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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  1. It’s all quite unsettling, isn’t it. I hated it with a passion! I followed all the advice listed above, but I’m sorry to say it didn’t help me much as outlined there. What ended up working for me (beautifully!) was a variation.

    Eating less, yes, but not more often. Instead, I found that eating a filling breakfast (whole fresh strawberries and some nuts, for instance) plus simply taking my time to very slowly nibble at my lunch, while I worked, over the course of an hour or so was the only thing that kept me from snacking. As for the fruits, veggies, etc., I swapped that order, putting the veggies first. Fruits are sugar; granted, they’re the good stuff, but they are still sugar. Filling up on the veggies meant I wanted fewer fruits. Add a couple tablespoons of sunflower seeds or nuts plus a whole avocado and, wha-la, I’m full. Meat and grains are out for me, since my system doesn’t like them, which is fine, because grains have a lot of volume but little nutritional value, compared to veggies, anyway, and the meat is, well…not so good for us, in many respects. Bottom line on food: the more nutritional value to the food I eat, the less hungry I am! It’s a perfect match-up.

    Relaxation techniques that keep me away from food are important. Reading is not one of them, because I like to nibble as I read. Yoga is tremendously valuable!! Somehow, it magically reduces appetite! Also, it keeps me limber and upright, lengthened, tall…the strong muscles (plus calcium supplement) are good for warding off osteoporosis later.

    As for the cardio, I just can’t do it. I absolutely hate to sweat and pant! :) Instead, I just walk. walk walk walk walk… In the course of my normal everyday workday, not doing anything special, I clock between 10-14,000 steps (I have a desk job). No cardio necessary.

    Cutting OUT alcohol was important for me, but only because that one glass of wine is SO hard to keep from multiplying. The caffeine admonition is very important, too, because it dehydrates us (as does alcohol), and I don’t want crepey skin and waterlogged ankles. I also found that the reduction in alcohol and caffeine helped curb my appetite. Haven’t a clue why.

    With just these simple changes—a plant-based diet, yoga and walking, and the alcohol and caffeine reduction—I’m still able to have the almost-nightly cup of ice cream or the occasional pastry or chocolate. I do have wine, but only at the rare party or special occasion. The other bonuses have been absolutely zero menopause symptoms; not one, not a single solitary one! And the BEST bonus? I’ve lost poundage and inches and can fit into many of my premenopausal clothes! I feel better than I have in years, and my blood work shows it: cholesterol, triglycerides, and blood pressure are all “excellent.”

    I hope others have similar results with whatever they find works for them!

    Julie’s last blog post..Creative, Creativ, Kreativ

    • @Julie – now this is the type of sharing I was hoping for. Thank you so much!!!! I struggle with the white flour because Mr. Very Right is French and it’s baguette this and baguette that. Plus, as a former chef, he loves his homemade pizza (white dough), and white pastas. We keep talking about incorporating more whole grains into the mix, but so far without too much success. As for cardio, I am so glad to hear you aren’t too worried about that. I love to run, but I am finding the flushing from sweating is causing more and more rosacea flares, and my face becomes a red and burning disaster area. I am switching to walking, with long walks during my lunch hours at work. Interesting about the fruit versus the veggies. I admit to not really being fond of either, so I have been trying to incorporate them into my diet and have been putting an emphasis on fruit. I will take your advice and switch that to veggies. Basically, your advice follows my post, but puts an experiential spin on it. Once again, thank you.

      Question: if grains and meats are out for you, where are you getting your recommended requirmement of fibre? From the veggies?

  2. Hi Eliza,

    This needs to be read by any woman who is over 40 or even close. Your facts are right on. I also love the tips that Julie shared.

    I remember hearing on Oprah how white foods affect us during (peri)menopause (sugar, white flour, pasta). Not only do they have a tendency to make me tired, not eating them (or in moderation only) has helped me to keep my energy levels up and hot flashes at bay. It’s amazing how smart eating habits can make such a big difference in our lives.

