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Why you gain weight during menopause (and what to do about it)

Menopause is a natural stage in life for women. During this stage, there are many changes happening within the body, but one of the main "side effects" can be weight gain. In this article, we’re going to cover the causes behind weight gain during menopause and what you can do to tackle it.

Steph Gregory
Steph Gregory
Health coach
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Why you gain weight during menopause (and what to do about it)

Menopause is a natural stage in life for women and those with a menstrual cycle. It’s when the body’s hormones begin to change, reducing and then no longer producing oestrogen – the hormone that controls the menstrual cycle and ovulation. This usually occurs between the ages of 45-55 but can vary depending on genetics, health conditions, life events etc.

During this stage in life, there are many changes happening within the body, but one of the main side effects of the menopause can be weight gain, mainly around the abdominal area.

In this article, we’re going to cover the causes behind weight gain during menopause and what you can do to tackle it.

What causes weight gain during menopause?

With the body going through so many changes, usual hormone releases being disturbed and changes in mood and energy, it can be a time when women and those with a menstrual cycle can feel out of sync with their body.

Going through menopause changes the metabolic rate within the body. It starts to work at a lower baseline energy level, meaning it’s the time to readjust the energy intakes and overall nutrient intakes. 

The importance of your diet

When it comes to your diet, this also has an impact on weight gain during the menopause.

Eating a high-calorie, high-fat diet that contains a lot of takeaways, ready-made meals and limited fruit and vegetables is likely to increase weight. Ideally, at this time, it’s important to be focussing on high-protein, whole grain carbohydrates, fruits and vegetables to support the energy requirements of your body, slow-release of overall energy and to support muscle maintenance. 

Protein is key

Protein is a key nutrient to focus on, as it supports your muscle maintenance and growth, but also plays key roles in many functions throughout the body. It will also help keep you feeling fuller for longer periods as it takes time for your body to digest. 

It can be easy to not eat enough protein, so a good rule of thumb is to ensure that at least ¼ of your plate at each meal is a high-quality protein source, and any snacks also have a source of protein in them.

Some high-quality protein sources are:

  • Lean meats
  • Fish
  • Eggs
  • Low-fat dairy products
  • Beans
  • Lentils
  • Tofu
  • Tempeh

How to stop (or slow down) weight gain during menopause

Menopause brings significant changes to the body, including decreased muscle mass and bone density. It’s crucial to support these areas through diet and exercise. Increasing protein intake and incorporating strength training (like weight lifting, yoga, pilates, and body weight exercises) are key strategies.

Combining strength training with cardiovascular exercises supports overall health. This mix promotes fat loss, muscle growth, and strengthens the cardiovascular system. It also helps raise HDL cholesterol (good cholesterol) and reduce inflammation.

Managing changes and building healthy habits

Menopause can be a stressful time due to the many changes happening in your body. While some factors are beyond your control, focusing on what you can control is essential. Developing new habits and routines slowly over time ensures sustainability.

Focus on:

  • Nutrition: Ensure your diet supports your body’s needs.
  • Exercise: Include both cardiovascular and strength training.
  • Hydration: Maintain adequate water intake.
  • Sleep: Establish consistent sleep patterns.

These factors influence your weight, energy levels, and overall motivation. As your BMI increases, hunger hormones may overproduce, making you feel constantly hungry. Weight loss medications like Wegovy can help manage appetite and hunger by mimicking hormones that regulate these feelings.

Support from Embla

At Embla, you’re supported by a Registered Nutritionist who helps you understand your current habits and routines. They work with you to set goals and implement changes that suit your lifestyle. Building new habits takes time, but with the guidance of your coach, this process becomes easier and more sustainable.

The connection between menopause, depression, and weight gain

When looking at the statistics, generally women are twice as likely to be diagnosed with or affected by depression. 

There are some parts of research that suggest there is a link between hormonal changes, and menopause being one of those times that makes an individual to be more vulnerable to depression or lower moods. 

Feeling more “down” is normal

As menopause symptoms and changes can last between 3-9 years, these changes can seem never-ending and cause disruptions in every part of life, so a decrease in mood is bound to occur throughout this transition. 

Also, it has been suggested that with all the physical changes, and how weight gain can be an uncontrollable factor throughout menopause along with fatigue, this increases the negative emotions you may have about yourself and increases the risk of depression.

Your body shape changes

With a change in body shape, abilities and lowered libido, you might be feeling a decrease in your self-confidence and even feeling deflated with how different your body feels than it did before the menopause started. 

