Dr Sally Norton a consultant surgeon and weight loss expert. She explains why women put on weight during the menopause and how to lose weight in a sustainable way.
It’s quite a controversial issue. There’s no good medical evidence that shows that menopause causes weight gain. There are some studies that say women don’t put on weight during the menopause.
But the reality is that many people do put on fat and weight at about the same time as they go through the menopause.
The drop in oestrogen at the time of menopause causes an increase of fat mass. At the same time, bone and muscle mass can decrease. So it’s easy to see why medically we don’t “gain weight”. We gain fat, and lose bone and muscle mass which can result in being the same weight.
The change in fat distribution is a problem. We don’t want more weight around our middle! Central obesity is bad for our health. It makes us more at risk of metabolic disease.
Bottom line: You may or may not put on weight during the menopause. The menopause is associated with fat redistribution with more fat around the middle. This central obesity isn’t good for our health. Or feeling fit and fabulous.
Divide your waist measurement by your hip measurement to find your “waist hip ratio”. It should be less 0.85 for women and 1.0 for men. If your weight hip ratio is high, you’re at higher risk of metabolic disease.
Autoimmune thyroiditis results in low thyroid levels and can contribute to weight gain. It’s more common in middle aged people.
Cortisol, the stress hormone can lead to insulin resistance and weight gain. (The change in oestrogen can affect your cortisol levels. As can generally being stressed.)
Insulin is your fat storage hormone and is affected by how you eat. If you have high insulin levels, your body is trying to store fat rather than use it as energy.
Firstly, picking a “diet” doesn’t work.
Our bodies are amazing machines. We have internal “thermostats” for many functions such as temperature, acidity and oxygen levels. When our temperature strays out of normal limits, our bodies start a process to return it to normal. This is called homeostasis.
Why doesn’t this happen with our weight? Well, actually it does but sadly many of the functions are broken by our modern life styles.
The way to lose weight and keep it off is to return those systems back to how they should work.
When our bodies work properly, we don’t need to think about our weight. Our bodies take care of it and compensate to keep our weight within normal parameters.
Sleep! Sleep is hugely important when it comes to weight loss. If you’ve had a good night’s sleep, you’re more likely to burn fat rather than muscle.
If you’ve had a bad night’s sleep, your cortisol level will be raised, making it difficult for you to lose weight.
Dr Norton’s first step is to sort out sleep and make sure you’re having 8 hours sleep before you try doing other things.
Menopause can affect our sleep.
If you’re suffering from bad sleep due to hot flushes Dr Norton recommends considering HRT. HRT is a controversial topic. HRT can increase your risk of certain cancers. But gaining weight (due to lack of sleep) can also increase your risk of cancers. Dr Norton recommends chatting to your doctor.
Cut back on your carbohydrates. Carbohydrates raise your insulin levels. High insulin levels will increase your cortisol level. Get your carbohydrates from vegetables and whole grains. And think about your portions. Adding healthy fats is helpful. They help you feel full up and don’t affect your insulin levels.
Thinking about how frequently we eat can affect our insulin levels.
Allow your body to rest over night or longer. The longer you leave your body the better. But you need to build up in a comfortable way. And don’t eat late at night.
Exercise is a great way to build up your muscles and to de stress.
Exercising in the cold can boost your brown fat. Brown fat is a “good fat” that helps you use fat as an energy source.
There are lots of ways to look after your gut “biome”. Eating vegetables and fermented foods will help promote the “good bacteria” in your gut.
Artificial sweeteners are toxic to our gut biome.
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Dr Orlena is a health coach. She helps busy mums go from "I can't lose weight" to feeling fit and fabulous. Find out more about her here.