As if hot flashes, night sweats, and unpredictable visits from Aunt Flo aren’t enough, now we have to worry about gaining weight?! I mean, geez … haven’t our beautiful bodies been through enough? Thanks to the wonderful hormonal changes of menopause, you are bound to see a few extra lbs on the scale. The good news is that you’re not alone. While the experience of menopause is highly individual, gaining weight is very common. Luckily, this is the age of #bodypositivity. One-size-fits-all beauty standards are a thing of the past (or they darn well should be.) Let’s talk about menopausal weight gain and why it happens.
Why Am I Gaining Weight During Menopause?
In case you didn’t know or are struggling with the forgetfulness that comes along with menopause (heck, I’d lose my computer if I weren’t typing on it this very moment), here’s a friendly reminder: Menopause has three main periods (pun intended):
- Perimenopause — when a woman’s body begins the menopause transition
- Menopause — when a woman has experienced 12 consecutive months without a menstrual period
- Postmenopause — when menopausal symptoms begin to subside (typically 24 to 36 months after your last period) … but you’re not totally clear and free. Here’s more info on what you can expect during your postmenopausal phase.
During perimenopause, progesterone levels decline slowly, while estrogen levels fluctuate from day to day and even within the same day. Hellooooo, hot flashes! So, what does any of this have to do with gaining weight?
Estrogen needs to get its act together. Little Miss-E is throwing us on a rollercoaster ride we never strapped in for. One second, we want to throw our hands in the air like we just don’t care and the next, we sound like a sound editor’s go-to Wihelm Scream.
So, what does estrogen have to do with gaining weight? Early on in perimenopause, the ovaries are working their butts off producing high amounts of estrogen. This happens because of a lack of communication between the ovaries, hypothalamus, and pituitary gland. Think of it like the telephone game where one minute the ovaries are whispering “pumpkin spice latte” and the next the pituitary gland is saying, “Rumpelstiltskin toupee.” Fast forward a few months or years and you’re hitting the later stages of perimenopause. You’ll know this is happening when your menstrual cycles become more irregular. The ovaries start producing very little estrogen and produce even less during menopause.
And now, a word from our sponsor: SCIENCE! Some studies suggest that high estrogen levels may promote fat gain. High estrogen levels are associated with gaining weight and higher body fat during the reproductive years. From puberty until perimenopause, a woman’s body tends to store fat (or as the pros call it: subcutaneous fat) in the hips and thighs. Luckily, as the younger generation has taught us through anime memes, “Thick thighs save lives.”
Then menopause steps on the scene like the hot (flash) shot it is, and tells Little Miss-E to hit the road. As your body is missing Miss-E, it says, “Hold up. Why don’t I fill the void of my loneliness with . . . belly fat!” As the pros tell us, that type of fat is called visceral fat, which is linked to health issues like insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease.
So, the moral of the science story is this:
“Changes in hormone levels during the menopausal transition may lead to fat gain and an increased risk of several diseases.”
Friendly Reminder: We’re all different. We’re all beautiful. We all gain and lose weight. Regardless of whether you gain 1 pound or 20 (or even more), you’re not alone, and you are validated. We’re all experiencing our own ups and downs during the perimenopausal transition. So, let’s hop on that roller coaster and enjoy the ride … and maybe grab a cotton candy after because gosh darn it, WE DESERVE IT.
How Much Weight Will I Gain?
Here’s a “fun” fact: It is estimated that the average amount of weight gained during menopause is 2-5 pounds. While we’re kicking the menopause taboo to the curb, why not kick society’s pressure right along with it and love on the more of us there is to love?
Even though you might be gaining weight during menopause, it might not have anything to do with your menopausal journey. Weight gain may also occur as part of aging, regardless of hormone changes. We also have aging, lifestyle, and genetics to thank as part of why we put on the pounds.
So, let me repeat loud and clear so that even the hardest self-doubters can hear: We’re all unique. We’re all beautiful. We all gain and lose weight. Let’s gain some perspective that there’s no need to lose self-confidence!
Let’s Check In on the Researchers
So, what do the researchers have to say about all of this nifty gaining weight mishegas? As part of a study conducted by the researchers at Study of Women’s Health Across the Nation (SWAN), researchers followed middle-aged women throughout perimenopause. They looked at weight and hormone changes in women ages 42–50 over a 3-year period. Here’s what they found:
“There were no significant differences in weight gain of women who remained premenopausal and those who had a natural menopause (+2.07 kg vs +1.35 kg). Weight gain was significantly associated with increases in blood pressure and levels of total cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein cholesterol, triglycerides, and fasting insulin. Weight gain is thus a common occurrence for women at the time of menopause and is related to the changes in coronary heart disease risk factors observed during this period. Efforts to lose weight or to prevent weight gain may help to mitigate the worsening in coronary heart disease risk factors in middle-aged women.” (source)
Another study centered on ghrelin, which is a hormone produced by enteroendocrine cells of the gastrointestinal tract, especially the stomach, and is often called a “hunger hormone” because it increases food intake. Researchers discovered that “there were significantly lower adiponectin and higher ghrelin levels in the perimenopause stage, compared to either the pre- or postmenopause stage.” (source)
In laywoman’s terms, hormonal changes are making you hungrier. What do you do when you’re hungrier? Duh, you eat more. It’s no surprise this may be a contributing factor to weight gain.
