It is common for women to experience weight gain during menopause and perimenopause.
You might be worried about the changes in your body, especially if you're struggling with perimenopause weight gain. But, if you feel like the weight won't budge no matter what, you're not alone.
According to research, 61% of women aged between 40 to 59 years fall under overweight or obese during their post-menopausal years.
Perimenopause weight gain can happen because your body is going through these changes. Although it may feel like a menopause belly is inevitable, it is not necessarily the case.
When Does Menopause Weight Gain Happen?
It is important to briefly understand the stages of menopause, because your body may experience different changes depending on the stage.
Perimenopause (the years leading to menopause) can last for about four to eight years or longer. During this time, many women experience menopause symptoms such as hot flashes, night sweats, vaginal dryness, and weight gain.
After the perimenopause stage is over, a woman has officially reached menopause. This is when she hasn't had a period in 12 consecutive months. The average age for menopause is 51 years old in the United States. But, some women may reach menopause as early as 40 years old or even late 60s.
Postmenopause is the stage after menopause. This is when a woman has not had her period for 12 months straight. At this stage, some physical and hormonal changes will occur in her body. In fact, during this period of the menopause transition, your reproductive hormone levels (estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone) start to decline.
These declining hormone levels can cause various symptoms, including weight gain.
Studies show that women store more visceral fat—fat deep in the belly that sits close to the organs—during and after menopause than before. This may give a rounded appearance and increase your waistline without adding extra pounds to the scale. Hence, why you may hear the term "menopause belly."
Fat stores that increase around the hips, buttocks, and thighs are more likely related to lifestyle than hormonal changes.
Menopause and Perimenopause Weight Gain Causes
Though the exact reason hasn't been pinpointed, researchers believe the issue has four leading causes:
- A slower metabolic rate
- Disrupted sleep patterns
- Changes in fat cell type
- Lower levels of activity
Other causes may include genetics, poor diet quality, and an overall increase in stress levels. Let’s look at some of the other causes in more detail.
Hormonal Weight Fluctuations
Women typically experience menopause and perimenopause weight gain in a few different ways If you experience weight gain, hormonal fluctuations may be the culprit.
During menopause, the ovaries produce less estrogen. As a result, your body starts to produce more of the stress hormone cortisol. This can lead to cravings for high-fat, high-sugar foods and an increased appetite. Additionally, decreasing muscle mass means your metabolism slows down, making it harder to lose weight.
In addition, changes in where your body stores fat can also contribute to menopause weight gain. As you age, your body is more likely to store fat around the abdomen than the hips and thighs. This type of fat is more closely linked to health problems like heart disease and insulin resistance.
When insulin resistance begins, your body can still make enough insulin to keep blood sugar levels in check. But over time, the pancreas may not be able to produce enough insulin to keep up with demand. This can cause blood sugar levels to rise, leading to weight gain and other health problems.
Aging and Metabolism
Metabolism is like a furnace that burns up the food you eat and drink to provide energy for your body. When you're young, your metabolism is like a roaring fire. But as you age, your metabolic rate slows down.
Research suggests that by reaching age 65, your metabolism may have slowed down by as much as 10% compared to when you were in your 20s. Although aging may be a cause, it’s important to highlight that a recent study on this questioned how much metabolism decreases after 60. It also depends on an individual’s health, genetics, and other factors.
Less muscle mass also contributes to a slower metabolism. That's because muscle tissue burns more calories than fat tissue.
So, as you lose muscle mass, your body's ability to burn calories also declines. According to Dr. JoAnn Pinkerton, an executive director of The North American Menopause Society, "The average 65-year-old woman burns about 100 calories less per day than the average 30-year-old."
How Much Weight Do You Gain During Menopause?
Most women gain about one to five pounds during perimenopause. But some may gain as much as 10 pounds or more. The amount of weight you gain during your menopause transition may depend on various factors, including your age, genetics, and lifestyle choices.
