Why do so many women struggle with body fat during menopause? Maybe it’s because hot flashes, night sweats, and mood swings aren’t enough!
Okay, sarcasm aside, if you struggle with weight gain, or just can’t seem to take control of your figure like you used to, it’s a good idea to discover some factors that could be holding you back. How many items on our list apply to you?
1. Estrogen fluctuation
This is a big one. Estrogen is directly tied to body fat. Typically, more estrogen means more fat; that’s the reason women have higher body fat percentages than men. But something funny (not funny at all, really) can happen during menopause. When estrogen levels dip too low, the body tries to bring them back up any way that it can.
That means holding onto fat. Because fat stores estrogen, our bodies try to re-balance by increasing and retaining fat.
So if weight control is no longer a simple matter of calories in versus calories out, it may be the result of lowered estrogen.
2. Sleep disruption
Night sweats and hot flashes have a tendency to throw a real wrench in the old REM’s. Failure to get adequate sleep doesn’t just leave you dragging the next day either.
Good sleep is crucial for our overall health. Maintaining a healthy weight is no exception. Our bodies rest, heal, and fast while we’re sleeping. This process of daily rejuvenation is, in many ways, the cornerstone to physical and mental health.
3. Emotional/mental swings
Any diet and exercise plan requires a degree of discipline and focus. It’s hard enough when it’s just you versus the Cinnabon stand. When you throw in the mental fogginess and emotional turbulence that can accompany menopause, it can feel like the deck is stacked.
It helps to be aware of triggers, and to avoid them whenever possible. It’s also smart to work on your relationships. The stronger your bond with the people you love, the less susceptible you’ll be to emotional decision making.
4. Phase of life
Some of the reasons menopausal women can struggle with their weight are just practical.
The forties and fifties are different than the twenties and thirties. Family structure tends to look different with kids being grown, or leaving the nest. The physical demands of a couple of too-brief phone calls from your son’s dorm room, just aren’t the same as chasing a toddler around the house before before he can smear the brown stuff in his hand (Please be mud, please be mud!) into the couch.
That’s not to mention professional and financial gains that tend to accrue as we become more established. The further we move up the ladder, the less physically demanding, and more comfortable our lives can become. Physical comfort is a good thing, as long as you’re careful not to let comfort become stagnation.
5. Food is a comfort
“We’ve never found solace in something sweet, when times got difficult,” said nobody ever.
It may not be good for you, but eating comfort food is certainly common. If you’re like most women, the stresses of menopause can be very real. If you find yourself turning to food for relief, you need to know that you’re only compounding frustrations with poor diet choices.
6. Misconception of menopause
Too many women still think about menopause as a transition into old age. While there’s nothing wrong with old age, it’s not necessarily desirable to skip ahead. The way you think about yourself is pivotal in determining how you behave and, yes, how you look.
The problem with correlating menopause with the elderly, is that the numbers just don’t cooperate. With current expected life spans and the typical age of menopause, most women are going to live a large portion of their lives after the onset of menopause. Make sure you’ve got the right perspective.
7. Reduced sex drive
Hormonal changes during menopause can decrease libido. They can also hamper vaginal functionality, which makes the first problem even more difficult. So what does that have to do with weight gain?
For all the talk out there about better health, our motivations for staying in shape are sometimes (often) more shallow. We want to look good. We want to feel desired. When the sexual drive and experience take a hit, so can some of our motivation to stay fit.
8. Coinciding drop in metabolism
Metabolism tends to be the fitness boogeyman. It waits under the bed with sharp teeth and bloodshot eyes, ready to lay waste to the fruits of your responsible behaviors. Anytime we don’t get the results that we want, there’s nothing easier than blaming it on metabolism.
But for as often as metabolism is used as a crutch, there are some real facts to face as we age. Check out these two charts, and it will be pretty clear why a drop in metabolism can be a factor during menopause.
The average woman’s adult metabolism begins to see substantial declines in the mid 30’s. The continued, gradual drop-off is likely to be catching up with women by the time they reach the years of menopause, which can be seen in the top graph. So there is some legitimacy to metabolism frustration.
Let’s face it though, a list of reasons menopause makes weight management difficult can either be a collection of excuses, or the foundation of a plan. We suggest that last one, by the way.
The first step in regaining your fitness is knowing what’s actually going on. Knowing puts you back in control. We’re not saying it’s easy. It isn’t. But removing confusion allows you to plot your course, with eyes wide open.