Will I Stop Gaining Weight During Menopause?
The good news is that weight fluctuations tend to happen during perimenopause. When you hit menopause, you might not have to deal with the jeans-are-waaaay-too-tight-feeling. Unless you didn’t replace your jeans during perimenopause in which case, what are you waiting for? You deserve to wear clothes that fit you! Better yet, leggings technology has greatly improved in the last ten years—they come with POCKETS now!
Like I said before, some people might add only a pound or two while others gain more. Our bodies are going through intense hormonal changes. However, not all weight gain is associated with the menopausal journey. So, it’s best to check in with yourself and determine why you might be gaining weight.
How Can I Avoid Gaining Weight During Menopause?
I hate to break it to you, but you’re in for a PSA: Previously Stated Advice. You’ve heard this advice before, but that’s because it’s helpful:
- Reduce carbs (maybe mix in a salad every once in a while).
- Enjoy a more fiber-rich diet.
- Work out regularly (or at least try to). Remember, this can be as simple as going for a walk in your new better-fitting jeans and/or leggings.
- Try to get restful sleep. Yes, I know, night sweats make that a challenge.
- Find a way to relieve stress and avoid the dreaded stress eating sessions.
How Can I Love My Body While Gaining Weight During Menopause?
You’ve got the menopause weight gain facts. Check! You’ve read the research. Check! You’ve got tips to avoid weight gain. Check! So, I guess all there is left to do is snap our fingers and voila! We’ll get our pre-menopausal body back or the ideal body we’ve always dreamed of and the skinny jeans to go with it (even if the millennials say we, and our side parts, are not on-trend). Yes? Unfortunately, no! And in reality, that shouldn’t even be the goal.
Diet culture and societal pressure is stifling. How often do you hear of Instagram followers double-tapping for inner beauty? Society tells us to be a certain size, hit a specific weight, have the right proportions of body parts—everything from boobs, hips, and booties to thighs, ankles, and eyelids—all while achieving just the right BMI percentage. Then, social media jumps on the bandwagon, rewarding us for #selfie-ing the hell out of our lives to show off said “accomplishments.”
But genetics, diet, exercise, environment, stress, emotions, mindset, and a whole lot more play a role in weight. Scientists are still figuring out all the factors that determine why different people have different body types, and what exactly causes us to lose, gain, and retain weight.
“How do you get a bikini body? You put your body in a bikini!” These and other #bodylove quotes are making a positive difference in fighting against diet culture and body shaming. If they help you love on your menopausal love handles, awesome! Print them out, hang them on the fridge, and repeat the affirmations whenever you feel tempted to revert to society’s body-shaming ways.
But, if you haven’t hit the body love destination on your body positivity journey yet, or you’re not even on that path, now’s the time to take a step toward body acceptance. Between me, you, and the lampshade, I don’t feel comfy cozy in a bikini. And, that’s OK! Instead of focusing on and beating myself up for not losing my menopausal weight gain, I’m trying to shift my mindset by focusing on healthy habits. I ask myself: “What choice can I make at this moment to be healthy and feel good about myself?” It’s not easy. One step forward. Two steps back. But, eliminating yo-yo diets, shameful societal pressure, and negative self-talk is freeing up space for positive habits and that is a WIN in all caps!
It’s a Wrap!
I get it. As if menopause isn’t hard enough, now we have to worry about gaining weight during menopause? Before you go stressing out about the extra lbs (though grieving is perfectly natural and fine), just know that they’re a normal part of the menopausal journey for some of us. We’re bound to experience weight fluctuations. Did I mention that it’s NORMAL?? Oh, I did? Well, I really want you to remember that.
While our bodies are changing, let’s make a pact with each other, shall we? Let’s cheer each other on as we create yummy salad recipes, exchange virtual high-fives as we step into our sneakers and conquer our workouts 10 minutes at a time, join team Body Love, take one thing off of our list that is causing us to stress eat, join in a collective deep breath to help us relax, and give ourselves (and maybe our extra rolls) some heavy-duty loving and TLC. We sure as heck deserve it.
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