By Madeleine Ortiz
Menopause. Women who have gone through it often mark it as the moment they noticed their bodies really starting to change. Weight that used to come off with a few weeks of healthy eating now won’t budge, belly fat that never existed seems to make waistbands tighter than ever before and moodiness isn’t as easy to manage as it once was. It’s an inevitable part of life for women, but according to Dr. Sasha High, director of High Metabolic Clinic, there’s more to later in life weight gain than just menopause – and a lot we can do about it.
Menopause is diagnosed twelve months after a woman’s last menstrual period. During the years leading up to menopause, hormone production – specifically the production of estrogen and progesterone – starts to vary greatly. The hormone fluctuation during perimenopause can cause hot flashes, mood swings and trouble sleeping. It is not, however, something that is directly linked to weight gain or having difficulty with weight loss. In reality, says Dr. High, weight retention and weight gain during this period are actually caused by the symptoms associated with menopause and aging in general.
Symptoms like hot flashes, mood swings, poor sleep and others associated with perimenopause and menopause can lead to fatigue, emotional eating and other common causes of weight gain. Additionally, aging can reduce muscle mass, slowing the metabolism. According to Dr. High, the effects of aging and menopause often occur around the same time making many people blame menopause for all of it. Fortunately, there are ways to play defense against the mechanisms working against you and keep weight off even as our bodies age and change.
1. Get enough, quality sleep.
Lack of sleep can worsen insulin resistance, increase hunger hormones and decrease our restraint in the face of cravings. Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon for people to have trouble getting the sleep they need. Dr. High recommends setting a consistent bedtime and wake up time, with a goal for lights out before 11 PM. This will help your circadian rhythm hormones and overall quality of sleep. If getting to sleep is your problem, she recommends trying a sleep or meditation app and ensuring good sleep hygiene (avoiding caffeine, maintaining a dark room, avoiding screen time). She suggests that taking a magnesium supplement before bed may also help improve sleep quality. It’s important to first talk with your doctor about the right magnesium dose, but it is generally recommended not to take more than 350 mg a day. It takes practice, but once you start getting into the routine of good sleep habits, you’ll notice the positive health effects on your weight, mood and energy levels.
2. Find time to exercise.
Lack of sleep and general fatigue probably isn’t making you feel motivated to get in a workout, but physical activity may actually help increase your energy levels. Schedule yourself some time for exercise – and make sure it’s something you enjoy. Still not feeling motivated? Enlist a workout buddy to hold you accountable. Once you make physical activity a part of your regular routine you’ll notice the difference in your mood and energy levels. Some studies suggest you may even get better sleep after an active day.
3. Incorporate strength training into your routine.
Your muscle mass is the biggest contributor to your metabolic rate, says Dr. High. And as you age, your muscle mass will naturally start to decrease. This reduction in muscle mass will cause your metabolism to slow, and a slower metabolism will cause weight gain even if diet and exercise stays exactly the same. The solution, she explains, is to incorporate strength training or more strength training into your weekly exercise routine. Body weight activities, weight lifting, pilates and even power yoga are great places to start. Find something you enjoy and if you have an injury or medical concern, reach out to a doctor or trainer for support.
4. Eat a balanced, lower carb diet.
Even though diet isn’t the only answer when it comes to losing weight and keeping it off, it is an important piece of the puzzle. Dr. High recommends taking a look at what you’re eating and doing your best to incorporate healthy, whole foods. Getting more nutrients will help with fatigue and added protein can assist with maintaining important muscle mass. Additionally, she suggests limiting simple carbohydrates as a way to reduce cravings and stabilize blood sugar – both very helpful for losing weight and keeping it off.
5. Don’t mistake hormone therapy for a weight loss treatment.
Many women are placed on a hormone replacement therapy to help ease some of the symptoms that accompany peri-menopause and menopause. Dr. High says hormone replacement can be a great solution for easing hot flashes and mood swings, but they should not be used for weight loss. If weight loss is a challenge, ask your doctor for weight loss specific treatments. Not sure what that might look like? Check out this article for more information about treatments that have been proven to work for long-term weight management.
For many people living with obesity, diet and exercise alone is not enough to help them reach a healthier weight. Other treatments (like behavioral interventions, medications or bariatric surgery) will be required, and talking to your doctor about the treatments available is the first step to figure out what’s the right plan for you.
Dr. High is a physician who specializes in weight management and she’s listed in our physician locator. You can use it to find Dr. High or a physician near you who focuses on helping people reach a healthier weight, click here.
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This article was sponsored by Novo Nordisk Canada. All content is created independently by My Weight – What To Know with no influence from Novo Nordisk.