Postmenopausal weight loss is probably something you haven’t heard much about. That’s because most articles focus on the problems with postmenopausal weight gain. They make weight gain during this time in your life sound inevitable. But it doesn’t have to be, especially when you are on the setpoint diet.
What is postmenopause?
Postmenopause refers to the period of time after menopause when a woman has not experienced a period for over a year.
The postmenopausal years are often marked by weight gain due to significantly reduced estrogen levels. But you don’t have to gain weight during this stage of your life. Instead, you can lose weight (or maintain a healthy weight) by following the Setpoint Diet.
Postmenopausal weight loss and the Setpoint Diet
The setpoint diet promotes postmenopausal weight loss because it focuses on the underlying cause of weight gain during these special years. That means with the setpoint diet, you won’t be counting calories. You won’t be starvation dieting. Rather, you’ll be enjoying your fill of delicious real food scientifically proven to heal your hormones, stabilize blood sugar levels, heal neurological inflammation, and lower your setpoint weight.
The setpoint diet spurs menopausal weight loss in part by targeting the hormonal cause of menopausal weight gain. The easy dietary changes you’ll make with the setpoint diet rebalance your hormones, enabling your body to burn excess calories automatically. It also addresses the metabolism-lowering muscle loss that occurs with age and with menopause. With the setpoint diet, you’ll eat foods that prevent muscle loss and build new muscle.
Before discussing the exact way you can use the setpoint diet for menopausal weight loss, let’s take an in-depth look at menopause.
What is menopause?
Menopause signals the cessation of a woman’s menstrual cycle and the end of her childbearing years. The average age that U.S. women to experience menopause is 51, though it can occur much earlier. There are three stages of menopause: perimenopause, menopause, and postmenopause.
Perimenopause (around menopause)
Perimenopause refers to the years leading up to the cessation of your menstrual period. It usually begins a few years before menopause, typically when you’re in your 40s. The average length of perimenopause is 4 years, but it can last for 10 years or more. During perimenopause, your ovaries gradually begin producing less estrogen. In the last 1-2 years of perimenopause, levels of estrogen significantly drop, as do levels of progesterone and testosterone. These declining hormonal levels trigger the cascade of menopausal symptoms most women experience.
For simplicity’s sake, most articles use the word “menopause” when referring to all three stages of menopause. However, menopause refers only to the moment when a woman has not had a menstrual period for 12 consecutive months. If you go most of the year without a period but then have one in the 11th month, you must start over again, counting another 12 months without a period. This length of time is required to ensure your ovaries no longer make estrogen and progesterone, two hormones that are absolutely essential for fertility.
Postmenopause (after menopause)
As mentioned above, postmenopause is the time after menopause when a woman has not experienced a period for over a year.
As soon as a woman finishes menopause (12 consecutive months without a period) she is in postmenopause, a stage that lasts for the remainder of her life. Research shows the symptoms of menopause may continue for a few years into postmenopause — four to five years is the average — but they become less frequent. They also tend not to be as intense as they were during the perimenopausal years.
Your entire reproductive system undergoes vast changes during menopause. Your internal reproductive organs, genitalia, breasts…all are influenced by hormonal changes that occur during this time.
Declining levels of your reproductive hormone levels — such as estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone — are responsible for a host of menopausal symptoms, including:
- Hot flashes/night Sweats. These are sudden, usually brief increases in body temperature. Though we don’t know exactly what causes them, they start when blood vessels near the surface of the skin expand to cool off. This causes a sudden feeling of heat along with sweating. Hot flashes are the most common symptom of perimenopause, experienced by about 75% of menopausal women.
- Irregular periods: You may skip your period for a few months, and/or your periods can be heavier or lighter than usual. Irregular periods are more common in the final 1-2 years of perimenopause when hormonal levels take a huge nosedive.
- Breast tenderness: Fluctuating and reduced levels of estrogen and progesterone affect breast tissue, causing tenderness and even pain.
- Vaginal dryness: A reduction in estrogen causes the vagina to lose elasticity. Vaginal thinness and dryness are the results.
