Battle of the Bulge: Fighting Weight Gain During Menopause
Dietitian to Discuss the Why’s of Weight Gain and the How’s of Losing Pounds
Menopause and weight gain. Is there a better example of adding insult to injury? With a long list of symptoms—that can include hot flashes, insomnia and changes in sexual interest or response—gaining weight while eating the same and doing the same amount of physical activity as you normally do can feel like a real slap in the face.
But weight gain, particularly that which qualifies as obesity, is not just a nuisance. It can be a very real health threat.
For women looking for strategies to reverse the trend of added weight brought on by menopausal changes, Washington Women’s Center is holding an Evening Lecture on Wednesday, July 13, with Macaria Meyer, R.D., a clinical registered dietitian on the Washington Hospital staff.
"Obesity is unhealthy at any age, but it becomes a serious health problem in women during the menopausal years," Meyer states.
So what exactly happens during menopause that causes this tendency toward an increase in weight?
"Weight gain is much more pronounced in menopause due to a hormonal decline of estrogen and testosterone that seems to significantly impact the changes in a woman’s body composition," Meyer explains. "This hormonal shift appears to contribute to the loss of muscle mass and strength, which in turn leads to inactivity and thus worsening obesity."
But how—or more accurately where—women store fat during this stage changes as well, and not for the better.
"Most importantly, this hormonal change seems to redistribute fat to the abdomen," according to Meyer. "Abdominal obesity is associated with chronic inflammation and increased risk for type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and cancer."
That’s right. Even cancer risk goes up with added pounds, particularly for post-menopausal woman.
According to the National Cancer Institute at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), in addition to increasing the risk of coronary heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, and diabetes, obesity also increases the risk of cancers of the breast (in postmenopausal women), endometrium (the lining of the uterus), colon, kidney, and esophagus.
Now for the good news: Curtailing weight gain before the onset of menopause can lower the risk of many of these cancers. Plus, regular physical activity is shown to reduce the risk of both colon cancer and breast cancer.
"Weight gain is not instantaneous," Meyer says. "You don’t go to sleep one night at an ideal weight and wake up the next day being overweight. It might seem that way for some people, but the reality is that weight gain is gradual."
One solution, she says, is to anticipate problems before they occur and start taking action as soon as possible.
"Women in their younger years should be aware of the changes that have been known to happen during menopause and prepare for them," she adds.
During her talk next Wednesday, Meyer will go over the relationship between menopause and weight gain before talking about steps to take toward reversing this trend, including two of the biggest tools to combating weight gain with a focus on weight stored in the midsection area.
"Weight loss and physical exercise are the main approaches in combating central (midsection) obesity," she says. "Based on clinical trials, women are likely to benefit from 30 minutes of daily moderate walking combined with a resistance training program twice a week."
So what’s wrong with diet and walking alone? Simple. Research shows that a reduction in fat mass—not just weight loss—is better achieved with an exercise program that includes moderate-intensity resistance training. Another benefit is that resistance training is a key ingredient in avoiding the loss of bone mass associated with osteoporosis.
"A hypo-caloric diet along with aerobic and resistance training are a must during menopause to help induce weight loss, if you are overweight, or to prevent weight gain before it starts," according to Meyer. "That said, before embarking on any type of activity or exercise, everyone should consult a physician first."
To learn more about how to prevent or reverse the trend of weight gain during menopause, join Macaria Meyer, R.D. next Wednesday, July 13, from 7 to 8 p.m. in the Washington Women’s Center Conference Room, located at 2500 Mowry Avenue, Suite 150.
To register for this class, call (800) 963-7070 or visit www.whhs.com/womenscenter