Beating the Menopot - How to avoid weight gain in perimenopause.
Updated: Oct 29
When I ask women in perimenopause what they struggle with the most, the top 3 issues I hear are typically hot flushes/flashes, insomnia, and weight gain.
It’s a line ball call on which of these hits hardest, but it seems to me that weight gain can bring a lot of negative emotion with it.
People talk about menopausal weight gain as though it’s inevitable, but the good news is that there’s plenty you can do to prevent and reverse weight gain in menopause and perimenopause.
I can’t stress this enough: you want to be heading into your “reverse puberty” (we absolutely should think about perimenopause this way and it’s what I’m going to call it for the rest of this article!) with a strong foundation.
The transition into menopause can start 10 years before actual menopause hits, and once menopause arrives it’s not guaranteed that you’ll pass through the gateway and find all your symptoms magically disappear.
That would be wonderful, and it does happen for some, but many women find the symptoms continue even though they no longer get their period.
In your late 30s (preferably before but honestly it's a rare 21 year old that is concerned with how her choices will affect her at menopause!) you need to start thinking about your habits, and how they’re going to impact the future you.
I recommend you do the following:
Get an understanding of how many calories you eat in a day (this is by far the worst and most tedious thing on the list, you have full permission to call me names … bad ones … but don’t skip this).
Get an understanding of how much crude protein is in the food you like to eat.
Get in the habit of eating breakfast.
Get in the habit of not eating after 6-7pm.
Learn to lift weights.
What causes menopausal weight gain?
A few things, but these are largely due to the hormonal shifts.
The drop in estrogen during reverse puberty means that body fat naturally starts to move to the abdomen and breasts, for many women this means their shape begins to change.
Additionally, because estrogen is anabolic (helps you build muscle) the reduced levels mean that unless you work to build and preserve it, you’re naturally going to lose muscle mass every year. Aging also slows metabolic rate - men are not exempt from this.
Less muscle mass = slower metabolic rate. This is why many women will tell you they eat like a bird but they’re still gaining weight.
We also become more insulin resistant during reverse puberty which again is due to the shifting hormonal levels. The drop in estrogen (and progesterone) is often paired with an elevation in testosterone (yes - women have testosterone!) and these relatively higher levels of testosterone can drive insulin resistance. In addition, estrogen helps our muscles absorb and use glucose, and some researchers have found that estrogen may impact glucose production in the liver*.
Regardless of the mechanism we know that insulin resistance happens commonly in perimenopause, and this often leads to weight gain (especially around the midsection) and can develop into other metabolic disorders and even cardiac illnesses.
Understand Your Calories
I don’t know who decided 1200 calories per day was a good number for a woman … and also recommended she start the day by skipping breakfast and having black coffee or tea as part of an intermittent fasting regime 🤦🏻♀️ … but I would like to point out that Prisoners of War in the infamous SS concentration camps of WW2 were given 1300 calories a day. They were also given black coffee or tea instead of food for breakfast...
But I digress.
Women in their reproductive years should be eating at least 2000 calories per day. That’s at least 2000 per day, not a maximum, and may very well need more depending on size and activity level.
But women in reverse puberty may need to reduce this amount by a couple of hundred calories a day.
To do that, you’ll first need to know what your current calorie intake is, plus what your ideal calorie intake should be (there are nifty apps and calculations that can help you figure out this number, but my favourite quick calorie estimate is to take your body weight in lbs and multiply it by 12-13 for fat loss, or 14-16 for maintenance).
Please know this: I have done calorie counting in my past and it made me want to tear my own head off and eat it. I don’t count calories now, and my long suffering fitness coach will tell you I quite literally refuse to do it. But I have the luxury of refusal because I did it in the past and so I know understand what a day’s worth of calories looks like to me, without having to measure, weigh, and punch things into an app.
Be warned, the topic of calorie deficit makes people fight a lot on the internet.
Many people argue that it’s not as simple as calories in vs. calories out, because people are very different, where your calories come from matters, and hormones complicate things. This is all true.
That being said, I believe that having an understanding of your caloric needs and an idea of where your calories are coming from is a beneficial tool for weight management at every stage of the lifespan.
Understand Your Protein Intake
The current RDA (recommended dietary allowance) for an adult is 0.8g of protein per kilo of bodyweight (0.36g per pound).
