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Is It Harder For Women To Lose Weight After Menopause?

Posted on October 28 2020

Is It Harder For Women To Lose Weight After Menopause? | Roshni Sanghvi

This question is the major and the most frequent question that women over the age of fifty ask their GPs. Every woman also only has a straightforward question to ask, and that is ‘when my husband and I are faithfully counting calories, WHY is it that my man is shedding the unwanted pounds earlier and faster?’ Some experts believe that gene’s could be the problem. Yes, I know that hearing this all the time dampens your spirit and makes it frustrating to lose weight. You may spend hours in the gymnasium every day, eat nothing but grilled food and salads, but the numbers on the weighing scale do not budge. And thus, the answer to the title question above is partly a big YES.

The body goes through tremendous physical, emotional and mental changes during menopause. No one prepares us women for the same, and yet expects us to self learn are handle ourselves with grace and patience. So let us "weigh-in" on the why’s and then share a few tips and tricks to lose weight after menopause.

The WHYs

Why winning the weight battle is difficult for women?

The primary reason behind the sudden change is body structure is due to the change in the production of sex hormones. Going through monthly menstrual cycle, in the anticipation of conceiving is very daunting and calorically taxing for the body. Thus, after a certain age, the ovaries shut this process down to conserve energy.

One particular hormone that boosts (in most cases) for perimenopausal (around menopause) women is oestrogen. Besides bringing in ‘hot flushes’ and erratic period, an increase in oestrogen level is linked with excess body fat. This, is the primary reason for sudden weight gain in perimenopausal women.

Post menopause though, the activity of oestrogen seems to decline to a bare minimal. Just like excess oestrogen, low level’s of oestrogen also lead to weight gain, but this time in a different sense. Oestrogen levels help regulate glucose metabolism, meaning, help our body store food as short chain glycogen molecules to be used up as energy. But since the oestrogen level’s in the body drop, the body starts storing food as long chain triglycerides or fat cells. So you see how ‘eating less’ or restricting calories too much will not help you lose weight. Irrespective of how many calories you are consuming, unless your body becomes better at metabolising glucose, you will continue to gain weight.

The risk with low oestrogen is that the body starts storing fat in- between organs, known as visceral fat. Though through this blog I will give you countless tips on how to start your fat loss.

Why does the metabolism slow down for women over 50?

As you age, the body loses lean muscle mass, and that slows the metabolism. Muscle's eat up more calories that fat does. Thus, as you lose muscle mass overtime, your daily caloric requirement's drop. But most people continue to eat the same quantity of food, leading to weight gain.

A drastic decrease in activity level also reduces our caloric output, leading to the body storing excess calories.

But these are obvious causes. Many women might actually not eat much and still continue to store calories. How does that happen? The answer is liver health. A non- alcoholic fatty liver is often associated with increased body fat and lower metabolism. The liver decides weather the excess calories we eat are stored as glycogen (temporary energy stores) or triglycerides (fat cells). A poorly functioning liver stores more calories as fat cells vs glycogen. A bad lifestyle, excessive alcohol consumption, toxins coming in from inorganic produce and junk food are a few reasons for deteriorating liver health.

Why is it easier for men in the same age bracket to lose weight?

The metabolism also slows down in men as they age. They also lose their muscles. But their bodies do not undergo any hormonal changes as the women's bodies undergo. Also, men tend to naturally hold only more muscle mass than women do (this is because of the male sex hormone testosterone). That being said, men who live an unhealthy lifestyle will also experience weight gain as they age.

So how is losing weight post menopause different than what used to be?

Besides hormonal fluctuation, multiple other factors such as age, micronutrient intake and overall mental health need to be taken into consideration. If you have not been physically active all your life, your strength and stamina are likely going to be low. Choosing an exercise plan that keeps the following in mind is crucial. Besides this, a meal plan that is packed in micronutrients and volume is important. Avoid too much caloric restriction, as this might further slow the liver down. Losing weight during menopause is difficult but not impossible. 

How many calories are acceptable per day?

