Change is Coming…Are You Ready?

13 05 2016


Every woman needs to face the “change of life” some time. Menopause is technically the time in life when a woman stops menstruating for at least 12 months, but this term is often used to describe the gradual process of reproductive aging, which includes the time leading up to menopause (perimenopause) and the time following menopause (postmenopause).

Most women go through menopause in their 50’s (the average age is 51), but the symptoms of menopause may begin in their 40’s with things like irregular menstrual cycles, hot flashes and mood swings. This is due to the body’s decrease in the production of the hormones estrogen and progesterone. Often perimenopause is the most difficult stage to deal with. Hormonal changes during this time can be drastic, and the resultant symptoms can affect every aspect of life- physical, emotional and social.

Hot flashes and mood swings are not the only troublesome symptoms that occur during menopause. Weight gain often accompanies menopausal changes, and can catch many women by surprise. Most weight gain in mid-life is related to age (1-2 lb/year), but studies show that menopause can cause additional weight gain as well.

  • Aging and a decrease in estrogen levels cause a decrease in energy expenditure: Overall we see a decrease in resting energy expenditure of about 100-150 calories per day. We also see a decrease in physical activity (menopausal women tend to be less active) resulting in a decrease of 100-120 calories of energy expenditure per day. This translates into about a 200-400 calorie decrease in overall daily calorie burn! Wow, that adds up quick!
  • We also see a decrease in muscle mass and an increase in abdominal fat. A decrease in muscle mass can contribute to a decrease in metabolic rate, as well as strength.
  • Estrogen actually helps control and suppress appetite. Thus, as estrogen levels drop, appetite may increase, making it more difficult to control calorie intake.

So what can you do to prevent menopausal weight gain? Remember, weight becomes more difficult to lose as you get older due to a slower metabolism and an overall decrease in physical activity.


  • Be proactive! Plan ahead- you know weight gain is going to be a factor in the future, so plan for it before you hit your 40’s. Don’t wait until you start gaining weight to do something about it.
  • Increase your physical activity NOW. This will help increase muscle mass and burn calories. Shoot for at least 150 minutes of moderate activity per week. Many experts are recommending more- 300 minutes or more of moderate to vigorous physical activity per week- to prevent menopausal weight gain.
  • Incorporate strength training into your routine. This can help maintain, or even increase, lean body mass as well as increase muscle and bone strength.
  • Eat adequate protein. Protein helps preserve lean body mass, improves fat loss, and can help curb hunger and appetite. Choose high quality sources such as skinless poultry, fish, lean beef and pork, soy, eggs, and fat free or low fat dairy products. If plants are your thing, choose beans, legumes, nuts, seeds, and grain like quinoa. Protein needs are based on weight and medical condition, so ask your Registered Dietitian Nutritionist how much is right for you!
  • Watch what you eat. Take a long, hard look at your diet and be honest with yourself. Remember you will likely need about 200 calories less per day, so reduce portion sizes, cut out calories you don’t need (from things like sweetened beverages, refined carbs and solid fats), and if you drink alcohol, limit your intake to 1 drink per day. Focus on replacing high calorie foods with lower calorie options and remember to build your plate around fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, low fat/fat free dairy, and heart healthy fats.

Don’t let your mid-life change turn into a mid-life crisis! Take on menopause with a positive outlook. Eating healthy and getting plenty of exercise can help you manage through symptoms and keep you feeling your best!


Cathy Shaw, RD, LD is a registered and licensed dietitian for the PEIA Weight Management Program