As a 51-year-old woman, I understand that menopause changes things… a lot of things.
While it does not prevent fat loss, it does require a new and unique strategy to keep the weight off.
In this post, I discuss how fat storage changes as we move into menopause and how to work around those changes to make weight loss easier.
How to Make Weight Loss Easier After Menopause [Video]
In the video, you’ll learn…
- How low estrogen makes belly fat more likely
- The role insulin plays in post-menopausal weight gain
- The three eating strategies that allow you to lose weight after menopause
How Has Menopause Affected You?
To get some insights for this post, I asked members of my coaching program who are at or near menopause to answer two questions:
- What is it about menopause that has made losing weight more challenging?
- What have you found that has been effective for weight loss during this time of life?
There were a few recurring themes when it came to the challenges of weight loss after menopause.
At the top of the list was an increase in belly fat.
This increase in belly fat was even a problem for women who previously did not struggle with excess fat around their midsection.
I also heard from members that they experienced an increase in sugar cravings around the onset of menopause and beyond.
Extra Belly Fat and Sugar Cravings Make Sense Biologically
When we think about the physiology of the body as it is going through menopause both of these challenges make sense.
In fact, there are two hormones to blame for increased belly fat and sugar cravings.
The first one is estrogen.
Low Estrogen Levels Can Cause Belly Fat
It has been well documented that as the ovaries make less estrogen during menopause, fat gets redistributed to your abdominal area.
This means that when a post-menopausal woman gains weight, the weight gain is most likely to be belly fat.
It’s not completely clear why this occurs.
What we do know is that when estrogen is suppressed, a woman experiences a slow down of her resting metabolic rate, which can be a contributing factor. (1)
We also know that the ovaries are the biggest producers of estrogen, and fat cells are a secondary source of estrogen.
It then makes sense that after menopause, when your ovaries are no longer producing enough estrogen, that your body may look at the addition of fat as a way of regaining some of its lost estrogen.
The unfortunate reality is that after the age of 50 most women have a natural tendency to put on excess fat in the abdominal area.
Insulin the “Fat-Storing” Hormone
Even though post-menopausal women have a natural tendency for excess belly fat and weight gain, it does not have to be the reality.
In fact, these effects can be lessened if we can control another important hormone called insulin.
Insulin is the hormone that has the most influence over whether your body will store fat or release fat.
That is why I often refer to insulin as your “fat-storing hormone“.
Here is how insulin works:
When you eat a meal, insulin moves the nutrients you consumed into your cells.
In your cells, the nutrients can either be burned immediately as energy or stored for later use in places like your muscles or fat cells.
The Issue of Insulin Resistance
When we were young and active, our cells were very sensitive to insulin.
Every time insulin would drop off nutrients, our cells would gladly receive them and use them.
However, as we age, our cells become less sensitive to insulin.
Now when insulin brings the nutrients to the cells, the cells resist insulin’s attempt to drop it off.
This is referred to as insulin resistance.
Insulin resistance is a very common issue.
In fact, it has two important consequences which are cravings and weight gain.
Insulin Resistance and Cravings
Cravings for carbohydrates are increased because the cells are not taking in the energy they need.
For this reason, your body then determines that there is a need for more energy to be eaten.
Carbs, like cookies, cakes, candies, bread, and pasta, are the quickest form of food energy.
So that is what you crave.
Insulin Resistance and Weight Gain
Weight gain increases with insulin resistance because you end up with too much insulin in your system.
Since your cells are not responding to insulin, your pancreas pumps out more of it in an attempt to force the cells open.
This chronically high insulin encourages fat-storage.
Insulin Resistance is Not Only Determined by Age
Insulin resistance is not just an age-related issue.
It is made worse by increased belly fat.
Lifestyle factors can also contribute to insulin resistance.
For example, a long history of eating a high refined carb diet, a lack of exercise, or chronic stress which produces more cortisol contributing to belly fat.
Menopause is a Perfect Storm
Menopause has the potential to create a perfect storm of weight gain.
Menopause decreases estrogen, which leads to increased belly fat.
