Marking the end of your reproductive years, menopause is a time of great change, both physiologically and emotionally. During this phase, your ovaries stop making estrogen, the hormone that plays a major role in controlling the menstrual cycle. Menopause can happen anywhere between the ages of 45 and 55, with the average age being 51–52. Overall, the changes you go through could last 2–5 years.1
Research shows that postmenopausal women store more fat around the abdomen than premenopausal women.2
When this happens, many women experience depression, irritability, anxiety, and mood changes. Some even have difficulties with memory and concentration. On top of all that, many gain weight too, especially around the abdomen; however, the reasons are not clear yet.3 4 Abdominal fat tends to raise the risks of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and, as per recent research, Alzheimer’s disease and cognitive decline, especially during middle age.5 This makes it vital to pay attention to any weight gain during this time.
Waist circumference is an easy way to estimate your abdominal fat. A waist measurement of over 35 inches (88 centimeters) will increase your health risks.6
Of course, gaining weight is a whole lot easier than losing or simply maintaining it. But it’s never too late to start making changes in your diet and lifestyle, and going through menopause is a good reason to get motivated. Here are steps to help manage your weight during this major phase in your life.
1. Eat Wholesome Meals; Don’t Crash Diet
If you’ve been eating a healthy diet before menopause, you’ll want to continue that habit. The key to long-term weight loss and management is a realistic diet plan that takes care of your nutritional needs without adding any unnecessary calories. These guidelines can also help you manage other menopausal symptoms such as fatigue, insomnia, and hot flashes.
One study found that it’s far more effective for women to focus on developing healthy eating habits than just calorie control. This study surveyed over 400 obese and overweight postmenopausal women over 6 and 48 months. For 57 percent of the women, dietary changes resulted in a loss of about 5 pounds that they were able to keep off. These changes included eating more fish and fresh fruits and vegetables, and cutting down on desserts, sugary beverages, meat, and cheese. The researchers believed that adding fruits and vegetables was more effective and an easier diet change to follow in the long term, than trying to cut out fried food completely.7
Crash dieting won’t help your attempts at shedding extra weight. A reduction of muscle mass means that once you go off your diet, you’re likely to gain even more pounds.8 The “fat hormone” leptin also plays a vital role in controlling body weight. It does this by signaling a feeling of fullness.9 When you go on a crash diet, leptin levels decrease. This increases appetite and slows down metabolism. Weight gain will often follow.10
2. Reduce Calorie Intake
It’s important to remember that with age, your calorie needs reduce. You can eat less and still function just as well. For best results, try to source 40 percent of your calories from complex carbohydrates, 35 percent from low-fat and lean proteins, and 25 percent from healthy fats.11
3. Eat Mini Meals
Another great way to avoid weight gain is by shifting to mini meals. Along with keeping pounds off, eating small meals can help control certain menopausal symptoms such as bloating, gas, and diarrhea. Frequent mini meals keep you continuously energized, and can even help you make smarter food choices – an essential part of weight management.
4. Choose Fiber-Rich Foods
Fiber keeps you feeling full longer and can help you lose weight. It maintains your blood sugar levels and helps move fats faster through the digestive tract, thus helping you fight belly fat. Examples of soluble fiber are apples, beans, nuts, and oatmeal. Insoluble fiber is found in carrots, brown rice, cabbage, and Brussels sprouts. Both types of fiber are essential in your diet. The best way to get an ample amount of fiber in daily is by snacking on raw fruits and vegetables.
5. Eat More Fruits And Vegetables
Increasing your intake of fruits and vegetables will also help you meet your daily nutritional requirements without significantly increasing your calorie intake. One study found that when older women increased their intake of fruits and vegetables, their risks of heart attack reduced, probably because of the large amounts of antioxidants in these foods.12
6. Have Antioxidant-Rich Food Rather Than Supplements
You may be tempted to get your antioxidants from supplements, but various studies show that supplements don’t offer the same type of protection from heart disease. In fact, they may even have the potential to cause other health issues. Leafy green vegetables, fresh fruits, and whole grains are excellent sources of antioxidants. And don’t forget to be adventurous with your food; the more colorful your plate, the better! Pick from a wide variety of fruits and vegetables; the greater the variety, the greater the number of antioxidants are available to provide higher levels of protection.13
7. Add Proteins To Your Meals
With age, our protein requirements increase. Our skin, bones, muscles, organs, cartilage, antibodies, enzymes, and some hormones are all made of proteins. A shortage of proteins can lead to weak muscles and decreased immunity, among other problems. During menopause, it’s the proteins that stop the body from storing fat. Further, since proteins are high in fiber and take longer to digest, they help keep you feeling fuller longer. Proteins also help the body recover from infections, illnesses, and surgery. Get adequate protein from lean sources such as fish, shellfish, meats and poultry, eggs, low-fat dairy products, nuts, legumes, and soy.
