Welcome to Dressed for My Day. Recently I was asked by a reader how I’ve managed to keep from developing middle-age spread. She also wanted to know if I had any tips for dealing with perimenopause weight gain. Well, as I assured her, I have more of a tummy now than I did in my 20s and 30s, so I can’t brag about six-pack abs or wear a bikini. But I think I am doing a few things right, after careful research. And I’d love to share with you gals what I know and what I’ve researched about how to avoid (or minimize) perimenopause weight gain.
Why We SPREAD in Perimenopause
Actually experts suspect that the somewhat typical spread around the middle that many women experience perimenopause is not so much due to hormonal shifts as it is other midlife body and lifestyle changes. The weight gained during this time preceding, during and post-menopause often settles around a woman’s abdomen or middle instead of distributing throughout her body. This emergence of abdominal fat indicates the possibility of insulin resistance. In other words, the body may have become less adept at metabolizing carbohydrates or sugars.
So there’s a lot more at risk than just bulging over your pants a bit. Perimenopause weight gain could also be attributed to a mix of genetics, less activity, decreasing muscle mass, different mid-life eating patterns and changes in sleep quality. And the ramifications of those factors are significant:
- increased risk of heart disease and other circulatory issues
- increased risk of developing Type 2 diabetes
- respiratory issues
- and increased risk of some cancers, such as colon, endometrial and breast cancer
We definitely need to crack the perimenopause weight gain code! But, like the multiple turns you must make to unlock your gym locker, losing weight around menopause will require more than one quick fix.
To lose weight perimenopause and keep it off, we’ll have to make multiple lifestyle changes and commit to them long term. Consider the following tips, evaluate your own habits, genetics and physical condition, and then decide which you might need to commit to.
#1 – Move More
Not as a result of going through menopause, but more a common side effect of having an empty nest or bringing a career to a close, many of us move less during these years. We can ward off some weight gain simply by increasing movement. Think of ways you could force yourself to move more throughout your day routinely. But healthcare experts also encourage us to get a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate cardio (a walk, hike, swim or bike ride around the neighborhood) each week or at least 75 minutes per week of aerobic activity such as jogging, HIIT (high intensity interval training) or Zumba.
#2 – Work Hard to Build Muscle
We automatically begin to lose muscle mass perimenopause. That’s not good. Muscle helps protect our skeletal system, keeps us moving and strong, but also burns more energy or calories. So we have to work twice as hard to build more muscle.
Whereas you used to maintain healthy muscle by lifting moderate weights twice a week, you may need to lift heavier, longer and more frequently now. I suggest finding a good weight training program that incorporates weights, bands and/or your body weight to challenge you and build more muscle. That’s one of my favorite components of FASTer Way to Fat Loss, but there are other programs available, too. Find one that works for you.
I think it’s fair to say, you probably will not ward off the midlife spread if you do not do some sort of weight training to build muscle. If you find that you’re doing the same weight training exercises over and over and using the same weights you’ve been using for years, it’s time to push yourself.
#3 – Eat Plant Based Meals as Frequently As Possible
Eating meals high in fiber and water content will improve insulin sensitivity. The better your body handles insulin, the more likely you will keep off compounding weight around your middle. I try to eat a full plant based meal at least a few times a week.
#4 – Eat Healthy Lean Protein
Your body needs protein to build muscle. So weight training alone is not enough. If you’re not getting enough protein, your body can’t repair and build muscle. Aim for at least 60 grams of protein a day, but preferably 90+ grams. That requires very conscientious meal planning, from my experience.
To get in enough protein, I eat a lot of:
- eggs (6 grams)
- turkey (26 grams)
- chicken (53 grams)
- lean beef (25 grams)
- tuna (27 grams)
- salmon (19 grams)
- nuts (6 grams)
- oatmeal (11 grams)
- cottage cheese (28 grams)
- Greek yogurt (17 grams)
- milk (8 grams)
- broccoli (3 grams)
- shrimp (20 grams)
- brussels sprouts (2 grams)
- seeds such as pumpkin and sunflower (9 grams)
- lentils (18 grams)
#5 – Eat a More Nutrient Dense Diet
Keeping weight off is not about eating less. It’s about eating more nutrient-packed food and less CRAP – caffeine, refined sugars, alcohol and processed foods. Pardon my language, but that’s just the easiest way to remember the true enemy.
