If you are peri-menopausal, menopausal or post-menopausal, nature has a twisted surprise for you. As if hot flashes, night sweats, insomnia, mood swings and wrinkles were not bad enough, you are now noticing an ever expanding waistline. Your clothes don’t fit you anymore. You start cutting back on your calories. You stop eating a handful of M&Ms before bed. You skip dessert at the potluck, control your urge to get a second helping of your home-cooked delicious casserole. But nothing helps…Your metabolism is practically non-existent.
You get frustrated and break down, go shopping and buy just a few comfortable pieces of clothing and vow to lose the excess weight. You start walking during your lunch break but still cannot lose a pound! All you are doing is to maintain your weight. You begin to get depressed and in a moment of desperation, you give up and binge eat. Sounds familiar? Well, you are facing one of the most inevitable challenges of peri-menopause and menopause, weight gain.
1. Slower Metabolism
Evidence suggests that our metabolism slows down as we get older. We all know that it gets more difficult to stay in shape and remain skinny after 30. Not too many of us realize the overwhelming effect of menopause on our metabolism as we get closer to the change. It is suggested that a menopausal woman ought to reduce her calorie intake by 150 calories a day to “maintain” her weight. Doing a quick calculation, you can see how you can gain one pound every 20 days without changing your diet or exercise habits:
150 Cal/day X 20 days= 3000 Calories which roughly equates to 1 LB
That could be why you don’t lose weight when you reduce your calories a bit (150 calories a day). You manage to only maintain your weight by doing so. In order to lose weight, you have to either reduce your calories even more or ramp up your exercise-better yet, do both!
2. Drop in Estrogen level
As your Estrogen drops, your brain starts to look for other sources of Estrogen in your body. Fatty cells produce Estrogen. So your smart brain orders the body to “hold on to the fatty cells” to make Estrogen for you. The problem is that you have to store an awful lot of fatty cells to make a significant enough amount of Estrogen for you. Therefore, despite your efforts, this underlying mechanism keeps adding to your weight. You may want to consider Bio-identical Hormone Replacement Therapy (BHRT) to stop the vicious circle.
3. Changes in muscle mass
As your hormones take a dive, and especially if you are not exercising, your muscle mass declines and gets replaced by fat. Fatty tissue burns less calories than muscle. i.e. the less muscle you have, the slower your metabolism gets. Have your Testosterone level checked and ask your hormone specialist if you need to use Testosterone. Stay active and do your weight bearing exercises. They are also great for the health of your bones.
4. Cortisol Connection
You have heard of stress and weight gain. What is the connection? In this day and age where we are bombarded by stresses stemming anywhere from family, relationship and financial challenges to work related, social and political upheavals, the stress of going through menopause is the icing on the cake. Stress causes the release of Cortisol, the stress hormone. Normally, cortisol helps regulate your metabolism but the excess and untimely production of cortisol may lead to weight gain. The condition called “Adrenal Fatigue” is becoming more well-known and can cause dysregulation of cortisol. Excess cortisol production usually contributes to weight gain especially in the “mid-section” of the body.
5. Medications & Other Factors
Other factors affecting our weight can be related to sleeping difficulties, lack of motivation and stamina to exercise, and certain medications such as anti-depressants or steroids which are used to treat allergies and asthma. We will discuss the effect of medication on weight in a separate blog.