Our bodies change as we get older. When you were younger, you may have felt like you could eat anything and burn it off. Now it feels like you’ll gain weight even if you just look at a serving of french fries.
Menopause in particular can make losing weight more difficult for many women. But you shouldn’t abandon hope. It’s very possible to achieve and maintain a healthy weight even while you’re going through this major life change.
A large part of keeping your weight in check will depend on your eating patterns. The amount of calories you could safely eat when you were in your 20s, 30s, and 40s won’t be the same during and after menopause.
When you’re thinking about meals, you’ll want to focus on the quality of the foods you eat. Choose things that will help nourish your body. That means staying away from trans fats and limiting saturated fats, avoiding too much added sugar and simple carbohydrates, and limiting foods high in sodium.
Here are some examples of foods to incorporate into your diet:
- leafy green vegetables and other vegetables
- omega-3-rich fish (like salmon)
- lean protein sources
- berries and a variety of colorful fruits rich in antioxidants
- whole grains
- high-fiber, low-fat foods (like beans)
- low-fat dairy such as yogurt
Women’s need for calcium and vitamin D to help prevent osteoporosis and keep bones strong increases with age, but the nutrients might have other benefits as well.
“Calcium and vitamin D may also help with weight management, possibly stimulating the breakdown of fat cells and suppressing the development of new ones,” says Rene Ficek, registered dietitian and lead nutrition expert at Seattle Sutton’s Healthy Eating.
Drink plenty of water
Staying hydrated helps flush things through your body. Drinking water can also prevent you from overeating and may help with hot flashes.
Cardio is great for your heart and shouldn’t be ignored. But strength training is just as important for women as they get older. Bodyweight exercises like pushups and weightlifting help you fight back against muscle and bone loss.
Dr. Ross also says weight training can help boost your metabolism.
Find something you enjoy and that works for you. It doesn’t have to be a hardcore workout to be effective. You just need to do something consistently that works and challenges your body. There are lots of new fitness apps that can show you exercises and help you track progress.
Why it’s tricky
During menopause your hormone levels are changing. Your estrogen levels are decreasing. This changes the way your body distributes weight gain. For example, extra weight that may have settled on your hips, butt, and thighs may now settle around your waistline.
Menopause alone doesn’t trigger weight gain. The aging process, your lifestyle habits, and your genetics also play a role. Combine these factors with stressful life changes, like children leaving home, caring for ailing parents, or a divorce, and it can become a recipe for gaining weight.
“As we age, we begin losing muscle mass. This process actually starts at around the age of 30! You lose about 3 to 8 percent of your lean body mass per decade after age 30. And it's cumulative. If you lose 5 percent of your muscle mass during the 3rd and 4th decades, then during the 4th to 5th decades, you will lose 5 percent of the 95 percent remaining, and so on. So the calorie burning tissues in the body begin a slow diminishing process. Less calorie burning tissue means a woman has to work harder to burn the same number of calories as she ages,” explains Barbara Bergin, M.D., board-certified orthopedic surgeon in Austin, Texas.
The less muscle mass you have, the harder it is to burn calories. If you don’t reduce your intake and up your activity levels, you will struggle to lose weight.
Risks of weight gain
Gaining weight after menopause also has other health risks. It puts you in danger of developing type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and certain types of cancer. That’s why it’s important to develop healthy eating and exercise habits that you’ll stick to.
It turns out that the fundamentals of losing weight during and after menopause aren’t all that different from regular weight loss guidelines. There are no magic pills, just hard work and dedication.
You might find it more challenging to shed those extra pounds, but it’s not impossible.