3 Invisible, Powerful Reasons Menopause Makes Us Fat & 3 Things You Can Do To Beat the Bulge

Menopause is a complex issue, but one I am fascinated to understand, because I am 50, and it is happening, my friends.  My clients ask me what the heck is going on, and it’s on the minds and hips of all my girlfriends, as well:  we are starting to accumulate weight around our midsections, and we haven’t slacked off of our workout routines or eating habits.  So what’s the deal with aging and fattening up through the abdomen?  

There's a lot going on in our bodies at this time, but here are three hormones that are messing with our bodies former abilities to burn fat, burn calories and regulate stress and insulin.  

1) You automatically burn lots of extra calories in your sleep when you’re fertile.  In fact, during the reproductive hormone-rich years, your BMR increases by an average of 9% for 14 days of every month.

BMR=Basal Metabolic Rate is the amount of energy (calories) your body needs to perform baseline functions, like breathing and heart beating, in a 24 hour period when your body is at a complete state of rest.

Let’s put some reals numbers to this:  my current BMR is 1372 cals, which means for 14 days, if I were still ovulating, I’d burn an extra 123.5 calories/day while I sleep.   That’s an extra 1729 calories burned every single month.   (It was even higher when I was younger.)   

To calculate your BMR, go here:  http://dailyburn.com/life/health/how-to-calculate-bmr/

Over a period of 10 years, which is about how long the transition from perimenopause to menopause can last, I am now holding on to at least an extra 1700 calories every month, calories that used to be burned up by the start of my period every month….POOF!  Now they are hanging on and being converted to FAT (more on that below).  Those calories I’m not automatically expending anymore add up to an average weight gain of 10-15 pounds over a 10 year period.  Even if you never change a thing about your diet and exercise routine. 

 

 

2) Estrogen plummets, and everything goes awry.  Estrogen promotes insulin receptivity in cells, which is a good thing.  When estrogen drops, there’s all this extra insulin floating around in our blood stream now with nowhere to go.  Insulin promotes fat storage.  Another bummer: fat cells produce estrogen, and your body knows Lady Estrogen has flown the coop, so what does it do?  Sends those calories to be stored in insulin resistant FAT cells.   The icing on this is that insulin resistant fat storage happens deep in the visceral part of your belly, which is not just a cosmetic issue.  This type of fat storage is linked to Type 2 Diabetes and heart disease and certain kinds of cancers which are a whole lot more serious than a muffin top.

 

3) Estrogen used to regulate the negative impact of cortisol.  Now, cortisol levels are on the rise without estrogen to talk it off the ledge.   This makes us hungry, depressed, sleep-deprived and fat.  Insulin and cortisol are a bad hormonal combo for weight loss and feeling good.   These two hormones, when combined together in high amounts over long periods, push the female body towards storing fat when calories are high (as opposed to building muscle), and reduce the amount of fat burned when calories are low (burning muscle instead). This is a bad combination for any woman, but a menopausal woman is affected to a much greater extent.  

What to do?

The menopausal body is more carbohydrate reactive (estrogen is no longer there to offset insulin) and more stress sensitive (estrogen and progesterone are not there to regulate cortisol's negative effect).   It’s your hormones that got you into this whole hot, sweaty, angry, fattening downward spiral.  It seems only logical to take a hormonal approach through nutrition and exercise.  Here are three ways you can flip the script:

1.  Start lifting weights - intensely- at least once, but preferably three times/week. The shorter, the better - aim for less than 30 minutes. We’re not talking Arnold Shwarznegger here. Just 5-10 lb weights, and slowly build up.  

Here’s a terrific full body weight training circuit that boosts metabolism, builds muscle mass and  can be completed in less than 30 minutes:   http://pin.it/fHZYIfk  

2. Forget the long runs.  Replace your long duration cardio workouts with a long stroll around the neighborhood.  Whereas aerobic workouts raise cortisol without the balancing benefits of HGH and testosterone (from HIIT and other intense, short workouts), a nice leisurely walk (not a power walk) or restorative yoga (not flow) or Tai Chi or a massage lowers your cortisol levels.   So does petting and playing with kittens at the animal rescue.  (Just did that today - and it works!)

3. Increase your protein intake with food that is mostly protein (animal) vs. protein, starch and fat (beans and nuts).  Reduce your starchy carbohydrate, grain and dairy intake considerably and eat lots of low-glycemic fruits and vegetables.  

And (4) get more shut eye!  You want to burn fat?  Go to sleep.  

If you do the above things, you will find that you will sleep better, more deeply and wake up much more rested.  

I hope this info and these suggestions are helpful to you.  This can be a stressful, bewildering time in our lives, but it doesn't have to be.  Please share your thoughts and experience in the comments below because we all want to know that we aren't the only one!  

If you need a little more direction, planning, encouragement or support to manage the changes your body and mind are going through, I am here to help.  Send me a note or complete the Transformation Session, and we'll figure out the best way for us to work together.  

Sources:  

Owen Anderson, http://www.pponline.co.uk/encyc/fat-burning-after-ovulation-390#

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2749064/

http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/44/5/614.full.pdf

http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/03/28/ask-well-weight-gain-at-menopause/?_r=0

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2749064/

https://www.metaboliceffect.com/menopause-weight-gain/