It is not uncommon for women to struggle to lose weight when they enter menopause.
Perimenopause is the transitional phase leading to menopause, where a woman will notice changes in her cycle in addition to:
- Mood changes.
- Changes in sexual desire.
- Trouble concentrating.
- Night sweats.
- Hot flashes.
- Vaginal dryness.
- Trouble with sleep.
This phase can start between the age of 45 and 55 years old.
Women are postmenopausal when it has been over 12 months since they have had their period. While menopause has technically ended, some women may still experience the above symptoms.
Why Do You Gain Weight During Menopause?
Feeling like you wake up one morning and your body has completely changed is frustrating.
To be frank, men have it easier & tend to complain more.
A woman will enter menopause 12 months after their last period. During this time, two hormones undergo a shift.
Estrogen is the sex hormone that develops and regulates the female reproductive system and secondary sex characteristics.
Androgens are hormones that contribute to growth and reproduction in both men and women.
During menopause, there is a drastic decrease in estrogen and an increase in androgens due to the rise of sex hormone-binding globulin (SHBG)
Blame This Hormone For Weight Gain During Menopause
Hunger and fullness signals are essential when considering weight gain or loss.
Ghrelin is the hormone that signals to the brain that it is time to eat.
Leptin is the hormone that signals to the brain that you are full.
Individuals dealing with obesity may have a history or family history of leptin resistance. If someone is experiencing leptin resistance, they are more likely to eat past the point of fullness or when they aren’t hungry.
During perimenopause, there is a decrease in the production of estrogen.
Estrogen works to reduce the intensity of grehlin signals. In other words, because of the fluctuation of estrogen production, women commonly experience more intense hunger.
Less estrogen = Increased Hunger Signals
Other Factors For Weight Gain During Menopause
If someone was obese before entering perimenopause, weight gain could continue through menopause and into the later stages of life.
From a health standpoint, being obese can increase the severity of menopausal symptoms.
Many of my online coaching clients are women, and one commonality is the need to put another person’s well-being before their own.
They worry about the well-being of their kids.
They worry about the stress their partner is under.
They worry about how the rest of the world perceives them.
The more time they spend focusing on others, the less energy they have to pour into themselves.
Then, the cycle continues with excessive expectations to be perfect.
Weight loss comes from self-care.
Remember that filling your cup allows you to show up for your loved ones; regardless, you deserve better.
If this piqued your interest, I have an entire podcast with Beth Feraco discussing weight loss, menopause, and taking up space in the world.
Physical Changes in the body during Menopause
Due to hormonal shifts, it is common for fat to accumulate in the midsection & muscle mass to decrease.
When muscle mass decreases, there is a slight decrease in metabolism.
Metabolism is the rate at which the body can use calories for energy.
It’s the fact you do less than when you were younger.
Don’t Blame Your Metabolism For Menopausal Weight Gain
Your basal metabolic rate (B.M.R.) is the number of calories your body burns at rest. Non-exercise activity thermogenesis (N.E.A.T.) is all the calories you burn during the day from activities that aren’t exercise.
Please don’t be mad the next time you have to chase your toddler around or take the dog for a walk because it all counts.
Also, consider your total daily energy expenditure (T.D.E.E.), an estimation of how many calories you burn when you include exercise.
Your NEAT would be compromised if you were never concerned about your fitness and led a relativity sedentary life.
Fast forward 30 years, and now you are tired, maybe you don’t exercise, and your B.M.R has decreased due to a loss of muscle mass.
It’s a perfect storm that can easily lead to weight gain.
A Few Reasons You Move Less During Menopause
First and foremost, if you weren’t active when you were younger, it’s not the end of the world. The human body is pretty damn impressive, and it is never too late.
Yes, getting more active might be easier said than done, especially if your energy levels are low.
One of the biggest influences on your energy level is sleep.
Poor sleep for extended periods can make weight management a challenge. Without enough sleep, the body produces more cortisol, the stress hormone.