    Barbara Swafford’s last blog post..Finding Pleasure In Ordinary Things

    • @Barbara – I will do a post on the effects of processed grains, and the increasing risk of insulin resistance. When I eat too many, my energy is all over the map. Up immediately after eating them, then huge sugar crash. And I get all brain foggy. However, as per my response to Julie, there is a lot of processed to death grains in our household. I need to work harder on making changes in our kitchen, because they aren’t good for Mr. Very Right either.

  3. I came to meet you because of the comment you left on my blog today and have found friends already at your kitchen table!

    May I have permission to link to this post in one of my link-love patchwork posts? It’s wonderful, and so are the comments and responses. I AM the woman you just desribed. I’ve been very lucky so far. I had no symptoms at all (except some weight gain which I thought was blogging) until the evening i said to my husband I feel a bit funny – hot and clammy. I didn’t even manage to drink the water I’d filled up; I dropped the glass as I fainted one inch away from the open dishwasher. My husband freaked as he’d just been to the funeral that day of a colleague who’d died suddenly in his thirties. Since then, and made worse by a bad bout of flu plus exhaustion caused by looking after two kids, an 84 year old dad and a baby bloggling, things have gone quickly downhill. My waist has expanded, my weight has shot up and a good night’s sleep is a thing of the past.

    Thank you for sharing this. I’ve been plucking up the courage to mention it on my blog in some way, and a link to this would be the perfect subtle way to do it, if that’s OK with you.

    janice’s last blog post..Holidaying at Home

    • @Janice – you most definitely can link to this post! I really want to build a community of women supporting each other, and the more that join in, the stronger that community.

      Very scary for your husband, and you. And it certainly rams home the point of needing to put our health first (physical and spiritual!). Have you had a test of your hormone levels? Once you understand where they are at, you can start balancing them out. I have two book reviews coming up, that you might find helpful on figuring out how to balance out hormones, and I am reading a third book which I will also review. Bottom line, from what I’ve read, we don’t need to live with the discomfort of menopausal symptoms. And we can alleviate them without traditional hormone replacement therapy. Although, for some with extreme symptoms, but low risk factors, this may also be an option.

      I look forward to your participation here. And as for plucking up the courage to share your struggles, I hope you find this a comfortable place to do so.

  4. Hi Eliza,
    Over the last year, I gained a lot weight from sitting behind the computer too much and stressing over caregiving, but much of that is mellowing out and my weight is coming off.

    I find the more deep-seated issues I resolve, the more weight I lose. I also eat based on the Eat Right For Your Blood Type, which for all of us in our household is type O; we watch our alkaline/acid food intake balance; and we are careful to not eat candida-causing foods. When my husband and I stick to all that faithfully — not easy to do and sometimes these ways of eating contradict each other — we feel so much better and have flatter stomachs. Over the years we’ve changed our diet to using bread made of spelt wheat, crackers made of from almonds, and tortillas made from blue corn flour. We’ve also fallen in love with ground buffalo for burgers, nacho meat, sloppy joes, tacos, meatloaf, and spaghetti. All of these changes, when applied, helped with weight as well as calmness, clarity, and confidence.

    Lori Hoeck’s last blog post..How our intuition warns of danger

    • @Lori – apparently stress hormones can really pack on those pounds. Interesting about the Eat Right For Your Blood Type. The book I am currently reading to review has a chapter on this. I’m not there yet, but I am going to read it with great interest. I believe that each individual needs certain foods. For example, my one daughter is all about veggies. If she doesn’t get her veggies she is absolutely miserable. My other daughter and I have significant protein needs. There are certainly changes Mr Very Right and I can make to our diet. He’s kind of stuck in his eating ways though, so I need to introduce them slowly.

  5. Eliza, that processed wheat thing is a tough one. I was craving pasta for months until I suddenly realized one day that I couldn’t remember the last time I’d wanted any. I felt like I’d just won a prize! Good luck with this.

