01 Feb 4 Reasons for Weight Gain during Menopause
As we enter the perimenopause many of us experience weight gain. No matter how hard we exercise or reduce our calories our waistline expands and fat around the middle seems inevitable. Not only can we feel uncomfortable in our clothes, we can experience a range of disruptive symptoms and feel we have lost control. These extra pounds around the middle can also impact our health by increasing the risk of high blood pressure, stroke, heart attacks, some cancers, and diabetes.
There are several reasons why you may find weight gain during menopause starting with stress.
Life today is stressful and particularly so for women going through the menopause. They have their own health changes to deal with, children leaving home or going through exams, elderly parents requiring care, family disputes, financial worries, a responsible job to hold down with challenging work colleagues and much more. As a result of these stressors our stress response is triggered and our stress hormone, cortisol, is released, which triggers energy stores to be mobilised in the form of glucose. This is essential if we need to run away from the ‘sabre-toothed tiger’. The energy provided for the ‘fight or flight’ response can be life saving. Glucose stores are released, which in turn trigger insulin release to transport the energy/glucose to the muscle cells so we have sufficient energy to fight or run away. However, most threats today are ‘perceived threats’, and unless we expend the energy/glucose, insulin, which is also a fat storing hormone, will store it away once more as fat, and this is often around the middle.
A good night’s sleep may be taken for granted, unless you are one of the many who has disrupted sleep on a regular basis. Not only do you feel tired the next morning, but your fat storing hormone, insulin, works overtime during the night building up your fat stores. A lack of sleep is a stressor, triggering higher levels of cortisol and insulin release.
Even after a decade of evidence that low calorie diets do not work, people still exercise more and eat less believing this is the answer to weight loss. Clearly weight can be shifted in the short term, but the long-term results are weight gain and often more weight than when they started the diet. The body is very clever. When we eat too little, the body is triggered into survival mode, as clearly there is a famine going on. As a result the body focuses on survival and slows the metabolism to enable the body to live as long as possible, or until the famine is over. It stubbornly holds on to vital fat stores. Once we start eating normally again, because every cell in our body is screaming at us to eat, our body then stores as much energy as possible in the form of high-energy fat, just in case another famine occurs. This becomes more pronounced the more we yo yo diet.
As you enter menopause you may experience fluctuations in your sex hormones, particularly oestrogen and progesterone, as they start to decline. As a result your body can be reluctant to release fat around the middle as this provides an alternative source of oestrogen to the ovaries. Although this source of oestrogen may help protect our bones, fat around the middle is metabolically active and can increase health risk of diabetes, stroke, some cancers and more.
As you can see poor sleep, high levels of stress, inappropriate dieting alongside hormonal changes can increase fat stores, particularly around the middle.
Fortunately we can address this situation through healthy eating, not dieting. We can learn strategies to manage stress more effectively, and we can make subtle changes to habits to improve our sleep quality. And when we do this we can lose stubborn pounds, re-ignite our energy levels, and live a healthy, beautiful life.
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