In one study, overweight and obese women were more likely to gain weight during perimenopause.
Additionally, if your mother or sister gained weight during the menopause transition, you may be more likely to do the same.
Finally, lifestyle choices such as diet and exercise can also affect how much weight you gain.
Risks Associated With Menopause Weight Gain
Although body positivity is important, excess weight gain during menopause can increase your risk of developing certain health conditions. Specifically, it can increase your risk of developing heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes. Here is a broader look at the risks associated with menopause and perimenopause weight gain.
Type 2 Diabetes
As hormones fluctuate during perimenopause, they actively interact with the insulin hormone, making it harder for your body to process blood sugar. This can lead to insulin resistance, which is when the body can't properly use insulin to regulate blood sugar levels. Over time, this can cause type 2 diabetes.
While women may be prone to developing type 2 diabetes during perimenopause, those who are overweight or obese have an even higher risk.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), overweight females at the age of 45 have a 33% chance of developing type 2 diabetes. If you fall into the obesity range, that number goes up to 50%.
Hot Flash Intensity
Up to 75% of women experience hot flashes during perimenopause. But, did you know that the intensity of your hot flashes may be directly linked to your weight?
One study found that you may be more likely to experience severe hot flashes if you weigh more. In the study, 60% of overweight women and 70% of obese women had severe hot flashes.
Additionally, carrying extra weight around your middle can make hot flashes worse. That's because excess abdominal fat can increase the amount of estrogen your body produces. And as estrogen levels rise, so do hot flashes' intensity and frequency.
Heart Disease Risk
Extra weight, especially around your waist, can lead to cardiovascular disease. Abdominal fat is more likely to cause insulin resistance and high blood sugar.
This combination of factors can damage the blood vessels and lead to heart disease. According to the American Heart Association, excess fat around the belly, in particular, raises heart disease risk, even if you’re at a healthy BMI.
Additionally, gaining weight during menopause can increase your risk of high blood pressure. High blood pressure is another major risk factor for heart disease.
What You Can Do to Support Healthy Weight During Menopause
When it comes to supporting a healthy weight during menopause, several factors come into play:
Focus on movement
Physical activity doesn’t need to be structured or happen in a gym. Move throughout the day and move often. This includes movement between long bouts of sitting and physical tasks around the house such as housework or home projects.
Plus, add activities that get your heart rate up and your muscles working. Strength training is also important to support healthy bones and prevent muscle loss during menopause.
Reduce your caloric intake
As your metabolism slows down, you need to consume fewer calories to maintain your current weight. The best way to reduce calories is to bulk up on low-calorie, high-nutrient foods. This includes ample fruits and veggies, whole grains, and lean proteins.
Also, consume a good amount of healthy fats, and drink plenty of water throughout the day. Avoid consuming liquid calories such as sugary drinks and alcohol.
Talk with your provider about HRT
Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) helps ease several menopause-related symptoms and maintain intimate care, including excess weight gain and unwanted fat stores. Studies have shown that women who undergo hormone treatment have fewer fat stores, especially belly fat, than women who do not get hormone support.
Get regular health screenings
As we age, we are more prone to developing specific issues such as diabetes and high cholesterol. Regular health screening can detect health problems early and allow your providers to get you on the right regimen to support your overall wellness.
The success of your weight loss may require lifestyle adjustments, but they are well worth the effort. Get support and find a way to build consistent habits that work for your daily life.
If you are experiencing menopause or perimenopause weight gain, you are not alone and you have options. Gaining a little weight during this time is normal, and not something to be ashamed of, but unchecked, it can impact your health. Because of the risks associated with menopause belly, it is important to monitor it.
Talk with your health care provider about hormone replacement therapy (HRT) and make sure to get regular screenings for things like type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
Focus on movement and eating a healthy diet, and be sure to contact us if you have any questions about how Joylux can help support your intimate wellness during this time in your life.