Why Weight Gain With Perimenopause Happens (And What To Do About It)
Perimenopause leads to many changes in your body, and sometimes that can include weight gain.
Luckily, perimenopause weight gain isn’t something that you’re just stuck with. As helpless as perimenopause can make you feel, there are plenty of things that you can do to take control of your body and maintain a healthy weight that makes you feel a little more like yourself.
Does Perimenopause Cause Weight Gain?
The short answer: yes, perimenopause can cause a wide variety of changes to your body, weight gain included.
But first, let’s define what perimenopause is in the first place, and figure out exactly why all those changes are happening.
Menopause, as you may already know, signals the end of your body’s ability to reproduce. You’ve officially reached menopause when you haven’t had a menstrual cycle for a full twelve months.
But changes start happening to your body long before that official mile-marker. The time approaching to and around menopause is defined as perimenopause. The average age for perimenopause to begin is around 45 and it can last anywhere from a couple of years to as long as 14 years before your menstrual cycle is officially over.
During that transition to menopause, your body produces less of the reproductive hormones that trigger your menstrual cycle: estrogen and progesterone. But these hormones also play important roles throughout your entire body, so perimenopause can often come with an inconvenient and uncomfortable variety of symptoms. You have probably heard of or experienced hot flashes and mood swings, which are very common symptoms, but it is important to note there are over 30 perimenopausal symptoms and each journey is unique, with a few women feeling nothing at all while others may experience almost all of them, or something in between.
What’s more, the decreasing levels of progesterone and especially estrogen can change how your body uses food and stores fat, which can then lead to weight gain.
The decrease of estrogen being produced by your ovaries means that your body changes the way that it stores fat. So rather than gaining weight primarily in your hips and thighs, as most women do pre-menopause, you start to store more fat in your midsection.
Not only is this kind of weight gain usually unwanted, but it’s also more associated with obesity-related health conditions like heart disease and type-2 diabetes.
Other perimenopausal-related factors can also contribute to this weight gain, like menopause-related stress and anxiety. Fatigue is another common symptom of menopause, which can contribute to declining exercise and physical activity levels. Finally, your metabolism also starts to slow down as you age.
All of these circumstances combined can lead to a “menopause belly” as your body adjusts to the new circumstances.
Is My Weight Gain Caused By Menopause?
So menopause is definitely a likely culprit for a mysterious weight gain, but your weight can also be influenced by a variety of other factors outside of your reproductive cycle.
Getting to the bottom of the cause of your weight gain is important if you want to make changes. Knowing whether your weight gain is caused by a controllable lifestyle factor like diet and exercise, a shift in hormones, or a combination of the two can give insight into the things you can change to start losing weight.
It can also help to rule out other health issues that could be causing the problem - for example, an imbalance of different hormones like cortisol or insulin.
If you’ve found that you’re gaining weight and want to figure out the reason why, ask yourself:
- Are my eating habits the same?
- Has my physical activity changed?
- Am I around the right age for perimenopause (usually in the late 40s to early 50s?)
- Is my period irregular?
- Am I experiencing other physical changes like hot flashes, mood swings, or decreased sex drive?
- Have I been suffering from chronic stress?
If you answered yes to a couple of these, your weight gain may be due to menopause.
How to Reduce The Risk Of Perimenopausal Weight Gain
If you’re trying to figure out how to lose weight during perimenopause, sometimes it’s as easy as getting back to the basics and taking a look at what you eat every day. Eating a balanced diet is key for many things, including balancing hormones and preventing perimenopausal weight gain.
If your weight gain does turn out to be from the hormonal fluctuations that happen during the natural transition into menopause, there are foods you can incorporate into your diet to help control perimenopause weight gain. Staying hydrated and active are also highly important.
Foods for fighting perimenopause weight gain:
Your eating patterns and your hormones are closely linked, which is why it’s so important to be eating a nutritious diet with plenty of whole foods. You want to give your body all the tools it needs to maintain balance!
Please note that if you’re looking to lose weight, consistency is key. It’s important to think of your diet as an overall healthy eating pattern and to make sure that you are being mindful of portions and calories.
Make sure your meal plan has plenty of:
- Vegetables: If you needed yet another reminder to eat your veggies, here’s a good one. Non-starchy vegetables like leafy greens, peppers, broccoli, and carrots are lean, meaning they won’t pack on the calories, yet they’re still full of nutrients like vitamins, minerals, and fiber to keep your body operating smoothly.
- Fruits: They’re more than just “nature’s candy:” fruits are a nutritious way to get your micronutrients. Even better, many fruits like berries contain antioxidants that can fight inflammation and may be associated with weight loss.
- Whole grains: Carbohydrates tend to get a bit of a bad rap when it comes to weight gain, but they’re not all made equally. Higher-quality carbohydrates like whole grains and starchy vegetables can give you the nutrients you need without causing dramatic spikes in your blood sugar. They are also a good source of fiber, which studies have found can be good for weight loss.
- Lean protein: Protein helps you to maintain your muscle mass, which is especially important since you tend to lose muscle as you grow older. Lean protein choices will also keep you full for longer than simple sugars to help with your weight loss habits.
And on the subject of foods to avoid, it’s probably not surprising that you should be eating less of the highly processed foods, sugary treats, or foods that are full of saturated and trans fats and avoiding drinking alcohol if you want to lose weight.
Perimenopause is a nonnegotiable truth for many people, and all the changes that come with it can include weight gain. But with a combination of hormone knowledge, healthy eating, and increased physical activity, you don’t have to accept perimenopausal weight gain.