A.Vogel Talks Menopause: Weight gain & why it's so difficult to lose weight during menopause

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Menopause Advisor
Ask Eileen

11 January 2016

Read the full video transcript below

Today's topic

Hello, and welcome to my weekly video blog A.Vogel Talks Menopause. Now, I can’t believe it we’re nearly halfway through January already, and I bet, like myself, most of you have made some kind of New Year’s resolutions. And one of the biggest ones especially for menopausal women is to look at losing weight. Unfortunately, going through the menopause can be quite difficult to lose weight. It can also be very easy to put it on.

And so for those of you that have made this resolution, I don’t want you to get disappointed if you find that the weight is not coming off very quickly or as quickly as you anticipated. So I thought I would go through the reasons why you tend to put on weight and little tips that will actually help you fulfill your ambition for this year.

Reason 1: Your slowing metabolism

So there’s two main reasons why we actually put on weight during the menopause. The first one is a totally hormonal one, and we know that oestrogen can affect your metabolism. It can actually slow it down that little bit further. And we also know that falling estrogen can affect the way in which your insulin actually deals with sugar in the body, and also with dealing with carbohydrates. And this tends to make you put on weight quite quickly as well.

We’ve also got the fact that…I don’t like to say we’re aging, but when we get a little bit older, a couple of things actually happen. Our metabolism tends to slow down that little bit extra as well, but we also have or can have digestive problems. Our digestion can slow down, too, and that can actually be another factor, and I get a lot of women saying, “But I haven’t changed my diet. I’m still eating exactly the same as I was when I was in my 20s and 30s.” But if your metabolism has slowed down that little bit, and if your insulin response has slightly changed as well, that can actually be enough for you to start putting on weight without doing any changes at all.

And the other thing unfortunately is, as menopausal women, we’re really busy. How many of us actually have time to do regular exercise? And that’s another thing. If we’re sedentary, if we really don’t get a lot of movement, that will increase the weight as well.

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Reason 2: Your stress response

Now, the other thing that can happen in the menopause, and this is mainly to do with fat around the middle. So for those of you that find that your waistline has actually started to disappear, this is a very specific response to stress. Now, I know that maybe some of you there are going, “But I am not really stressed.” Just remember that the menopause itself, so that’s the hormonal changes that are going on in your body, will stress your nervous system, even if your day to day life is okay. But for a lot of us, we’ll have this internal stress going on, and we will also have all that day-to-day stress as well.

Now, I’m sure you’ve all heard of the flight or fight. What happens when you get stressed is that the nervous system starts to overrun. It starts to produce adrenaline, and in that response, your digestion will shut down, and the body will go to itself, “I have used a lot of energy in this emergency,” if you like, “and I need to make up all the energy that’s been lost.” So first of all, it makes you more hungry, and it will make you crave sweet foods.

The second thing is that if this stress response goes on for too long, the body will go, “Wait a minute, I need to do something here.” So it starts to put fat on around the middle, because this is the area where the body can actually get hold of that fat and turn it into energy very, very quickly. And unfortunately, in the menopause, it’s going to be continual stress. So what we need to do is that we actually need to look at dealing with stress as well. So maintaining or losing weight in the menopause is really a two-pronged attack. It’s about looking at diet, and it’s also about looking at stress.

What you can do to help yourself

So what can you do to help yourself at this particular time if these are your issues?

Your diet is very important

The diet, I talked about diet in episode one of A.Vogel’s Menopause Mondays, so you can always switch back and have a look at that.

But the main issue here, because we’ve got the possibility of insulin being involved, is that an awful lot of women find that if they start to cut the carbs down, that really, really helps.

So we’re looking at things cutting down your bread, your pasta, your rice, cakes, biscuits. Most of the baddies, is sugar is another one as well. And we know that these foods can actually trigger the nervous system as well, so you’re getting a double whammy here with these particular foods. So it’s really important to try and lower carbs, but it’s also really important to up other foods in your diet. So protein is very, very important, loads of fresh fruits, vegetables, and nuts, and seeds.

