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Weight loss after perimenopause

Yes, weight loss after perimenopause is hard! In Part 2 of our Diet and Exercise feature, Nutritionist Kate Freeman gives us her advice on how it’s done.

RECAP: Does Menopause Cause Weight Gain?

From Part 1: scientific studies link central weight gain to increasing Body Mass Index (BMI) rather than menopause itself.

BMI increases in response to lifestyle changes, many of which are exacerbated by hormonal changes. For example, it’s harder to exercise and make good food choices when you’re exhausted from lack of sleep caused by hot flushes. The good news though, is that women who change something that they’re doing can avoid weight gain.

What’s Estrogen Got To Do With It?

Importantly, evidence confirms that reduced estrogen levels lead to more centrally-located fat deposition, so whatever weight you do gain tends to go on around the middle. This is a risk factor for heart disease.

The key to avoiding tummy fat accumulation is to maintain a healthy weight during the menopausal transition through physical activity and healthy eating… It can be done!

Reduced estrogen levels also led to a reduction in incidental movement in animal studies, so there may be hormonal triggers contributing to reduced activity levels. It really does take extra effort to remain active after menopause

How to NOT Gain Weight at Menopause

Lauren Williams from Griffith University found that the average weight gain during menopausal transition is 2.5kg. Contributors include hormonal changes amplified by life changes: physical work reduces, alcohol intake increases for many women, busier at work, more disposable income and eating out more.

Importantly, ALL women are prone to weight gain during menopausal transition, regardless of having a lifetime of good fitness habits. NONE OF US ARE IMMUNE!

BUT here is the really exciting thing: Lauren’s research shows that women who changed something at perimenopause DID NOT GAIN WEIGHT.

Basically, the key to not gaining weight at menopause is to not do the same things you’ve been doing pre-menopausally. Increase your activity levels, decrease your portion sizes, cut out snacks, cut out alcohol, increase the proportion of non-starchy vegetables on your plate… just do something differently to shift the balance between calories in and calories out.

Too late! I’m Already Overweight… What Do I Do???

There are a couple of big problems associated with weight loss after perimenopause:

Problem 1: Unrealistic Expectations

Shows like the Biggest Loser with people losing masses of weight in a week, or crazy strict detox programs or laxative skinny teas resulting in large water losses, have warped many people’s ideas of realistic weight loss. I’ve met many people over the years who give up on realistic healthy eating because they haven’t seen results on the scales in 1-2 weeks. Some of them give up after 3 days if they get no results.

It’s crazy. The truth is, true fat loss takes time. If you’ve created the right energy deficit, you’ll be lucky to lose up to 0.5kg per week of actual body fat and with your daily weight naturally fluctuating 1-2kg with water, salt, hormones and other factors, you might be eating in a deficit for weeks before you start to see those fat losses on the scales. 

You have to genuinely settle in for the long term. It is going to take LOTS OF TIME for you to reduce your body fat levels. So keep a long term perspective and lose weight in a realistic and sustainable way so that you can stick to it long term

Problem 2: Poor Food Awareness

Many people who want to lose weight have healthy intentions. They intend to eat well and some days they do. However, their intentions don’t always line up with their reality. Due to poor awareness they think they should be losing weight when really they are simply not being consistent enough with their food choices day to day and not creating an energy deficit.

I can’t tell you how many people I’ve got to do an honest food diary who have then come back to me and said: “Yeah, I don’t eat as good as I think I do.” Awareness is a powerful thing, get honest with yourself. Are you truly creating an energy deficit consistently enough to lose weight?

The Best Way to Initiate Weight Loss and Maintain

Create an Energy Deficit.

Work out your daily energy needs and then minus 20-30% from that to work out how much energy you need to consume to lose weight. 

Work Out What Foods to Eat

Plan your food intake within that energy budget to ensure that you’re getting enough nutrition: fibre, vitamins and minerals. You also need to make food choices that help manage your appetite and help you fill up and feel satisfied. There is nothing worse than trying to lose weight while you’re feeling hungry all the time.

Develop Habits, Behaviours and Routines

Create habits to ensure all the small food choices you make each day help you get the nutrients you need, feel full and satisfied within your energy budget. Also, the best part of developing habits and routines is that healthy eating becomes a part of your normal daily life which is a key part of keeping weight off long term!

Kate Freeman and her team at the Healthy Eating Hub have developed an online program to help you discover this for yourself and develop the habits to do it, one step at a time: https://healthyeatinghub.com.au

Kate’s article for HerCanberra answers the big questions on belly fat and weight loss on the evidence: Menopausal Weight Gain – What can you do about it?

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