Weight gain is a common side effect any time your hormones are in flux, hence weight gain is associated with both peri-menopause and menopause. But why is this? We asked hormone nutritionist and author Nicki Williams founder of Happy Hormones for Life to give us some insight…
We asked Nicki to answer a couple of the most common questions
Q: What are the reasons why it’s very common to put on weight during peri-menopause and menopause?
1. Increased stress in midlife (particularly for women) as well as changing hormones can increase cortisol levels – and this can create stubborn belly fat that is very hard to shift.
2. As oestrogen levels decline, the body switches production to the adrenals and fat stores. A bit of extra fat is beneficial for the body for extra oestrogen so it can try to hang on to it.
3. Women going through peri-menopause and menopause are more prone to insulin resistance and weight gain. This is due to metabolic changes related to adrenal, thyroid and sex hormone fluctuations (particularly oestrogen) and increased difficulty in tolerating carbohydrates. Whether it’s due to a slower metabolism, increased fat to muscle ratio, being less active or more stressed, we just can’t handle carbs like we used to!
4. Our thyroid hormones can be less than optimal as we get older (and affected by stress) and this can slow down our metabolism making it very hard to lose any weight.
5. Poor sleep not only makes us tired and cranky the next day, but it’s also a major risk factor for weight gain due to increased Ghrelin (your hunger hormone).
Q: What can we do to counteract this?
1. Prioritise a bit of self-care every day to keep cortisol in check – whether that’s a bit of mindful meditation, reading a book, taking a walk in nature, doing some yoga, listening to music or connecting with a friend, schedule in at least 15 minutes a day to switch off.
2. Make sure you’re not oestrogen deficient – try body identical HRT or eat a diet rich in phytoestrogens (plant-like oestrogens) such as organic soy (eg unsweetened soy milk and yoghurt, tofu, edamame beans, miso), flaxseeds, lentils and chick peas. Ask you GP for advice and support.
3. Avoid sugar and refined carbohydrates (such as white bread, cereal, pastries, biscuits, cakes, white pasta) to keep your blood sugar stable and insulin in check. Make sure to include these food groups at each meal;
- Slow-releasing carbs such as fruit & veg, whole grains, sweet potatoes, quinoa, buckwheat, brown rice.
- Good quality protein such as meat, fish, eggs, dairy, nuts, seeds, beans and pulses at each meal.
- Plenty of healthy fats such as oily fish (eg salmon, sardines, mackerel, anchovies), nuts, seeds, olive oil, coconut oil, full fat dairy.
Limit alcohol as this can disrupt your blood sugar and cause extra insulin resistance and therefore fat storing and try not to snack between meals as this also encourages insulin production.
4. Support your thyroid hormones with plenty of nutrient-dense foods (especially fruit & veg) and some supplements such as a good multivitamin, Vitamin D3 and Magnesium. Get tested if you suspect it’s not optimal.
5. Get enough good quality sleep – get to bed earlier, block out any artificial light, ban phones and gadgets from your bedroom, don’t eat too late and relax before sleep.