Now, what a lot of women tend to do in the menopause is they go, “I’m going to go on a diet.” They cut their calorie intake down by a huge amount. But because your body is already in this stress response, if your calorie intake goes to low, the body thinks it’s another emergency, and it will slow your metabolism down even further. And there’s a large number of women who actually come to me and say, “I’m exercising every day, and I’m cutting my calories right down. I’m only eating 800 calories a day, and the weight is still going on.” And this is why your body has gone into emergency mode.

So please if you’re on a diet, you mustn’t cut the calories down. You must look at keeping your calorie intake level but getting those calories from really good healthy foods. And to be honest, we don’t want to starve ourselves. It’s such a miserable regime, and for a lot of women being in the menopause, it’s quite a stressful time anyway. So have lots of really good healthy foods and eat well, and you’ll find that the weight will probably start to come off a lot easier rather than actually starving yourself.

Exercise to support your metabolism

The other thing that’s really important is exercise. We need exercise for several reasons, to keep your metabolism at a good level, but also, it’s important to keep your muscle mass strong. And as we age, regardless if we’re going through the menopause or not, your muscle mass can actually decrease. Muscle burns more energy than fat, so the more good muscle mass you have, the more calories you will burn on a daily basis anyway. But having a good muscle mass will also protect your bones as well. So that’s another important thing to remember.

One really important issue with exercise is to not do too much. Now, I know this is a bit contrary, isn’t it? You’ve got to exercise, but don’t exercise too much. Just remember that going through the menopause uses a huge amount of internal energy. And if you then start going down the gym or you’re doing a lot of exercise on a very regular basis, you can end up really fatigued, and you can just end up then getting to the point where you don’t want to exercise at all.

So the best thing that I say is that when you do exercise, whatever it is that you enjoy, and it must be something that you enjoy, if you feel good afterwards, if you feel energized, if you feel uplifted, then you’ve done enough. If you do any kind of exercise, and at the end of it, you’re really sore, you’re really tired, and you just feel miserable, then you’ve actually done too much.

So for those of you who have been really, really active, and if you suddenly find yourself a little bit fatigued with all the exercise you’re doing, just cut back slightly. I’m all in favor of being active every day, just doing a 10, 15-minute walk every day. I tend to find I like doing yoga at home, and I’ve also got one of those trampoline things, and I leave it in the floor, and every time I go past, I just jump up and down for 20 or 30 seconds. So you’re getting lots of little bouts of exercise on a daily basis, and that will probably be more beneficial for you than going down the gym and sweating for an hour at a time.

Your homework for this week

So I hope this has been helpful for you, and let me know your success stories if you’re actually trying to lose weight. So I think this week your little task will be try and get 10 minutes to half an hour everyday of some kind of exercise. It could be just running up and down the stairs. It could be just skipping. Buy a skipping rope. It’s great exercise, and it’s amazing how fit you can get just doing that for 10, 15 minutes a day. So do let me know how you get on, and I will look forward to seeing you next week on A.Vogel Talks Menopause. And next week, I think, will be a question and answer session, so I look forward to seeing you then.

Eileen's extra tips

Here’s a little bit of extra information and tips which I didn’t cover in the video…

  • If you have put on a lot of weight really quickly without any changes to your diet, exercise etc. it could be low thyroid levels which often appear as the menopause starts so do go and get this checked out by your doctor. Other low thyroid symptoms include, feeling cold, fatigue, dry, lank hair, brittle nails, joint pains, low mood and poor sleep – sounds just like the menopause so it can sometimes be difficult to tell which is causing what!
  • Although not very common some women lose weight in the menopause, this can be caused by just the way their hormones are falling. However, if your weight loss is sudden or severe it is really important to get it checked out by your doctor.
  • For more tips regarding a good diet in the menopause please check out my blog – What’s the best diet for the menopause

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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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