- Reduced sex drive: Reduced levels of estrogen and testosterone can result in reduced sex drive for some women during perimenopause.
- Mood swings: Fluctuating hormone levels lead to often widely fluctuating moods.
- Sleep disturbances: Night sweats can interrupt sleep.
- Weight gain: Hormonal changes during menopause often leads to weight gain, especially in the abdominal area.
Most women experience at least some of the above symptoms during perimenopause.
Causes of postmenopausal weight gain (or what makes postmenopausal weight loss so hard!!!)
Though many of the symptoms of menopause are bothersome, many women regard postmenopausal weight gain as being the most frustrating symptom of menopause. Studies suggest that women gain an average of 10-15 pounds during perimenopause, at a rate of about 1 pound per year. The cute-sounding “muffin top” or “menopot” (menopause potbelly) is not a feature most women want, especially since it tends to stay around.
Is this something you’ve experienced? No matter what you do, the postmenopausal weight gain — that extra fat in your belly that seemed to just spring up overnight — will not go away. You’ve tried dieting it off, exercising it off, steam-rooming it off. Nothing works. It is this menopot that most people are referring to when they talk about menopausal weight gain. It is this menopot that we are referring to, along with weight gain in other parts of the body, when we discuss how the setpoint diet promotes postmenopausal weight loss later in this article.
Causes of postmenopausal weight gain
There are many reasons for postmenopausal weight gain. Below are a few of the most common ones.
1. Hormonal changes
Research shows hormonal changes during menopause can cause weight gain. However, hormone-related weight gain tends to occur mainly in the stomach area. Here are the hormones most responsible for weight gain during menopause.
Estrogen is the primary female hormone responsible for many reproductive functions. It also has a lot to do with metabolism and the regulation of weight. A few years prior to menopause, a woman’s estrogen levels begin to dip, making her body hold onto fat. Though frustrating, extra fat storage and weight gain are symptoms of your body’s efforts to retain estrogen.
You see, when your ovaries start producing less estrogen, your body has to search for other sources of estrogen. As fat cells produce estrogen, your body tries to increase your levels of estrogen through your fat cells. So, it converts more calories you consume into fat specifically to increase your estrogen levels.
Why the “menopot,” though?
Well…research shows declining estrogen levels cause fat cells in the abdominal area to store more fat. It actually redistributes body fat to your stomach area. Studies also show that lowered estrogen levels also cause a drop in resting metabolic rate. Both of these lead to increased belly fat.
Progesterone is a hormone that facilitates menstruation and the maintenance of pregnancy. It is essential for regulating ovulation and menstruation.
Unlike estrogen, progesterone does not cause excess fat accumulation. Low levels of progesterone, however, often cause water retention and bloating. This can make your clothes fit more snugly, giving you the feeling and perhaps even the appearance of weight gain.
Testosterone is a hormone primarily produced by the gonads (testicles and ovaries). Though men have much higher testosterone levels than women, both sexes need testosterone for proper sexual function. It also helps keep their setpoint low and their weight in check.
Most adult women have about the same testosterone levels as a 10-year-old boy. That’s part of the reason it’s harder for women to burn fat and build muscle than it is for men. Perimenopause causes testosterone levels to plummet, which promotes fat storage, inflammation, and muscle loss. This can cause insulin resistance and belly fat.
As you can see, having these hormones in the proper balance is so very important for your health and for postmenopausal weight loss. Fortunately, the setpoint diet helps rebalance these and other hormones so that you can safely and permanently lose weight.
2. Insulin resistance
Insulin resistance occurs when muscle, fat, and liver cells do not respond well to insulin and cannot absorb glucose from the blood easily. As a result, your pancreas produces more insulin to assist glucose transport into your cells.
Here’s how it works. When you consume carbs, they are converted into glucose and absorbed into your bloodstream. The hormone insulin is then released to shuttle the excess glucose into your cells for energy or to be stored for later use. Your cells cannot open up to accept glucose without insulin. Insulin resistance is a condition in which your cells no longer recognize the insulin and will not accept glucose. This results in higher blood glucose levels, weight gain, and almost certainly type 2 diabetes if it goes on long enough.