Numerous studies are exploring the potential benefits of adding soy and soy proteins to the diets of menopausal women. The isoflavones contained in soy are believed to have help reduce many symptoms of menopause including hot flashes, and risks of cancer and cardiovascular disease. Soy acts as an antioxidant and reduces levels of lipoproteins in the blood. Research indicates that Asian women, who consume greater quantities of plant estrogens than women in the West, are known to have fewer menopausal symptoms.14
8. Choose Carbohydrates Wisely
Starchy foods should comprise at least a third of your daily diet. They are sources of energy for physical activity as well as organ function. Without carbs in your diet, you may feel tired, experience muscle cramps, and have trouble focusing. That’s the last thing any woman wants! Instead, choose complex carbohydrates, including brown rice and whole-grain bread, pasta, crackers, and breakfast cereals. Fruits and vegetables are also excellent sources. Complex carbs have more fiber and take longer to digest, so the energy they release lasts longer.
Avoid simple carbs such as those found in refined flour, white sugar, white bread, white pasta, biscuits, chocolates, cakes, and dairy products. These types of foods are digested and absorbed quickly, increasing the chance of the sugar converting to fat. It’s okay to consume the natural simple carbs found in high-fiber fruits such as apples, oranges, pears, and strawberries. Because these fruits slow down digestion, the chances of their sugars converting to fat decreases.15
9. Don’t Avoid Fats
You will still need a moderate quantity of fat in your diet. Fats are involved in building tissues and cells, and are essential for optimal brain, nervous system, and hormone health. Opt for monounsaturated fat sources like olive oil, peanuts, almonds, cashews, and avocado. Also choose polyunsaturated fats, especially omega-3 fatty acids, which can be found in fish such as salmon and trout. 16 17
10. Walk More
Adopt an exercise routine you can maintain, and try getting in about 30–60 minutes of moderate-level physical activity every day. If you need to lose weight, set healthy, attainable goals that you can achieve and maintain.
Walking is a weight-bearing exercise that will help you build and retain muscle mass and increase bone density, both of which tend to decrease during menopause. Walking is one of the best ways to get back into an exercise routine without fear of injury.18
11. Do Cardio Training
To improve your cardiovascular health, you should keep your exercise routine interesting. A good mix of exercises will help work different muscle groups and keep you focused and interested, too.
- Interval training: You could alternate sprinting with a moderate-paced walk.
- Circuit training: To work different muscles, you could alternate between different activities such as running, cycling, and swimming.
- Speed play: You could mix interval training with continuous training. Once you reach a basic level of fitness, you can increase your pace and workout time.19
12. Do Strength Training
Weight training 2–3 times per week can help you lose weight, too. Remember, muscle helps burn fat! Doing some basic moves, under guidance, can help reverse muscle loss and weight gain.20
13. Try Chinese Medicine
Traditional Chinese medicine, including acupuncture and herbal medicine, is also effective for safe weight loss. Acupuncture helps regulate nerve and endocrine functions and effectively leads to weight loss. An analysis of 96 controlled trials shows that acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine are as effective as anti-obesity drugs, but with fewer known adverse effects. The small size of the trial does not confirm this method completely, but it is certainly promising.21
14. Follow A Vata-Balancing Routine
From an ayurvedic perspective, a woman’s reproductive system is dominated by a particular dosha at different phases of her life. It starts with kapha dosha from birth to age 19, and then pitta dosha during the fertile years. Menopause then marks a transitional phase to vata dosha. Pitta, according to ayurvedic texts, is characterized by metabolic activities, while vata is associated with degeneration. To alleviate menopausal symptoms, you must balance the doshas during this transitional phase and maintain a dinacharya (daily routine). Here are some general recommendations:
- Sweet-tasting foods act as a tonic to build up depleting ojas (energy). Salty and sour-tasting foods will also help to balance vata.
- Eat cooked foods at warm temperatures. Favor warm drinks over cold.
- Eat foods that are soft and unctuous – cooked grains, vegetables, cereals, and soups – rather than dry, crunchy foods.
- Select healthy cooking oils like organic olive, sunflower, and sesame oil.
- Avoid caffeinated drinks, spicy food, and alcohol.
- Stick to regular meal times. Eat in a quiet, pleasant environment, allowing yourself time to savor your food.22
15. Practice Yoga Regularly
Yoga can also help you knock off those pesky pounds. It can improve serum lipids and adiponectin (protein hormone) levels, which play an important role in glucose and fat metabolism. Low levels of adiponectin can lead to obesity. Yoga can also reduce your risk of heart disease and other health problems in overweight postmenopausal women. Studies have even shown that regular yoga practice can decrease waist circumference and body mass index (BMI) in overweight breast cancer survivors.23
Yoga can also help with other menopausal symptoms, such as menstrual flow irregularities, hot flashes, night sweats, sleep problems, irritability, anxiety, depression, fatigue, memory, concentration, and low self-esteem. Yoga practice includes postures (asanas), breath control (pranayama), and meditation (dhyana). If you’ve never tried yoga, consult a qualified practitioner to develop a yoga routine that’s best suited to your age and current fitness level.