One day you’re getting dressed as usual, and the next day your favorite jeans won’t zip. Call it a midlife middle, meno-belly, or a muffin top, but that sudden and unexpected weight gain around your midsection in your mid-forties and early fifties isn't just your imagination.
During menopause, hormonal fluctuations are volatile, wreaking havoc on our skin, hair, energy, libido, and more noticeably, our waistlines. And while some clinical studies show that many endure roughly a 1.5-pound increase in weight per year1, that's enough to throw many women into a weight gain spiral as they feel hopeless that they’ll be able to do anything about it.
The good news is that, while it might not be as easy as when you were in your twenties, it is possible to keep your body weight in check during menopause, and there are many ways to go about doing so.
How Weight and Menopause Are Connected
While many women point to the hormonal shifts of menopause as the cause, hormonal changes alone do not cause weight gain. Even the North American Menopause Society states that there isn’t any scientific evidence demonstrating that menopause, specifically, is responsible for weight gain.2 And while hormonal shifts may not be responsible for actual weight gain; they could have something to do with where it’s stored.
This sometimes-sudden increase in weight around the midsection can be referred to as “weight redistribution”,3 which explains why you may feel like you’re shape-shifting a bit during menopause; i.e. storing more weight around your mid-section than you were before.
And, because estrogen supports muscle mass and keeps the metabolism revved up, when it decreases, so does the rate at which your body burns calories. So, while you may not have changed your diet, your body has changed how quickly it converts calories to energy. That's a big part of why losing weight in menopause becomes more challenging. Your age and lifestyle are now working against you, so even women who have enjoyed an active lifestyle earlier in life, may need to reevaluate and make some "tweaks" to their daily habits to accommodate for menopause.
What You Can Do to Lose Menopause Weight
The first thing you can do to battle weight during menopause, is to get honest with yourself. Is your diet as healthy as you think it is, or are there some areas you could improve? Remember, the calories in that nightly glass of wine or that creamy salad dressing adds up!
What about your lifestyle? Are you getting enough sleep, or do you stay up late watching Netflix or surfing your social media channels? Are you working out regularly and incorporating strength training?
Unfortunately, there is no magic bullet or one-size-fits-all approach to managing your weight as you age, especially if you’re aiming to lose weight during menopause. It all boils down to calories in versus calories out,4 and there is no outrunning a lousy diet or poor lifestyle choices. However, here are a few simple tweaks you can try to maximize your efforts and minimize your weight gain.
Strength Training for Menopause Weight Loss
If you are not already doing strength training exercises, what are you waiting for? There is no better way to combat all the issues associated with aging, from a loss of muscle mass to a decline in bone density; it can even help with weight loss during menopause. Not to mention it helps prevent injury by keeping you strong, balanced, and flexible.
Now, we’re not talking about bench pressing 100 pounds or hitting the heavy squat rack (unless you’re already doing that, and if so, WOW!). All you need to succeed here is a couple of pairs of dumbbells and a mat. It really is that simple. Plenty of strength training fitness classes you can attend in person and online can help you get started and guide you through routines. Or, you can consider hiring a personal trainer for that one-on-one attention.
Remember, the more muscle mass you have, the more calories your body is able to burn. Aim for 30-45 minutes of strength training two or three times per week5 if you’re striving to lose weight in menopause.
Manage Menopause Weight by Increasing Your Steps
Contrary to popular belief, cardio is not the secret to changing your body. Yes, it burns calories, which can help with weight management, and builds your cardiovascular endurance (which is essential), but it isn't going to build your muscle mass. Having said that, you still need to be moving your body daily and should aim for approximately 10,000 steps.
Walking is one of the best and easiest ways to do this.
One of the most underrated exercises, walking offers many benefits, including increased balance, endurance, stamina, and heart health. Plus, it doesn't require a lot of fancy equipment—just a supportive pair of walking shoes. Try to walk at least 30-45 minutes at least five times per week, preferably outside, for added vitamin D and fresh air. Need some motivation? Download your favorite meditation or podcast, or make a motivating, musical playlist.
Mind Your Diet to Support Menopause Weight Loss
You may think you eat healthy because you consume plenty of fruits and veggies and limit sweets. But take a closer look. Just because you aren't indulging your sweet tooth doesn't mean you aren't overdoing the sugar. Alcohol is a big culprit that people often overlook. Also, are you cooking your veggies in butter or excess oil? Are you coating your salad in decadent dressing or loading it with cheese?
Finally, what does your protein intake look like? Protein is one of the most critical elements of your diet, especially as you age, as it helps you gain and maintain muscle and keeps you feeling full. The recommended daily allowance is 0.8 grams per pound of body weight, more if you are active. If you aren’t sure you are getting enough, a tracker like My Fitness Pal can help you track your protein, carbs, fat, fiber, and calories.
You may be surprised to learn you aren't eating as well as you thought.
Losing Sleep Can Negatively Affect Weight Loss
Getting enough quality sleep is another secret to maintaining a healthy weight. Sleep deprivation can lead to various issues, including an increase in the hormones that regulate appetite. According to Mayo Clinic, not getting enough sleep can actually lead to an increase in calorie intake, body fat, and belly fat.6
To combat this, consider avoiding or reducing your intake of alcohol and caffeine before bed, as well as creating a soothing sleep environment. Do this by powering down electronics about an hour before bedtime and lowering the temperature in your bedroom.
Stress Less for Better Weight Management in Menopause
How you manage stress can help you manage weight during menopause by controlling your cortisol levels. This primary stress hormone is linked to abnormal weight gain. While some stress is unavoidable, it’s important to find ways to control how you deal with it.
Weight Gain During Menopause Isn’t Inevitable
If you’ve tried all of the above and are still struggling to lose weight during menopause, it might be time to consult your physician to rule out any underlying health issues. Some diseases, including thyroid problems, can affect your weight and need to be diagnosed and addressed by a medical professional.
Typically, a couple of extra pounds aren't cause for concern. However, it’s better to address any weight gain in menopause early, to avoid issues down the road. A good offense is the best defense in a battle with a belly bulge.