Calorie counting is ancient science and will widely vary from person to person. However, something that might help is to keep fat sources (the most calorically dense) low and starch and fibre sources (the least calorically dense) high. This way, you will naturally fill yourself up with enough food without having to starve and yes not pile on too many calories. A few steps you can take to naturally keep your calorie intake low are as follows:

  1. Learn about oil free cooking. Oil's are empty calories, meaning, they do not add any nutrition to your meals but are loaded in calories. 
  2. Try and switch to one raw meal a day. Breakfast is the easiest to make raw. Try a big glass of green smoothie or a bowl of fruits.
  3. Replace canned soup's and store bought salad dressing for homemade soups and homemade low fat salad dressings. 
  4. Limit or totally cut out alcohol from your diet. Alcohol is not calorically very dense, but causes an hormonal fluctuation in the body. 

You can use an online BMI calculator to get an estimate of your daily calories, however, calories counting and eating exactly as per your calories is too tedious and often incorrect. Besides this, your body will lose the natural instinct to stop eating when full and instead constantly demand food. 

Do I need to work out often or twice as hard?

On the contrary, you need to work just enough to help you lose weight. Overtraining puts too much demand on your muscle fibres, and with a calorically restrictive diet, your muscles will not recover well. This will keep you feeling lethargic and inactive outside the gym. 

Aim to get 4- 5 good training sessions in per day with a good nutrition plan and proper recovery. That being said, undertraining is no good either. Aim to burn 300- 350 calories per session. A simple heart rate monitor strapped around your heart will help you calculate the same. But if you do not have one, no worries. Rather try and follow this rule. Anytime during the session if you ask yourself how intense are  you feeling, your answer should be about a 6-7 on a scale of 1- 10 (10 being the maximum). This can be accomplished in any form of training style from martial arts to yoga. 

Here is a great video for more information with regard to food and exercise:

Are there any specific foods that I should stay away from?

Asian women, such as from China and japan experience little to no symptoms of menopause than American women. This is predominantly to do with the kind of food they consume. Asian diet's center around being plant- based with pretty much no dairy products and very little meat. Where as, western diet's center around meat with extremely low fibre. Women following a low- fat and high- fibre diet all their lives have lesser free floating oestrogen level's naturally. Thus, during menopause, when the ovaries stop the production of oestrogen almost completely, the transition is easy and does not come in with a lot of hot flushes or menstural cramps. 

On the contrary, women eating a lot of dairy and meat, tend to also ignore fibre in their diet. Both of these factors are responsible for excess oestrogen levels in the body to begin with. With the drastic decrease in oestrogen further during menopause, women eating a high- fat and low fibre diet experience more episodes of hot flushes and menstrual cramping. 

A low- fat vegetarian/ vegan diet is the best to help women ease hot flushes and other menopausal symptoms. That is, stay away from animal meat, dairy and eggs. 

Soy beans and tofu is another great addition to your meal plan. Besides being an excellent source of amino acids and offering protection against breast cancer, the phytoestrogens in soy beans also help find relief from hot flushes. Checkout the below study:

So the trick lies in eating unprocessed, whole, and clean foods. If you are going to ask me about how often you can have 'cheat days', then sweetheart, you have misunderstood me in the first place. Make every meal your cheat meal. Come up with creative recipes and look forwards to eating your meals. Use spices and herbs to add a lot of flavour to your food. Chilis and peppers have capsaicin that does its bit to boost your metabolism. Who says plant- based foods have to be boring? Spice it up- literally!

Another area of concern in post menopausal women is bone density loss. Post menopausal women tend to experience a drastic decrease in bone mineral density in the years following menopause. If there is no adequate intake of calcium rich food, this loss of bone density is an invitation to multiple other problems such as osteoporosis and even poor vision. Dairy is actually the worse way for you to think about getting your calcium, read the below blog to understand more:

Making sure you eat your bodyweight (in kilo's) worth of green's (in grams) is a great way to ensure you get your daily doze of calcium. Can't think of any green's but spinach? Watch this video to help:

How to lose weight with Hypothyroidism and menopause? 

Not many of you may know that when your time as a woman leads you up to menopause, there is a sharp decline in oestrogen levels. This change affects the thyroid levels too. An underactive thyroid is found in women that are experiencing menopause. If you leave the underactive thyroid problem untreated, then that can further aggravate the complications of health. 