The increase in cortisol requires the body to burn through more energy and, in turn, increases hunger levels.
If ghrelin levels increase, leptin, the fullness hormone, is reduced.
TL;DR: You will eat more the later you stay awake, impacting your food choices the following day.
- Hot Flashes
- Hormonal Changes (Decreases in Estrogen)
- Age-Induced Lower Melatonin Levels
- Mood Disorders (Anxiety & Depression)
All of the above not only disturb sleep cycles but lead to further stress on the body and mind.
Emotional Eating and Menopausal Weight Gain
Going through the menopausal transition can bring a wave of emotions. There can be an increase in depression, anxiety, stress, poor sleep quality, and intimacy issues.
How someone chooses to deal with these factors depends on their coping skills.
We fall back on coping skills to deal with unusually stressful situations.
Emotional eating is a learned behavior.
Eating might provide feelings of joy and offer an escape. That’s why someone might eat when happy, sad, or anxious.
“People who love to eat are always the best people.”Julia Childs
In my Stress Eating E-Book, I discuss in great detail how to break the cycle of stress eating. This next section is a short snippet from the book.
Start to Beat Stress Eating
I am giving you full permission to stress eat.
But when you catch yourself doing it, play detective.
It is easy to get caught up in the “I’m failing” story when you stress eat, but you’re not. You are practicing advanced learning.
You can discover what triggers you and how to deal with triggers constructively.
To help you, try creating a food and feeling log. It can be a piece of paper, a Word document, or a note on your phone where you can make a note of the following:
- What were you doing before you started eating?
- What did you eat?
- How did you feel while eating?
- How did you feel after?
- What did you do after the meal?
Each of these questions allows you to explore your triggers without judgment.
They can empower you to understand better why you are making choices.
Again, it’s judgment-free and is for you and no one else.
As you reflect on your log, what do you notice at the end of the day?
If you recognize you are eating the doughnuts before your meeting, you might try something like this:
If I notice I am anxious before my meeting, then I will go for a five-minute walk.
Sometimes, there might be little to do. It might be an emotion or feeling; recognizing it is a huge win.
Remember, you gather clues while playing detective; sometimes, the clues can take a while to make any sense.
Keep going; the only way you can fuck this up is if you quit.
The Steps For Weight Loss During Menopause
You’ve made it to the big reveal.
How do you lose weight while going through menopause?
By now, you have learned that you can’t honestly blame your metabolism & some things are just out of your control. However, your weight doesn’t need to be one of them.
Simply put, the only way to lose weight is to have a calorie deficit.
A calorie deficit means you are eating slightly less than your basal metabolic rate, the number of calories your body burns at rest.
In my opinion, that is a load of poppy-cock.
Is Lowering Your Calories Harmful?
Yes, if you are in a weight loss phase, your metabolism will slow down; however, it is not considered damaging.
The body’s survival mechanism, Metabolic Adaptation, ensures you have enough energy to perform essential functions.
Several studies have shown that a less than or equal to 15% metabolic decrease can occur while losing weight.
Lowering your calories for fat loss is safe because while you might be eating less than usual, your body still has plenty of fat to burn for energy.
For instance, Angus Barbieri didn’t eat anything for 382 days and lost 276 pounds, 125 kilos for my friends outside the United States.
The Scottish man survived by drinking tea, coffee, soda water, and vitamins while living at his home, and yes, he did frequent the local hospital for medical evaluation.
Angus hit his “goal weight” of 180 pounds and maintained this weight loss for five years, eventually floating around 190-200 lbs.
While I don’t recommend fasting for a year, this extreme example demonstrates that metabolic adaptation ensures you will be okay.
What tends to cause trouble is a chronic cycle of crash dieting, which can lead to a decline in muscle mass, which isn’t ideal for anyone, especially someone 50+ years old.
How To Determine Calories For Weight Loss During Menopause
Here are the spark notes for setting your deficit.
Use this equation to determine your calories for weight loss.