This is a very normal change and bound to occur throughout this stage, as there are so many internal and external changes that you can’t control, but it doesn’t mean you can’t take back the reins and support your physical and mental health throughout this stage.

Your sleep is negatively impacted

There are also symptoms of menopause like hot flashes that can not only be an uncomfortable part of the menopause but also have a negative impact on your sleep patterns and sleep quality.

Research has shown that throughout menopause, as the hormone levels of oestrogen decrease, sleep quality and the hours of sleep can halve due to the frequency of hot flashes, and not being able to maintain comfort and the right temperature at night. And with less sleep, comes tiredness and the increased risk of depression and low mood. 

Isoflavones may help

There is little research in this area, but there have been some benefits shown with adding Isoflavones into your daily intake. Isoflavones have been shown to have small amounts of an oestrogen-like compound within them to help with reducing the severity of hot flashes and menopause symptoms.

You can find Isoflavones in soya-based foods such as: tofu, tempeh, edamame beans, soya beans, lentils and beans.

How Embla can help with menopause weight gain

If you join the medical weight loss program at Embla, you are fully supported by a medical team.

You have your assigned nutritionist to guide you, but also you have our medical GP’s and nurses on hand to talk with when you need.

Your medical team is there to ensure you get the best outcomes from the medication, whilst being able to do the most important part –  focusing on your goals and overall nutrition.

How weight loss medication helps

The medication can reduce much of the “food noise” you may feel. This way you can work on unraveling your prior beliefs about food. With scientifically backed knowledge on nutrition, you can learn to balance and build the foundations of a good relationship with food that supports your body throughout and after menopause.

With your hunger and appetite being supported with the medication, it allows you to focus on the changes that make sense. Being able to navigate the changes happening with your body, understanding your energy and nutritional needs and having less mental stress around food.

The impact of personal coach support

Whilst there may be many factors outside of your control, your coach can help break down what you can achieve and support building your foundations and developing your changes. With there being so many factors that can change in your mind, your hormones, body functions and generally getting used to how this impacts your day to day, it can be overwhelming and scary to do this alone.

There are so many contradicting pieces of information out there, everyone says they have the ‘menopause diet’ but realistically each person has individual requirements that the one-fits-all approach is outdated and not sustainable.

There are so many factors to consider, being able to highlight what’s most important, how to make changes that make sense, that you shouldn’t feel alone and isolated in this.

Menopause is not something you’re forced to navigate alone. With the holistic approach at Embla, you and your health team will work together to make sustainable changes that work for you.

References:

British Menopause Society - Menopause: Nutrition and Weight Gain (June 2023). https://thebms.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2023/06/19-BMS-TfC-Menopause-Nutrition-and-Weight-Gain-JUNE2023-A.pdf

Dr Hazel Wallace - The Food Medic: The Female Factor (2022)

Rhiannon Lambert (RNutr) - The Science of Nutrition (2021)

S. R. Davis, C. Castelo-Branco, P. Chedraui, M. A. Lumsden, R. E. Nappi, D. Shah & P. Villaseca.  Understanding weight gain at menopause (2012). https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.3109/13697137.2012.707385

J. R. Guthrie, L. Dennerstein & E. C. Dudley. Weight gain and the menopause: a 5-year prospective study (1999).

https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.3109/13697139909038063

M. G. Knight, C. Anekwe, K. Washington, E. Y. Akam, E. Wang & F. C. Stanford. Weight regulation in Menopause (2021)

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8373626/

G. Dubnov, A. Brezezinski & E. M. Berry. Weight control and the management of obesity after menopause: the role of physical activity (2003).

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0378512202003286

Z. A. Al-Safi & A. J. Polotky: Obesity and Menopause (2015). https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1521693414002582

J. Vivian-Taylor & M. Hickey: Menopause and depression: Is there a link? (2014).

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0378512214001789

C. N. Soares. Can depression be a menopause-associated risk? (2010). https://bmcmedicine.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1741-7015-8-79

E. W. Freeman. Associations of depression with the transition to menopause (2010). https://journals.lww.com/menopausejournal/abstract/2010/17040/associations_of_depression_with_the_transition_to.27.aspx

N. E. Avis, D. Brambilla, S. M. McKinlay & K. Vass. A longitudinal analysis of the association between menopause and depression, Results from the Masschusetts women’s health study (199

In this article
Steph Gregory
Steph Gregory
Health coach
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