    Your question about fiber: veggies. I toss in ground (or whole) flaxseed on just about anything (even topping my cup of almond milk; tastes like a liquid graham cracker), but I found that if my veggie intake is high enough, there’s no need for the flaxseed. So, I just use that for the omega-3.

    Also, to anyone thinking about plumbing issues (either direction), the veggies address it beautifully. I was always extremely slow and my husband extremely fast and now we’re both somewhere in the middle.

    I forgot to mention a book I found SO useful in explaining the nutrient density of different foods: “Eat to Live” by Dr. Joel Fuhrman. This was introduced to me by Evita of evolvingwellness.com The doctor cites thousands of real-life cases he’s seen personally in his own medical practice and tons of research (that, frankly, was beyond my interest), cases of incredible weight loss, of cured diseases (diabetes, heart disease, auto-immune diseases…), and general well-being. From him, I learned all about the myths of where our best protein sources are and how much we truly do or don’t need, about fats and the fat fads, and which foods have the highest sources of nutrients and which, surprisingly, do not. It’s marketed as a weight-loss book, but just reading it for the nutrient information will help anyone looking at ANY type of diet: meat-based, plant-based, body type, blood type, traditional food pyramid—even French chef-created gourmet delights. He doesn’t promote vegetarianism/veganism (although I suspect he practices), but does offer this as one of his sample diet-plan/menu-plan options.

    I hear you about your family’s varying needs. My sister accommodates this in her family but cooking according to each need. It seemed incredibly hard until I watched; with a fully stocked pantry and an arsenal of menus she somehow keeps straight in her head, it’s now become effortless for her. I do something similar for my husband and me.

    Good luck and best wishes!

    PS: Thank you for this forum; I’m looking forward to learning so much. Just to have the common meeting place is so welcome!

    Julie’s last blog post..Creative, Creativ, Kreativ

    • @Julie – thank you. I have added evolvingwellness.com to my reader, and made a note to look for Eat to Live to do a book review on. As for changing the way we eat, I am starting to get more involved in the meal preparations. Mr Very Right is a total foodie, so it was very easy to let him do all the meal prep. I love to cook, so I am starting to prepare a couple of meals a week, and I definitely make my own lunches, which are basically salads, yogurt and fruit.

      As for this forum, I truly believe it’s an important one. In an earlier time, women had far more opportunities to get together and share information. I am trying to offer a modern solution to learning from each other. Thanks again for your participation, and please spread the word. The more perspectives we can get, the better.

  6. Oh Heck yeah this is an issue and then if a woman has any other exsisting issues to complicate matters like back problems or fibro or whatever it compounds the issue. Different meds also add on water retention and weight.

    My weight can very by 5-15 pound when I am being good and following the rules! I can tell in my fingers if not in the size of my clothes, even with weight training and aerobics.

    A part of the deal in my humble opinion is to not compound the issue by mentally beating ourselves up over it.Bodies change and we need to gently encourage ourselves to get up each day and start again to be the best and do the best we can, not punish ourselves for being women and having hormones. Our hormones are not our enemies…even if they act like it sometimes…they have been there with us through thick and thin and we need to gently help them through this difficult thransition.

    Sometimes we act like we are our own enemy. we are not. We need to be nice to ourselves.

    Wendi Kelly-Life’s Little Inspirations’s last blog post..Beware the Drift

    • @Wendi – “Sometimes we act like we are our own enemy. we are not. We need to be nice to ourselves.” Now that truly embodies the spirit of aging gracefully, the call to be nice to ourselves! I was always curveless; straight as a pin. So much so, growing up I often gotten mistaken for a boy! It wasn’t until I hit 40 that I finally got some curves, and after getting over the initial shock, I discovered I really liked them. They made me feel sensual and feminine. Somedays I am definitely a little curvier than others. The only part that bothers me on those days is that darn old muffin top. I see all these young women proudly sporting muffin tops, and I do think “good for them; they are just going with it”, but when I look in the mirror and see a roll of flesh along my waist band, I feel frumpy. My solution? Empire waistline tops. Stylish, sexy, and muffin top hiding.

