The life transition known as menopause brings about many changes in a woman’s body.
The most obvious is the end of ovulation, which means the end of your reproductive years and the end of your monthly periods.1
But in the months leading up to menopause—and then during menopause and in the stage known as post menopause—weight gain and slowed metabolism are other common changes to your body.2
This leaves many women asking how to lose weight during menopause. Let’s take a look.
What Happens to Your Body During Menopause
The changes in your body that happen typically in your 40s or 50s is a result of naturally declining reproductive hormones. Your ovaries start making less estrogen and progesterone — the hormones that regulate menstruation.2
Your periods may change, becoming longer or shorter, or heavier or lighter, and more or less frequent. Then once your ovaries stop releasing eggs, you will no longer have periods at all.2
The hormonal changes create a range of different symptoms, some more or less severe. Some women experience many side effects, while others move through menopause with little discomfort.
These changes to your hormone levels can also cause weight gain, more commonly around your abdomen.3 It also results in the loss of lean body mass or muscle, and gaining fat in the years before your final menstrual period. For the average woman, the scale registers these changes as a small, gradual, weight gain.4
Weight gain can also be a result of a normal aging process, as well as lifestyle and genetic factors. You might notice that it’s more difficult to maintain your usual weight as you age.3 So what can you do about it?
How To Lose Weight During Menopause
Even if it happens gradually, menopause weight gain can have health implications. Excess weight, especially around your midsection, increases your risk of:3
- breathing problems
- heart and blood vessel disease
- type 2 diabetes
- various types of cancer, including breast, colon and endometrial cancers
A culprit in weight gain is that decrease in muscle mass, which results in fewer calories being burned, which in turn causes fat to accumulate. Exercise can help. Some experts recommend 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity and two days of muscle strengthening per week.5
For instance, yoga and Pilates focus on core strength, which helps with weight being added to your belly. Other options include lifting weights, or doing high-intensity interval training. You don’t have to join a gym either, as walking is a great option too.5
Besides exercise, here are 4 tips for weight control and loss in menopause:
- Eating less: a slower metabolism means you need fewer calories each day to maintain your current weight — let alone lose excess pounds. Try to eat more fruits, vegetables and whole grains, avoid processed food, and limit food that’s high in fat.3
- Limit sugar: your sweet tooth may be costing you, as sugar-sweetened beverages, cookies, cakes, doughnuts and ice cream all add to the problem.3
- Cut back on alcohol intake: besides providing empty calories, alcohol can cause weight gain in four different ways: it stops your body from burning fat; it’s high in calories; it can make you feel hungry; and it can lead to cravings for foods that cause weight gain, like salty or greasy choices.6
- Don’t do it alone: look for support from friends and loved ones who encourage your efforts to eat better and exercise more. A change in lifestyle is easier to do with a spouse or friend than it is alone.3
Weight gain during menopause is not inevitable. You can make changes to limit gain or to lose a few pounds during menopause. Some studies show that a healthy lifestyle will help you fare better during the menopause transition. For instance, obese women appear more likely to report more frequent severe hot flashes than those of a normal weight. Weight loss is also associated with a decrease in hot flashes and night sweats.5
See a Doctor
If you’re concerned about sudden weight gain, use our Physician Finder to find a doctor near you with expertise in women’s health. Even a small amount of weight gain during menopause can be limited with some lifestyle changes. You’ll also want to see a doctor on a regular basis to continue with the preventive health care tests that continue to be important as you age, such as colonoscopy, mammography, triglyceride screening and breast and pelvic exams. And you should see a doctor immediately if you have bleeding from the vagina after menopause.2