Menopause transition and post menopause can be a frustrating time for women when it comes to health and body composition. Menopause occurs in several stages across a wide range of ages, usually somewhere between 40 to 65. Your health and body composition before menopause can have an effect on how it affects you, and symptoms vary person to person.


Hormone therapy is sometimes used to mitigate these challenges. However, studies have not been conclusive as to whether this prevents weight gain. Higher weight before menopause, smoking, excessive alcohol intake, early menopause, and higher fat intake are all correlated with weight gain. Basically, the better the lifestyle before menopause the better potential outcome after when it comes to health and weight gain.


Having worked with many women experiencing menopause, I have observed three main effective strategies that help combat weight gain: Strength training, meal structure, and food environment. It’s a challenging time in your life, but with a little mindful effort, your body composition goals are not insurmountable.


Your weight-loss goals might be harder as you age, but stick to a plan and stay healthy and active for years. [Photo credit: CrossFit Impulse]


Start Strength Training

Strength training not only helps with weight loss, but also with bone health and aging gracefully. Many women tend to head straight to cardio and bypass the weight room all together. Walking, interval training, and everything in between is beneficial, but for lasting fat-loss changes, lifting weights is where the magic happens.  


Decide on a workout program that emphasizes lifting weights. Depending on your experience, get into it slow and learn proper movement. Hiring a coach could be a worthy investment. You must lift heavy, and include multi joint exercises like squats, deadlifts, and farmer carries. Lifting heavy ensures that you will gain muscle, prevent muscle loss, and keep your metabolism optimal.


Structure Your Meals and Quit Snacking

Snacking is a big culprit for weight gain. This is especially true in my observations with menopause. Snacking leads to eating a lot more calories over the course of the day than you may think. Often times your snacking habits are the difference between gaining weight and maintaining. As humans, we are terrible at reporting our eating. For example, I recently asked someone if she snacks and she answered "no." To help meet her fat-loss goals, we agreed upon eating three meals a day with zero snacks. A few days later she was stunned at how much she was actually snacking without realizing.


Journal your food for a week. Write down everything you eat, even a taste here and there. Review the journal and decide on a feasible meal structure. Pick a meal structure that works for your lifestyle and helps you cut out the excess snacks. Three square meals with one planned snack is an option if you need a place to start. Having set eating times will help you be mindful of how much you snack, and force you to limit that behavior.


When looking at your journal, review where the excess came in. Was it out at dinner, out for coffee and sweets, or at home? Try a strategy to counterbalance your mindless eating. Pick a different restaurant, decide on the food in advance, or try to avoid certain foods being around. Whatever it is, make a plan to see if it works for you.


Manage Your Environment

Speaking of being mindful, it’s a tough thing to do if the people and things around you are set up to make you consume more food. A work environment can be difficult, with snacks and baked goods around. A home environment with full cupboards and a light schedule makes it tempting to eat more often. You can only say “no” a finite amount of times. Make sure that snack foods and sweets are either not in the house or are so difficult to get to that it isn’t worth it most of the time.


Going out to eat or grabbing coffee with friends is also a difficult environment to navigate. Friends and family can get defensive if you are suddenly not eating certain foods or having less. They will push you to eat more. Don’t stop enjoying these outings, but also be aware of overeating. Decide what you will order before you go. Don’t order the side salad with no dressing for a meal. Eat, don’t stand out as “dieting,” and plan to have a smaller meal before or after to adjust. Portioning is also key. If at a family gathering, go with the one plate rule. Eat whatever you like, just one plate’s worth.


Take Action

Menopause does not have to be a weight-gain sentence. Yes, maintaining or losing weight can be more difficult because things are changing. However, being mindful of the basics will go a long way in keeping you healthy and active.


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