How To Keep Your Weight Under Control Post Menopause
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Firstly, why are women more likely to gain weight after the menopause?
“The tendency to gain weight post menopause is partly due to changes that start during perimenopause, when there’s a 15% drop in resting metabolic rate – i.e., the number of calories you burn at rest. Hormone levels also change – testosterone levels increase while oestrogen and progesterone decline, causing fat to be redistributed around the stomach and upper body. Oestrogen also increases insulin sensitivity, so when oestrogen declines dramatically after the menopause, the body loses its ability to be able to handle carbs and sugar effectively. A decline in muscle mass also makes women more likely to gain weight. From our thirties, we lose 3-8% of our muscle per decade, which also reduces the body’s ability to use glucose, increasing the risk of insulin resistance.” – Laura Larman, naturopath, herbalist & nutritionist
How much weight does the average woman gain?
“The average woman gains 1-2kg of weight during the menopause, which isn’t actually a significant amount. What is notably different, however, is that the composition of body fat alters, with more stored around the stomach. Excess fat around the middle can increase the risk of insulin resistance (which in itself can contribute to weight gain) and diabetes, as well as heart disease and some types of cancer.” – Aliza Marogy, nutritionist and founder of Inessa
“The problem is fat cells located in the middle of the body are not inert, like fat stores on the bottom, hips and thighs. Unfortunately, this central weight interferes with the delicate balance of our hormones and kickstarts production of inflammatory cytokines. As cortisol is the body’s natural anti-inflammatory hormone, this also has the effect of stimulating cortisol – the stress hormone – to deal with the inflammation. Cortisol is closely linked with weight gain.” – Karen Newby, nutritionist
Does weight loss at this stage in life come down to calories in, calories out?
“Absolutely not. Calorie restriction is an outdated way of losing weight as it doesn’t consider the hormonal roadblocks we experience in midlife. Weight loss must be approached differently at midlife. No amount of calorie counting or cardio will shift weight around the middle – it all comes down to hormones. Plus, at this stage in life, we can be spinning many plates, which increases stress levels. High stress levels not only affect our thyroid, which controls metabolism, but also makes us more likely to reach for stimulants and less nutritious food to get through the day. Moreover, research into the hunger hormone ghrelin has shown it can be hyper-stimulated during the menopause, meaning we’re hungrier and more susceptible to cravings. All of this suggests managing hormones – as opposed to calorie counting – is a far more scientific solution.” – Karen
So, how should you plan your diet?
“Prioritise protein – it helps us build more muscle and keeps us satiated and full. In your 20s and 30s, you should aim to eat around 1g of protein per 1kg of your bodyweight but, post menopause, increase to 1.3g per kg of bodyweight. Protein is also needed for making key neurotransmitters that govern mood and motivation, both of which are needed to get us exercising and moving more. Fats should also be enjoyed at every meal – cook with ghee and coconut oil, add extra virgin olive oil to salad dressings, and snack on unroasted nuts and seeds. And when it comes to carbs, not all are created equal. Carbs present in legumes, dairy, grains, fruit and all vegetables are not to be demonised. The key is not to overeat starchy carbs, such as bread, pasta and potatoes. If you do eat starchy carbs, ensure they have their skin on, are wholegrain varieties and are eaten in small servings once or twice a day. The healthiest carbs include brown rice and rye sourdough bread. However, these should be enjoyed occasionally – eating the same portion of rice or bread as a growing teenager is not conducive to weight management post menopause.” – Laura
What about diet plans – do any actually work?
