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Why does menopause cause weight gain?

By The Health News Team | February 8, 2023
Person stepping on a scale

Many women experience weight gain as they approach menopause. In fact, the average woman gains about 5 pounds during this time.

“Weight gain can vary from person to person,” says Holly Moyer, a registered dietitian nutritionist for Sharp Rees-Stealy's Center for Health Management. “This is largely dependent on lifestyle, diet, hormonal and genetic factors.”

According to Moyer, women experience weight gain during perimenopause due to a decline in hormone production along with a progressive loss of lean body mass. As we age, we also tend to become more sedentary due to chronic low-grade inflammation, stress or chronic injuries.

This hormonal and physiological cascade can cause unwanted emotional and physical symptoms, including poor muscle tone, mood disorders such as anxiety and depression, and increased visceral fat.

Here, Moyer suggests four tips to help manage menopause weight gain:

  1. Eat balanced meals.
    A balanced meal promotes glycemic (blood sugar) control, which positively impacts mood and prevents cravings later in the day. Structure half of your plate with nonstarchy vegetables, a quarter of your plate with whole grains or starchy vegetables, and a quarter of your plate with lean protein. Include a source of fat, such as olive oil, avocado, nuts or seeds, as a small addition to your meal — usually a tablespoon or two, dependent on the source.

  2. Add more protein to your diet.
    Aim to eat an adequate amount of protein — at least 1 to 1.2 grams of protein per kilogram (2.2 pounds) of body weight. Active older adults or adults looking to build muscle or lose weight should eat 1.5 to 2.2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. This total can be broken up throughout the day, following a general guideline of 25 to 35 grams of protein at each meal and 10 to 15 grams of protein at each snack. Consider incorporating a collagen peptides supplement or protein powder into your diet if needed, but always talk with a dietitian first, as dietary supplements are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

  3. Eat healthy fats.
    Your sources of dietary fat should mainly include monounsaturated and omega-3 fatty acids. These types of fats are anti-inflammatory and can help decrease some unwanted symptoms that are driven by chronic inflammation. Add fatty fish, such as salmon, sardines or mackerel; nuts or seeds; olive oil; and avocados into your diet. You can also talk with your doctor or a dietitian about starting a high-quality fish oil supplement.

  4. Add resistance training to your fitness routine.
    Incorporate heavy resistance training or power training into your fitness regimen. A study of over 550 adults revealed that power exercises such as box jumps, standing squat jumps, weighted throws or push presses can improve muscle tone and physical function in older adults. Talk with an experienced trainer about what is safe for you to include in your fitness routine. 

“Women can manage their weight during this transition by taking ownership of their lifestyle and nutrition habits,” says Moyer. “By following a healthy diet and maintaining an active lifestyle, many of these symptoms can be milder and sometimes not present at all.”

Learn more about nutrition and fitness, get the latest health and wellness news, trends and patient stories from Sharp Health News; and subscribe to our weekly newsletter by clicking the "Sign up" link below.

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