Menopause Might Not Be the Culprit for Weight Gain as Women Age

Older woman holding stomach in discomfort

Many women associate menopause with sudden weight gain. Maybe they see a change of shape around their stomach and hips, or maybe there’s a few extra pounds registering on the bathroom scale. But menopause might not be the culprit.

In fact, according to Dr. Ann Honebrink, an obstetrician and gynecologist and medical director of Penn Health for Women at Radnor, “It doesn’t seem like there’s any particular change in weight that’s associated with menopause.”

You may indeed be experiencing a spike in your body mass — it’s not a figment of your imagination — but it could be more of an issue of aging, Dr. Honebrink said.

As we get older, our bodies burn calories at slower rates.

According to Dr. Honebrink, most women burn roughly “10 fewer calories a day every year” after age 30. For a woman transitioning into menopause, which typically occurs around age 50, that comes out to roughly “200-220 fewer calories burned a day” than women younger than 30.

The main takeaway is, since your body is burning fewer calories, it requires fewer calories. A tweaking of your diet and fitness routine eventually becomes necessary. Adopting good nutrition during menopause — and before menopause — is essential to wellness.

Nutrition During Menopause — What You Can Do

Dr. Honebrink’s advice for good nutrition during menopause actually makes for solid advice for people at any age. What the doctor tends to do with patients is to “emphasize the general principles” of healthy living.

“Eat a lot of fruits and vegetables, a little bit of animal or fish-based protein, and then a little bit of fat — and as little sugar as you can manage,” Honebrink explained. “But that’s how we tell everybody to eat!” the doctor added. “It’s not different once you’re menopausal.”

Honebrink also stressed that “the more carbohydrates you eat — the more sugary items — the less satisfied you’re going to feel in the long-term.” For example, some people start their mornings off on the wrong foot, which can set off unhealthy habits throughout the day.

“Having a sugary cereal for breakfast will likely make you much hungrier mid-morning and much more likely to eat something that will throw off your calorie intake,” she cautioned, offering an easy-to-remember pro tip to reduce the amount of sugary items in your pantry.

When grocery shopping, try to stick to the perimeter of supermarket, Honebrink said: “Don’t go to the interior aisles. If you think about it, the products that have fewer additives tend to be around the perimeter, not in the middle of the grocery store.”

Fruit and produce sections, egg and dairy aisles, fish and lean meats — all the most essential and low-carbohydrate foods reside on the margins of the store.

When in doubt, stick with good proteins, such as egg whites, fish and lean meats, she added: “Have more protein be part of the diet for most meals, and recognize that carbohydrates, the ones that we all like to eat, don’t really satisfy your appetite for as long as a protein might.”

Remember, Physical Changes Are Normal

It’s possible you’ll practice excellent nutrition during menopause but still see some unwanted physical changes. Dr. Honebrink assured that this is normal.

Even if you’re not putting on extra weight, “body fat shifts” during menopause, she said. “Weight moves from the hips and the butt to the abdomen. Your waist gets a little thicker, whether you gain weight or not.” You’re not gaining weight, but redistributing it.

Of course, this can be hard to accept during our more insecure moments, the doctor acknowledged: “I spend half my time convincing people their body mass index is normal.” Your weight may be “a point or two more than it was 10 years ago, but it’s still normal.”

Much of her work consists of urging patients “to reset that goal weight they have in their mind,” Honebrink said. “If somebody feels like they want to weigh 120 and now they weigh 130, and they’re still in the normal range of weight, I tell them, ‘Maybe just try to be happy with 130.’”

For more information on nutrition during menopause, schedule an appointment with Dr. Honebrink or one of the other skilled medical professionals at Penn Medicine Radnor, where “menopause is one of our main specialties,” Honebrink said. “Caring for women through that transition and after menopause is not all we do, but it’s a big part of what we do.”

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