Struggling to Lose Weight at Menopause? Here’s Why.
What happens at menopause?
Aside from periods stopping, estrogen levels drop, ovulation stops and progesterone levels drop.
How do the hormone changes at menopause impact your weight?
There are a few ways that these hormonal changes can make it tougher to lose weight:
Lower estrogen levels mean that your body doesn’t respond to insulin as well as it used to before menopause. That means that if you eat carbs or sugar, your insulin levels will be higher post menopause than they were pre-menopause. Higher insulin means more fat production and also more inflammation. More inflammation means even more insulin resistance.
Progesterone helps to counter the effects of cortisol (your stress hormone). If you have less progesterone, and in menopause there is very little, then cortisol has a greater effect than it had pre-menopause. We know that higher cortisol increases belly fat.
So, how can we fix this?
I am not an advocate for hormone replacement therapy, bioidentical or otherwise. Menopause is a natural transition away from childbearing years and into golden years. The best approach in my opinion is to:
Adjust your carbohydrate intake accordingly. If you no longer tolerate the same level of carbs due to lower estrogen, it’s best to decrease your carb intake. Plug your daily food intake into an app like MyFitnessPal to get a sense of your total carb intake and where those carbs are coming from and adjust your diet to reduce your carb intake. What is the recommended carb intake? That’s somewhat individual, but you could go as low as 40-60 grams per day if you find that weight isn’t budging. Protein and fat will better serve your new post-menopause metabolism.
Reduce stress and stress inducing exercise. Anything that raises your cortisol level, will have a worse impact than it did prior to menopause.
Cortisol lowering tips:
Exercise: Exercise improves heart function, reduces the fight or flight response to stress, improves ability of tissues to use oxygen and other nutrients, improves self-esteem, and increases endurance and energy levels. The type of exercise is important though. Endurance exercise can become an additional stressor and requires more cortisol production. Short bursts of very high intensity exercise (HIIT training), with alternating days of low level relaxation type exercise like restorative yoga or tai chi is a great combination to maintain muscle mass for calorie burning, but also keep cortisol low.
Relaxation techniques: Gentle stretching, breathing exercises, yoga and visualization induce the relaxation response.
Humour: Laughter helps lower cortisol, even cracking a smile can help.
Social support: spend time with friends and family
Pets: one study showed that cortisol levels are lowest when you are with your pet and highest when you are with your spouse (I suppose it depends on the spouse)
Alone/quiet/down time: The hectic pace and never ending electronic stimulation is an additional stress to your body. Take time to be alone, out in nature, relax by 8 p.m..
Sleep: Don’t forgo sleep. Ensure that you get at least 7-7.5 hours of good quality sleep per night.
Support your Adrenal Glands: They need adequate intake of vitamins C, B5, B6, zinc and magnesium to help you deal with stress as easily as possible. Use of antidepressants, estrogen replacement therapy and birth control pills can all increase the need for vitamin B6 in the body.
By Dr. Pamela Frank, BSc(Hons), ND
For help to lose weight at menopause, book a consultation with one of our naturopathic doctors.