Many studies show estrogen optimizes how a woman’s body processes glucose. During a woman’s childbearing years, estrogen helps increase insulin sensitivity. Estrogen appears to help protect women from high blood glucose levels, consequent weight gain, and type 2 diabetes. But when estrogen levels drop significantly after menopause, just the opposite occurs — postmenopausal women are at increased risk of insulin resistance.
When it comes to menopausal weight gain, it is not clear how much of it is due to menopause and how much of it is due to age. After all, it is a fact that most people tend to gain weight as they get older. There are a couple of reasons for this.
The first is hormonal dysregulation. Weight gain and a slower metabolism as you age start in your brain with inflammation of the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus is a gland deep within your brain that controls the hormone system. As regards weight control, the hypothalamus is in charge of balancing calories in and calories out so that, ideally, the body never becomes too fat or too thin.
But as almost everyone has experienced, as the years go by, this balance becomes upset, and the body packs on extra pounds because it is getting the wrong messages from the brain and the hormones. Specifically, the inflamed hypothalamus no longer receives correct signals from the hormones. Now, instead of working to keep you naturally slim, your hypothalamus and hormones work to hold on to extra fat, no matter how hard you try to lose weight.
The other reason most people gain weight as they grow older is because of a loss of muscle. Age-related muscle loss, called sarcopenia, affects everyone to a certain extent. Muscle is in a constant state of breaking down/rebuilding. Up until the age of 30 or so, the rebuilding process is quicker than the breaking down process. Sometime in your 30s, the reverse happens — muscle breaks down quicker than it is rebuilt. Consequently, you can lose 3% to 5% of your muscle mass each decade after the age of 30 if you’re inactive. (You’ll lose some muscle mass even if you are active.) Less muscle results in a slower metabolism.
Health risks of postmenopausal weight gain
Hormones, particularly estrogen, protect women from many weight-related health conditions during their childbearing years. When levels of these hormones significantly and permanently drop, as they do in her postmenopausal years, it puts her at increased risk of these same diseases.
Most of these risks occur because of the increased levels of postmenopausal belly fat.
Dangerous belly fat
There are two types of belly fat: subcutaneous and visceral.
Subcutaneous fat lies beneath the skin and is located all over the body, not just in the stomach area. This is the fat you can pinch between your fingers. Though subcutaneous fat may not be aesthetically pleasing to some people, research indicates that it does not pose a significant risk to health.
Visceral fat is stored deep within your abdominal cavity, surrounding and even wrapping around the liver, intestines, and other important organs. Fat cells are not just storage lockers for calories. They are metabolically active, pumping out hormones, inflammatory agents, and other substances. Many researchers believe visceral fat cells send these substances through the bloodstream via the nearby portal vein, which increases the risk for many serious and deadly health conditions, including:
- Abnormal cholesterol levels
- Metabolic syndrome
- Type 2 diabetes
- High blood pressure
- Heart disease
How to achieve postmenopausal weight loss
If the above makes postmenopausal weight loss seem hopeless to you, that you’re just a victim to your hormones, think again. The setpoint diet helps you rebalance those hormones. And unlike other diets you may have been on, you’ll LOVE the setpoint diet.
Before discussing the exact foods that will rebalance your hormones, trigger fat-burning hormones, spur muscle protein synthesis, and more, let’s talk about one of the main reasons for weight gain: hormonal dysregulation.
One of the main reasons most people cannot lose weight and keep it off is because they have what we call a “hormonal clog” that keeps their setpoint weight elevated. When you have a hormonal clog, your brain can no longer rely on signals from your hormones that would otherwise enable you to burn body fat automatically.
The easiest way to understand how a hormonal clog elevates your setpoint weight is to think about your body as functioning like a sink. If you pour water into a properly working sink, the water will drain right out. No matter how much water you pour into the sink, the water drains out. If you pour a lot of water into the sink all at once, the water level will rise temporarily. But the sink will take care of it. The sink is balancing water in and water out at a low level. You can think of a working sink, then, as having a low setpoint.
