Menopause and Weight Gain

Even Hallmark Came Up Empty On This One.
(Photo: smussyolay)

Does going through menopause automatically trigger a metabolism shift? Or is it only middle-aged lifestyle changes that cause so many women to pack on pounds during their menopausal years?

And perhaps more importantly: just what the hell are you supposed to do about it?

(BTW, for those younger women and men not the least bit interested in menopausal weight gain: normal general purpose whining will resume shortly.)

So Does Menopause Itself Cause Weight Gain?

Well, let's see what the experts say.

The Mayo Clinic--normally a respectable, sensible source of health information--says this about weight gain during menopause: "Hormonal changes alone don't necessarily trigger weight gain after menopause."  Instead, they say, "weight gain is usually related to a variety of lifestyle and genetic factors."  They insist menopausal women tend to exercise less, and "sometimes, factors such as children leaving — or returning — home, divorce, the death of a spouse or other life changes may contribute to weight gain after menopause. For others, a sense of contentment or simply letting go leads to weight gain."

To which Crabby McSlacker says: screw you, Mayo Clinic!

I swear it's not the lifestyle, it's the hormones. But perhaps I'm being overly swayed by anecdotal evidence? Especially as I'm now myself becoming an anecdote.

Crabby's Sad Tale of Hormonal Weight Gain

Actually, you can go ahead and put the Kleenex box away and tell those violins to stop playing--it's not really all that sad. We're only talking a 5 pound gain or so (albeit a scarily fast 5 lb gain). In fact, up until recently, I thought I was magically exempt from the menopausal weight gain thing. Remember how I was whining about my hysterectomy recovery? I couldn't exercise at anywhere near my former intensity for months and months (not just from surgery, but also from foot problems and a broken arm).  I didn't cut calories, yet somehow, I managed to stay the same size anyway. Whoopee! I was really psyched when I could start working out hard again.  I fantasized I might get leaner and stronger than ever!

But then... what the hell happened?  I started noticing something strange once I got back to my old routine... my pants started getting tighter!  My annual physical confirmed what I was trying not to see in the mirror: I was gaining weight. Also, my formerly brag-worthy cholesterol and blood glucose numbers suddenly shot skyward.

Coincidence?  I think not.  And for me, I swear it's not lifestyle factors. Even with the occasional indulgence (hello, kettlecorn, my new bff!), I eat healthier than I ever have.  I get more (and smarter) exercise, and I'm even using a supposedly calorie-torching stand-up desk instead of sitting. Nor am I, as the Mayo Clinic suggests, tearing my hair out worrying about my kids boomeranging back home and starting a garage band. (Not having kids makes that one a cinch). So where else can I place blame but The Pause?

It also fits in perfectly with what I've heard from quite a few other active healthy women:  something changed with menopause, and the old numbers suddenly stopped adding up the same way.  Even though my 5 minutes on google exhaustive scholarly research failed to turn up convincing research validating this theory (menopausal weight gain studies seem to be conflicting), I don't think we're all hallucinating this connection. And it only adds to the huge sympathy I have for those who struggle with uncooperative metabolisms. (I've always admired the heroic efforts those of you on the bigger side who are so conscientious about healthy eating and exercise and yet still battle the scale. It's so unfair!)

But Post-Menopausal Belly-Fat is Definitely Real

Even the buttheads at the Mayo Clinic (who think we must be sitting on our asses all day scarfing Doritos and weeping over our children in order to be gaining menopausal weight) do concede that dropping estrogen levels affect fat distribution. Thus, they admit, menopause can lead to excess belly fat. The Mayo folks also creepily remind us that belly fat increases the risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, certain cancers and premature death.

Does HRT Help With Menopausal Weight Gain?

Hmm, you would think if my theory about hormones was correct, then going on hormone replacement therapy would help prevent weight gain after menopause. But yet again the HRT and weight research is conflicting. If there's any preventative effect at all, it certainly doesn't look to be huge.  But who am I to let silly evidence get in the way of a good theory? I'm still blaming my missing ovaries for those extra pounds, damn it!

So What's The Best Way to Deal With Menopausal Weight Gain?

Well, when you go off googling, the general advice on preventing menopausal weight gain seems to be aimed at sedentary consumers of junk-food. It consists mostly of the obvious suggestions to eat healthy, limit portions, and get some exercise. Duh, right? But what if you've already been doing all that?

As I see it, there are a couple of sensible options:

1. Forget the Scale and Your Clothing Size, and Focus on Health.

Remember the study that come out a few years ago that said thin people actually die younger than those who are overweight? It's only when you get to be obese that longevity is compromised. (Funny, isn't it, how there's never much publicity about this?)

So if that's the case, then rather than worry about the girth of your hips, thighs, butt, etc, it would make most sense to focus on getting a good variety of exercise, eating healthy foods, and paying attention to whether you're become more of an "apple" than a "pear." If you're putting on weight in the belly, that's more dangerous, but there are more targeted approaches for losing belly fat. You can find more of these at WebMD and Mayo Clinic and elsewhere. (Just don't fall for the One Rule for a Flat Stomach ok?)

2. See if You Can Tweak Your Eating and Exercise Routines Just a Little More.

What if you think you're doing everything you can already? Well, some of you are, and you may be out of luck. But some us just pretend we are, when we know damn well that there are steps we could be taking that we just don't feel like doing. For some of you it could be doing more weight training, or cardio intervals, or cutting out a big hunk of refined grains and sugar, or commuting by bike or on foot instead of driving. Chances are there is something you used to do once that you let go of, or some new thing you've been reading about that you know makes sense. Take a minute and see if the answer isn't right there in front of you, waiting for you to just get motivated enough to give it a try.

Is it worth it? Perhaps not! Then see #1 above.

Crabby's "Sad" Tale: To Be Continued...

Alarmed at the prospect of having to buy new pants (I loathe clothes shopping), I instituted a new Healthy Eating and Exercise Program a couple weeks ago. It's early yet, but... wow, it seems to be working! I'm not feeling deprived, my pants are fitting better, and I'm enjoying saying a big "F@#ck You" to menopausal weight gain.

Is my new approach Shocking and Groundbreaking? Hell no, it's the oldest trick in the book. Would my approach work for everyone? Of course not! Nothing does; we're all unique little snowflakes, remember?

If I were a less lazy blogger I'd outline it right here, right now, but this post is long enough already. In the unlikely event you're actually curious about my recent experimentation, stay tuned, and I'll post about it next Monday.

So, anyone else struggle with Menopausal (or Perimenopausal) Weight Gain? Or have other metabolism-based frustrations? I'd love to hear what worked (or didn't) for you!

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