Weight gain during perimenopause is a universal complaint among women. It is not uncommon for a woman to gain between 10 and 15 pounds, especially around her abdomen and hips. In some instances women see this as a rite of passage to becoming and older wiser you. But most often, this almost instantaneous weight gain is a signal of hormonal imbalance and is heralded by emotional upheaval and distress over this sudden increase in weight. In medical circles, some described the weight gain as an unavoidable “middle-aged spread”.
And, while women in the past had to accept these changes to their body, current technology and medical knowledge has enabled physicians and holistic practitioners to more clearly establish the imbalances in the body and help the woman to determine specific methodologies she can use in order to reverse the process.
Prior to perimenopause and menopause levels of estrogen in the body can often mask symptoms of difficulty in other bodily systems. A woman has been exposed to many years of toxins, environmental changes and hormonal imbalances, the result of which are now being felt by the rest of the body.
The weight gain that happens during perimenopause can be seriously detrimental to self-esteem, especially when not given the necessary attention. Unfortunately, despite their best attempts to diet or maintain their weight, weight gain appears to be inevitable. But this does not have to be the case. By first investigating what the common causes of weight gain appear to be and then determining which ones seem to be affecting their bodies, many women are able to reverse this weight gain process or stabilize it so that the weight they gain is significantly less.
The changing hormone levels associated with menopause are not always the cause of the weight gain because menopause also seems to come at a time in life when other emotional stressors and physical destabilizers also occur. For instance, women who are entering menopause tend to exercise less than other women and also seem to have less time during their day in order to accomplish that exercise. It becomes more of a challenge to find the time to exercise and the motivation than it once did.
Stress levels during menopause and perimenopause can also alter a hormonal imbalance that is already there, to a point where the woman will feel uncontrollably hungry. By eating more, and taking in more calories, they gain weight. Thankfully this hunger actually decreases as the stress level decreases.
As all of us age, our metabolism slows. In fact, it slows by 2 to 4% each decade so that by the time we are 50 years old our basal metabolic rate can be as much as 12% slower than it was when we were 25. That’s a significantly lower number of calories we require in order to maintain our weight. Couple that with decreased exercise, lower percentage of lean body mass and a higher level of fat, many perimenopausal women find that gaining between one and 2 pounds a year is not uncommon.
There are some genetic factors that can also play a role in this event. When parents or other close relatives carry extra weight around their middle you also may be predisposed to this condition. As in any other time of life, this excess weight increases your risk of high cholesterol, high blood pressure, insulin resistant diabetes and cardiac events. There is also some evidence that any weight gain during or after menopause can increase the risk of breast cancer. (1)
There are a few things that you can do to decrease your risk of weight gain by changing just a few things in your lifestyle choices today. For instance, it is important to incorporate both aerobic and strength training exercises into your daily routine in order to obtain both cardiac benefits and the benefits of developing greater lean body mass that burns more calories.
It is also a good idea to keep track of everything you eat. It is amazing how many calories you can eat without thinking as you are cooking dinner or making lunch for the kids.
Have your thyroid function tested because it can be affected by about hormonal imbalances and estrogen loss during perimenopause and menopause. (2)
Try to eat as many raw fruits and vegetables as possible in your diet and stay away from processed foods. Foods such as bread, pasta and other high carbohydrate processed foods lead to insulin resistance, especially during the latter years. While it may not lead directly to diabetes it will lead to an increased weight gain around the waist and hips.
Do not accept weight gain as in an evitable part of midlife. Instead, take charge of the body you’ve been given, make wise lifestyle choices, get rid of those poor decisions such as alcohol, tobacco and recreational drugs, get plenty of sleep and drink plenty of water.
This is a stressful time in a woman’s life and she should get together with other women who are experiencing the same phenomenon so that they can gain support and receive ideas to help them cope and maintain their weight.
(1) Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Prevention: Association of Gain and Loss of Weight before and after Menopause with Risk of Postmenopausal Breast Cancer in the Iowa Women’s Health Study
(2) Journal of the American College of Nutrition: Thyroid function and energy intake during weight gain following treatment of hyperthyroidism.