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The Menopause Exchange Blog

WEIGHT MANAGEMENT AT THE MENOPAUSE

Many women struggle to lose weight around the time of the menopause. Even when weight control has always been easy, things may suddenly start to seem a little harder.

If this sounds familiar, be assured that it’s not just you. In fact, a study of women in Portugal found that seven out of ten women gained weight during the transition into the menopause. The good news is that there are steps you can take to make managing your weight a little easier.

This article was included in issue 76 (spring 2018) of The Menopause Exchange newsletter.

Body shape changes
As hormone levels change, women tend to change body shape, moving from a pear shape (hips larger than their waist) towards an apple shape (waist larger than their hips). Even when your body weight doesn’t change, your waistband may feel a little tighter.

Body fat around your tummy is the most damaging to your health, particularly in relation to diabetes and heart disease. Measure your waist (it should be just above your belly button!), if it’s 80cm (31.5 inches) or more, then your health is starting to be affected, and 88cm (34.5 inches) or larger is a clear sign that it’s time to take action.

Weight loss
To lose weight, you need to take in fewer calories than you’re burning. At its simplest, you can either eat fewer calories or burn more calories through activity. Both approaches work, but the ideal is to combine the two – cutting calories and exercising more.

When losing weight, it’s important to remember that your goal is to reduce your body fat levels and to hang on to your lean muscle underneath. Muscles are not only important for strength, balance and general well-being, but also because they burn calories – both while you’re using them and also when they’re at rest.

Losing weight by only cutting food calories tends to result in a loss of both body fat and lean muscle, which, in the long run, will reduce your metabolic rate and make your weight control even harder. In contrast, weight loss accompanied with increased amounts of exercise will result in maintenance of lean mass, greater fitness and greater fat loss. Don’t forget that exercise isn’t all about going faster and huffing and puffing, as resistance exercises and weights will help to keep your muscles intact.

Calorie intake
One of our biggest challenges today is portion control, with ‘calorie creep’ suggested to be responsible for gradual weight gain. Public Health England recommends that adults consume about 400 calories for breakfast and 600 calories each for lunch and dinner, which allows a small amount for extra drinks and snacks throughout the day. That may sound like plenty, but it’s worth checking what you’re having for a few days to make sure you’re not eating more, especially at your evening meal. Look at your plate and aim for: one-quarter protein; one-quarter starchy carbohydrate (preferably high in fibre), and half vegetables or salad. And of course, strict willpower in relation to snacks, treats and alcohol is required if you want those extra inches to disappear.

Healthy eating
Another thing to be aware of when you’re attempting to lose weight is that most approaches to cutting calories result in an unwelcome reduction in intake of a range of vitamins and minerals. Staying focused on eating the most nutritious foods that you can (including wholegrain breads, brown rice and grains, lean meats & fish, low fat dairy foods, plus plenty of fruits and vegetables) is vital. Eating foods that are ‘fortified’ with vitamins and minerals can also help, for example choosing breakfast cereals that have added iron, B vitamins and vitamin D, or fat spreads with added vitamin D.

Getting enough vitamin D from diet alone in the UK is challenging, so all adults are advised to take a daily supplement of vitamin D. Sufficient calcium is also essential at the menopause, to maintain your bone health. One option may be to take these in a once -a-day multivitamin/mineral supplement, but if you’re taking any other supplements check labels to ensure that you’re not doubling up on anything.

Other approaches
A common question women often have is whether healthy eating and exercise are the only ways to lose weight. While these are the best long-term approach, other approaches can help to kick-start weight loss. For example, nutritionally balanced meal replacement plans work for some people, but they exclude family & social eating, and some are low in fibre resulting in digestive issues.

Higher protein diets can help to stave off hunger, but an increase in fat intake needs to be avoided, as cholesterol levels already tend to rise as oestrogen levels decline. Bear in mind that losing more than 1kg (2lbs) a week is a sure sign that you’re losing lean muscle and reducing your metabolic rate, so keep it steady and don’t try anything too extreme.

Sensible approach
You don’t have to lose it all to gain the benefits. Even small weight losses can help your health, so start with something achievable, e.g. a target of 3 to 5kg (or 6 to 10lbs), then when you get there set yourself another target. Setting small goals for daily life can also help.

Write down all of the things you could change about eating, drinking and activity levels. Remember to consider:

  • What can you do?
  • Where you can do it (work/home)?
  • How often should you do it (once a day,three times a day etc)?

Pick three or four simple changes to start with and then make them happen. Keep doing them and they will soon become a habit. Each week, add in something new and before you know it small things could be making a big difference to your weight and your health. If you need more support, ask your GP to refer you to a dietitian.

About the author
Since qualifying as a registered dietitian, Angie Jefferson has researched, written and discussed with consumers and healthcare professionals almost every aspect of diet and health. With a special interest in women’s health, she aims to deliver simple, positive messages for optimal nutrition within a healthy lifestyle. Visit her website at www.angiejefferson.co.uk

Created Spring 2018

Copyright © The Menopause Exchange 2018

References:

[1] Pimenta F et al (2014) Predictors of weight variation and weight gain in peri- and post-menopausal women. J Health Psychol. 19: 993-1002

[1] http://www.nationalobesityforum.org.uk/healthcare-professionals-mainmenu-155/assessment-mainmenu-168/171-waist-circumference.html

[1] Van Gemert WA et al (2015) Effect of weight loss, with or without exercise, on body composition and sex hormones in postmenopausal women: the SHAPE-2 trial. Breast Cancer Res. 2015 Sep 2;17:120. doi: 10.1186/s13058-015-0633-9.

[1] Gardner CD et al (2010) Micronutrient quality of weight-loss diets that focus on macronutrients: results from the A TO Z study. Am J Clin Nutr 92: 304-12

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