Menopause and weight gain – everything you need to know
The menopause is a natural part of ageing for women. In the UK, the average woman reaches the menopause at 51, although it can occur at any time between the ages of 45 and 55 – or even earlier or later.
The classic symptoms of the menopause are hot flushes, night sweats, vaginal dryness, mood changes, and a loss of sex drive. However, some women also experience changes to their weight.
What causes weight gain during the menopause?
There are a few different factors associated with weight gain during the menopause. One is that muscle mass decreases during the menopause, which means that your body requires fewer calories.
Failing to reduce your calorie intake in line with this may mean that you end up eating more than you need, and put on weight as a result. This guide from the NHS suggests that menopausal women may need around 200 fewer calories each day.
Another factor in menopausal weight gain is that changing hormone levels affect the way we store fat. During the menopause, your body will tend to store more calories than it burns, causing a build-up of fat.
The menopause can also cause other symptoms that indirectly affect your weight. If you’re experiencing night sweats and struggling to sleep, you may have less energy and find it harder to do regular exercise. This lack of activity is likely to lead to more weight gain.
Some women associate taking HRT with weight gain, but there isn’t much evidence for this – although some women may experience a bit of fluid retention.
The good news is, weight gain isn’t an inevitability for all women. What’s more, there are plenty of easy changes you can make if you do experience weight gain during the menopause.
What are the health risks associated with weight gain in the menopause?
Any kind of significant weight gain comes with health risks. If you’re obese, you’re much more likely to develop serious conditions like type 2 diabetes and heart disease. You’re also more at-risk for certain types of cancer.
A specific health risk for menopausal women is that weight gain tends to occur around the middle. Fat storage in this area is associated with a higher risk of type 2 diabetes and heart attack.
How to lose weight during the menopause
You don’t need to eat any specific foods during the menopause, but there are some changes you can make to the way you eat, especially if you’re experiencing weight gain.
A good place to start is with smaller portions. After the age of 40, our metabolic rate slows down, and after the menopause we lose muscle mass. This means our bodies need fewer calories. Cutting back isn’t always easy, but sometimes it’s just a case of eating more mindfully – don’t overfill your plate, and don’t keep eating after you feel full.
Beyond that, look at your diet to make sure it’s as healthy, varied, and balanced as possible. You should be eating plenty of fruits and vegetables, as well as starchy carbohydrates that are high in fibre, and good protein sources like pulses, eggs, oily fish, and lean meat.
Dairy is also really important, as this can help to combat your risk of osteoporosis, which increases during the menopause. Aim to get some dairy into your daily diet – good options are semi-skimmed milk, low-fat cheese, and low-fat plain yoghurt.
Try to cut back on salt, sugar, and saturated fat, and try to do more home cooking rather than relying on takeaways or ready meals. You’ll also want to be careful about your intake of caffeine and alcohol, as these can worsen hot flushes and interfere with sleep.
If you’re concerned that you’re not getting all the nutrients you need from your diet, you can take supplements. Learn more by taking a look at supplements for women going through the menopause.
For more guidance on eating well, the NHS Eatwell Guide is a really useful resource.
Exercise is important no matter what your age or sex. If you’re menopausal and experiencing weight gain, you’ll want to make sure that you’re doing regular activity. This should include weight-bearing and resistance exercises as these will help to improve bone density and prevent osteoporosis.
Good exercises for menopausal women include:
- Brisk walking
- Aerobics or other fitness classes
- Lifting weights
If you’re new to regular exercise, start small and build up gradually. You’ll want to make sure you wear shoes that provide good support for your feet and ankles, and that you get proper guidance on form – especially when you’re lifting weights or doing resistance exercises like press-ups.
Remember too that any increase in exercise will have a positive effect. Make some simple changes like taking the stairs, getting off the bus a stop early, and taking regular breaks from your desk chair to stretch and walk around.
Menopause weight loss pills and treatments
There’s no weight loss pill designed specifically for menopausal women. However, there are some weight loss treatments available that may be right for you.
One option is alli. This is an over-the-counter weight loss tablet that contains the active ingredient orlistat. You can get alli from a pharmacy provided you’re over 18, have a BMI over 28 and it’s safe for you to take. When ordering online or buying in-store you’ll need to answer a few simple questions so pharmacists can make sure it’s the right treatment for you.
Our Online Doctor service has a weight loss clinic with more treatments, as well as advice to help you on your weight loss journey.
Another option is the LloydsPharmacy weight loss service. This is available to anyone between 18 years and 74 years, with a BMI over 30, or a BMI over 27 with a weight related health condition.
Image for illustrative purposes only. Posed by models.