Does Menopause Cause Weight Gain?

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Of the many menopause side effects, weight gain is one of the least welcome. Dr Clare Spencer GP, Clinical Director and co-founder of My Menopause Centre, explains why weight gain happens at midlife and what you can do about it.

Weight gain at midlife is all too common. In a survey conducted by the British Menopause Society, just under half of the women interviewed said they had gained weight during menopause.

What causes a menopause belly?

It’s no wonder “how do you get rid of menopause belly?” is a commonly searched phrase on Google! Midlife weight gain is a complicated issue and the reasons why this happens differ for every woman. What we do know is that we require fewer calories as we age—so even if we stick to the same diet, we may experience weight gain. Equally, as we lose muscle mass (natural at this time of our lives) we also lose the ability to burn calories quickly… not ideal for keeping our weight down. Lower oestrogen levels, which also occurs naturally during perimenopause and menopause, result in fat moving from our thighs to our middle. 

 “If you’ve noticed weight gain during this transition, rest assured that you’re not alone,” is the advice from Zoe, the well known science study and personalised nutrition programme created by a team including Professor Tim Spector. “It is quite common during menopause. In fact, the average woman gains about 5lbs during this time.”

READ MORE How to book a private menopause appointment.

Does HRT cause weight gain?

Women often worry that taking HRT will cause them to gain weight (and it’s something raised a lot in our private Facebook group, Women With Ambition, Attitude & Brain Fog). It’s one of the many concerns around the medication, however, there is no evidence that HRT itself causes weight gain, and for some women it may help prevent some of the changes that result in weight gain at midlife.

When you first start taking HRT, fluid retention is a side effect – and this can translate into weight gain on the scales. This generally settles however. HRT cannot reverse the changes that result in more fat round the middle, but it can help support efforts to shift it.

READ MORE What is the difference between perimenopause and menopause?

What is the average weight gain during menopause?

It is true that hormonal changes make you more likely to gain weight around your abdomen. Also, animal studies have shown that those with lower oestrogen tend to eat more and be physically less active. The weight does not go on all at once by the way; On average women may gain around 1.5kg per year during perimenopause, with an average total weight gain of 10kg.

READ MORE HRT, is it safe? Everything you need to know.

Is there anything else menopausal causing the weight gain?

Anxiety, depression and stress, which some women experience during menopause, can trigger a desire to comfort eat and lower the motivation to exercise.  Stress also causes an increase in the production of cortisol, which makes it more likely that you will store fat around your middle. This situation is compounded by the fact that at midlife,  womens’ metabolisms slow so that we store more calories than we burn.

Many women tell me that they are drinking more alcohol to help them get off to sleep or take the edge off stress – and alcohol is very calorific. It contains ‘empty calories’ with little if any nutritional value. The bottom line? Now more than ever, we need to look after ourselves.

READ MORE The link between menopause and anxiety.

Does menopause weight gain go away?

Just because weight gain is likely it really doesn’t make it mandatory. Yes, weight gain can be another symptom of the hormone changes in your body but with effort you can maintain or restore your ideal weight again.

Remember, there is no such thing as the perfect menopause diet. What works for one woman may not work for another. It may sound obvious, but eat less – it is recommended that you eat 200 less calories per day when you are in your 50s.

Cut down on the unnecessary calories – that includes sugar in drinks, alcohol (alcohol and menopause do not mix), desserts and sweets that will cause blood sugar spikes. Swap them out for vegetables, slow-release carbohydrates, and protein.

Avoid unnecessary and unplanned snacks. You may find that you have a larger portion size than you need – particularly if feeding teenagers who need to eat more. Finally, you may find it helpful to keep and food diary – be honest about what you are eating – so that you can identify where the unnecessary extras are. Speaking to a dietician or nutrionist could really help. (Emma Bardwell is a nutritionist trusted by Hylda – with excellent tips and recipe ideas.)

READ MORE 11 ways to lose menopause belly fat.

What’s the best exercise to lose menopause weight?

Evidence now shows that exercise is a fundamental pillar to losing weight at midlife. Not doing enough right now? Start with walking, and build up from there. Ready to expand and explore? Embark on a strength training or weight resistance programme.

As we age, we lose muscle mass, and that in turn slows down the metabolism. So build more muscle with strength training yoga or pilates, and you’ll build more fat-burning power. My Menopause Centre is passionate about exercise and teamed up with Her Spirit, provides personalised fitness coaching in a community of supportive women, to help women find the right sport and provide the support to do it.

READ MORE What are the 34 menopause symptoms?

Any final advice?

Try to get a good night’s sleep – and commit to this healthier lifestyle. It’s not going to be easy but at least you know now you have a choice and some power over those scales.

READ MORE Dr Clare Spencer is the co founder and Clinical Director of My Menopause Centre. You can find out more about the clinic and book an appointment here

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