As a fitness professional, I’ve heard many misconceptions about menopause and weight gain. Recently, a fitness influencer made a bold claim that menopause doesn’t cause weight gain – instead, our health and eating well standards drop during this time of life. While I appreciated her perspective, it got me thinking about the science behind menopause and weight gain.
The Complexity of Menopausal Weight Gain
If only it were as simple as “eat less and move more” when managing menopausal weight gain. But unfortunately, science says otherwise. While adopting healthy habits like a balanced diet and regular exercise can certainly help support overall health and well-being, hormonal changes during menopause play a significant role in how our bodies respond to food and physical activity.
It’s not just a matter of willpower or motivation – hormonal changes can impact our metabolism, energy levels, and appetite. So while making lifestyle changes can certainly help, it’s essential to recognise that managing menopausal weight gain may require a more nuanced and personalised approach.
The Role of Oestrogen in Menopausal Weight Gain
Oestrogen levels decrease during menopause, leading to body fat accumulation and muscle mass loss, which can slow down our metabolism and cause weight gain. It’s not just a matter of eating well and exercising – hormonal changes are crucial in how our bodies respond to food and physical activity.
During menopause, one of the most common changes that women experience is weight gain, particularly in the belly area. Weight gain can be related to decreased oestrogen levels, a hormone that plays a crucial role in regulating body weight.
Oestrogen helps regulate body weight by affecting how the body stores and uses fat. When oestrogen levels are high, the fat tends to be distributed more evenly throughout the body, with less accumulating in the belly region. However, as oestrogen levels decline during menopause, the fat tends to be stored more in the abdominal area, leading to the appearance of belly fat.
Managing Menopausal Weight Gain
While weight gain and changes in body shape can be frustrating for women going through menopause, it’s important to remember that these changes are a natural part of aging. While it’s true that belly fat can be associated with certain health risks, it’s also essential to adopt a positive, self-accepting attitude towards one’s body.
Rather than striving for an unattainable ideal, women going through menopause can focus on adopting healthy habits such as regular exercise and a balanced diet. These lifestyle changes can help to support overall health and well-being and can also help to manage weight gain during menopause. However, it’s important to remember that weight loss can be difficult, and embracing and accepting one’s body at any size or shape is okay.
Supporting Women Through Menopause
As fitness professionals, it’s essential that we stay informed and educated about menopause and weight gain, so we can better support our clients. And to best support our clients, we need to ensure that our language stays judgement free.
The message of it worked for me; it will work for you – is both misleading and will inevitably lead to blame and shame.
The research is clear, the drop in oestrogen will influence body fat and body fat distribution. Will this be the same for all women? No. Because we are all different. However, even those women who show no change on the scales are still likely to change shape because this is called ageing. The range and degree that weight changes and fat distribution for women are individual.
Also, the stepping up of exercise (the good harder burn it off mentality) that may have worked for younger women – has a chance of backfiring during peri-menopause – by causing injuries and affecting sleep. Hello, cortisol!
Strategies of minimising and managing stress, dedication to good sleeping habits, including strength training and practicing self- acceptance are all the things that you can promote to help your clients manage this transition time of their lives.
The Bottom Line
Menopause is a natural and inevitable part of aging, and weight gain is a common symptom many women experience during this time.
As fitness professionals, it’s essential that we stay informed and educated about menopause and weight gain, so we can better support our clients.
Yes, there may be a changing body shape – but we are working to keep our clients active and strong. The failure of fitspiration – including the messages that this worked for me so that it will work for you – lies in its narrow and unrealistic depiction of health and fitness, which can lead to feelings of inadequacy and discouragement rather than motivation.
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