Menopause is a complex transition in a woman’s life. During the process, many women gain weight, especially in the midsection. There are a lot of theories on why this may occur. Increased stress, decreased sleep, decreased insulin sensitivity, loss of muscle mass, and changes in diet and lifestyle are things that we can optimize to help reduce menopause-related weight gain.
Here are my top 3 tips for addressing menopause weight gain
1. Eat a diet rich in nutrient-dense whole foods while reducing processed foods that provide empty calories without nourishment to the body. Anchor your plate with a serving of protein, and then fill the rest of the plate with colorful plant foods that provide antioxidants, fiber, vitamins, and minerals. This combination of protein and fiber-rich food will help keep you fuller longer, stabilizes blood sugar so you experience fewer cravings of those “I need to eat now” feelings.
Plant foods include vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans and legumes, herbs and spices, nuts and seeds, and fats like olive oil, avocado, and dark chocolate. While it is not sexy, keeping track of portion size or calories for a short period of time can help give some context to portion size, which for weight loss, is important. While it is hard to overeat vegetables, the calories in nuts and seeds, fats, and some complex carbohydrates can add up, so knowing what we are actually eating for a few days can be super helpful.
2. Balance blood sugar and optimize insulin levels to keep weight gain in the midsection minimal. In menopause, women can become more insulin resistant or less sensitive. When we eat, our blood sugar naturally rises. Insulin helps glucose enter our cells. When we call on insulin to do its job over and over again, our cells stop responding to the insulin. Our pancreas keeps making more insulin to get our cells to respond. Insulin levels increase, and so does blood sugar. That extra gets stored as fat in our liver and muscles. Increased insulin levels specifically lead to weight gain in the midsection.
To balance blood sugar, eat low-glycemic and high-fiber meals with lots of non-starchy vegetables. Include protein and healthy fats in meals, and eat meals large enough to keep you satisfied for 3-5 hours so that you are not snacking all day or craving simple carbs, added sugars, and processed foods.
Move after meals, even if it is just for a short walk around the block or dancing in the living room, can help lower blood sugar after eating. Lastly, close the kitchen after dinner so that your body has time to use up the glycogen it has stored up and bring your blood sugar back down to a healthy fasting level overnight without dropping too low and waking you up in the middle of the night.
3. Women in perimenopause and menopause often have trouble getting a good night’s sleep. Hot flashes, work and family commitments, girls’ nights out with a couple of glasses of wine, stress, sleep apnea, pets, partners, children, blood sugar imbalances, and forgotten or lax sleep hygiene habits can all contribute to poor sleep. Sleep deprivation is common, and studies show that chronic sleep loss stimulates appetite and cravings for high-calorie comfort foods. Those who don’t get enough sleep can be eating 250-300+ more calories per day, and over time that adds up when we are trying to lose weight.
To address sleep concerns, be honest with yourself. Are you setting aside 7-8 hours of sleep every night, and do you have good sleep hygiene practices? Sometimes sleep issues have to do with bedmates (pets and partners). If they are interrupting your sleep, you need to address it. Are you making time for yourself, practicing stress management, getting sunlight in the morning, and staying off of screens at night? Still having sleep issues or have been told that you snore, check with your doctor to make sure you are not suffering from any medical conditions. If those strategies don’t work, it might be time for additional help. Supplements can be helpful. Everyone responds differently to supplements, and you need to make sure that there are no potential interactions with medications or other supplements, especially if you are taking medications for mood.
If you are in a rut or have been thinking about making some changes and are not sure where to begin, book an exploratory call (for new clients) or a follow-up visit (for existing clients) at book an appointment and let’s talk about how I can help you reach your goals.