Menopause weight gain: What causes it and what can you do about it?

Have you noticed putting on a couple of extra pounds since starting the menopause?

Menopause Advisor
Ask Eileen

01 March 2013

Menopause weight gain

As a former long distance runner and athlete, blessed with a naturally lean 5’10” frame, I never once entertained the notion that I might one day be considered pleasingly plump, slightly zaftig, or heaven forbid, “plus-sized!”

In all of my 41 years, before entering menopause – with the exception of three pregnancies – I never weighed more than 133 pounds.  Ever.  And contrary to the wisdom of the Catwalks of Paris and Milan, I hated being so thin.

I hated it so badly I actually tried to gain weight. I regularly inhaled high calorie, high fat food with reckless abandon. But, alas, nothing I ate ever put one extra pound on my skinny frame.  But that was then (way back then,) and this is now.  At 56, and well into menopause, I not only weigh considerably more than 133 pounds, but losing it is every bit as hard as gaining it was, back then.

But why?  What is it about menopause that causes women to pack on so much weight – especially around their mid-section –and why is it so hard to lose it once we gain it?

The Estrogen-Fat-Estrogen Merry-Go-Round

One of my favorite go-to women’s health sources, Dr. C.W. Randolph, M.D., states that one of the causes of weight gain for women during menopause is estrogen dominance.

Estrogen dominance occurs when women enter menopause and their progesterone levels begin to drop.  Lower progesterone leaves estrogen unopposed, creating “estrogen dominance.” High estrogen levels are the cause of many of the unpleasant symptoms of menopause, including weight gain.  But, what makes weight gain in menopause so difficult to manage, is that high estrogen levels create a self-perpetuating fat cycle which is very hard to break.

Here’s how:

Estrogen produces body fat. In turn, fat tissue produces and stores more estrogen.  The estrogen stored in the fat tissue produces even more body fat, the fat tissue subsequently continues to produce and store more estrogen; and on and on the cycle goes.

Compounding the problem is that estrogen also inhibits our body’s ability to distribute fat, so it tends to get stored around our midriff, hips, and thighs.  Hence, the “estrogen spare tire” so many women in menopause seem to have. High estrogen also compromises your body’s ability to properly metabolize the fat, which means that no matter how much you diet, or how little you eat, the fat will just not go away.

Shedding the Estrogen Meno-Pudge

As hopeless as the estrogen-fat-estrogen merry-go-round may sound, it really is possible to beat the menopause bloat, and shed some of those pounds. As you might expect, diet is the key.  However, it’s not so much about restricting calories, but rather eating the right types of foods.

For example, cruciferous vegetables such as celery, spinach, cabbage, and broccoli, literally flush excess estrogen (and fat along with it) right out of your body!  Insoluble fiber such as brown rice, seeds, carrots, and tomatoes can also help to reduce the estrogen load as well.

Reducing stress, and increasing sleep can help your body naturally balance your hormones, which in turn, will also help in weight loss.  Moderate, daily exercise helps to burn off excess calories and fat; and believe it or not, simply drinking more water can wash away pounds by helping the body efficiently metabolize fat.

Of course, even the most gallant efforts at losing menopause weight gain will not give you back the body you had before you entered menopause. But a leaner body is a healthier body, and a healthier body leads to a healthier life.  All of which can make those post-menopause years the golden years!

Magnolia Miller is a certified healthcare consumer advocate in women’s health and a women’s freelance health writer and blogger at The Perimenopause Blog.

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Did you know?

You won’t get the menopause the minute you turn 50! The average starting age is actually between 45 and 55 and it can often depend on a number of factors including hereditary, weight and health, however every single woman will have an individual menopause.

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