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Avoiding Menopausal Weight Gain

Sometimes referred to as middle-aged spread, peri and post menopausal weight gain is an unwanted visitor for many women. So, are all the extra pounds here to stay or are there some things worth trying if your weight feels too high for you?

Statistically, being overweight brings with it increased risk of cardiovascular and metabolic disease as well as potentially interference with quality of life and sexual function. So, no surprise that middle-aged weight gain is a focus of research. And this research does have something to say about ways to give peri-menopausal weight gain a run for its money. Let’s take a look at some of the studies that look specially at lifestyle and post-40 (ish) weight gain:

1. Mindful eating

A 2012 report out of Austin, Texas found that participants (women, ages 40 to 59) ate fewer calories and grams of fat after participating in a six-week mindful eating program. The bottom line is that mindful eating makes it a lot harder to “accidentally” finish a bigger-than-I-needed plate of pancakes while you scroll through your phone, pack your daughter’s lunch and feed the dog. 😉

2. Resist the siren call of the sedentary lifestyle

One of the factors thought to contribute to perimenopausal weight gain (and probably other kinds of weight gain!) is having a daily routine that requires very little expenditure of energy. Sitting at work, sitting in the car, sitting after dinner can add up to a lot of hours spent using up very few calories. So, yes, it’s been said over and over again– but adding minutes of activity or exercise throughout your day adds up to a lot of minutes over the year. And that might just help keep the weight gain at least somewhat at bay. Just remember, if you’re going to sustain something, it should be enjoyable. If you hate squats, making yourself do 10 of them every time you brush your teeth, may only leave you feeling less enthusiastic about dental care. Let yourself find something you like to do – for some, it is taking the stairs, and for others, it will be a walk around the block at lunch. If you’re the type of person who says “But, I hate all exercise!” then just pick the best of the worst and keep your eyes open for something you haven’t tried that you just might like.

3. Tweaking your diet

This should not be confused with putting yourself on a diet that leaves you feeling deprived (and craving a big bowl of, well, anything you’re not “supposed” to eat!) Instead, tweaking your diet means nudging your diet gently towards an eating pattern that won’t inadvertently contribute to more and more weight gain. Of course, making changes in your diet means making time for a chat with your healthcare professional. But once that is done, there are all sorts of “tweaks” from which to choose. For example., waiting too long between meals can make it easier to overeat the next time you sit down to nosh. If being “busy, busy, busy” gets in the way of regular meals and snacks, then start with just one day of the week where you commit to eating something every 3-ish hours. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy – a handful of almonds with a side of raisins will do. What’s important is that you start addressing those habits that might just contribute to unwanted weight gain. And what are some of those? Highly processed foods (okay, you have a love for macaroni and cheese from a box. Why no consider chopping up a bunch of broccoli and adding it to the mix. It worked with kids I know, so I’m sure an adult could master that combo.) Or high-fat foods of the less than healthy variety. In other words, I’m not talking about avoiding avocados or walnuts. I am suggesting that you substitute a baked potato for fries every once in a while. Avoiding fruit – yep, it’s true, there is actual, honest-to-goodness research that suggests eating fruit helps reduce the risk of obesity. So, if you’ve “just not a fruit person”, then maybe you’ll reconsider enough to throw an apple into your purse. (Just make sure it’s the best apple you’ve ever seen – if you’re going to change your habits, make it as enjoyable as possible!). Anyways, I’m sure you get the idea – the point is to still offer yourself foods that you like while nudging your diet in the direction of better health and easier weight control.

4. Making sure that you’re not eating to keep yourself up

Oh, yes, the tried and true method of keeping yourself up when really you should have been in bed 30 minutes ago. A bowl of this, a handful of that, and the next thing you know, you’ve stayed up long enough to finish that report, but you’ve also gained more weight. (Granted, you’re not going to gain ten pounds in a single evening. But the point is this: Frequent late night “I-should-be-in-bed-but-have-too-much-to-do snacking” can add up quickly!). Getting enough sleep is important for your cognitive function, your metabolism and regulating your appetite. So, if midlife weight gain has got you down, then take a minute to examine your sleeping habits. At least a part of the solution to your middle age spread might be increasing the amount of time you devote for sleep.

None of these solutions are of the “lose-ten-pounds-quick” variety. Still, taken together, they just might help mitigate the changes that make gaining menopausal weight easy. And remember, even small changes can make a big difference over time. So, why not chose a new, healthy habit to try, and take it from there. You (and your body) may be pleasantly surprised.

If you REALLY want to take control and show menopause who’s boss, check out my Menopause Weight Control Plan!!!

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Dr. Candice Seti


California-licensed Clinical Psychologist, Certified Nutrition Coach, and Certified Personal Trainer

Dr. Candice Seti

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