Stop the Middle Age Spread…
Is it possible to achieve weight loss after menopause?
By Jeff Hantes, D.O., Director of Urogynecology, Texas Health Harris Methodist, LIVING WELL Magazine
Menopause is the permanent end of menstruation. It’s a turning point, not a disease, but it can have a big impact on a woman’s wellbeing. One of the most common complaints we hear from women during this time is that maintaining their usual weight becomes more and more difficult and weight loss seems impossible. In order to achieve weight loss after menopause, you first need to understand what is going on inside your body.
The weight gain women often experience is likely due to a combination of factors related to menopause and aging. In animal studies, estrogen appears to help regulate body weight. With lower estrogen levels, lab animals tend to eat more and be less physically active. Reduced estrogen may also lower metabolic rate, the rate at which the body converts stored energy into working energy. It is possible the same thing happens with women when estrogen levels decrease after menopause. In fact, some evidence suggests that estrogen hormone therapy increases a woman’s resting metabolic rate. This might help slow weight gain.
Estrogen also plays a role in how fat is distributed after menopause. When estrogen drops with menopause (natural or surgical), fat no longer goes to your hips (where it’s waiting to support pregnancy and nursing) but to your belly, where it becomes active in ways that don’t help you at all. Some of it becomes the omentum, the fatty apron that lines the abdomen. It’s extremely active chemically. It releases free fatty acids and creates higher insulin levels. The fatty acids flood the liver so it converts them to cholesterol.
And what’s worse, the more belly fat you have, the more fat gets stored because the fat cells in the omentum send out lipoprotein lipases, an enzyme that goes looking for fat in the blood stream and creates even more blood vessels to bring even more fat to the omentum. At one time, women might have accepted these changes as an inevitable fact of postmenopausal life. But we’ve now been put on notice that as waistlines grow, so do major health risks.
Abdominal, or visceral, fat is of particular concern because it’s a key player in a variety of health problems. In women in particular, it has been linked to metabolic disturbances and increased risk for cardiovascular disease, high cholesterol, breast cancer, gall bladder surgery and type 2 diabetes.
Don’t assume that changes in hormone levels are the primary cause for this weight gain. Other factors such as lifestyle, genetics, and aging play an important role as well.
As you age, your caloric needs decrease because the aging process slows down your metabolism. If you continue to eat as you always have, you’re likely to gain weight.
Menopausal women tend to exercise less than other women, which can also lead to weight gain. In addition, muscle mass naturally diminishes with age. If you don’t do anything to replace the lean muscle you lose, your body composition will shift to more fat and less muscle — which slows down the rate at which you burn calories.
The good news is that weight gain is not inevitable with menopause. You can reverse the course by paying attention to healthy-eating habits and leading an active lifestyle. The strategies for weight loss after menopause are basically the same as they are for any kind of weight loss effort. Your biggest advantage is understanding why your metabolism slows and what you can do to try to counteract it.
If you now have a waist measurement of more than 35 inches – it’s time to take steps to reverse this trend. The first thing I would advise women who want to drop their menopausal weight would be to get a body composition and waist measurement done. You should also know your thyroid and cholesterol profiles, as well as your fasting blood sugar and blood pressure. Listed below are some helpful tips that I recommend for stopping the middle aged spread.
Tips For Weight Loss After Menopause:
- Increase activity. A recent study showed that women who exercised just two hours a week (or 17 minutes daily) reduced their risk of heart disease and stroke by 27%, so you can lose weight and get healthier at the same time!
- Add weight training to your workout. Research shows that people who lift weights weekly for two months gained nearly as much lean muscle as those who work out three times a week! This added muscle continuously burns more calories!
- Eat lean protein at every meal and the mid afternoon snack. Protein is your appetite, carb crave killing friend.
- Decrease the number of calories you consume.
- Make the calories count. Dump the junk food and choose nutritious, low-fat, healthy alternatives.
- Eat smaller, balanced feedings every three to four hours starting with breakfast and ending with dinner.
- Decrease alcohol consumption.
- Decrease the amount of sodium in your diet. Try to rely on alternate spices to flavor your meals. If you use salt, use sea salt instead.
- Increase the calcium in your diet. Remember that research shows that calcium, found in low-fat dairy products, has a positive effect on weight loss.
- So many of the bodily functions rely on the body being adequately hydrated. Drinking eight to 10 glasses daily is ideal.
- Find ways to relax! Stress causes fat to accumulate in and around the abdomen, so find your inner yogi, and breathe!
Dr. Jeff Hantes is with Female Health Associates of North Texas and may be reached at 817-731-3936.