Feed your body the foods for hypothyroidism

The same foods that increases the hot flushes also seem to be the culprit when it comes to causing thyroid. An underactive thyroid gland is often a symptom of something called a 'friendly fire'. Consuming dairy food, triggers an attack in the body by the white blood cells. Dairy is toxic and the moment you consume it, the white blood cells release antibodies to fight it off. However, instead of just fighting the dairy cells, the antibodies get confused and also attack the thyroid hormone in the neck, limiting its ability to release the thyroid hormone and causing hypothyroid symptoms. 

A dairy free diet however helps the thyroid hormone function properly. There are plenty of vegan options in food that support the healthy function of your thyroid. So go ahead and fill your plates with plenty of plant foods that include leafy greens, nuts, seeds, whole grains, and legumes rich in zinc (beans, chickpeas, lentils, and peas). These foods contain high percentage amino acids (tyrosine), selenium (mineral), B-complex vitamins, and antioxidants.

The second important point to remember is that a healthy thyroid glad needs iodine and tyrosine for production of thyroid hormones. Switch your pink salt for iodised salt (and use salt). Potatoes and other root vegetables are other great source to get tyrosine (an essential amino acid). 

I would advise you to limit soy because like cruciferous vegetables, soybeans are high in something called goitrogens. They inhibit an enzyme’s activity that helps to produce thyroid hormones. By limiting, I certainly do not mean for you to avoid soy beans and tofu, but rather avoid soy based protein powders and mock meats. One serving of soy beans per day is absolutely fine as long as you take in enough iodine through salt. 

What to eat? 

Load up your plate with vegetables like seaweed and fruits like plugins, pears and apples because they are the greatest phytosterols sources that reduce polyphenos, and cholesterol. Think of cloves, green tea, brazil nuts, and olive oil for your healthy immune system. Basically anything plant- based and whole food is fine. 

Avoid diets that slow metabolism

Your body is wired genetically to survive. That means that your body hardly cares if you no longer fit into your old jeans. When you go to the lengths of cutting calories by 400 to 500 then your body feels that there is a famine outside. 

Instead of extreme caloric restriction, trick the body into believing that it is getting enough food by eating high volume food. Instead of high intense training every single day, include small 20- 30 minute sessions twice a day or a long moderate intensity training session. Work on building up your intensity. Your aim is to be able to do the minimum amount of work, eat the maximum amount of food and still see results. That is a sign of an improving metabolism. Read the below blog to understand why fad (quick results diet) diets are a bad idea:

Have early dinner by 7 PM

I have spoken about eating as per the bodies natural circadian cycle in multiple different forums. The way the body processes calories in the morning is different from how it processes the same in the evening. This simple lifestyle change, without doing anything else is a great start itself to your weight loss journey.

Eat well between 7:00 AM and 7:00 PM if you aspire to lose weight. That is because the discipline helps you with improved blood sugar levels, cholesterol, and blood pressure. It also caters to your hypothyroidism problems and lets you lose weight fast. 

Pump it and get moving

As you get older you are bound to have a sedentary lifestyle. Therefore beginning an exercise regimen will help you lose weight besides relieving the menopausal symptoms. These symptoms include hot flashes and even depression. To lose the weight successfully, opt for weight training to reverse the loss of muscles that naturally occurs with age. Note though, strength training does not mean going to the gym and lifting weights. Strength training is anything that targets the muscle fibres and helps your strengthen them. Ashtanga yoga, animal flow and even pilates comes under strength training. 

Catch enough sleep

Not catching enough sleep throughout the day not only makes you irritable but also causes an abnormal weight gain. When you sleep less, the hormones of hunger go haywire. Less sleep leads to leptin resistance. Leptin is the hormone responsible to signal your brain to stop eating when you are full. Thus, sleep well and maintain a bedroom free of screens to sleep better.

Parting thoughts

Making small and sustainable changes that can last a lifetime are the only way you can sustain your weight loss. Think of long term health effects instead of short term results.

If you are still looking for help, reach out to me by filling the form below. 

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author-bio

Roshni Sanghvi

Roshni Sanghvi is an Indian plant-based sports nutritionist and body transformation specialist. She is an ACE-certified personal trainer and certified Bodyshred and Animal flow instructor.

Her approach is more focused on helping you in adopting a healthy lifestyle. With her result-oriented holistic methods, she has managed to transform and reverse lifestyle diseases such as PCOS, Thyroid, Diabetes etc for 10k+ clients worldwide.

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