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Why we should stop blaming hormones alone for weight gain during menopause.

Almost everyone has been there; read it, seen it, or heard it; my hormones are making me fat! While hormones can and do create some challenges to weight loss/maintenance, they are not solely to blame for every pound gained or each pound not lost. There are many reasons, and despite public opinion, many ways around what most people like to call the menopausal mid-life spread.

Here are just a few simple reasons why women tend to gain some weight as we age. Some are pretty simple (and simple to address); others require a little more thought.

What causes menopause weight gain

The hormonal shifts of menopause may make some more likely to gain weight but, hormonal changes alone don't necessarily cause menopause weight gain. Instead, the weight gain is most often related to a reduction in activity with a resulting reduction in muscle mass.

For example, muscle mass typically diminishes with age, while fat increases. Losing muscle mass slows the rate at which the body uses calories (metabolism). This can make it more challenging to maintain a healthy weight. If you continue to eat as you always have and don't increase your physical activity (especially those that help maintain or increase muscle mass, like weight training) you're more likely to gain weight.

Other factors, such as general unhealthy eating habits and not enough sleep, might contribute to menopause weight gain. When people don't get enough sleep, they tend to snack more and consume more calories.

Health implications of menopausal weight gain

Menopausal weight gain can have significant effects on your health. Excess weight, especially around your midsection, increases your risk of many issues, including:

· Type 2 diabetes

· Breathing problems

· Heart and blood vessel disease

Excess weight also increases your risk of various types of cancer, including breast, colon and endometrial cancers.

What to do

Increase physical activity

Physical activity, including strength training and aerobic exercise, can help you build muscle which in turn helps your body burn calories more efficiently which makes it easier to control your weight.

For most healthy adults, evidence has shown that moderate strength training 2-3 days per week in addition to some form of aerobic activity, such as brisk walking, for at least 150 minutes a week can help control weight gain. Even though we’ve all heard this a million times, simple steps such as parking farther away from the store, or taking the stairs, all add up to more movement that can help stave off extra pounds.

Check your nutrition habits

Calories in / calories out is ALWAYS what it boils down to, but those calories in / calories out can look different for different nutrition plans. Choosing more nutrient dense foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lower fat dairy products and lean protein sources (chicken, turkey, seafood) that are less processed and contain more fiber. Fad diets may seem attractive for quick weight loss but in general are not sustainable long term.

Watch what you drink too, those Starbucks runs aren’t always the best option if you are controlling your calorie intake. Unless you’re drinking black coffee there may be a whole lot more calories in your favorite beverage that you think. For example: a Grande Vanilla Frappuccino has 400 calories!!

Limit alcohol; even though a glass of wine or a beer is not going to load on the pounds, it may inhibit the effects of leptin – a hormone that suppresses appetite, encouraging you to eat more that you may have if you hadn’t had that beverage.

Get enough sleep

Lack of sleep usually leads to less activity simply because you’re tired from lack of sleep! It can also lead to poor food choices as it has been shown to increase ghrelin – a hormone that increases hunger. During menopause this can be challenging due to insomnia and night sweats. There are lots of natural sleep aids and adaptogens that can both reduce night sweats and allow you to fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer. As always, talk to you physician before taking any new supplements as they may interfere with any medications you are currently taking.

Move well, eat well, sleep well. Although it sounds so simple, we all know it’s a challenge. Small steps like getting to bed 30 minutes earlier, drinking one less glass of vino and choosing grilled chicken instead of that burger can impact you health and your weight for the long term.

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