Understanding Metabolism, Menopause & Weight Gain

During menopause, women often face hot flashes, night sweats, and changes in their mood and metabolism. Find out how it often supports weight gain and what to do about it.

Understanding Metabolism, Menopause & Weight Gain

Many women share a history of never having had to worry about weight. They may start by saying, "I have always needed to work on my weight by eating well and exercising. And I still do those things."

All of a sudden, though, a switch has turned off and somehow their metabolism has changed. "But now everything I used to do to control my weight no longer works. Instead, I am gaining weight despite being more careful, exercising more and eating less."

The switch is often due to perimenopause and menopause.

What Is Menopause?

Menopause is officially designated when a woman has stopped having menstrual periods for one year.

Menopause describes the changes women go through before and after menstrual cycles. This ultimately marks the end of the reproductive period, in which the ability to have children is over.

The hormone levels have a patterned rise and fall each month during a woman's reproductive years. Levels become very high once the ovary is no longer able to respond to these hormones and ovulation no longer occurs.

Perimenopause is the term given to the years that lead up to menopause. In these years, the ovary is starting to decline in function and an egg is no longer released consistently each month. Sometimes months go by without normal ovulation.

Perimenopause may last for years until menopause officially occurs. During these changes, women often face hot flashes, night sweats, and changes in their mood and metabolism.

Metabolism and Menopause

First, let's define what metabolism actually involves.

The metabolic system is rather complex. Simply put, though, metabolism is the physiological processes in which the body uses calories from food for energy. The energy is used to carry out vital processes, including moving the body, breathing in oxygen, and repairing cells each second.

Metabolism is ongoing and continues even when the body is at rest. This is more formally known as basal metabolic rate (BMR). BMR eliminates the variable effect of physical activity and accounts for 60 percent of total daily expenditure.

BMR can be determined with a simple equation: 24 X body weight in kilograms (kg). To calculate the total daily energy expenditure, multiply the BMR by an activity factor. (I.e. 1.3 for sedentary, 1.5 for moderately active, and 1.7 for extremely active)

Take, for example, a 150 pound (150/2.2 = 68 kg) female who is moderately active.

BMR = 24 X 68 kg = 1632 calories per day X 1.5 activity factor

Total energy expenditure = 2,448 calories per day

Based on these calculations, the individual would need to consume about 2,450 calories to sustain current weight. Under most conditions, consistently consuming under 2,450 calories helps individuals lose weight. Eating more likely causes them to gain it.

However, metabolism is complex and can be influenced by age, sex, and muscle mass. These factors are largely responsible for changing metabolism and weight gain during menopause.

Weight Gain and Menopause

On average, women gain about 1.5 pounds per year during midlife. This may seem trivial, but add it up over the course of 20 years, that is 30 pounds.

What's more, postmenopausal women often experience changes in body fat distribution. They are more likely to carry excess weight as abdominal fat. Fat carried around the abdomen increases the risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and other chronic health conditions.

The natural consequences of aging, including those that occur during menopause, are largely responsible for these changes. More specific contributing risk factors of weight changes in:

• Body composition: Body composition, or muscle versus fat tissues, mostly determines the rate at which energy is produced. Again, body fat tends to displace muscle with advancing age, in turn slowing down the basal metabolic rate. And compared to men, women have slower metabolisms due to higher body fat percentage and lower muscle mass.

• Activity levels: According to the CDC, 28 percent of adults 50+ are physically inactive. Going without exercise makes it more challenging to maintain a healthy weight.

• Hormones: Hormones play a large part in controlling weight and metabolism, including estrogen and insulin. Estrogen levels drop during menopause, which can lead to weight gain. Insulin resistance, common in menopausal women, also makes it easier to gain weight and challenging to lose it. Added stress can also increase cortisol, which has been linked to weight gain.

Menopause Metabolism Boosters

Though metabolism naturally slows with age, there are several ways to combat the declination. Tried and true methods to support healthy metabolism and weight include diet, exercise, and other lifestyle recommendations.

Fuel Metabolism With Protein

Protein is mostly known for its notorious role in muscle synthesis, supporting lean body mass to innately boost metabolism.

The macronutrient also supports a healthy immune system, assists in wound healing, and produces hormones. It can induce feelings of satiety and fullness and lessen the risk of overeating throughout the day, too.

The current dietary reference intake (DRI) for protein is 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram (g/kg) of body weight. This amounts to at least 46 grams per day for women. However, evidence suggests older adults should consume 1.0 g/kg to compensate for the loss of muscle that comes with age.

Chicken, eggs, beef, tuna, cottage cheese, Greek yogurt, and beans are significant sources of protein to include in a balanced diet.

Moderate Carb Intake

A diet moderated in carbohydrate can help minimize the impact of insulin release. This, in turn, helps the body burn fat mass more effectively and keeps blood sugars stable.

But the different carb sources are not treated and handled equally. Healthy carb sources include whole grains, fruits, veggies, legumes, and dairy products. Reduce the intake of products prepared with refined flours and added sugars, including white bread, pastries, and soft drinks.

Be Sure Not to Under Fuel

Reducing calories does show to facilitate weight loss. But going too low can compromise the body's ability to shed pounds and overall health.

Unless medically advised and monitored, nutrition experts recommend women not go below 1200 calories a day to sustain important physiological processes. Being devoid of available energy can force the body to tap into muscle stores, which in turn may slow down metabolism.

Increase Dietary Fiber

Dietary fiber is an indigestible plant component mostly known for its role in supporting digestive and heart health. However, fiber offers satiety similar to the fashion of protein. It likewise helps nurture a healthy weight and slows carbohydrate absorption to control and keep blood sugars at a steady level.

Women should aim for about 25 grams of fiber each day. Meet these goals by increasing whole grains, fruits, veggies, nuts, and seeds in the diet.

Hydrate With Water

Water is imperative in maintaining and boosting metabolism. It is the body's highest prioritized medium for facilitating vital, life-sustaining processes.

Adequate intake of water also acts as a natural appetite suppressant, reducing the risk of overeating. General recommendations advise healthy men and women to consume at least eight, 8-ounces of water per day.

Participate in Cardiovascular Exercises

Aerobic exercise helps burn more calories while intense training can lead to the "afterburn" effect. This is when calories continue to burn even after the exercise is completed.

Aim for at least 150 minutes of cardio weekly, or 30 minutes most days of the week. Cardio exercises include brisk walking, jogging, biking, and any activity that elevates heart rate.

Incorporate Strength Training

When muscles are exerted, the muscle fibers experience small tears that are reformed to build and strengthen the muscle. Supporting muscle mass increases basal metabolic rate, in turn, assisting in weight management.

Incorporate at least two to three resistance training sessions each week. Work all muscle groups evenly, including the back, chest, core, shoulders, arms, and legs.

Consult With the Professionals

Metabolism is impacted by a number of factors and varies from person-to-person. That being said, recommendations are not one-size-fits-all.

Consulting with professionals, including a doctor and dietitian, can help determine a personalized plan. A personal trainer can also help ensure a safe and effective workout regimen.

Comprehensively, place the emphasis on balancing the diet with nutrient-dense foods and increase physical activity. Managing stress and ensuring adequate sleep each night can also support healthy metabolism and weight.

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