If you weigh 65kg, you need 0.8 x 65 = 52g of protein per day.
But what a lot of people don’t understand is that the RDA is your basic minimum needs. In other words it’s the amount you need to consume in order to not get sick… the reality is you most likely need more in order to thrive.
Proteins are often referred to as “the building blocks of life.” Our body uses proteins to build new tissues, hormones, cells, and provide energy. It’s also highly satiating - fancy way of saying it helps us to feel full - which means we are less likely to overdo the total calories if we’re eating sufficient quantities of protein.
Another thing people don’t always realise is that 100g of chicken (for example) doesn’t give you 100g of protein. Here are some examples of the protein levels is some common foods:
170g of cooked, lean chicken breast - 55g of protein.
A whole egg (48g) - 6g of protein.
120g of minced beef - 24g of protein.
263g of lentils - 20g of protein.
242g of chickpeas - 20g of protein.
In reverse puberty you’ll want to be eating about 30g of crude protein with each meal, especially breakfast.
A word on breakfast - you may have heard about intermittent fasting and how it’s amazing for everything from improving mental clarity to weight loss. Very often the recommendation is to skip breakfast and just drink black coffee until about 1pm. I wrote a blog post that you can read here explaining why this is NOT recommended for pre-menopausal women - and that includes women in perimenopause.
Eating breakfast stabilises blood sugar and combats insulin resistance. It also gets your all important protein building blocks into your body earlier in the day.To quote period and hormone expert Lara Briden:
“If you get all the way to evening without obtaining 65 grams, you’re likely to binge, which is eating to excess without being able to stop yourself. It’s your body saying, “Right. I need amino acids [found in protein], and I’m just going to keep eating until I get them.”
Evening binge foods could be anything, including sugar, but they’re often “protein decoy” foods, which are not protein but taste like protein thanks to their umami flavor. Chips are the best example.”
To this I will add … Arnott's BBQ Shapes. IYKYK.
Not Eating after 7pm: AKA Intermittent Fasting’s Less Sexy Friend: The Circadian Fast.
As I’ve mentioned, intermittent fasting - or more specifically skipping breakfast and fueling yourself on black coffee until lunch time - is not something I recommend for those still getting a period.
But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a benefit to giving yourself a break from eating - or more accurately digesting - all the time.
For the specifics, you can click here to read a previous blog post I wrote on the topic of Circadian Fasting. The cliff notes version is that our bodies are designed to take in and digest our food during daylight hours. At night, our body starts to shift its focus away from digesting food and begins to focus on repairing itself instead.
By eating (including snacking) in the evening (after about 6-7pm) you’re potentially contributing to weight gain in a couple of ways.
Over consuming calories - it’s very easy to eat too many calories when you’re mindlessly munching on snacks while watching TV in the evening.
Inverse relationship between melatonin and insulin (which I discuss in the abovementioned blog post) - In the evening, your body produces higher levels of melatonin to prepare you for sleep. Melatonin causes suppression of the secretion of insulin from the pancreas. When you eat in the evening you’re asking your body to perform a function that it wants to shut off for the day so it can focus on other tasks. You’re still capable of producing insulin, just not as effectively as during the day.
Learn to Lift Weights
There is no downside to lifting weights regularly.
We know that weight bearing exercise helps preserve bone density. Women are more prone to osteoporosis than men, this is thought - once again - to be due to the loss of estrogen that occurs with menopause.
Weight lifting also combats the muscle loss that occurs with aging. The more lean muscle you have, the more calories you burn at rest.
Plus, lifting weights keeps you strong, reduces the instances of falls, and recent research** suggests that it improves memory and brain function. It protects the brain, has an anti-inflammatory effect, and can reduce the plaques in the brain that are thought to be responsible for Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. Thus it functions as both prevention and treatment for cognitive decline.
Lifting weights is also great for reviving a waning sex drive thanks to the spike in testosterone. Another reason not to skip leg day...
While the media and our culture would like to have you believing that it’s a downhill slide after 30, I call bullsh*t. If you implement the above recommendations you WILL see an improvement in not just your physique, but also your sleep, mental health, sex drive and body awareness.
So what’s stopping you?
If you feel overwhelmed then head to my contact page and send me an email, or if you’re ready to make changes and want to work with me, click here to make an online appointment and let’s get you on the path to living your best life - you only get the one 💛