Increased belly fat leads to insulin resistance.
Insulin resistance then leads to weight gain and carb cravings.
Not to mention the effects of poor sleep, which could be a result of lower estrogen from menopause. (2)
Throw in a lifetime of poor diet, lack of exercise, and chronic stress and you are in a tough situation!
Disrupt the Cycle of Weight Gain After Menopause
To make weight loss after menopause easier, we need to disrupt the cycle.
We disrupt the cycle by targeting the things we can control.
Unfortunately, we cannot turn back time and naturally rejuvenate our estrogen output or decrease our cell’s insulin resistance.
However, we can work with our bodies to allow them to use estrogen more efficiently and lessen the impact of insulin resistance.
This starts with a diet that is high in healthy fats and low in carbohydrates.
Healthy Fats Help Your Cell Membranes
Healthy fats are essential for your health after menopause.
All of your cells are surrounded by a fatty cell membrane.
Healthy cell membranes better allow for the transport of hormones, like insulin, into your cells where they do their work.
Making sure that your diet includes healthy fats and excludes unhealthy fats is important for the health of your cell membranes.
Healthy Fats Help With Cravings
Healthy fats will also help with hunger satiety, which will decrease cravings.
I have a post on healthy and unhealthy fats, but essentially, the whole, beneficial fats are:
- Fatty fish
- High-Quality Meats
The fats to stay away from, in my opinion, are vegetable oils like soybean oil, which is very common in processed and fried foods.
Two More Methods for Easier Weight Loss After Menopause
While I acknowledge that menopause throws us some curveballs, there are ways to make weight loss easier.
Besides adding more healthy fats to your diet there are two more effective ways you can overcome weight loss resistance after menopause.
They are to utilize a low-carb diet and intermittent fasting.
These strategies allow you to work around insulin resistance because they naturally decrease your body’s need for insulin.
Low-Carb Diet for Weight Loss
Carbohydrates (particularly sugar and refined carbs like muffins, sandwich bread, and pasta) cause a spike in insulin.
This puts your body in the fat-storing mode that I mentioned earlier in this post.
Following a low-carb diet, which means avoiding sugar and refined carbs, will allow your insulin levels to remain steady.
This gives your body a chance to release fat.
Intermittent Fasting for Weight Loss
Intermittent fasting is a simple strategy that involves shortening the number of hours you eat during the day.
I have a video on intermittent fasting and women over 50 that you might want to watch.
With that said, the basic premise of intermittent fasting is very simple; eat all of your calories for the day in a shorter eating window.
For example, instead of grazing from early morning to late evening, you might not start eating until 11 am and then stop by 7 pm.
Practice intermittent fasting at least a few days out of the week to make sure you are receiving the full benefits.
Improved Sleep with Intermittent Fasting
Another benefit of intermittent fasting is better sleep quality.
Dr. Satchin Panda’s work on the circadian rhythm has shown that limiting late-night eating, which naturally comes with practicing intermittent fasting, helps with your sleep quality.
This is because your body is able to complete digestion before you go to bed.
With better sleep quality comes more energy, which makes us more active and able to cope with stress.
The Bottom Line
To review, weight loss after menopause is more difficult because your estrogen levels are lowered and your cells may be resistant to insulin.
These factors contribute to excess belly fat and increased sugar cravings.
To combat these effects, we need to practice a high-fat, low-carb diet along with intermittent fasting.
Once you have these basics in place, your body will be more apt to burn fat off rather than store it.
In fact, you may be surprised by how quickly these changes start to snowball and move you closer to your goals!
Thank you for reading. I hope this information will help you reach your healthy goals!
- Melanson, Edward L., et al. “Regulation of energy expenditure by estradiol in premenopausal women.” Journal of Applied Physiology 119.9 (2015): 975-981.
- Shaver, Joan LF, and Shannon N. Zenk. “Sleep disturbance in menopause.” Journal of women’s health & gender-based medicine 9.2 (2000): 109-118.
About the Author
Dr. Becky Gillaspy, DC graduated Summa Cum Laude with research honors from Palmer College of Chiropractic in 1991.