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Weight Gain – Is That Extra Layer of Tummy Fat a Sign of Perimenopause?

Weight Gain – Menopause Symptom # 8

One day you are looking in the mirror and you panic: How did that extra layer of tummy fat creep up on me? Weight gain is a sign of perimenopause

Weight gain is a sign of perimenopause.

It is well known that as we get older, it becomes more difficult for us to maintain our weight and extra pounds can be an unwelcome visitor; one that is difficult to get rid of!

According to the Harvard Medical School, when a woman is younger, her extra pounds will collect on her hips and thighs. However, starting at perimenopause, her body starts to store fat around her middle. 

Weight gain is one of the perimenopausal symptoms that can begin in the early forties for many women.

What is Menopausal Weight Gain?

Weight gain as a symptom of menopause is not the same as weight gain caused by overeating and lack of activity.

You may be going to the gym, exercising, eating healthy food, but still finding it difficult to maintain a healthy weight.

You may find that despite not changing your eating or exercising patterns, the weight is piling on. The extra pounds are not caused by something wrong that you are doing, but because of the shifting hormones in your body when it starts going through perimenopause. 

In fact, the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHNES) found that “68.1 percent of women ages 40-59 were classified as “overweight” or “affected by obesity” in the US, whereas only 51.7 of women aged 20-39 were overweight.

Studies show that the average weight gain in the perimenopausal transition is around 5 pounds. However, many women report weight gain of 10-15 pounds. This is especially true if the woman was already overweight before perimenopause.

Some women find that although the scales do not show an increase, their body shape begins to change, and the pants that used to fit them may become tight around the waist.

Every woman is different and will experience perimenopause in her own way, but weight gain seems to be one of the more common perimenopausal symptoms.

Reasons and effects of weight gain in perimenopause?

Common symptoms of weight gain are: Weight gain is a sign of perimenopause

  • Slower metabolism
  • Increasing difficulty in losing weight 
  • Fat accumulating around the midriff rather than the lower part of the body
  • Loss of muscle mass
  • Increase of fat mass

Why does weight gain happen in perimenopause?

Lower estrogen levels

When perimenopause starts, the ovaries are producing high amounts of estrogen, but estrogen production declines when periods become irregular. At that point, the ovaries produce very little estrogen. Low estrogen causes fat to be stored around the midriff. The body does that because visceral fat (around the tummy) contains estrogen and the body is trying to compensate for the lower production of estrogen from the ovaries.

Poor sleep

Lack of sleep is linked to weight gain. During perimenopause, women can experience insomnia and serious sleep disruption, which adds to the problem of weight gain.

Aging processes

As people age, their metabolism naturally slows down and they tend to burn less energy. Also, in their 40’s, 50’s and 60’s, women tend to lead less active lifestyles. Both these factors can lead to lower muscle mass and more fat in the body.

How risky is weight gain?

High estrogen in the body causes fat to be stored on the hips and thighs, which does not cause a higher risk of disease. 

However, in menopause, low estrogen causes fat to be stored around the midriff, which is linked to several serious conditions. Gaining weight in menopause can seriously affect your health. Some of the risks can be:

How can I prevent weight gain?

There is no magic pill to preventing excess weight in menopause. Unfortunately, the truth is that you have to make more of an effort to keep your weight at a healthy level.

The following tips may be helpful:

1. Exercise

Exercise helps both your body and your mind. It increases your muscle mass and helps you to expend more energy even in a resting state. Weight gain is a sign of perimenopause

The two types of exercise are recommended: Aerobic exercise and strength training.

Aerobic exercise helps strengthen the heart and lungs. You probably know it as cardio. It includes activities such as swimming, running, brisk walking or cycling, which raise the heart rate for a period of time. Research shows that aerobic exercise can decrease body fat in menopause. Experts recommend at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise per week, such as brisk walking, or at least 75 minutes per week of vigorous aerobic exercise such as jogging 

Strength training twice a week ensures that you maintain or increase the muscle mass in your body, which will burn more calories even when you are not exercising. A study showed that strength training will also help to reduce the risk of metabolic syndrome and the loss of bone density (osteoporosis) in menopausal women.

2. Move more

Find small ways in your daily life where you can move more and become more active

  • Walking the dog
  • Gardening
  • Taking the stairs for a couple of floors instead of the elevator
  • Park a little way from your destination and walk
  • Walk while you are speaking on the phone
  • Walk while listening to an audio book

3. Plan ahead

To keep weight under control, you have to make lifestyle changes that will last. To do this you need a combination of practical and emotional strategies. You need to plan the logistics of healthy eating and exercise. You also need to prepare yourself psychologically for the times when it is hard to follow through with your planed strategies.

4. Make sleep a priority

During menopause, sleep can be disrupted due to insomnia and night sweats. Lack of sleep has been linked to weight gain, as previously mentioned.

Establishing a regular sleep routine and staying off electronics help in getting better and more restful sleep. 

Avoiding heavy meals before bedtime as well as caffeine and alcohol are some of the things you can do for improving the quality of your sleep.

Read about the best strategies to ensure a good night’s sleep, here.

5. Eat less & eat healthy

As perimenopause hits, you may begin to need fewer calories. You will probably need 200 calories less than you did when you were younger. So, reduce the amount of food that you eat but make sure that what you eat is better quality food.

Try to focus on foods with a higher fiber content which make you feel full. Vegetables and fruit are full of fiber. Reduce your intake of refined carbohydrates such as bread and pasta. Try to cut out sugar altogether by gradually reducing the raw sugar, candy and sweets you eat. Avoid fast and highly processed food. Your body will thank you!

Another tactic is to limit portion size. A good trick is to use smaller plates to trick your mind. This really works; try it! Weight gain is a sign of perimenopause

5. Limit Alcohol

Alcohol has calories! 

Alcohol has sugar and is high in calories. It also lowers your guard when it comes to making good food choices. 

So, it is best to limit the amount of alcohol you consume in your effort to restrain weight gain. 

6. Reduce Stress

Stress causes the production of cortisol in the body. Cortisol sends a signal to the brain to store fat. It is a kind of emergency storage to help the body to deal with tough times. 

There are many ways to manage stress: Eat good healthy food, exercise, try meditation or Tai Chi, listen to music, practice self-care regularly.

Of course, it is often easier said than done. However, if we are serious about taking care of ourselves and managing the menopause transition, it makes sense to do our best to manage stress.

7. Review your medications with your doctor

Some medications that are prescribed for women in menopause may cause weight gain or make it worse. If you are taking new medication and have noticed weight gain, it may be a good idea to review the medication with your doctor just to make sure they are not adding to the problem of weight gain.

8. Practice acceptance

You should do all you can to limit weight gain in perimenopause and beyond in order to maintain good health and mobility. However, body shape changes and other symptoms of aging can be inevitable.

It is a good idea to practice self-acceptance and gratitude for the gift of life. Each stage in life has its own beauty and challenges, and menopause is no different. 

Read more about perimenopause symptoms here:

Hot flashes

Insomnia

Fatigue

Mood Swings

Night Sweats

Brain Fog

Irregular Periods

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