The Midlife Midriff: Menopause, weight gain, and what you can do about it
If you’re female and fifty, this scenario may sound familiar. You’re standing in front of the mirror and (much to your surprise) that little bundle of belly sitting comfortably (just) above those cozy jeans starts to talk to you. "Hello," it says, wobbling slightly in the language of unwanted kilos, "welcome to your midlife midriff."
No, you’re not going crazy. Around menopause your body does start to change, even if you keep to your regular eating and exercise patterns. And while the change might not actually extend to a talking stomach, it’s usual to experience some weight gain as well as a shift in where extra weight ends up - what used to attach itself to hips and thighs now finds its way to your midriff.
Some researchers argue that menopausal weight gain is linked with hormonal changes and is therefore an inevitable side effect of menopause or perimenopause (the stage before menopause); other researchers say there’s no basis for this, and that midlife weight gain is more to do with aging and lack of physical activity than anything else. But whatever the case, the point is that it does happen, for whatever reason, to almost every woman, and when you’re one of those women you’re more interested in what to do about it than whether or not you can blame your hormones.
Read these five possible explanations for midlife weight gain, and what you can do to counter each of them.
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Your legs probably don’t go as fast as they did when you were twelve, and neither does your metabolism. At the same time as you start to produce less oestrogen and progesterone, your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) also slows down, triggering changes in weight and shape. This slowing down of metabolism is related more to the aging process than hormonal changes but, in general, slower metabolism means easier weight gain. Your winding-down metabolism is a likely candidate for weight gain during the menopausal years.
What you can do: What you shouldn’t do is go on a diet. Dieting can actually make menopausal weight gain worse. Cutting out too many calories puts you into starvation mode which actually lowers your metabolism even more – not much help really! It also triggers sugar and fat cravings, which, if indulged, are a great way to add even more kilos. If you’re not getting enough calories you also risk bone and muscle depletion, which is a bad thing for anyone, let alone someone who is heading into an age where strong bones and muscles are even more vital for good health.
As your metabolism slows, however, you do need fewer calories. It is generally recommended that postmenopausal women consume around 1900 calories a day, compared to 2200 for younger women. That means a drop of between 200 and 400 calories a day. This is best achieved by decreasing portion sizes of meals while keeping a wide variety of foods in your diet to ensure adequate nutrition. Limit fatty foods and excessive alcohol and fill up on wholegrains, legumes, fruits and vegetables.
Next: The muscle/fat equation
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