Menopause can come with a side of unpleasant symptoms—hot flashes, mood swings, night sweats, anxiety…the list goes on. But one of the most common and frustrating issues women face during menopause? Weight gain.
“The combination of hormones, genetics and lifestyle make it very common for most women to gain some weight during menopause,” explains Richard Ing, MD, medical director of the Bariatric Center at Bryn Mawr Hospital.
Although this ‘battle of the bulge’ can seem impossible to beat, there are steps you can take to help combat this common problem. Dr. Ing explains below.
Write it down
Keeping a food journal is one of the easiest and most effective ways to help you keep track of what you’re eating and address unhealthy eating patterns. Start by recording your meals (and snacks!) in a notebook or download one of many free smartphone apps that offer a similar service. After a few weeks, you might begin to notice that mid-morning snacks or a sweet treat before bedtime is what could be contributing to weight gain.
Move more often
Want to prevent post-menopausal weight gain? Movement is one of the most important things you can do. Find a gym, fitness class or group of friends that you enjoy exercising with, and commit to being active for at least 30 minutes a day on most days of the week.
Although aerobic exercises like walking, swimming, biking and jogging are all effective, also consider a light strength training routine, as muscle mass also tends to decrease with age. Talk to your physician or a physical therapist or certified athletic trainer, who can help determined a safe exercise routine for you.
Adjust your diet
Nutritional needs change during menopause. In fact, women often need to eat less during menopause—usually about 200 calories less per day than usual. This decrease in required calorie intake is a result of two factors: a slower metabolism and a loss of lean muscle mass. However, few women adjust their diet to reflect this caloric need.
Talk to your OB/GYN or primary care physician about how many calories a day are recommended for you, and your nutritional needs. Although each woman is different, Dr. Ing recommends a diet rich in whole grains, fruits and vegetables.
“Bloating is a common problem for women during menopause, which can be a result of foods that are high in carbohydrates or sodium,” he explains. “Try and avoid foods like these, or trigger foods that can cause your menopause symptoms to worsen. Whole grains, lean meats, protein, and fruits and vegetables will be the base for a very healthy diet.”
Main Line Health's Medical Weight Management Program, including the Bariatric Program team, can help you determine your nutritional needs and how many calories are right for you.
Many women who are going through menopause are in their fifties and sixties, and are going through stressful times in their marriages, careers, or personal lives—children moving out of the house, discord with a partner, or struggling to transition in their job. As it can at any age, stress can impact your weight.
Instead of turning to food for relief, talk to your physician, who may be able to recommend a therapist who can provide emotional support or tactics to help you cope with stress in a healthier way. Not only can stress affect your weight, it can also affect your menopause symptoms, so don’t be afraid to ask for help.
Remember: you don’t have to wait until menopause to practice these healthy habits.
“The single best way to help prevent weight gain during menopause is to live a healthy lifestyle before you’re affected by it,” says Dr. Ing. “Weight loss gets harder as we age, so taking control of your diet and exercise habits early before menopause is very important.”
If you’re still struggling to lose weight, there are other options available.
"It's very common to not be successful with dieting and exercise," says Dr. Ing. "If you're struggling to lose weight, bariatric surgery can be a safe way to get off of medication, lose weight and resolve health problems."
To learn more about the bariatric program or other weight management services available at Main Line Health, including the medical weight management program and nutrition counseling, visit our website.