For women, our lives are divided up into different seasons. Biologically speaking, our bodies are either getting prepped for a baby, angry every month about the fact that there is no baby, actually growing a baby, and then completely over the whole baby thing and ready for retirement, which typically means only one thing…menopause.
Let’s be real here for a minute: even though the prospect of not buying feminine products and pain relievers in bulk is appealing, menopause doesn’t have the best reputation based off the rather unsavory side effects that come along with. Having your menstrual cycle stop is great in terms of convenience, but it can be preceded by months and even years of unpredictable cycles and fluctuating hormones which is not so convenient after all. Hormonal shifts can mean sudden hot flashes, night sweats, thinning hair, mood swings, and then of course there’s the unexplained and unwanted weight gain to deal with too.
So what gives?
Estrogen, that’s what. Estrogen is basically the queen bee of hormones when it comes to the female body. When your ovaries decide to shut down the egg factory for good, your estrogen levels decline causing all of those problems we talked about above plus a few more we haven’t covered. Also, less estrogen = less muscle mass, which means you’re burning less calories and operating on a less than efficient metabolism, which is where the weight gain comes into play.
“In a large study carried out by the International Menopause Society in 2012, scientists reviewed decades of research and concluded that the hormonal shifts of menopause change the distribution of body fat, making it more likely to accumulate in the abdomen. The drawbacks of this are more than just cosmetic: The accumulation can also increase the risk of insulin resistance and cardiovascular disease.” NY Times
So, not only is weight gain during menopause seemingly inevitable, it often manifests as belly fat, putting you at risk for insulin resistance AND heart disease. Real cool, body. Real cool.
Look, nobody ever said being a woman was easy and menopause certainly throws a wrench into things, but it doesn’t have to be a dealbreaker. Our bodies are amazing and capable of great things, including combating menopause-related weight gain and other related symptoms and side-effects.
First Things First
The kitchen is always the best place to start when it comes to battling the bulge, and fighting off belly fat and menopause-related weight gain is no exception. Aging has the unfortunate ability to make everything slow down, including your metabolism. The most effective way to attack this issue is to be a bit more selective about the types and quantities of foods you eat. So even though everything in you at this age is saying TREAT YO SELF, you’ve got to show some restraint and go for the good stuff instead.
A few tips:
- Pick foods low on the glycemic index – a lowered insulin resistance means you have to be careful about your blood sugar as insulin spikes can lead to increased fat stores. Picking foods low on the glycemic index can help regulate digestion and blood sugar, keeping things nice and level. Think lean proteins and lots of veggies, the fun stuff!
- Pay attention to portion size – Eyes bigger than your stomach? It’s an all too common problem! Judging appropriate portion size can be tricky but becomes even more important as we age. It can help to track your food and portion size carefully for a few weeks to help get you into the swing of things so that your hunger doesn’t get the best of you.
- Be conservative with carbohydrates -Everybody loves to hate carbs and for what?! They play an vital role in good nutrition, especially when it comes to fitness. This is why it would be a bad choice to cut them out entirely. Instead, you just have to be selective about what kind of carbohydrates and how much to eat (hint: complex, whole grain and sparingly). As a bonus, whole grain also equals additional fiber and hey, menopausal women and extra fiber can be best friends in the digestion department.
It’s Gonna Take Some Work
Look, at this point in your life you know that there are no shortcuts. So while you’ve got to be extra careful about your post-menopausal diet, you’ve also got to dial up your activity level and fight against everything nature is telling you to do when it comes to aging. It’s estimated that close to 60% of adults aren’t active enough, with that number increasing as we age. Don’t let that be you!! There’s no reason why you can’t keep up the same fitness level from your 40’s on into your 50’s and beyond.
Slowing down is for the birds anyway, here’s a few ideas:
- Get your heart rate up. Take up swimming (great for achy joints, more on those to follow), go for extra bike rides, long walks with the dog, hikes, and even running if that’s your thing. Just get out and go!
- Time to hit the weights! Strength training is especially important for menopausal women, thanks to the low estrogen levels and the corresponding drop in muscle mass. Strength training can help maintain that precious lean muscle mass, improve your body’s ability to burn fat, and keep your joints protected and strong which is crucial for good mobility as we age. Don’t let bad knees or your trick hip become an excuse!
- Further, postmenopausal women have the highest rates of Osteoporosis and its precursor – Osteopenia as well. Both have to do with a loss of bone density (thanks to lowered estrogen levels) which can have dangerous and long-lasting results. Not to jump the gun, but hip fractures are the number one reason for nursing home admissions. Yikes! Find yourself a good calcium supplement and secure a gym membership, stat. If you don’t have weights at home already that is. If needed, seek the help of a trainer or find a good online program (check out the 15 Day Fit Body Challenge!) to show you the weight training ropes. Your weight, your bones, and your current and future health depend on it!
Last But Not Least
Menopause can be a real trip, both physically and mentally. Eating smart and eating well, exercising on a regular basis and focusing on weight training are all good ideas. Collectively this gives you a good amount of the tools needed to successfully fight off that menopausal weight gain and any number of other related ailments and afflictions relating to women aging.
They say the best is yet to come. Time to put that theory to the test and make your body and your health a real priority.
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