Even elite athletes gain a little weight with age. We’ve all heard that the trick to weight management is to stay active and eat quality food, which together contribute to good health and vitality. Yet, many women dread midlife weight gain. Most of the women I have worked with and who’ve reached menopause, have claimed that no matter what they do, they seems to put on extra weight.
The question is, are women doomed to gaining weight as they approach middle life?
We have no interest in underestimating the physiological reasons for weight gain during menopause, including hormonal changes, decreased basal metabolic rate a natural transition from lean muscle mass, to useless fatty tissue.
The intention is to look at the issue not from a physiological point of view, but from one in terms of just nutrition and exercise.
The answer to the above question, is therefore NO. Women do not necessarily have to gain weight during menopause. Yes, women aged 45 to 50 commonly get fatter and fuller around the waist as fat settles predominantly around the abdominal area. But these changes are due more to lack of exercise and excessive caloric intake, rather than to the reduction of certain hormones.
Menopause occurs during a time when a woman’s lifestyle becomes generally less active. Usually her children are grown up and have left home, so she might find herself spending more time in front of the TV or computer, instead of running up and down caring for the kids. A less active lifestyle not only reduces caloric needs, but also results in a decline in muscle mass. When women (and men) age, they tend to loose precious muscle mass, unless they continue with regular weight training. Muscle drives the metabolic rate, so less muscle means a lower metabolic rate and less calories burned at rest.
Another problem is that sleep patterns usually change in midlife. Many women end up feeling exhausted most of the time. The problem of exhaustion and sleep deprivation is two-fold. It easily drain motivation for exercise, further contributing to more muscle loss and decreasing the speed of metabolism. Perhaps even more importantly though, sleep deprivation itself has been implicated in weight gain. Research has shown that adults who slept less than 7 hours a night tend to be heavier than people who are better rested. When you are sleep deprived, your appetite grows, as does the frequency of food cravings. Hormones that curb your appetite are decreased, while those that encourage it tend to be more plentiful. As a consequence, your body struggles to differentiate between being hungry or tired, often leaving you with the sensation of hunger in either case.
At midlife most women have established careers, offering them more opportunities for business lunches with extra indulgences, plush holidays and unhealthy lifestyle choices. That translates into more calories and less exercise. By this time most women are tired of dieting and simply let themselves go.
The best way to prevent weight gain is to exercise moderately and maintain an active lifestyle. The best exercise programme includes both aerobic exercise (to enhance cardiovascular fitness) and resistance training (to preserve muscle mass and bone density). Keep in mind that osteoporosis becomes a palpable risk following menopause. It is absolutely essential to take a calcium supplement (combined with Vitamin D), and do plenty of weight-bearing exercises to slow this rate of bone loss as much as possible.
If you’ve already gained undesirable weight, don’t go on a fad diet! You might have already tried many diets by now and should have learnt that they don’t work. Rather, you need to switch to eating smaller, healthy and balanced meals 4-5 times a day. Try and create a small calorie deficiency (taking in slightly less energy than what is being used, encouraging the body to begin using its own reserves). Eat a good breakfast and snack in the afternoon, then eat a lighter dinner. Consuming just 100 calories less at dinner, can make a massive dinner over several months.
To find peace with food, consult a registered dietician for a tailored eating plan to suit your specific needs.
In addition, ask yourself, “Am I really overweight?”
Your body may not be quite as perfect as it once was, but it can still be healthy, sexy and good-enough.
I encourage you to focus on being fit and strong, rather than on being thin at any cost.
Because no “perfect” weight will ever do the enormous job of creating midlife happiness.