Goal Body Weight (In Pounds) x 11
If your goal body weight were 140 pounds, it would look like this:
140lbs x 11 = 1540 calories
Now, give yourself a little wiggle room by +/- 100 calories for a range.
1540+100 = 1640
1540-100 = 1440
For a woman with a goal weight of 140 pounds, they would stick with a calorie range of 1440 to 1640 calories per day.
Why You Should Use A Calorie Range
After coaching many different personality types, I have found that creating a calorie range makes it easier to stick with your nutrition plan.
Some days, you will be slightly under, and other days, you will be slightly over; however, what truly matters is your ability to be in a total calorie deficit for the week.
1540 calories per day x 7 days = 10,780 weekly calories
How you split up those calories doesn’t matter; therefore, using a range works well.
Set Your Protein Goal
In terms of weight loss, protein is your friend. Protein takes longer to digest and has only four calories per gram.
When it comes to muscle preservation, protein is a good idea.
Oh, and while losing weight, your goal is to build muscle. Don’t worry, I’ll cover that in a moment.
By the time you start perimenopause, muscle mass has begun to decline; also, if you have tried to lose weight only to be hungry all day, you certainly weren’t eating enough protein.
How To Set Your Protein Goal
To determine your protein goal, you can use the following equation.
(Goal Body Weight (LB) ) x .7 to 1 = Protein goal in grams.
Let’s stick with the 140-pound goal weight.
140 lbs x .7 = 98g protein target for the day.
140 lbs x 1 = 140g protein
Protein Goal Range = 98g to 140g per day.
Is it okay to eat more than 140 grams per day?
You’re darn tooting; eating more than 140 grams is okay.
So long as you meet your total calorie goal, you will be golden.
I know what you’re thinking.
That’s a lot of protein!
This handy dandy chart can help you pick your protein sources.
|Meat & Fish||Dairy||Plant Based||Convience|
|Chicken Breast||0% Greek Yogurt||Tofu||Chomps Meat Sticks|
|Lean ground beef or turkey||1% Cottage Cheese||Temphe||Protein Powder|
|Top Round Steak||Fairlife Milk||Setain||Barebell Protein Bar|
|Pork Tenderloin||Cheese||Beans or Lentils|
|Tuna, Cod, Tilapia, Mackeral, Haddock, Sole, Flounder,|
|Black Eyed Peas|
|Eggs & Egg Whites|
Do You Need To Follow A Low Carb Diet?
To each their own; however, there is no need to follow a low-carb diet to lose weight.
There is a hormonal disturbance if carbohydrates are taken too low for women.
- a stopped or irregular menstrual cycle*
- lowered fertility*
- hypoglycemia and blood sugar swings
- more body fat (especially around the middle)*
- loss of bone density*
- anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues*
- chronic inflammation and worse chronic pain
- chronic fatigue and disrupted sleep*
*Remember the symptoms of menopause from earlier? Sounds similar, right?
So, what should you do?
It’s helpful to choose complex carbohydrates higher in fiber to help with fullness.
Most Americans consume less than half of the recommended amount of fiber.
Adult Men: 36 g/day
Adult Women: 28g/day
Carbohydrates higher in fiber tend to be lower in calories.
What About Fats?
To keep things simple, focus on keeping daily fats between 20-30% of total daily calories.
Fat is an essential building block for hormonal health.
Fat is the macronutrient with the most significant calories per gram at 9.
Does that make it bad?
So long as you eat a balanced diet with fruits, vegetables, protein, & carbohydrates, you’re in the clear.
Your top priority is hitting your daily protein target within your daily calorie range.
Remember, protein is more filling.
Weight Loss Nutrition For Menopause Guidelines
I covered quite a bit, so here is what to follow for weight loss nutrition during menopause.
- Determine your daily calories with the equation GBW x 11. Then, add 100 and subtract 100 to give you a daily calorie range.
- Determine your daily protein goal in grams with the equation GBW x .7 and 1. It will give you a daily protein goal range.
