What Causes Menopause Weight Gain?

causes of menopause weight gain

Changes in hormones, how you metabolize sugar and starches, your exercise, and sleep quality are all things that may cause menopause weight gain. Some reasons may be more obvious, like moving less, others are more mysterious, like our gut microbiome.

So what causes weight gain in menopause?

Loss of muscle

Starting at about age 40 our body composition begins to change. We lose muscle mass and gain fat mass. Many women think that eating less will be the solution to lose the extra weight. Unfortunately severely restricting calories and protein in menopause results in losing some of that precious, calorie-burning muscle.

What to do

There are things we can do to slow muscle loss and even gain muscle. Make sure you are eating the optimal amount of protein according to body weight and make strength training a part of your exercise routine.

Insulin resistance

Menopause changes the way our body responds to the food we eat. Blood sugar levels may be higher and we may have higher glucose spikes after meals compared to before menopause. This not only affects weight but also contributes to inflammation and poor overall health. 

What to do

Planning meals with less sugar and low fiber starchy foods is the first place to start for improved blood sugar balance. Make sure you’ve got some good sources of protein, fiber, and healthy fat in meals and snacks. Get your daily movement and some muscle-building strength training to use up that excess glucose

Digestive issues and constipation

Many women notice some digestive problems and trouble with constipation as they enter perimenopause. A dip in hormones can slow digestion allowing poop to become drier. As a result we get constipated along with some gas and bloating

As estrogen levels change in menopause, so does our gut microbiome. The result might be digestive challenges as well as weight gain.

What to do

Increasing fiber from plant foods like leafy greens, vegetables, berries, and lentils can help keep things moving along. Drinking water, moving, and exercising can improve symptoms. Fermented foods like sauerkraut, miso, and yogurt feed the good bacteria for a healthy gut. Simply chewing slowly and relaxing during mealtimes goes a long way to avoid digestive problems like gas and bloating.

menopause weight gain

Stress and inflammation

Declining hormone levels in menopause can trigger mood swings. Anxiety, stress, and depression may impact stress eating and weight gain. Stress and inflammation are associated with elevated cortisol levels which are connected to that belly fat.

What to do

Add stress management techniques like yoga, meditation, walking in nature, or an exercise you love. Plan meals and snacks with foods that contain the nutrients we need when stressed like chard, eggs, salmon, matcha, and garlic. Avoid sugary foods and low fiber junk foods that may spike blood sugar and insulin. 

Poor sleep quality

Sleep issues are common in menopause. Not getting enough sleep is a contributor to insulin resistance and therefore weight gain.  A poor night’s rest will affect blood sugar levels the next day. 

Poor sleep messes with our appetite hormones that tell us that we are hungry and when we’ve had enough. So we may end up eating too much and have cravings for unhealthy foods the day after we don’t sleep well.

What to do

If you can improve sleep quality you’re more likely to avoid blood sugar spikes the next day. Avoid eating 2 hours before bedtime to allow your food time to digest. I like to recommend a 12:12 eating window to clients. Get some sunlight and move during the day to get a more restful sleep. Magnesium glycinate can help relax muscles and calm your mind for a satisfying rest.

Does estrogen cause weight gain?

Estrogen levels waver and then rapidly decrease in perimenopause into menopause. Lower levels of this hormone affect how much fat we accumulate and where it is stored on our body. Although there are several other reasons that we may be adding pounds in menopause, changes in estrogen levels do contribute to fat and where it goes in this phase.

Average menopause weight gain

Interestingly, the average weight gain in menopause is only about 5 pounds. Any additional weight gained is most likely due to aging. What this means is there are other factors that influence our weight after menopause like becoming less active, loss of muscle, and poor blood sugar balance (insulin resistance). 

average menopause weight gain

Foods to avoid menopause weight gain

Limit how often you choose foods that are highly processed, like fast foods, sweet baked goods, and low fiber snacks. I always think of the fried, empty calorie treats offered at state fairs as a good example! Also, avoid sugary drinks and replace them with water or seltzer. 

Best supplements for menopause weight gain

Yerba mate tea – metabolism boost & more fat used for energy

Green tea – metabolism boost & more fat used for energy

vitamin D – balanced blood sugar & menopausal depression 

probiotics – digestion & healthy weight 

Omega-3s – decrease inflammation & menopausal depression

magnesium glycinate  – optimal metabolism & anxiety

vitamin B complex – optimal metabolism & menopausal depression

More ideas to manage menopause weight:

Meal Plan to Manage Menopause Weight

High Protein Chicken Soup

Are you tired of trying every new diet, detox, or food trend? You really just need personalized guidance for your own body in menopause. Let’s have a conversation about how to reach your healthy weight.

Picture of Jennifer Katz RDN LDN CC

Jennifer Katz RDN LDN CC

Jennifer is a menopause nutrition and lifestyle dietitian. Founder of Balanced Woman Over 40 Method. She helps women understand midlife changes and guides clients to eat well and use lifestyle habits to feel good and minimize symptoms.

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