  7. I’m finding that I have to eat vegetables and fruit everyday now or my body isn’t happy. It’s funny how I don’t like things like pizza and soft drinks anymore–it’s kinda like my body knows it isn’t good for me. And yep, I’m a tad heavier now and finding it harder to lose.

    Lin’s last blog post..When I’m a Goner

    • @Lin – yes, I am finding that too. Pop makes me gag, and although Mr Very Right makes a killer gourment pizza, I can only eat one slice. And the stuff I used to think was a fun treat, like KFC, now just takes like a mouthful of salt. I guess half the battle is really listening to our own bodies. P.S. I promise not to tell anyone that you are in the Forty Plus crowd :-)

  8. wow, this is such a good post and needs to be read by a lot of women. I am definitely in the post menopausal mode but went through an 11 year hellish menopause period after my ovarian cancer treatments and surgeries….
    I don’t have enough estrogen to sing any more (plus tumors have been removed from my vocal cords – also why singing is difficult) I walk 5.5 miles every day and I each a plant based diet…. stay fit, do not just wait until disaster strikes – get preventative…my 73 year old friend who does senior triathlons, 2 every summer, has had such a much better recovery from her cervical cancer hysterectomy…..My Mother was dead wrong – one should exercise especially every month – not sit around or sleeping.

    Thank you for giving folks the information ahead of time….now they know…

    twittered and stumbled

    Patricia’s last blog post..Strawberries Glorious Strawberries

    • @Patricia – thanks for the tweet and stumble. One of the main reasons why I started Silver & Grace is because I strongly belief in prevention. Therefore, I needed to know what changes would be taking place in my body to know how to best prevent any negative impacts. I am working on a more plant based diet. I never was fond of my veggies, but I am actually learning to love them. And I try to walk everyday at lunch time.

      Very impressive your 73 year old friend who does the triathlons. Perhaps she would consider writing a Graceful Women’s post for me? Would you mind asking her? Thanks!

  9. Hi Eliza. You know what is interesting in my case is that for most of my life I was “skinny”. After I went on the gluten-free diet I started gaining weight. Granted, it happened around the same my hormones shifted. But I can’t help but wonder if some of the weight gain is because my body is finally absorbing more than it used to. So I “should” eat less? I don’t eat that much now. My “problem” is spending more time in front of the computer than I used to. I hope I’m in the average range of the numbers you mentioned because I’m already at the 12-15 lb poundage increase. These are all great suggestions by the way. All I need is to strengthen the self-discipline.

    Davina’s last blog post..On the Edge of Being

    • @Davina – I am reading a book about balancing hormones, and I am sure I read something about gluten-free diets being a challenge. I am going to try and find that section again, and re-read it. If I’m correct about what I read, I will leave another comment with what I found out.

  10. I started out doing wild dvds like Jillian Michaels Banish Fat Boost Metabolism but I found it a bit too high impact after a while. My knees were killing me. I gradually moved more towards strength training with walking for aerobics or using my elliptical trainer. I recently started doing yoga because I have outgrown the weights I was using and I didn’t want to buy heavier ones and wanted to do more body weight exercises which you can do when you’re travelling. The thing with exercise is to do what fits your temperament, the time you have available and your circumstances e.g. how much money you have or how much space you have at home. I even have kickboxing dvds. I do power yoga like Rodney Yee and Sadie Nardini which really work up a sweat cos I’m not into chanting etc. My legs haven’t been this slim for 10 years!!
    You have to cut out/ down on cookies, chocolate, ice cream and sodas!

    I also read Eat to Live and it was a real eye opener. Trying to gradually introduce some of those things into my family life.

    • Ada – Love your advice about finding exercise that fits your temperament. I have finally settled into swimming laps, one or two days a week on the treadmill, and just generally being active around the house. Occasionally, when my body screams for some stretching I pull out the WiiFit yoga. In the winter, I love to do some Xbox Kinect dance videos. All these things make me happy, so I do them. When i forced myself to do other forms of exercise because ‘I thought I should’ I always gave up on them.


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