Menopause weight loss. If you’ve entered this stage in your life, you’ve probably wondered why it doesn’t seem all that simple any more. The female hormones estrogen and progesterone have a major impact on keeping women lean, healthy and fit. They greatly impact menopause weight loss.
Don’t get discouraged! Read on to learn more about this impact and to gain a simple, three-step plan to menopause weight loss for your life.
During the menopausal transition, estrogen and progesterone dramatically fluctuate before finally dropping to lower levels. For many women, this causes weight gain and a shift in fat storage to the middle of the body.
Before we can answer the menopause weight loss question, we must first understand why women gain weight during menopause.
Menopause begins with the perimenopause period. Generally, this period is characterized by a slow decline of progesterone first and then estrogen.
As progesterone and estrogen continue to decline throughout menopause, these changes create three major factors that cause women to gain weight.
3 Menopause Weight Loss Inhibitors
- Increased stress hormones. First, when women’s estrogen and progesterone levels dwindle, their bodies become more reactive to stress. Both progesterone and estrogen are hormones that have a role in blunting the negative effects of cortisol (a stress hormone). When they begin to decline, the body stores more fat, especially around the mid-section. Additionally, studies show that cortisol hormones also rise during menopause. This contributes further to weight gain around the middle.
- Decreased carbohydrate tolerance. Secondly, estrogen production decreases. This is when women’s bodies naturally become more sensitive to the fat-storing impact of carbohydrates. Estrogen blunts some of the fat-storing properties of the hormone insulin. More insulin is released in response to higher carb meals.
- Increased cravings. Lastly, we know that menopausal women have low estrogen and progesterone levels. However, they also experience a decrease in levels of dopamine, serotonin and GABA (gamma-Aminobutyric acid). These brain chemicals impact hunger, energy and cravings. Due to this change in brain chemistry, many women find they crave more fatty and carbohydrate-filled foods during menopause.
The combination of increased stress hormones, decreased carbohydrate tolerance and increased cravings means that women in menopause often gain more weight than before. They may find that menopause weight loss is difficult.
In order to lose weight during menopause, you must address all three of the inhibitors mentioned above.
This is why we’ve created a simple three-step plan for menopause weight loss!
Menopause Weight Loss: A Simple, Three-Step Plan
Step 1: Balance stress hormones.
- Get enough sleep. A lack of sleep signals your body to release cortisol. The first and most important thing to help balance cortisol is to get enough sleep. Make rest and recovery a priority.
- Avoid overtraining. Long-duration workouts cause elevated cortisol levels. They stress your body unnecessarily. For optimal recovery and hormonal balance, focus on short-duration, high-intensity workouts.
- Practice stress-reducing activities. When possible, lower cortisol levels by doing restorative activities like leisurely walking. Take some quiet time to de-stress (even if it’s just 5 minutes!).
- Try anti-stress supplements. You may not get the vitamins and minerals you need (B vitamins, calcium, magnesium, chromium and zinc) through quality nutrition. Consider taking a supplement. Even a multivitamin may be helpful. Other helpful supplements include antioxidants like vitamin C, alpha lipoic acid, grapeseed extract and Co Q 10. Some research also shows that adaptogen herbs like ginseng, astragalus, eleuthero, schizandra, Tulsi (holy basil) rhodiola and ashwagandha help the body cope with the side effects of stress. They can even rebalance the metabolism. These supplements and herbs will decrease the effects of stress on the body by boosting the immune system as you work towards optimal hormonal balance.
- Consider your caffeine. If you believe you have issues with high cortisol levels, pay close attention to your caffeine intake. For people with normal coritsol levels, there is nothing wrong with a couple of cups of coffee in a day. But for people who already experience high levels of cortisol, caffeine needlessly causes potentially harmful spikes in this hormone. Even 200 mg of caffeine (one 12 oz cup of coffee) can increase blood cortisol levels by 30% in one hour. Remember, the problem is not the initial spike in cortisol, rather elevated levels over time. Consider limiting caffeine to the morning hours. You may need to cut out caffeine completely for a few weeks to monitor your body’s response.
Step 2: Increase carbohydrate tolerance.
- Rest. As mentioned above, cortisol is a stress hormone that can intensify insulin resistance. When you are insulin resistant, your body works harder to maintain balance. While blood sugar and blood fat levels fluctuate rapidly, the stressed out body of a menopausal woman is working overtime. Add to this decreased uptake of fuel for the cells, likely deficiencies in important vitamins and minerals, and overall metabolic stress and you will find that a woman who is insulin resistant, whether she feels it or not, is simply worn out. This makes REST (through sleep, as well as low-intensity, leisurely activities like walking and yoga) key. It serves to lower cortisol and help maintain metabolic balance.
- Resistance. By engaging in resistance training, menopausal women increase their glucose transporters without the need for insulin. A recent study on menopausal, pre-diabetic and diabetic individuals tested the effects of six months of resistance training on diabetes symptoms and risks. Participants experienced an average waist circumference decrease of two centimeters! They also improved on agility and strength assessments. Researchers suggest training is a critical component in menopausal weight management and quality of life.
- Refuel. Refuel your cells with quality nutrition. Women who are menopausal should look for ways to lower the impact of insulin in the body. How? Focus on lean protein and filling up on fibrous veggies. These will keep you feeling fuller longer and help to balance blood sugar. The worst thing a menopausal woman can do is to fill up on starch and fat.
Step 3: Balance the brain chemistry that causes cravings.
- Protein. Protein helps speed up your metabolism and balances your blood sugar levels. Thus preventing insulin spikes which can cause weight gain around the middle. Protein is made up of amino acids that your body needs. It is the key to burning belly fat and increasing your metabolism. Aim to get 0.8 to 1g of protein per pound of lean body weight.
- Fiber. Soluble fiber helps to slow your body’s breakdown of carbohydrates and the absorption of sugar. This helps with blood sugar control by balancing insulin levels. In turn, fiber reduces cravings and also aids in balancing hunger and energy. Menopausal women should focus on a fiber-rich diet and aim for a minimum of 25g of fiber daily. (Read more about the benefits of fiber here.)
- BCAAs. BCAA (branched chain amino acids) supplements also help to balance brain chemistry. BCAAs are precursors to our brain’s stimulating chemical, glutamate, as well as our brain’s primary relaxing chemical, GABA. By balancing these stimulating and relaxing responses in the brain at a chemical level, we can stop cravings before they even start. BCAAs also help to control hunger. In addition to balancing blood sugar, the BCAA leucine activates hunger-controlling molecules (mTOR and AMPK) in the brain. (Read more about the BCAAs here.)
- Serotonin. Serotonin is often referred to as the “happy hormone.” It’s a relaxing chemical in the brain that impacts mood as well as cravings. Studies have shown that when you have high levels of serotonin in your brain, you’re less likely to crave sweets and carbs. Low levels of serotonin cause cravings as well as insomnia, depression and even low self-esteem. Be aware, cravings caused by low serotonin generally come on at night. There are plenty of ways to raise serotonin naturally through a healthy diet, plenty of sleep and the right types of exercise. Cocoa powder also boosts serotonin levels substantially, so when in doubt…try some cocoa?
As you journey through this tumultuous time in your life, know that menopause weight loss is possible! With focus and determination, you can experience a BeyondFit life, no matter what stage of life you’re going through!
P.S. Want to learn more about menopause weight loss? Check out our recent blog, Tips for Women Over 50!
The BeyondFit Life Club was created to encompass all stages of a woman’s life, from pregnancy to perimenopause and beyond. If you are looking for a supportive group of women to keep you accountable while you change your habits, learn new skills and live life BeyondFit, join today!