A hormonally healthy body works the same way, working to prevent excess body fat from accumulating. A healthy body, like a “healthy” sink, responds to more in with more out and to less in with less out. When water builds up in sinks and fat builds up in bodies, it is because they have become clogged. Why do they become clogged? Because the wrong things are put into them.
When you have a clogged sink, any amount of water IN will cause the water level to rise and stay high. This sink now has an elevated setpoint.
Hormonal clog and setpoint weight
Think of your body in the same way. When you put poor-quality of food into it, your body becomes hormonally clogged. This causes it to automatically balance you out at an elevated level of body fat. You become overweight or obese because hormonal dysregulation elevated your setpoint weight.
What is the setpoint weight?
Your setpoint is that weight your body hovers around, give or take 10-15 pounds. Your brain, digestive system, and hormones talk to one another through various feedback loops to synchronize the activities that automatically maintain body fat and blood sugar at a specific level, known as your setpoint.
Think of the biological feedback system that establishes your setpoint as like the thermostat in your house. Thanks to the thermostat, your heating or air-conditioning system respond to the weather outside and keep your home at whatever temperature the thermostat “thinks” it should be at. Similarly, your setpoint stimulates or suppresses your appetite and raises or lowers metabolism—your body’s food-to-fuel process—in response to how much fat it “thinks” you should store.
Why crash diets never work
Your setpoint weight is the reason why crash dieting has never worked for you — and why it definitely won’t work for postmenopausal weight loss. When you slash calories, your body sends an emergency alert to your brain. It thinks you are starving, and it does everything it can to prevent that. The brain orders a release of hormones that make you hungry, tired, and weak. It slows your metabolism and sends most of the calories you consume straight to your fat cells. None of this brings you closer to your goal.
Sure, you will lose weight on a crash diet. But research shows most of the weight loss comes from water and muscle. And your crash diet scared your body so much it raised your setpoint weight even higher, ensuring you’ll gain back all the weight you lost — and then some — as soon as you start eating normally again.
The only way to permanently lose weight is to work with your setpoint, not against it. When you lower your setpoint weight with the setpoint diet, you will effortlessly lose weight — and it will stay off.
Causes of dysregulated hormones and elevated setpoint weight
We’ve already discussed one of the causes of an elevated setpoint weight for postmenopausal women — hormonal dysregulation. Here are a few factors that dysregulate hormones:
Eating a steady diet of refined carbs, sugar, and highly processed foods cause surges in your blood sugar levels. It also causes neurological inflammation and a hormonal clog.
Most people live under constant stress these days. The problem is that when stress becomes chronic, your body constantly releases setpoint-elevating cortisol, which constantly triggers a release of insulin, a fat-storage hormone. Both cause weight gain, especially in the tummy, and much of it is dangerous visceral fat.
Research also shows a lack of sleep can cause weight gain. This is because sleep deprivation appears to dysregulate hormones dealing with hunger management, blood sugar control, and food cravings.
Postmenopausal weight loss and the Setpoint diet
The great thing about the setpoint diet is that it focuses on having you eat MORE high-quality food rather than less low-quality food. The goal is to become so full of SANE setpoint diet foods that you’ll be too full of inSANE starches, refined carbs, sugars, highly processed foods, etc.
Why eat more high-quality food? Because if you get the quality right, the quantity will take care of itself. You see, calories are important, but it is not your job to count them. As previously mentioned, the hypothalamus balances calories in with calories out so that you never become too fat or too thin.
High-quality calories help clear the hormonal clog, allowing your hormones to send correct messages to your hypothalamus. These hormones tell the brain when you’ve had enough to eat, naturally preventing you from overeating. No willpower is necessary!
When deciding on high-quality foods, choose the ones that are “most alive.” For example, cereal that has been sitting on a shelf forever is NOT alive. Compare that to a bag of leafy green non-starchy vegetables that are currently alive…or delicious salmon that was alive a few days ago…and you’ll automatically know which one to choose.
