Why Do Women Gain Weight After 40? After Menopause?
Here are two questions I get emailed a lot:
- “Hi Lisa – Love your blog! After menopause I started gaining weight. Do you know what I can do? I’ve always eaten well and nothing else has changed, so why do I suddenly have a pot belly?”
- “Hi Lisa – We are about the same age and height, so I’m hoping you can help me. After I turned 40 losing weight has become a nightmare. None of my usual diet tricks work. Do you know what I can do?”
Why, Why, Why is this Happening to ME?
Let’s first dive into the menopause question. Menopause is the permanent end of a woman’s menstrual cycle and fertility marked by a drop in the hormone estrogen. If you are a woman you can’t escape this process; everyone gets older even though it’s usually a taboo subject. Symptoms include hot flashes, insomnia, night sweats, anxiety, irritability and lower energy levels. And about that belly fat…
“A comprehensive review by the International Menopause Society has found
that going through the menopause does not cause a woman to gain weight.
However, the hormonal changes at the menopause are associated with a
change in the the way that fat is distributed, leading to more belly
(abdominal) fat.” (Source: Science Daily.)
Now, on to why we gain weight so easily after 40. It is a combination of slowing metabolism, less time to exercise due to a more complicated life and having unlimited access to really bad food.
Let’s talk metabolism. There are three main components that effect it:
- Genetics. (Not much you can do about this one.)
- Thyroid function. According to Pamela Peeke, MD, assistant clinical professor of medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore, “Women have much greater thyroid issues than men, by a at least 10 to 1, and it’s quite gradual, so women may find that they’re losing some of
that metabolic edge during their 40’s also because thyroid issues begin
to spring up.” (Source: WebMD: Fighting 40s Flab)
- Muscle Mass. The average man between the ages of 30-50 will lose 5 – 10 pounds of muscle mass and research suggests that women tend to lose muscle mass twice as fast as men. Muscle burns more calories than fat, so if you lose muscle mass it makes it even more difficult to lose or even maintain weight.
So What’s A
Girl Middle Aged Woman To Do?
Knowledge is power. Now that you know why this is happening, you just have to work around it. Here are some suggestions:
- Talk to your doctor about estrogen. If you are going through menopause your doctor might be able to discuss estrogen treatment options for you.
- Get your thyroid checked. If you are gaining weight for no reason, ask your doctor to check your thyroid. The thyroid gland is the butterfly shaped organ just below the Adam’s apple in your neck. It secrets hormones and when it is under-active your metabolism slows down. Your doctor can provide you medication to treat this.
- Lift weights. Combat the muscle mass loss by lifting weights. Ladies: Trust me when I tell you that you will not get bulky!! Also, keep in mind that fat only burns 5-10 calories per day, but if you can turn that flab into a pound of muscle, that muscle burns an extra 35-50 calories per day.
- Eat clean and count calories. It doesn’t take much to gain weight. An extra soda a day at 140 calories can pack on pounds by the end of the year. Since you know that your metabolism is slowing be more aware of your food choices. When you go grocery shopping stick to the perimeter of the store and avoid processed foods that contain extra salt, fat and sugar you don’t want or need anyway. Outside of medical issues, your diet is really the key to maintaining a good weight.
- Mix it up. If your go-to foods and exercises aren’t working for you try something new. Personally, I was excellent at yo-yo dieting and running marathons, but after two kids and turning 38, none of my standard tricks worked. So I got a personal trainer and entered a bodybuilding competition. That worked for me. For you it might mean trying a hot yoga class three times a week and cutting out alcohol from your diet. If you’re not getting the results you want try something different.
Getting older doesn’t mean you have to gain weight; it just means you have to work harder at staying healthy. (I know, the truth hurts. But aren’t you glad I’m honest with you?)
One of my clients is 60 and has a thyroid issue, but that didn’t stop her. She lost almost 30 pounds and now we’re about to kick up her workouts a notch and add in more weight lifting. At the Texas Shredder I met a woman in her 50’s who looked better than most of the 20 year old’s there. So stay encouraged!
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Lisa Traugott is a Mom’s Choice Award winning writer, fitness blogger, wife and mom of two….and Original Cast Member of AMERICAN GRIT, starring John Cena, on FOX!!!
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