How to avoid menopausal weight gain

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You don't have to gain weight as a result of menopause, even though so many women do. Dietician and author Elizabeth Somer explains how to avoid weight gain after menopause.

How to avoid menopausal weight gain Staying fit isn't just about appearance. Post-menopausal women have the greatest risk for heart disease. Here are some tips for staying healthy by avoiding weight gain during menopause:
  • Stay active. Weight gain in menopause is NOT inevitable. Menopausal weight can be attributed more to lifestyle than body chemistry. 
  • Make a commitment to exercise. Women's metabolism begins to slow down in their thirties, not simply with the onset of menopause. If you're sedentary, start with a daily 10 minute brisk walk. Set a goal that within a year, you engage in an hour of vigorous exercise 5 times a week.
  • Strolling around the mall twice a week will not keep menopausal weight off for most women. 
  • Lift weights to maintain muscle mass, even if those weights are the milk jugs at home. Work with a trainer or at a gym if you can.
  • Proper diet is key: have two servings of fruits and vegetables at every meal. Eat whole grains like brown rice, whole wheat, and old-fashioned oatmeal rather than refined grains (which is everything else).
  • Eat the correct portions: a serving of meat should be the size of a deck of cards.  A serving of pasta should be no bigger than your fist.
  • Eat lots of raw, steamed, or grilled vegetables, not those that are fried or sauteed in butter.
  • Salad is great with the dressing on the side, but opt for spinach rather than iceburg lettuce which has less nutritional value.
Transcript

JENNIFER: Hi I'm Jennifer Morris for howdini. When a woman reaches menopause is it really harder to lose weight or does it just seem that way? We're here with Elizabeth Somer who is a registered dietician and the author of nine popular nutrition books including Age Proof Your Body, something we would all like to do. Welcome Elizabeth.

ELIZABETH:  Nice to be here.

JENNIFER: So what is it about menopause that causes weight gain?

ELIZABETH: Well wait a minute, I think that is an assumption that begs to be questioned. You know up until recently the only women to study post-menopause were women that were sedentary. It's only been in the baby boom generation that we're starting to get women now that are vigorously active--

JENNIFER:  Uh-huh.

ELIZABETH: --after menopause and we're finding that those women don't necessarily gain weight or at least not as much as we thought was, you know, inevitable. 

JENNIFER:  Mm-hmm. 

ELIZABETH: So I think this myth is beginning to be popped and we're finding it's more about lifestyle than it is about body chemistry. 

JENNIFER:  Now this is good news--

ELIZABETH: Yeah!

JENNIFER:  Now does metabolism slow down after menopause or does it stay the same or...

ELIZABETH: Well a little bit of both and actually it starts a lot earlier than menopause. Starting in our thirties we begin trading muscle for fat.

JENNIFER:  I've noticed that. 

ELIZABETH: About 1 to 2% loss of muscle every decade which equates to about 5-10 pound muscle loss. As you lose muscle, that's the active tissue that burns calories, even when you're sleeping, you start putting on the inactive fat tissue that doesn't require any calories at all to maintain. So by the time you hit menopause, you've got about fifteen, twenty years, unless you've been vigorously active, to make this trade-off, losing the muscle and gaining the fat. So by the time you end up post-menopausal, you're saying hey my metabolism has slowed and you know, I can't even look at food without gaining weight. It's actually been going on for quite a while, you're just starting to notice the changes. But, the good news is it's not inevitable. 

JENNIFER:  Do some women, even though they diet and exercise and do all the right things after menopause, is it still not possible for them to lose weight?

ELIZABETH: No it's always possible to lose weight. It's just how big of a committment are you willing to make? 

JENNIFER:  Right.

ELIZABETH:  You know if you think strolling the mall a couple time a week is enough to get your exercise, you're going to possible gain weight as you get older. 

JENNIFER:  So does that mean you have to increase your exercise plan as you get older? 

ELIZABETH:  Well you should have been increasing it all along. Definitely, you know, but when you really start noticing the weight gain ir becomes even more important for several reasons. Not just because of your vanity, not just because you don't want to be overweight as you get older, but after menopause one thing is sure: a woman's risk for several diseases starts to go up. The biggest one being heart disease. Up to one out of every two women is going to be battling heart disease after menopause, a disease which in many cases is preventable if you just start charge of what you eat and how much you move. 

JENNIFER:  How can we keep the pounds at bay, you know, as we're approaching menopause?

ELIZABETH: Okay well, like I've already said you need to be exercising. You need to do some kind of vigorous workout. If you are not exercising now, then start little. Start, you know, 10 minutes of a brisk walk with the idea that you will slowly move up the scale until you're doing maybe two 10 minute walks a day, then maybe two 15 minute walks and over the course of a year, you've got it up to an hour of vigorous exercise most days of the week. Say five days of the week. You want to do a little bit of lifting of some kind. Either join the gym or get a personal trainer of if you just don't want to go to the gym, then lift milk jugs in your kitchen.

JENNIFER: Right.

ELIZABETH: But something to maintain your muscle mass because as you lose that muscle mass, your metabolism is going to slow. Boosting your muscle mass will boost your metabolism. Then of course there's diet. And of course I think everyone knows what they should be eating. If you just focused on real food. 

JENNIFER:  Right.

ELIZABETH: At least two fruits and vegetables at every meal. And I'm not talking french fries and iceburg lettuce, but rather spinach and carrots and apples and oranges and kiwi and those kinds of things. Sweet potatoes--uh, focus more on whole grains, on refined grains.

JENNIFER:  What's an example of a refined grain versus a whole grain?

ELIZABETH:  Well a whole grain would be 100% whole wheat bread, brown rice, old-fashioned oatmeal.

JENNIFER: Uh-huh.

ELIZABETH:  Those kinds of things whereas a refined grain is anything else. That makes it kind of easy. And of course you've got to watch portions. You know get the scale out, get the measuring cups out. A serving of that pasta should be half a cup to a cup. Not 8 cups. A serving of meat should be 3 to 4 ounces, not a 16 ounce steak. So portions sizes are going to be important as well.

JENNIFER:  If you're out and about is there anything you can do on the fly for portion control to sort of eyeball something? Do you have any little tips for that?

ELIZABETH: Well a serving of meat should be the size of a deck of cards or the palm of a woman's hand.

JENNIFER: Okay.

ELIZABETH:  A serving of pasta should be no bigger than your fist. 

JENNIFER:  Okay.

ELIZABETH: Vegetables--you can't get enough vegetables. 

JENNIFER: Just keep 'em coming. 

ELIZABETH:  Just pile them on. Make sure that they're steamed, raw, grilled.You know they're not battered and fried or sauteed in butter. Salad--the bigger the salad the better as long as it's all carrots and dressing's on the side. 

JENNIFER: Excellent thank you so much Elizabeth. 

ELIZABETH: Sure.

JENNIFER: I'm Jennifer Morris for howdini. 

 

meet theexpert
  • Elizabeth Somer

    Elizabeth Somer Registered Dietician and Author Elizabeth Somer is a Registered Dietician and author of several books, including Age-Proof Your Body and Food & Mood. She is Editor-in-Chief of Nutrition Alert, a newsletter summarizing the current research from more than 6,000 journals. more about this expert »

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