Starving yourself will only backfire on you. Without enough protein you won’t be able to repair and build muscle. Without enough fat, you won’t stay satiated and you lose elasticity and health in your skin, hair and nails. And you even need healthy carbohydrates for energy and joy.
#6 – Limit Alcohol Intake
I bring this up because, like I mentioned, experts attribute the midlife spread more to lifestyle than hormone changes. As our nests empty, our lives slow down and our disposable income becomes more flush, some of us are prone to drink more. But alcohol adds extra calories that have absolutely no nutritional value. So limit alcohol to a rare treat, just as you would desserts.
#7 – Consider Intermittent Fasting
While intermittent fasting or IF has become quite the rage, it’s really nothing new. Intermittent fasting pertains to when you eat, not what. It’s simply a process of limiting your feeding window and then fasting completely during the remainder of your 24-hour day. You can work with any kind of ration of eating to fasting that works for you. I fast for 17 hours and eat for 7 hours (usually 12 noon to 7 p.m.).
Why intermittent fasting? Fasting increases insulin sensitivity, which makes your body better at processing carbohydrates and sugar. Insulin resistance, on the other hand, causes the body to store fat rather than burn it for energy. So to help your body burn fat and process carbs more efficiently, intermittent fasting may be a viable option. It’s certainly worked for me.
Learn more about intermittent fasting from this blog series.
#8 – Prioritize Quality Sleep
As we get older, we tend to sleep less and more poorly. But sleep plays a crucial role in weight management. If you don’t get enough quality sleep, your body produces too much of the “hunger hormone” ghrelin. This hormone increases your appetite and makes it hard to manage your food intake.
I’ve done two things primarily to improve my sleep. I use the Abide app to help me get to sleep, but it also makes me rest easier and longer. And I almost always sleep in Soma’s Cool Nights pajamas. Yes, these pajamas really do make that much difference. See my post about my most recent pajamas purchase here.
#9 – Check your medications with your doctor
Some medications do complicate weight management. Sometimes the culprit is medication used to treat menopausal symptoms, such as gabapentin (Neurontin) or pregabalin (Lyrica). Also, anti-depressants, commonly prescribed to women in this age bracket, can add on the pounds. Check with your doctor to see if your medications could be a factor in weight changes and discuss alternatives or a plan of action.
#10 – We gotta chill.
Unfortunately stress also factors into weight gain. Cortisol, produced when we feel stressed, causes fat to store around the mid section. Of course, when we gain weight, we stress about it. So we enter into a cycle of stress -> weight gain -> stress -> weight gain…
FASTer Way to Fat Loss helped me make the connection between eating a healthy diet and doing the basic cardio and weight training workouts for my week and then letting those processes do their job. I had to stop trying to “will myself” to lose weight. That kind of pressure was not burning calories or fat; it was only producing cortisol!
To alleviate stress I suggest having a morning quiet time (I use the First 5 app), meditating sometime during your day (I prefer to meditate on scripture), praying and getting outside for a walk regularly.
What about you?
Which of these lifestyle habits do you need to improve on, adopt or consider? While I try to do all of these things, I know I need to do a little better about eating a cleaner, nutrient dense diet. This COVID-19 social distancing has tempted me to eat more comfort carbs, and I can tell! But I also know how to rein it in. So that’s what I’m focusing on this week.
I’d love to hear from you today. Especially if you have any additional advice that has worked for you.
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Blessed for My Day
Recently I’ve been convicted of my sarcastic words and tone. I realized that I would begin the day with just a little bit of playfulness in my words, but as the day went on they became more and more biting. It was as though I was sliding down a fun piece of playground equipment but then picking up speed to the point that what had been fun and games turned into a runaway nightmare. And other people were often hurt in the process.
So I decided I needed to do something about that. I needed to cut out the sarcasm all together. I had been playing with fire. But I also knew I needed to examine my heart and find out why I had fallen into this bad habit of using biting words with the people I love. I discovered that I was usually doing it to lighten the mood or because I was tired. I determined that instead of using sarcasm to lift spirits or relieve stress or shake off the weight of these difficult days, I need to ask God to infuse my words with grace instead. I also rediscovered the importance of meditating on truth throughout the day – not just at the beginning – and of taking time to pray as the day goes on.
Keep your heart with all vigilance,
for from it flow the springs of life.~ Proverbs 4:23