“Our brains compartmentalise each event of ‘unhealthy’ eating and we struggle to see the big patterns of eating which are undermining our progress,” writes dietitian CLARE WOLSKI
MANY women experience weight gain during and after menopause, particularly in abdominal body fat. But why does it happen?
As women get older, and particularly as oestrogen levels reduce after menopause, their bodies start to conserve energy, which means that the metabolic rate gets much slower.
Research suggests that reduced oestrogen is associated with reduced fat oxidation (breakdown). So, women in this situation are less likely to utilise stored energy.
These metabolic changes mean that if women keep food intake and exercise the same as they go through menopause weight gain is highly likely.
So, what can be done about it?
If we know that the metabolic rate is bound to change during menopause, then there’s no point using the same strategies to lose weight as one might have done in their 20s or 30s. The best strategies are to determine current energy needs, maximise metabolic rate and reduce the disrupters to metabolic function.
This is how to do it:
- Accurately measure energy needs: A body composition analysis scan gives an accurate estimate of individual resting metabolic rate. This helps to establish the right energy deficit to assist with weight loss.
- Expend more energy: Move more! Moving uses more energy. Any type of movement will do. It could mean starting a new hobby or trying out a new activity. Or it could be finding ways to increase the number of steps you take.
- Build more muscle: Muscle is metabolically active. The more we have, the more energy we burn day-to-day. Building muscle is an essential part of maintaining weight after menopause. This could mean regularly including some bodyweight exercise that helps strengthen and build muscle. Also, having a source of protein with each meal will help to build and repair muscles.
- Load up on vegetables: The body must use some energy to break food down and absorb it. This is called the thermic effect of food. Non-starchy vegetables are low in energy and loaded full of fibre, which requires lots of energy to process. This means that filling a plate up with non-starchy vegetables can help to optimise your metabolism while controlling your energy intake.
- Stay hydrated: Being well hydrated can help to manage food cravings, improve concentration and help digestion. Getting 1.8 to 2.5 litres a day is often a nice, simple thing to focus on and it can make a really big difference.
- Manage stress: There’s a lot of research to suggest that ongoing stress can hamper an ability to lose weight. Ongoing stress can affect the storage and distribution of body fat. Not only that, raised stress levels can often lead to poor food choices. Identifying non-food ways to manage stress is an essential element of weight loss for menopausal women.
- Get enough rest: Not getting enough rest can impact the body’s ability to regulate blood sugar levels, hunger and satiety. Taking steps to get seven to eight hours’ sleep a night can go a long way in assisting with weight loss during and after menopause
Losing weight can be daunting at the best of times. Menopausal changes can make it harder to lose weight, but it’s not impossible.
Clare Wolski is a practising dietitian at The Healthy Eating Hub, call 6174 4663.