Weight gain goes hand in hand with perimenopause and is associated with the ageing process, as our bodies no longer function as efficiently as they used to.
Why does this happen?
Weight gain is most common around the tummy, and according to Clare Shepherd, a menopause nutritionist expert, "women will add an extra ten to fifteen pounds as they go through the menopause years even if there has been no change to either their diet or exercise regime."
Belly fat is caused by low levels of oestrogen. Oestrogen is the name given to a group of three different hormones that we produce - oestrodial, oestrone and oestriol. As we get older, the body moves away from oestradiol to oestrone as the main source of oestrogen which is produced in the adrenal glands and fat cells. Our body starts putting on more fat, as a way of producing more oestrone, so if you're not on HRT, you may experience more weight gain as you get closer to menopause. In addition, we are unable to burn off fat in the way we used, as the body no longer uses fat stores to convert into energy. So strong is the urge to hold onto fat, that the body would rather break down protein from muscles to use as energy than take away from our fat! This becomes a vicious cycle as losing muscle mass also slows the rate at which our body uses calories, causing our metabolism to further drop and hold onto more fat. Finally, if we are feeling stressed or anxious, this also converts into fat as the body's way of protecting us. This isn't just psychological stress. Body stress is caused by eating processed foods, sugary foods or drinking alcohol regularly and causes our stress hormone, cortisol to rise which contributes to weight gain.
Should I be worried?
Beyond aesthetics and wanting to fit into our favourite clothes, being overweight is known to make our menopause symptoms much worse - particularly hot flushes. Being heavily overweight also increases the risk of type 2 diabetes increases as insulin rises when oestrone rises, as well as cardio-vascular disease
So, what can I do about it?
Avoid dieting - this causes our leptin hormone to tell our brain that we need food and makes us more hungry and more likely to binge out on unhealthy foods but do aim to eat less (try a small plate or serve) - we should be eating 200 calories less in our 40's & 50's but of course this depends on our BMI and amount of exercise we are doing daily
Get moving - aim to exercise at least 5 times a day for 30 minutes
Build up your muscle mass to boost your metabolism through weight bearing exercise & resistance training
Cut out processed foods, dairy, alcohol, sugar and wheat - nutritionists suggest eliminating them completely for at least 30 days to help the body reset
Cut out refined white carbs & swap with more complex ones as this makes us fuller for longer
Include pre and probiotics for gut health & fibre, as they help lower the amount of oestrogen reabsorbed back into your bloodstream, which may to help regulate oestrogen levels
Avoid skincare creams and cleaning products that contain endocrine disruptor chemicals (or wear gloves); also found in some farmed meat & fish that pump animals with growth hormones
See a nutritionist or dietician! It can be a challenge to have the motivation to lose weight alone so seeing a specialist to kick start us into a healthy habit is a worthwhile investment