Some people may notice weight gain during perimenopause, and losing it can be hard once menopause begins. Rather than counting calories or pounds, it’s better to focus on living healthfully.
Losing weight during and after menopause may seem impossible.
Hormone changes, stress, and the aging process can all work against you.
However, there are several steps you can take to make weight loss easier during this time.
Menopause officially starts when a person hasn’t had a menstrual cycle for 12 months. Around this time, it may be very hard to lose weight.
In fact, many people notice that they actually start putting on weight during perimenopause, which can begin a decade prior to menopause.
Several factors play a role in weight gain around menopause, including:
- Hormone fluctuations. Both elevated and very low levels of estrogen can lead to increased fat storage (
- Loss of muscle mass. This occurs due to age, hormonal changes, and decreased physical activity (3, 4).
- Inadequate sleep. Many women have trouble sleeping during menopause. Poor sleep is linked to weight gain (5, 6,
- Increased insulin resistance. Women often become insulin resistant as they age, which can make losing weight more difficult (
What’s more, fat storage shifts from the hips and thighs to the abdomen during menopause. This increases the risk of metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease (9).
Therefore, strategies that promote the loss of abdominal fat are particularly important at this stage of life.
Menopause may lead to hormonal changes, loss of muscle mass, poor sleep, and insulin resistance. These effects may, in turn, increase the risk of weight gain.
To lose weight, a calorie deficit is needed.
According to some research, a woman’s resting energy expenditure, or the number of calories she burns during rest, declines during and after menopause (4).
Although it may be tempting to try a very low calorie diet to lose weight quickly, eating so few calories can sometimes make weight loss harder.
Research shows that restricting calories to low levels causes loss of muscle mass and a further decline in metabolic rate (10,
So while very low calorie diets may result in short-term weight loss, their effects on muscle mass and metabolic rate will make it hard to keep the weight off.
Moreover, insufficient calorie intake and decreased muscle mass may lead to bone loss. This can increase your risk for osteoporosis (
Adopting a healthy lifestyle that can be maintained long term can help preserve your metabolic rate and reduce the amount of muscle mass you lose with age.
A calorie deficit is needed for weight loss. However, cutting calories too much increases the loss of lean muscle, which accelerates the drop in metabolic rate that occurs with age.
Here are four nutritious diets that have been shown to help with weight loss during and beyond the menopausal transition.
The low carb diet
Many studies have shown that low carb diets are excellent for weight loss and are also able to help reduce abdominal fat (
Although perimenopausal and postmenopausal women have been included in several low carb studies, there have only been a few studies looking at this population exclusively.
In one such study, postmenopausal women on a low carb diet lost 21.8 pounds (9.9 kilograms), 27.5% of their body fat, and 3.5 inches (8.9 centimeters) from their waists within 6 months (
What’s more, carb intake doesn’t need to be extremely low to produce weight loss.
In another study, a paleo diet providing roughly 30% of calories from carbs produced a greater reduction in abdominal fat and weight after 2 years than a low fat diet. The low fat diet provided 55–60% of calories from carbs (
Here’s a detailed guide to the low carb diet, which includes a meal plan and menu.
The Mediterranean diet
Although the Mediterranean diet is best known for improving health and reducing heart disease risk, studies show it may also help you lose weight (
Like low carb diet studies, most Mediterranean diet studies have looked at both men and women rather than perimenopausal or postmenopausal women exclusively.
In one study of men and women ages 55 years and older, those who followed a Mediterranean diet had significant reductions in abdominal fat. Their diets were supplemented with either nuts or olive oil (20).
Read this for a guide to the Mediterranean diet, including a meal plan and sample menu.
A vegan or vegetarian diet
Vegan and vegetarian diets have also shown promise for weight loss (21).
Older studies in postmenopausal women reported significant weight loss and improvements in health among a group assigned to a vegan diet (
A 2018 survey found that vegans in perimenopause experienced less severe vasomotor symptoms (such as hot flashes) and physical symptoms than omnivores (
However, a more flexible vegetarian approach that includes dairy and eggs has also been shown to work well in older women (
Read this to learn more about the differences between vegan and vegetarian diets.
Low carb, Mediterranean, vegan, and vegetarian diets have been shown to have benefits in perimenopause and menopause.
Most people become less active as they age.
However, exercise may be more important than ever during and after menopause.
It can improve mood, promote a healthy weight, and protect your muscles and bones (26).
Resistance training with weights or bands can be extremely effective at preserving or even increasing lean muscle mass. Lean muscle mass normally declines with hormonal changes and age (
Although all types of resistance training are beneficial, recent research suggests that performing more repetitions is better, especially for reducing abdominal fat (
Aerobic exercise, or cardio, is also great for menopause. Studies have shown that it can reduce abdominal fat while preserving muscle during weight loss (
A mix of resistance training and aerobic exercise may be the best strategy for weight loss (
Resistance training and aerobic exercise can help promote fat loss while preventing the muscle loss that normally occurs around menopause.
Here are several ways to improve your quality of life and make weight loss easier during menopause.
Get restful, quality sleep
Many women in menopause have trouble sleeping due to hot flashes, night sweats, stress, and other physical effects of estrogen deficiency (36).
However, getting enough high-quality sleep is important for achieving and maintaining a moderate weight.
People who sleep too little have higher levels of the “hunger hormone” ghrelin, have lower levels of the “fullness hormone” leptin, and are more likely to be overweight (37, 38).
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), a form of psychotherapy shown to help with insomnia, may benefit women experiencing symptoms of low estrogen.
According to a 2019 study, postmenopausal women who received CBT for their insomnia saw a greater increase in sleep duration over 6 months than women who received sleep hygiene education or sleep restriction therapy (39).
Sleep restriction therapy is a component of CBT. The goal of sleep restriction therapy is to purposefully limit the amount of time you spend in bed lying awake or not sleeping.
Acupuncture may also be helpful.
In one study, it reduced the frequency of hot flashes by 36.7% over 6 months. A review of several studies found that acupuncture may increase estrogen levels, which can help reduce symptoms and promote better sleep (
Find a way to relieve stress
Stress relief is also important during the menopausal transition.
In addition to increasing the risk of heart disease, stress leads to elevated cortisol levels, which are associated with increased abdominal fat (
Several studies have found that yoga can help reduce stress and relieve symptoms in women going through menopause (43,
Certain lifestyle changes, such as getting more high-quality sleep, can help make it easier to manage your menopause symptoms. As a result, losing weight may become easier.
Here are a few other tips that can help with weight loss during menopause or at any age.
- Eat plenty of protein. Protein helps keep you full and satisfied, increases metabolic rate, and reduces muscle loss during weight loss (
46, 47, 48).
- Include dairy in your diet. Research suggests that dairy products can help you lose fat while retaining muscle mass (49, 50).
- Eat foods high in soluble fiber. Consuming high fiber foods like flaxseeds, Brussels sprouts, avocados, and broccoli can help increase insulin sensitivity, reduce appetite, and promote weight loss (51,
- Drink green tea. Green tea contains the compounds caffeine and epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG). They may help you burn fat (
53, 54, 55).
- Practice mindful eating. Mindful eating may help reduce stress and improve your relationship with food, so you end up eating less (56,
Eating mindfully and consuming foods and beverages that support weight loss can help you lose weight during menopause.
Although losing weight may be your primary goal, it’s important that you make changes you can maintain long-term.
It’s also best to focus on health rather than the number on the scale.
Maintaining a healthy lifestyle by exercising, getting enough sleep, focusing on a nutrient-dense balanced diet, and eating mindfully can help you look and feel your absolute best during menopause and beyond.