A Weight Management and Wellness Guide for Women Facing Menopause
Many middle-aged women across the globe struggle with weight management. Between the ages of 45 and 55, women on average gain about half a kilogram per year. Hormonal changes in early menopause, during, and after menopause does impact body composition and can increase fat deposits to settle in the abdomen region. A decrease in lean muscle mass is also common at this time. However, weight gain during this time is mainly associated with your lifestyle and aging factor (decelerated metabolism). Contrary to popular belief, hormonal therapy, if followed properly and consistently, can actually help with weight management in the midsection. The other good news is that healthy habits can also help maintain a healthy weight. In this article, we will review some of the healthy choices you can make early, during menopause, and after to help you maintain a healthy body.
Diet and Nutrition
Healthy food choices can help balance out symptoms of menopause. Additionally, it improves cardiovascular health and prevents diabetes and cancer. Having a well-balanced diet consists of eating a variety of foods, preferably a lot of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, seafood, legumes, and nut and seeds. It is recommended for aging women to moderate alcohol, processed meats, refined foods, and products with added sugar to alleviate menopausal symptoms.
It is important to note that due to these changes, your body will also require changes in nutrient intake to maintain good health. Protein, carbohydrates, calcium, vitamin D and B12 intake should be well-monitored during this time. It is recommended that middle-aged women increase their protein intake to help preserve muscle mass and strength, maintain bone mass, and prevent bone mass losses. Carbohydrates with a high glycemic index, such as high-sugar beverages, baked goods, and other refined carbs should be limited due to the body's changes in processing sugar. Needs for calcium and vitamin D increase during this time. It is best to aim for food sources high in calcium for better absorption, like dairy products. A supplement of vitamin D could be beneficial to maintain bone strength. Lastly, it is common to see malabsorption in vitamin B12 during this time and it is recommended to visit your doctor regularly to monitor B12 levels.
Physical activity has been proven to benefit women physically and emotionally during symptoms of menopause. Exercise is a great tool to reduce stress, manage weight and maintain bone health, contributing to many aspects of well-being. It is recommended to practice a variety of exercises, including resistance training (weight training, pilates strength training, etc.), cardiovascular training (walking, swimming, cycling, etc.), and stretching (yoga, morning stretching routines, etc.). The weekly recommended amount of physical activity for middle-aged women is 150 minutes.
Hormonal changes in combination with Westernized eating habits, sedentary lifestyles, and recurrent emotional eating tendencies (along with psychological distress) can contribute to the increase in total body fat and waist circumference. It is understandable that nonmodifiable elements, such as physiological factors (ie. aging, slower basal metabolic rate, hormonal fluctuations), cause distress. Many women deal with stress through unhealthy eating behaviors, such as binge and/or emotional eating, commonly stemming from body image issues. These behaviors can make it incredibly difficult to self-regulate during weight loss attempts. In these instances, it is recommended to seek behavioral lifestyle interventions, such as corrective dietary counseling and activities promoting mindfulness (ie. exercise, yoga, meditation, breathwork, behavioral coaching techniques, etc.).
Limiting Alcohol and Other Drugs
It isn't a secret that substances like tobacco, caffeine, alcohol, and other drugs weigh heavily on our body's natural way of functioning. Menopause makes it a good time to reflect on the consumption habits of these substances. Additionally, women trying to manage their weight during menopause can be quite challenging. Which makes it important to consider the amount of drugs and/or alcohol consumption. Alcohol specifically, impedes metabolism and prevents the body from normally burning fat during and after its consumption. Continuous alcohol consumption can permanently damage the digestive tract and cause long-term metabolic damage. Moderate drinking should be considered at all times, which equals no more than two drinks per day and no more than seven drinks per week.
A reminder that 1 serving of alcohol equals:
5 ounces of wine
12 ounces of beer
1.5 ounces of distilled spirits
Regular Doctor Visits
During this time, it is recommended to book regular visits with your family physician or hormonal therapist to keep track of your hormone levels and to obtain any recommendations or treatment from a qualified health professional.
B.Sc Nutrition, Personal Training Specialist, Certified Life & Wellness Coach