How can we accept that weight gain and having difficulty taking it off is an actual symptom of perimenopause and menopause and not hate ourselves? According to the World Health Organization (WHO) women have the toughest time maintaining their weight from the ages of 45 to 60.
So what can we do about it without reverting to the unhealthy attitudes that may have plagued our younger selves?
Here are the straight facts about weight gain during perimenopause and menopause.
Why do we gain weight during menopause?When our periods start becoming irregular is when we start seeing our bodies change. It won't happen overnight, it's just something that you may expect to see as you enter into perimenopause.
As our ovarian function decreases, the source of estrogen, which has primarily been your ovaries for most of your life, is being lost. So the only way to make up that deficit hormonally is fat.
The peripheral conversion of fat gives you estrogen. So, your body is actually working against itself. You're losing estrogen and even if you've never had a excess fat around your middle, you're putting belly fat on.
"This is all related to the fact that your body is saying, 'I really don't want the ovaries to quit. They're quitting! I can't do anything about it,'" said Lizellen La Follette, an OB-GYN based in Marin County, California. "Your body is essentially saying, 'let's see if I can get another source of estrogen.'"
Most women's metabolism slows down in midlife and that can make it harder to lose weight. In short, your weight gain doesn't have anything to do with discipline or you falling down on your regimen. It's your hormones.
What can I do about weight gain during menopause and perimenopause?The first thing to do is accept the fact that your body is changing and be kinder to yourself about it. That said, there are things you can do to keep your weight in check to stay healthy and avoid issues like high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes and other unwanted health conditions.
Keep track of your sleep. Easier said than done, especially when we may be facing sleep disruption due to insomnia, night sweats, or anxiety.
Still, it's worth doing your best to try and improve your sleep hygiene with whatever works, whether it's meditation, prayer, cutting out blue light, or putting down your phone before bed.
Rethink your relationship with calorie counting. All calories are not created equal. We know that protein and vegetables are better for us than a chocolate chip muffin. But it helps to understand why having more them in your diet can help you feel better during our hormonal transition.
The best way to start? Don't start off your day with chasing that sugar high to get fight fatigue and get you revved up for your day.
"I tell my patients if they start off their day eating sugar, whether to stave off anxiety or fight fatigue, the rest of the day they'll be looking for sugar," said La Follette. "So, think about using a way to keep your blood sugar steady, so the symptoms of emotional and physical ups and downs doesn't force you to eat badly."
"All the ingredients related to alcohol are not in your favor," said La Follette. "You got to be careful. Even though it's liquid, it still counts as sugar. And it doesn't really help you in the long run, so really pay attention."
Rethink your relationship to exercise. Exercise is great for the heart and the mind, there's no question. But when it comes to weight loss, it may not move the needle as much as you think it will. For those of us that aren't elite athletes who spend hours a day running or cycling, it's really about what we eat.
"It helps because it revs our metabolism up, but you really don't have that kind of time in the day to actually lose weight through exercise," said La Follette. "It's our eating habits that will make the most difference."
Cardio is great! But don't forget to focus on strength, flexibility can also help strengthen your bones and fight osteoporosis, which is a real issue for us in menopause.
Do not crash diet. We've all seen the magazine covers telling us how easy it is to lose 15 pounds in 30 days with one diet or another. None of this is sustainable or offers a healthy outlook for longterm health. Those lifehacks that may have worked in the past may not work for you during perimenopause and menopause. But maybe that's not a bad thing?
Your body isn't going to react kindly to a sudden change in weight. It wants to stay at a set point and will do what it can to keep you there.
"Say you've lost 10 pounds, and you're here. But your body doesn't believe that's your steady state," said La Follette. "So, even though you're eating a 100 calorie piece of bread, your body extracts more calories in it, because it thinks it needs to be at your previous place."
This is why you need to consider what you eat as a lifestyle change versus a diet. Just like there's no real way to get rich quick, there's no real way to lose weight fast and keep it off.
"We do something for a month and then we wonder why we haven't lost weight," says La Follette. "Tell yourself you're in it for the long haul and give yourself time to change your habits."
When should I talk to my doctor about weight gain?
If you're sticking to a healthy eating plan for a sustained amount of time and you're not seeing results, it may also be worth checking out.
Your doctor may offer you some helpful tools to help you lose weight or refer you to a nutritionist that can help you stay on track, hold yourself accountable, and offer emotional support.
If you are suddenly gaining or losing weight, definitely see your doctor. It could be a sign of thyroid disease, kidney problems, or even cancer.
Be kind to you!Let's face it–our society is not very kind to women. We're not supposed to age and we're not supposed to be heavy. It really sucks and that attitude needs to change. We're already fighting so many myths about menopause and suffer from a lack of information.
"I can remember being seven-years old and realizing that if I ate that candy bar, I'd be wearing it. I was seven, for crying out loud!" said La Follette. "There's such a prejudice about weight related to intelligence, and related to self- control, and this attitude that people are too lazy or stupid to understand how to do it."
And that's a bunch of bullsh-t.
Instead of thinking so much about the weight on the scale, think about the numbers on the inside, the ones that keep our hearts healthy and our muscles and bones strong.