6 reasons why weight loss can be more difficult during perimenopause and menopause

Menopause Advisor
Ask Eileen

22 January 2024

What can impact weight loss in perimenopause and menopause?

We know that falling hormone levels and changing hormones in perimenopause and menopause can have quite a profound effect on the way our body uses food, how we store fat, and how we lose fat. So, taking that aside, because we know that tends to happen anyway, other issues can have quite a big impact on how easily you can lose weight.

Here are a few issues that might impact your ability to lose weight at this time:

1. You’re still eating the same way you used to

The problem here is that, as hormonal changes are going on, your metabolism slows down, so you may need slightly less food but more nutrition. Your nutritional needs go up, but also your carb metabolism changes. So that's going to increase your weight, even if you're eating the same carbs that you were maybe 5 or 10 years ago.

Also, your protein needs go up quite considerably, and you need healthy fats as well. When you hear me say, "Increase your fat intake," you may think that's going to cause weight gain, but it’s the type of fat that is key here.

Healthy fats are really important for so many different issues in perimenopause and menopause, not least of all that you need fat to make your hormones. So, if you're in this situation where your metabolism is slowing down, your carbohydrates are not metabolising properly, and you're getting less protein and less fat, then the body will very often start to put weight on.

2. You’re too stressed

We know that stress and anxiety are very common in perimenopause and menopause. If you're in that sort of adrenal fatigue or flight or fight situation, where you're getting anxious every day, you're getting the palpitation, you're getting the shortness of breath, and you're really uptight the whole time, then your body will use carbohydrates and turn them into fat, store them around the middle for a source of energy because your body thinks, "Oh, there's a flight or fight. There's danger going on. I need to have energy to run, or to fight, or to hide." And this is a really common one. So, if you're getting a fat build-up more around the middle, then very often, that's what we call an adrenal response.

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3. You’re cutting calories and going on extreme diets

You may think, "I need to lose weight: I will just cut calories." The problem is if you cut calories too low, and especially if you go on an extreme diet, all that happens is your body thinks that there's a famine coming. It will think, "Help. I need to do something." So, what your body will do is lower your metabolism further, and it will use anything you eat to make fat. The lower you go in calories, the more your body will resist that, the lower your rate of metabolism falls, and the more you're likely to put on weight.

I had a woman contact me once. She was down to 800 calories a day, and she wondered why she was still putting on weight. So, it's really important that you don't go on these extremely low-calorie diets because, apart from the fact that it will make you very miserable, it will make you very stressed. You are denying your body the very nutrients it needs to keep itself as stable as possible while all these hormonal changes are going on. So, this is a really, really important one.

And for those of you who are in wintertime, this is the worst time to try to lose weight. In January, a lot of us will start a new diet. We'll do bodily spring cleaning. We try to get fitter.

However, in wintertime, just because of the way the human body has developed, your metabolism tends to slow down with the darker nights because, in ancient times, wintertime was lean. There was less food. So again, if you go on a really low-calorie diet at this point, your body will still be in wintertime mode, and it will reduce your metabolism even further. And this is why, in the northern hemisphere, most diets fail very, very quickly in January, because our bodies just can't cope.

4. You're not getting enough sleep

There's so much research out there showing that poor sleep interferes with our hunger and our satiety hormones. So, getting enough sleep is vital if you want to maintain or keep a handle on any kind of weight gain. I go into more detail about this issue in my blog ‘Menopause weight gain & how poor sleep impacts it’ and offer lots of practical and simple tips to help.

5. You’re exercising too much

like mad. The problem with exercising like mad is that again, your body is going through tremendous hormonal changes and that's using up a lot of energy; so, very often, there's not enough energy left to do a lot of intense exercise.

You might find that you get more fatigued, and especially for those of you who are really serious sports people, this is a time you have to be really, really careful about maintaining your nutritional levels. Because, if you're training hard and your body is going through perimenopause or menopause, you may find that everything gets much more fatigued. And it's the same for the rest of us.

You need regular exercise for heart health, bone health, muscle health, and more, but it's about giving yourself rest days. So, if you go down the gym, there’s certainly nothing wrong with that, but the next day have a day off. Don't exercise hard day after day.

Doing a little bit of cardio is important. Also, have days where you may just do stretching, or yoga, or Tai Chi, or something gentle. Walking is probably one of the best exercises ever. Doing little and often is far better than cramming a whole week's worth of exercise into one day, because you're going to get very tired.

The other thing that you have to watch here is muscle mass. Now, as we get older, unfortunately, our muscles can just break down. Something that can occur during perimenopause, menopause, and beyond is sarcopenia. Basically, your muscles undergo more wasting.

Our muscles are great for fat-burning. If we keep our muscle mass strong and healthy, we are going to burn more calories daily. And once you lose muscle mass, it's really difficult to build it back up. So that's one of the reasons why extra protein at this particular time is really important to help support our muscles.

6. Your thyroid may be to blame

We know just through experience how many women end up having a borderline underactive thyroid, just because of the hormonal changes that are going on. There seems to be quite a direct link.

So, if you find that you're getting fatigued all the time, you're getting joint aches and pains, you're not sleeping well, you literally have no energy or no oomph to do anything, if you find that your hair and nails are getting brittle, if you're losing a lot of hair or you're losing your eyelashes or eyebrows, that's very often an indication of an underactive thyroid.

It's important if you're in that kind of scenario to get things checked out by your doctor. It's a good idea to start taking kelp supplements, even in your mid-30s, unless you're already on thyroid medication.

In the UK, there's practically no iodine, which is vital for normal thyroid function, in the soil. So, even if you're eating a good diet, your intake of iodine can be very low, and that can have a major impact on thyroid function as you get older. Taking a kelp supplement, which provides iodine, can help with your metabolism to keep it steady and also keep your thyroid healthy.

I hope you found this one helpful. It's such a common symptom. It's so distressing when you put weight on and you can't get it off because it affects your mood. It also affects our confidence as well. If you found it helpful, please give us your tips. I love reading all your stories and really helpful tips, and sharing them with everybody else.

Until next time, take care and have a lovely week.


You may also find these topics helpful:

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