Understanding weight gain after 40

thebittenword.com at Flikr.comI have always been fairly trim, but now that I am in my forties, trim is becoming a very hard shape to maintain!

I am already moderately active.

I run a couple of times per week. I do Wii Fit daily. I garden. I walk. I work on home renovations. But still my weight is going up, and my waist is spreading out.

It seems that I am experiencing one of the frustrating consequences of perimenopause.

What are the primary reasons for weight gain during perimenopause and menopause?

Weight gain is mainly due to fluctuations and decline in our hormone production:

  • Estrogen – as our ovaries start to produce less estrogen our body turns to our fat cells to meet its estrogen needs;
  • Androgen – this hormone becomes more abundant and builds up fat around our middles;
  • Progesterone – responsible for regulating water retention, our body retains more water leading to bloating when progesterone drops;
  • Testosterone – our metabolism drops because testosterone is no longer creating as much lean muscle mass.

Are there other explanations besides fluctuating hormones?

Along with hormonal imbalances, there are other reasons why we start to gain weight:

  • Insulin resistance – after years of eating processed foods and refined sugars our body rebels and starts converting every calorie into fat;
  • Stress – stress hormones, such as cortisol, block weight loss to prevent perceived famine;
  • Drop in energy levels – we probably are not sleeping as well, which is another pesky symptom of perimenopause, and we just aren’t as active during the day.

What can we expect?

Most women will gain some weight, and it will go their abdominal area. The average weight gain between age 45 and 55 is between 12 and 15 pounds.

What are the risks associated with this weight gain?

Certainly, there are the emotional and psychological risks of looking in the mirror and seeing our changing body shape. However, there are also health risks:

  • heart disease and stroke;
  • high cholesterol;
  • high blood pressure;
  • type 2 diabetes;
  • osteoarthritis;
  • breast cancer;
  • kidney disease.

Are we doomed to middle-age spread?

No, we are not. Although it certainly becomes harder, and requires more disciple, to maintain our weight, it is not impossible:

  • eat less, more often – once we enter our forties, we need 200 calories less per day to maintain our weight; even more to lose it;
  • eat a balanced diet – increase fruits, vegetables and fibre dense foods and avoid refined sugars;
  • forget fad diets – these will slow down your metabolism even more as your body protects itself from perceived starvation;
  • reduce stress – work on stress management using yoga, meditation, journal writing, or whatever works best for you;
  • cut back on alcohol and caffeine – both these beverages worsen water retention and alcohol is empty calories;
  • increase exercise – get more active, making sure to include aerobic and strength activities;
  • seek medical advice on balancing out hormones – there are many options available for helping to alleviate the symptoms of perimenopause and menopause.

I am slowly incorporating these changes into my life, as it is hard to change any habit overnight. I admit to having trouble with the look of an increasing waist line, but my bigger motivation is to stay strong and healthy for a very long time. And since I should have been eating my fruits and veggies all along, the changes I need to make really aren’t a hardship.

Book Recommendations

Looking for great resources on women’s health? The following books have the Silver & Grace Seal of Approval as excellent resources for women. They are available through Amazon.

Female Brain Gone Insane
The Hormone Survival Guide
Menopause For Dummies

For other Silver & Grace approved books check out Eliza’s Recommendations.

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