Menopause and weight loss are terms that don’t often go together. There is a reason for that. Statistics show that 90 percent of women gain weight during menopause. But the good news is that menopausal weight gain is not inevitable, nor is the inability to lose weight after menopause. In fact, you can control menopausal weight gain rather than letting it control you. All you need to do is make a few SANE lifestyle changes.
Why menopause causes weight gain
Menopause is the time in a woman’s life in when she reaches the end of her reproductive years. The ovaries stop making estrogen and progesterone, and her menstrual periods cease. If you have gone 12 consecutive months without a period, you have reached menopause. This means that your ovaries are no longer releasing eggs and not producing much estrogen. You are no longer able to become pregnant.
The transition to menopause causes tremendous hormonal fluctuations, which can contribute to weight gain. This process can also cause hormonal dysregulation, a problem that cannot be solved by exercising more and eating less. In fact, using this provably false calorie deficit theory of weight loss to try to reduce your menopause muffin top may backfire and result in weight gain. It definitely will result in frustration.
But the end of your period and the beginning of postmenopause is just one small part of the hormonal journey toward this transition. And all of them may affect your weight.
Stages of Menopause
There are three states of menopause: perimenopause, menopause, and postmenopause.
Perimenopause: Perimenopause is the period during which your body begins to transition to menopause, marking the end of your reproductive years. This is the time leading up to your last period. How long you’ll experience perimenopause varies, but the average is four years. (The range is two to eight years.) Perimenopause typically begins in your late 40s, although some women can experience it much earlier.
During perimenopause, your ovaries are unpredictable in the amount of estrogen and progesterone they produce. Sometimes they produce too much, sometimes too little. In addition, your progesterone is likely to fluctuate more than it ever has. This can result in heavy menstrual periods.
At this time, too, your periods become irregular. Your flow will become heavier or lighter than usual, or you’ll miss a month here and there.
During perimenopause, you may experience a variety of other symptoms, including:
- Hot flashes
- Night sweats
- Mood changes
- Trouble sleeping
- Weight gain
Menopause: Menopause refers to the end of the menstrual cycle. It is diagnosed once a woman has gone 12 consecutive months without having a menstrual period. Though your periods have ceased, you may still experience many of the same symptoms you felt during perimenopause.
Postmenopause: As the term suggests, postmenopause refers to the years after you’ve officially reached menopause. The huge surges of hormones that characterized the first two stages no longer occur. As a result, the perimenopausal and menopausal symptoms aren’t much of a problem anymore, with one exception – weight gain.
Weight gain and weight loss in menopause: the hormonal link
The transition to menopause affects many hormones, not just estrogen. In fact, some of the hormones impacted are normally not ones associated with menopause. But they do play a role in weight gain and weight loss during menopause and at other times.
Knowing the hormones responsible for weight gain during menopause will help you to devise SANE strategies to heal these hormones, leading to weight loss.
Hormones that affect weight gain and weight loss during menopause
These four main hormones can affect your weight during menopause.
Estrogen is the main female hormone. It is responsible for regulating the reproductive system and menstrual cycle and is essential for the development of female sexual attributes, such as breasts. It also plays a role in fat metabolism.
Maintaining proper estrogen and progesterone balance is essential for weight loss and weight maintenance. Studies have shown that having too much estrogen can cause weight gain; in fact, estrogen dominance is a common cause of weight gain in menopause. It can also make weight loss impossible. How can you have estrogen dominance during menopause when your estrogen is supposed to be taking a nosedive?
Estrogen dominance does not mean that you have a significant amount of estrogen. It simply means that you have more estrogen relative to progesterone. Menopause has an effect on all your hormones, many of which will show declining levels, including progesterone. If your levels of progesterone decline faster than your levels of estrogen, you’ll have estrogen dominance.
Estrogen dominance causes you to gain weight, and this fat accumulates in your stomach area. Estrogen dominance is more common than you might think. Indeed, many experts believe that most women have estrogen dominance, which could partly explain the trouble so many women have with weight loss.
Hormonal shifts in menopause are not the only thing that causes estrogen dominance. Exposure to estrogen-like compounds in foods that contain growth hormones, pesticides, and plastics is a huge contributor to this problem.
Balancing estrogen for weight loss
The best way to balance your estrogen levels for weight loss is to eat a high-fiber diet, which will help you excrete the excess estrogen from your system. This is a great way to not only balance estrogen but also balance your diet.
The SANE Solution to balancing estrogen for weight loss is to eat at least 10 servings of non-starchy vegetables a day. Aim for at least three servings of vegetables at each meal. Your best choices are green leafy vegetables and don’t worry if you hate veggies. You don’t have to eat them; you can drink them.
One of the easiest ways to get all your servings of vegetables is to make green smoothies. If you want to supercharge your smoothie’s estrogen-balancing weight loss benefits, try adding two tablespoons of SANE Garden in my Glass to the mixture.
Cortisol is a steroid hormone generated by the two adrenal glands, which are located on top of each kidney. Stress causes more cortisol to be released into the bloodstream. Having a proper cortisol balance is necessary for good health, as too much or too little cortisol can cause problems.
Levels of cortisol can become dysregulated during perimenopause and menopause. This is due in part to the hormonal shifts in menopause triggering higher stress levels, leading to higher cortisol levels in the blood. Elevated cortisol levels have been shown to lead to weight gain, especially in the belly area.
