

Simply put, before menopause, estrogens are produced in the ovaries and production becomes irregular and declines as you approach menopause (end of menstruation). Fat cells convert a substance produced by the adrenals and the ovaries, into estrone, the primary postmenopausal estrogen which will actually help you have an easier menopause. Estrogen hormones are stored in fat. Your body holds onto its fat deposits in order to balance its hormone levels.

Women who gain those 10 pounds of healthy fat during menopause have less severe hot flashes, fewer disturbing menopause symptoms, and denser bones, according to menopause advocate Jeanine O’Leary Cobb.

Despite warnings that extra fat is a health risk, those 10 or 12 pounds gained before menopause are not associated with any increase in mortality risk. And losing it will not improve your health.

In fact, becoming skinny as you approach menopause can lead to several serious health challenges: thyroid malfunction, severe gall bladder problems, thin bones that break easily, extreme hormone shifts that can keep you from sleeping and thinking, increased insulin-resistance, and weakening of the cardiovascular and immune systems.

It’s the unhealthy fat we gain before and AFTER menopause that poses a health risk. The Mayo Clinic reports that gaining as little as 4.4 pounds (2 kilograms) after menopause could increase your risk of breast cancer by 30 percent.

To maintain your current weight — let alone lose excess pounds — you may need about 200 fewer calories a day during your 50s than you did during your 30s and 40s. Successful weight loss at any stage of life requires permanent changes in diet and exercise habits.

Read Susun Weed’s recommendations from her excellent book “Menopause Years The Wise Woman Way”:

Nourish and tonify

Give up dieting. Eat the widest variety of whole foods possible. Don’t make any foods absolutely forbidden. What you eat everyday has the most effect. The best way to stop worrying about weight gain is to eat ten or more servings of fruit and vegetables, three or more servings of whole grains, and a cup of yogurt daily.

  • To insure that you add hormonally-helpful, bone-strengthening, empowering fat, include one serving of a high calorie phytoestrogen-rich food and three servings of super mineral-rich foods in your daily diet.
  • High-calorie hormone-rich foods include olives, olive oil, organic butter, freshly ground flax seeds, homemade beer, alcohol-free beer, fresh peanut butter.
  • Super mineral-rich foods include nourishing herbal infusions of nettle, oatstraw, red clover, or comfrey leaf; cooked greens such as kale, collards, lamb’s quarter, amaranth, mustard; seaweeds; whey; whole grains including oats, millet, wheat, and brown rice; bittersweet chocolate.
  • Beer is traditionally brewed from hops and sprouted whole grains. The fermentation creates easily assimilated B vitamins and liberates minerals. One beer a week will slowly increase your weight, improve your memory, soothe your nerves, and improve your immune system. A cup of hops tea with a spoonful of barley-malt sweetener is an alcohol-free alternative.

Stimulate/Sedate

Most herbal remedies sold for weight loss include stimulants which can disturb heart function, and diuretic and laxative herbs which can cause excessive fluid loss and disrupt electrolyte balance. This may lead to life-threatening events during the menopausal years, when heart and adrenal functions are unstable. Avoid all “weight-loss” herbs.
If you are determined to lose weight during your menopausal years, here are some safe strategies.

  • Eat a substantial breakfast and a large lunch and skimp on dinner. Absolutely avoid midnight snacks.
  • Eat a cup/250 ml of fresh chickweed daily or take a dropperful of the fresh plant tincture in some water during or after every meal (at least four times a day).
  • Gently simmer a handful of dried or fresh bladderwrack (fucus) seaweed for 15 minutes in enough water to cover. Strain. Drink a cup before each meal for no more than three months.
  • Eat a bowl of hot soup at the beginning of the meal. You will feel more sated and eat less. Cold soups and drinks do not have the same effect. .
  • Keep active. But you don’t have to buy any spandex. Five-minute periods of exercise, done several times a day, every day, are better than one long session once a week. Weight lost as a result of increased physical activity is safer than weight lost through diet manipulation. Lift weights.
  • Depression can be associated with intense cravings for starchy foods. If we satisfy these cravings with mineral-rich foods (including chocolate), the depression will be “treated” and will dissipate. If we attempt to satisfy these cravings with mineral-deprived white flour and white sugar, the depression will deepen.

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