What is it about menopause that changes our bodies so much? Menopause is a natural transition in life but the hormonal changes starting during the peri-menopausal years can lead to hot flashes, night sweats, mood swings, irritability, memory loss, insomnia, and weight gain.

So, why is weight gain so common during menopause? Is it truly related to hormonal changes and inevitable? Although common, weight gain can be avoided with appropriate changes that include healthy eating and an active lifestyle.

The Hormone Connection

During menopause, the production of the hormone estrogen decreases significantly compared to previous years. The drop in estrogen levels affects multiple areas in the body including the brain, heart, ovaries, uterus, vagina, bones, etc. Reduced estrogen levels may lower basal metabolic rate which means that we need fewer calories to maintain the same weight. It is thought, although not proven, that decreased estrogen leads to decreased energy levels and decreased activity. It also affects your mood, appetite, and other bodily functions that dictate exercise, sexual activity, and how your body regulates glucose levels.

Causes of Weight Gain During Menopause

The hormonal changes predispose weight gain in the middle section shifting the body composition and increasing fat mass around the gut and organs in the abdomen. This type of fat is called visceral fat and increase the risk for heart disease, diabetes, and high cholesterol. However, sedentary lifestyle, lack of sleep and physical activity, genetic factors and just aging in general, are also contributors.

It is not uncommon to feel less energetic, less motivated and have difficulty sleeping during menopause. This leads to less “Dance when you vacuum the house. Exercise produces endorphins that make us happier.”exercise, decreased activity and frequently poor food choices.  As we age, the muscle mass decrease and the fat mass increases leading to decreased metabolic rate and consequently our body burns fewer calories than previously for the same activity. It’s easier to gain weight and harder to lose it. Genetics are also a factor and your parents and close relatives body fat distribution may be similar to yours.

What is the Solution?

Although there is no easy fix to prevent or reverse weight gain during menopause, there are many lifestyle changes that can help. In order to lose weight effectively and keep it off perma-
nently, you need to eat a healthy diet and smaller portions than in your 30-40’s (200-250 calories less a day). There is no one size fits all but in general a Mediterranean type diet with adequate fruit, vegetables, and legumes in addition to lean protein and healthy fats are a good choice.

Avoid sweets, processed foods items and eliminate alcoholic beverages that are full of empty calories. Increase your activity by strength training at least twice a week and low impact aerobics at least 150 minutes a week. In addition to regular exercise, park your car and walk more. Dance when you vacuum the house.

Exercise produces endorphins that make us happier. It’s the little things that will keep you moving and prevent you from gaining those extra pounds. Menopause doesn’t mean you have to let your weight get out of control. Talk to your physician and find out what you can do to help keep those extra pounds under control. Learning about what your body needs will make it easier to maintain your weight and stay healthy and fit.


Carla Dicenzo-Flynn, MD
4 Perry Street, Morristown, NJ 07960
(973)540-1000 / cflynn@drflynn.org

Next issue: A shopping list for a long Healthy Life