“The ketogenic diet – where the body burns fat stores in place of circulating glucose – can be helpful for short-term weight loss, but it’s tricky to continue in the long term. The ketogenic diet also tends to make women fear carbs and can result in a reduced intake of plant foods. The Mediterranean diet is the best ‘real’ food diet – it’s relatively easy to follow long-term and has been shown in numerous studies to be effective. Ultimately, the most effective diet for women over 50 is a real food diet – a diet with plenty of varied vegetables, wholegrains, good quality protein and healthy fats. Aim for 30 different plant foods a week – the more variety, the better.” – Alli Godbold, registered nutritional therapist and spokesperson for Eostre
Here the experts share their top tips
“Leaving a 12 to 14-hour gap between dinner and breakfast is a good way to support your hormones. Also, get into the habit of eating with the path of the sun – eating most of your food at the end of the day means it’s more likely to be laid down as fat. Make a nutrient-dense breakfast to start your day well – scrambled or poached eggs with spinach and grilled tomatoes is a fantastic option, as is full-fat coconut yoghurt with low-sugar granola, berries and a couple of tablespoons of flaxseed.” – Karen
“Not only does magnesium help increase insulin sensitivity to give blood sugar levels a helping hand, but it also helps to induce sleep by increasing levels of GABA, a neurotransmitter that helps the body and mind relax, and fall asleep. When we don’t get enough sleep – which is common later in later – the hormones leptin and ghrelin, which influence satiety and hunger, are disturbed, affecting how much we eat as well as the types of food we crave. Look for magnesium threonate and glycinate and take 30 minutes before bed.” – Aliza
Stock Up On Hormone-Supporting Superfoods
“Adding acai powder is a great way to up your antioxidant intake – add to smoothies and porridge. Tofu is also a good addition as it’s rich in protein and calcium, as well as phytoestrogens which help blunt the rollercoaster of symptoms we can experience at menopause. Ground linseed is also a hero food and a good source of phytoestrogens, which can help support us when oestrogen dips.” – Karen
Establish A Bedtime Routine
“When we are sleep deprived, metabolism naturally slows and, if we sleep for less than seven hours, our hunger hormone increases. Optimising your circadian rhythm and limiting screens before bed and on rising can really help increase the quality of your sleep, as well as your ability to cope with stress the following day and make better food choices.” – Laura
Get Your Thyroid Checked
“If you have gained weight and are experiencing brain fog, skin changes and depressive symptoms, it could be a good idea to chat to your GP to get your thyroid tested. An underactive thyroid, responsible for these symptoms, is surprisingly common later in life, although symptoms are often disregarded as hormonal, meaning the thyroid is either not screened or not tested comprehensively enough.” – Laura
“Swapping your snacks is a simple but effective way to get your nutrition back on track, especially if you need to keep energy up on-the-go. Nuts and seeds are nutrient-dense, providing fibre, protein, heart-healthy fats and minerals like zinc and selenium to support optimal thyroid function. Aim to incorporate a handful of both nuts and seeds – especially chia, flax, sunflower and pumpkin – daily. Any fruit with edible skin is also great – berries, kiwis or the humble British apple or pear are rich in fibre to help eliminate cholesterol and will keep you full. Team with a source of protein to keep blood sugar steady.” – Laura
Eat In A Smaller Window
“Eating all your meals within eight to 10 hours is a good place to start if you are trying to lose weight, especially later in life. Space meals apart by at least four hours to support metabolic and gut health and to give the pancreas a break from constantly needing to secrete insulin, and also the gut time to clean up bacteria in between meals. This is a win-win as it helps bloating and IBS symptoms, too. Don’t fear being hungry – it’s natural to feel hunger pangs. You don’t need to be grazing all day.” – Laura
Cut Back On Alcohol
“Alcohol contains empty calories and stresses the liver, meaning it must be limited if weight loss is a goal. Appetite also increases when we drink and sleep is impaired, creating a vicious cycle. At the same time, staying hydrated throughout the day is crucial. Sipping herbal tea or mineral water with lime can quash hunger pangs, while staying hydrated and cutting out alcohol will quickly improve health markers, too.” – Laura
Try A Supplement
“A decent protein powder is a must if you struggle to eat 1.3g of protein per kg of your bodyweight daily. It’s also useful for a quick breakfast or lunch. Magnesium and myo-inositol are invaluable supplements to add if you’re suffering from insulin resistance or carb cravings, while vitamin D is necessary for optimal insulin sensitivity, and as such may also improve weight loss. If you are overweight, you may need more vitamin D – get your levels tested and supplement accordingly. It could also be worth considering a B vitamin complex to support energy if you need motivation to exercise.” – Laura
“The average woman in her post-menopausal years is juggling many plates. If stress is chronic and cortisol is consistently high, there’s a natural tendency to store fat, especially around the abdomen. Schedule time for relaxation daily – a bath, yoga class or half an hour reading your book. Humming and singing when you are stressed can also quickly bring you out of ‘fight and flight’ mode.” – Laura
Move After Meals
“Exercise at any time is good for overall health, but new research shows moving your body after a meal blunts the immediate glucose spike and lowers overall blood sugar. Even if it’s ten minutes of household chores or a 15-minute walk around the block after dinner, moving after each meal is an excellent habit to add in to help insulin sensitivity and weight loss.” – Laura
For more information visit LauraLarman.com, InessaWellness.com, KarenNewby.com and Eostre.uk
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