One day, you wake up and notice that your clothes don’t fit. It seems you look at food and it goes straight to your middle. Just as the body of an adolescent changes in predictable and expected ways, so does that of a woman in menopause. What changes should you expect?

Physical Changes

You may not be ready for it, but there are physical changes associated with menopause that may lead to weight gain.

  • Muscle mass declines, resulting in a slower metabolism.
  • Estrogen levels decline, leading to increased body fat, reduced bone mineral density and changes in distribution of body fat. After menopause, women store fat more centrally compared with pre-menopausal women. Abdominal fat stores may increase to 15-20% of total body fat compared to only 5-8% in the pre-menopausal state. Changes in sex hormone levels affect metabolic mechanisms that tell us we are full.
  • Sleep becomes disturbed because of night sweats, mood issues, sleep apnea and/or less estrogen. Chronic sleep deprivation can lead to increased daytime fatigue and decreased physical activity. Poor sleep is associated with eating more foods and can set us up to gain weight.
  • Mood changes affect up to 25% of peri- and post-menopausal women. This can be a barrier to a healthful lifestyle.

 Women in midlife commonly gain ~1.5 pounds per year during their fifth and sixth decades of life.

 Aging, menopause and changes in our lifestyle

 As women age, they tend to be less physically active, although they may not be aware of this. Fifty percent of women who are 50-64 years report doing regular physical activity. Unless a woman adjusts her caloric intake and/or consciously increases her physical activity level, she will find the conditions set for weight gain. 

At this stage of life, women may also experience more stress. This ranges from personal relationships and demands of family life and aging parents, to career pressures and finances, to over-scheduling or over-stimulation from use of electronic devices. Stress can contribute to weight gain, both by itself and in how we cope with it (hello comfort foods).

Your daily food and activity habits, including dieting, influences your weight. Social life is often built around food and drink. When this is combined with the above stressors, there is often a weight gain. Check out the 11 reasons why losing weight in midlife is hard.

Weight and body image in midlife

Weight gain in midlife can be the result of changes to body and choices of lifestyle. This, in turn, may adversely affect emotional health, self-image and intimate partner relationships. Of women who are older than 50 years, only 10-20% report satisfaction with their bodies. They report avoiding everyday situations because of poor body esteem, regardless of size. Thisdissatisfaction is compounded by societal stereotypes of aging. Because of this, self-care becomes important.

There are several things that menopausal women can do to stay well: keep moving, eat well, get enough rest and take care of physical, emotional and spiritual well-being.

Part 2 of this blog will provide women with some strategies for addressing these expected body changes.

 


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Kristyn Hall MSc, RD

Registered Dietitian

Kristyn helps men and women over 40 achieve vitality and wellness through energizing their nutrition, one bite at a time. Kristyn is a Registered Dietitian, Nutritionist and Certified Health and Wellness Coach with Energize Nutrition in Calgary Alberta. She is a member of the Dietitians of Canada blog.

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