Foods to eat on the setpoint diet for postmenopausal weight loss
Within the primary SANE food groups of non-starchy vegetables, nutrient-dense protein, whole-food fats, and low-fructose fruits, there are optimal options that will fast-track your progress.
10+ servings per day
If you count anything in the setpoint diet, count your servings of non-starchy vegetables. How much is one serving? Here is a simple rule: If raw and leafy, a serving is the size of two of your fists. If raw and not leafy, a serving is the size of your fist. If cooked, a serving is a little smaller than the size of your fist.
The fiber content of non-starchy veggies fills you up fast and keeps you full for a long time for a relatively small number of calories. It also provides plenty of nutrition for your cells.
When starting the setpoint diet, be sure to gradually increase your servings of non-starchy vegetables. This helps you avoid gastrointestinal distress.
Optimal choices include the following:
- Bok Choy
- Barley Grass
- Brussels Sprouts
- Mixed Greens
- Romaine Lettuce
- Wheat Grass
Other great veggies you could eat raw or cooked to help get your 10-plus servings include:
- Alfalfa sprouts
- Bean Sprouts
- Bell Peppers
- Green Beans
- Sugar Snap Peas
3-6 servings per day, 30-55 grams of protein per meal.
Protein triggers short- and long-term satiety hormones, which is the reason why protein is so filling. But protein does something else that is incredible…if you consume around 30 grams of protein at a sitting, it triggers muscle protein synthesis. This enables your body to preserve muscle mass while also burning fat.
Food is a nutrient-dense protein if it is found directly in nature, and more of its calories come from protein than from fat or carbohydrate. (Exceptions include some low-sugar and low-fat dairy products and natural SANE-approved protein powders/bars.)
You can determine whether food gets more of its calories from protein than from fat or carbohydrate by following these three easy steps.
- Look at the nutrition label and multiply the grams of protein in a serving by 4.
- Divide that number by the number of calories in a serving.
- Multiply by 100, and that’s the percent of calories in the food from protein.
But here’s a list to make things easier for you.
- Sea Bass
Other great nutrient-dense protein choices:
- Cottage Cheese
- Egg Whites
- Grass-Fed Beef
- Lean Conventional Beef
- Plain nonfat Greek yogurt
3-6 servings per day
Ideal whole food fats actually come from whole foods, not refined liquids or spreads. As a general rule of thumb, food is a whole-food fat if it’s found directly in nature and more of its calories come from fat than from protein or carbohydrate. You can determine this the same way you did for protein, except you need to multiply grams of fat per serving by 9 (since fat has 9 calories per gram…not 4 like protein).
A serving is about the size of your middle and pointer finger side by side. If the nuts are mashed into butter (i.e., natural nut butter), a serving is the size of your thumb. Two whole eggs are in one serving.
Optimal choices include:
- Coconut Milk
- Cocoa/Cacao Nibs
- Flax Seeds
- Chia Seeds
Other great whole-food fats include:
- Brazil Nuts
- Whole Eggs
- Hemp Seeds
- Pumpkin Seeds
- Sunflower Seeds
Low fructose fruits
0-3 servings per day
Low-fructose fruits are available only to add a little spice to your diet. You don’t need to consume any fruit. Non-starchy veggies can do everything fruit can do, with about 10 times less sugar.
Optimal low-fructose fruits have the least sugar and the most nutrition. These include:
- Acai Berry
- Goji Berry
- Noni Fruit
- Purple Aronia
Other good low-fructose fruits include:
- Casaba Melon
- Coconut Water
The setpoint diet, postmenopausal weight loss, and YOU
That’s pretty much it for the nutritional portion of the setpoint diet. As long as you concentrate on eating MORE non-starchy veggies, nutrient-dense protein, and whole-food fats, you will eat less of the inSANE stuff. The result? Postmenopausal weight loss will be a breeze.
Just remember the SANE motto: Progress, not Perfection.
As long as you’re moving forward, you’re doing okay. If you occasionally eat something inSANE — and who doesn’t?!!! — it’s not the end of the world…or your setpoint diet.
Next step: Learn more ways to obtain postmenopausal weight loss with the Setpoint diet
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