- Track your daily Fiber intake, aiming for at least 25 grams daily.
Stick with all three without further dietary adjustments for 30 days or longer. Weight loss takes time; however, paying attention to your activity levels can be a game changer in addition to your nutrition.
Adding More Physical Activity To Your Life
For successful weight loss, it is crucial to consider your daily activity levels.
Hitting at least 7,500 steps is a pleasant way to increase your daily NEAT.
Increasing NEAT = Increasing the calories your body is using.
Walking keeps you physically healthy.
Walking keeps you mentally healthy.
Step count is an easier way to measure total daily activity.
Because it is easy to track and doesn’t require long recovery periods, walks can and should be a part of your plan.
7,500 is where the long-term benefits start, so if you have the energy, aim for closer to 10,000 steps per day.
Hitting your steps and being dialed in on your nutrition is enough to create a physical change in the body.
Walking might be the best place to start for someone with a lot of weight to lose; however, you want to consider the significant benefits of strength training.
Strength Training During Menopause
Lifting weights has many benefits beyond gaining muscle, although that is a major one.
During menopause, many women deal with decreased mental health due to hormonal shifts. Weightlifting can help regulate essential hormones such as Dopamine, Noradrenaline, and Serotonin.
Due to a decrease in estrogen production while in menopause, there is an increase in the likelihood of osteoporosis.
Osteoporosis is a skeletal disorder classified by reduced bone strength.
Weight-bearing activity can improve bone density and strength.
As you age, you will lose muscle mass.
You risk muscle loss if you focus on being in a calorie deficit without strength training. With loss of muscle mass comes a decrease in metabolism, which means you will need to use an even lower calorie range for weight loss.
That’s why one of the best methods for sustainable weight loss is calorie deficit, strength training 2-3x per week, and improved daily step count.
Isn’t cardio the best way to lose weight?
No, that’s silly.
Also, any calories you burn while doing cardio are quickly eaten back.
Strength training is to improve bone density, preserve muscle mass, and get strong.
Cardiovascular Conditioning improves your heart health, recovery time, sleep, and stress levels.
One of the best things you can do for your general health is practicing Zone 2 cardio.
Cardio in zone 2 feels like it would require work to sustain for a multiple-hour session, but it could be done—no gasping for air— for the duration of this workout.
You should be able to converse, getting at least 14 words out before needing your next breath.
Someone would know you were working out if they talked to you on the phone.
You can hit Zone 2 (60-70% of max heart rate) by walking on the treadmill with a slight incline. Stationary bikes, ellipticals, or the rower are all fantastic low-impact options for your cardio, too.
Your conditioning will improve quickly with a few weeks of consistent work.
Aim for three weekly sessions at 20-30 minutes of work.
Training During Menopause Guidelines
Here’s what to do:
- Increase your daily step count. Instead of jumping by 6,000 steps, focus on increasing your step count by 2,000 this week. When that gets easy, add another 2,000.
- Follow a strength training routine that has you training 2-3x per week. You’re stronger than you know.
- Add Zone 2 Cardio for added heart health benefits 2-3x per week.
Rome wasn’t built in a day, so I don’t expect you to nail all of these on day one.
Give yourself six months, plenty of time to make mistakes and figure it out.
Mistakes are how you make progress.
Final Thoughts On Weight Loss During Menopause
Weight loss can be a frustrating endeavor while transitioning through menopause. I hope that this article helped point you in the right direction.
There are many diets for weight loss.
There is no perfect training plan.
What truly matters is finding the method that works best for you and is most sustainable.
It’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon, and you’re only racing against yourself.
So, take your time, make mistakes, and keep going.
Have you downloaded my free Ultimate Fat Loss Guide yet?
Take the guess work out of your nutrition so you can start to lose weight. Complete with a shopping list of fat burning foods that will save you time at the store. There are even quick metabolic workouts to burn fat, save time, and boost your energy.