Unwanted weight gain can be very frustrating at any age, but when it happens during menopause, we often feel we have no control. Due to falling hormone levels, specifically estrogen, stress and inadequate sleep, some menopausal women find themselves prone to weight gain, especially in the abdomen. Unfortunately, not only is menopausal weight gain uncomfortable but it can be a strain on our health, increasing our risk for heart disease, high blood pressure, and insulin resistance.
However, we can take control over our health. “[Menopausal] weight gain doesn’t have to be inevitable,” says Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Spokesperson Vandana Sheth, RDN, CDE. Adhering to an active lifestyle and a healthy diet, you can feel more comfortable during this temporary stage of your life.
Muscle mass loss is natural as we age. It’s a condition known as age-related sarcopenia. People who are physically inactive can lose as much as 3% to 5% of their muscle mass per decade after age 30. Without adequate muscle mass, our metabolism slows, making weight gain more likely. Rebuilding this muscle can keep our energy burning capacity high even into our 50s and 60s.
“Incorporate physical activity as part of your daily routine,” recommends Sheth. “Aim for a minimum of 150 minutes per week of aerobic activity and include strength training exercises at least twice a week.”
Weight bearing exercise (like climbing stairs, carrying groceries, and dancing) will also help to slow mineral loss in your bones which can lead to osteoporosis.
“Make exercise fun. It should be something you enjoy,” says Sheth.
Small changes in your diet can help prevent menopausal weight gain. “In general, you need 200 less calories a day to maintain your weight during your 50s,” says Sheth.
Try incorporating the following whole foods which can be beneficial for women in perimenopause or menopause:
- Bananas (along with apricots, avocados and sweet potatoes) are high in potassium, which helps regulate blood pressure.
- This fruit is full of anthocyanins, an antioxidant that helps prevent cognitive decline, and vitamin C. Plus, blueberries are high in fiber and low in calories.
- Dark, leafy greens.These vegetables are rich in calcium and vitamin K, which help support bone health. Women over 50 should aim for 1,200 milligrams of calcium daily.
- Omega-3-rich foods such as salmon raise good cholesterol. Oily fish are also good sources of vitamin D, which aids calcium absorption. You need 600 IU of vitamin D a day — a 3-ounce serving of canned salmon supplies about 465 IU.
- Studies show that soluble fiber may help your body remove cholesterol. The requirement for fiber decreases at age 50, so aim for about 21 to 30 grams of total fiber per day.
- Water helps move fiber through your system, keeps you hydrated and may mitigate hot flashes. Drink plenty of it!
- Yogurt is calcium-rich and contains probiotics that may aid digestion. Choose fat-free or low-fat, plain flavored varieties with vitamin D added.
Menopausal women should watch their sodium intake and follow the American Heart Association’s recommendation of no more than 1500 milligrams per day (that’s less than 1 teaspoon) and also limit themselves to one alcoholic drink per day. If you suffer from hot flashes, try cutting back on caffeine and spicy foods, which may be a trigger.
Have a Good Attitude
Remember menopause is temporary. “Approaching menopause with a positive attitude while managing your stress level can help greatly,” says Sheth. The healthy diet and exercise habits you put in place during menopause will keep you feeling great after the hot flashes, mood swings and sleepless nights pass.