Lowering cortisol levels for long-term weight loss
There are many ways to lower your cortisol levels. Here are just a few of them.
Reduce or remove the source(s) of stress in your life.
This is not an easy step, but it is essential for lowering your cortisol levels for long-term weight loss. Examine your daily routine for unnecessary or almost unbearable sources of stress.
You will likely find stress in several areas of your life. For instance, you may have a stressful job and a stressful medical condition that takes a lot of your time and attention to manage. Or you may have several competing commitments in your home life that stresses you out. All of this stress can also interfere with sleep, which also raises your cortisol levels.
To reduce stress and cortisol levels, take time every day to relax. Meditation, especially mindfulness meditation, has proven to be an excellent way to reduce stress. Yoga, Tai Chi, and Pilates are physical and meditative ways to reduce cortisol levels for long-term weight loss.
Try to find SANEity in all areas of your life, not just in a diet. Find things you enjoy doing; find a way to relax; get at least 7-8 hours of sleep a night. All of these things have been proven to help reduce cortisol levels. And they will lead to long-term weight loss, even during menopause.
Do not participate in high-intensity exercising that continues for a long time.
Although exercise is good for the body, studies show that as the intensity of exercise increases, cortisol increases. High-intensity exercise puts stress on the body, which triggers a release of the stress hormone. So if you are trying to bring your cortisol levels back in balance, lay off the extreme 30-minute P90X or Insanity workouts in favor of more moderate exercise. Studies show that low-intensity exercise does not seem to have a significant effect on cortisol secretion.
The SANE way to exercise for weight loss is performing eccentric exercises once a week. The eccentric phase of an exercise occurs when your muscles lengthen as you lower the load. For instance, if you’re doing a bicep curl, the eccentric part is when you lower the weight back down away from your chest. Lowering into a squat is another example of eccentric exercise.
Slowly performing the eccentric part of the movement works deep muscle fibers that you have seldom or never used with traditional exercises. It creates an immediate metabolic response that burns fat. The reason you do them for only 10-20 minutes a week is that that’s all the exercise you need to do to burn fat and because your body needs time to heal. Although intense, eccentric exercises are performed for such a short time that they don’t drive up your cortisol.
Avoid calorie restriction.
Though you may be tempted to try to crash diet those excess pounds away during menopause, this is never a good idea. Cutting calories puts stress on your body, which is the wrong thing to do if you want to decrease your cortisol levels. Research has shown that going on a restricted calorie diet for a few weeks damages the metabolism, increases cortisol, and impacts thyroid function (which reduces your metabolism even more.)
The negative effects crash dieting can have on your hormones and your metabolism is considerable, and it will result in still more weight gain, the exact opposite of what you want. Instead of cutting calories, it is essential that you give your body the energy it needs. One way to do that is to eat whole foods, as this will take the stress off your body and lower your cortisol levels.
When you go SANE, you will eat whole foods that will heal all your hormones and promote weight loss. Consuming at least 10 servings of non-starchy vegetables a day, 3-5 servings of nutrient-dense protein, and 3-5 servings of whole-food fats have been proven to fill you up faster and keep you full longer. (For best results, eat non-starchy vegetables, protein, and whole-food fats at every meal.)
The thyroid is a small butterfly-shaped gland located in front of your neck below Adam’s apple that produces and releases thyroid hormones into the bloodstream. Chronic stress has been shown to interfere with proper thyroid function. It works like this: when you’re under an extended period of stress, your adrenal glands release cortisol. If this stress goes on too long, it becomes chronic and results in a high cortisol level. Studies show that cortisol may interfere with the conversion of thyroid hormone into the form that regulates metabolism.
Nutritional deficiencies and estrogen dominance or progesterone deficiency, as often occurs in menopause, can also inhibit thyroid function and lead to weight gain or prevent weight loss.
Balancing the thyroid hormone for long-term weight loss in menopause
There are some easy steps you can take to improve your thyroid function.
- Remove gluten from the diet. Research shows that gluten causes inflammation, negatively affecting thyroid function. (Gluten is the protein found in grain products, such as wheat and oats.) If you have had problems with weight loss since menopause, try removing these grains from your diet. You might be amazed at how easily the pounds melt off.
- Eat a variety of whole foods. Nutritional deficiencies – such as iron, omega-3 fats, B vitamins, zinc, and vitamin D – are key factors in thyroid dysfunction. By eating “real whole foods,” (not processed), you will be able to get the nutrients your body needs to regulate your thyroid hormone and lose weight.
Eating nutrient-rich meals is a central component of the SANE eating plan. The standard SANE plate includes several servings of non-starchy vegetables, a serving of nutrient-dense protein, and a serving of whole-food fats. Eating this way at every meal ensures you’ll get all the nutrients your body needs to regulate your thyroid function.
There is no SANEr way to balance your hormones for weight loss during menopause than the SANE Solution. Why don’t you give it a try? What have you got to lose except maybe 20 or 30 pounds of stubborn menopausal belly fat that you have been unable to shed?
Next step: Manage menopause weight loss with SANE
There is much more to the SANE lifestyle. Getting 7-8 hours of sleep a night, reducing stress, staying hydrated, and performing eccentric exercises are other important factors in lowering your setpoint.
Ready to finally break free from the yo-yo dieting rollercoaster that can lead to diabesity? By balancing your hormones and lowering your body’s set-point weight, SANE is the solution you’ve been dreaming of.
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