by Barbara Sobel, MS, CNS, LDN,
Clinical Nutritionist for Bossa Bars Menopause Energy Bars
Weight gain in menopause is common, but definitely does not have to be a given!
One thing that we do see in most women as they transition to menopause is a change in how they carry their weight. Menopause is the time when we develop the muffin top and start gaining weight around our middle.
Weight gain around the middle is associated with increases in blood pressure, fasting glucose, and cardiovascular disease.
The research has not been able to link increases in midlife muffin top to actual changes in hormones, but as we age our muscle mass decreases and muscle burns calories, our lifestyle changes, we have more chronic stress in midlife, and we often sleep less. Weight loss around menopause can be more difficult than it was before, but there are things we can do to manage menopausal weight gain, eating real food, and approaching it with a sense of joy and curiosity.
There are three levers you can push to help support midlife weight loss: what you eat, when you eat, and how much you eat. You can push on one, two, or all three of these levers depending on how you feel and the amount of activity you are doing.
3 Transformational Meno Middle Levers
- Focus on WHAT You Eat
Eat to balance your blood sugar. A plant rich diet is nutrient dense, low in calories, and full of fiber. Fiber is a girl’s best friend. It helps keep you full longer, reduces depression in premenopausal women, and feeds the gut microbiome, a key factor in keeping the immune system strong and metabolizing estrogens.
A good rule of thumb is to fill half your plate or more with non-starchy vegetables (cooked or raw, or both). Think leafy greens, broccoli, cauliflower, peppers, tomatoes… Then add a portion or protein (animal or vegetable), and some healthy fats (olive, coconut, avocado and their oils, nuts and seeds and their butters, or dark chocolate (yay!)). Fill out the rest of your plate with a portion of whole grains, starchy vegetables, or fruit if desired. A lower carb diet can help many manage blood sugar. Snack smartly with something that has protein, fiber, and a little fat to keep you satiated. Minimize processed foods and those with added sugars. That's why Bossa Bars are low sugar and have half a day's serving of vegetables.
Remember enjoying a few glasses of red wine in your 20’s and making it to work the next day all full of energy? You may have noticed that you don’t tolerate some foods as well as you might have in the past. Now is a great time to listen to what your body is telling you, even if you don’t like what it says. Notice which foods don’t leave you feeling as well after consuming them, such as alcohol, coffee, dairy, gluten, or other grains. Experiment with removing them, and then add them back and see what happens.
- Focus on WHEN You Eat
It is easy to get into the habit of eating when we aren’t hungry. Instead of grazing all day, eat distinct meals and snacks (if you need them). We want to give our bodies several hours to digest and for our blood sugar to come down before we eat again. Increased blood sugar throughout the day leads to higher insulin levels and more weight around the middle.
One effective way to manage your midlife middle is to give intermittent fasting a try. Leave at least 12 hours between dinner and breakfast. Once you have mastered that, you can play with adding another hour or two or more to your fasting window. Don’t let yourself get so hungry that you are tempted to eat too much. If you are new to intermittent fasting, increase your fasting window slowly. Make sure to break your fast with something that has some protein, fiber, and healthy fat.
- Focus on HOW MUCH You Eat
As our lifestyles change, our energy demands may decline. Imagine the serving size difference between your high school athlete daughter and your mother. Most of us eat what is on the plate and we may be eating too much. Practice the Japanese tradition of hara hachi bun me, eating to 8 tenths full. The best way to do this is eat when you are hungry and stop when you have had enough as opposed to being full. Put your fork down between bites. It will help you eat more mindfully and slowly so you can notice when you have had enough. Studies show that slow eaters eat less food.
Make your calories count. I am not a fan of just focusing on calories, as 100 calories of candy will affect your body very differently than 100 calories of broccoli, but pay attention and if you notice that you are following all of these interventions and not losing weight, you may be getting too many calories from nutrient dense foods like nuts and seeds, complex carbs (whole grains, starchy vegetables, dried fruit…) alcohol, or play foods.
Stay well hydrated by drinking half your body weight in ounces of water each day. Dehydration makes us feel tired and we reach for sweets and caffeine as a pick me up when we really need to drink more water.
The transition around menopause is a time of change. Weight gain is not a given. Use this time to transition your thinking about what, when, and how much you are eating. While it may feel challenging, approach this time with curiosity. This is a time to listen to your body. Adopting a nutrient dense, plant rich diet can help nourish and rebalance your body, along with supporting a healthy weight. This style of eating may be different, but most women find that over time, they develop new food preferences and they feel better.
Kim Y, Hong M, Kim S, Shin WY, Kim JH. Inverse association between dietary fiber intake and depression in
premenopausal women: a nationwide population-based survey [published online ahead of print, 2020 Dec 21].
Menopause. 2020;Publish Ahead of Print:10.1097/GME.0000000000001711. doi:10.1097/GME.0000000000001711
Kokkinos A, le Roux CW, Alexiadou K, Tentolouris N, Vincent RP, Kyriaki D, Perrea D, Ghatei MA, Bloom SR,Katsilambros N. Eating slowly increases the postprandial response of the anorexigenic gut hormones, peptide YY and glucagon-like peptide-1. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2010 Jan;95(1):333-7. doi: 10.1210/jc.2009-1018. Epub 2009 Oct 29. PMID: 19875483.
Crandall, MD, MS, NCMP CJ, Bachman, MD GA, Faubion, MD, MBA, FACP, NCMP, IF SS, et al. eds. MENOPAUSE PRACTICE: A Clinician’s Guide 6th ed. Pepper Pike, OH: The North American Menopause Society; 2019.
Dalen, J., Smith, B. W., Shelley, B. M., Sloan, A. L., Leahigh, L., & Begay, D. (2010, November 11). Pilot study: Mindful Eating and Living (MEAL): Weight, eating behavior, and psychological outcomes associated with a mindfulness-based intervention for people with obesity. Complementary Therapies in Medicine.
Nair, P. M. K., & Khawale, P. G. (2016). Role of therapeutic fasting in women's health: An overview . Journal of mid-life health. https: //www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4960941/
Davy, Brenda M et al. “Water consumption reduces energy intake at a breakfast meal in obese older adults.” Journal of the American Dietetic Association vol. 108,7 (2008): 1236-9. doi:10.1016/j.jada.2008.04.013