Hormones are amazing substances. In the same way that your nervous system uses electrical impulses to transmit information, your other systems use hormones. Hormones are basically chemical messengers that tell your cells, organs, and systems how to behave.
Hormone levels are influenced by a wide number of things, including diet, physical activity levels, and age. As levels rise and fall, your body will function differently.
Estrogen is the primary female sex hormone. Just as testosterone makes men manly, estrogen is what makes women womanly. Estrogen levels often fall into decline with age. This happens typically during middle-age but can arrive sooner or later for some women. Estrogen levels fall most noticeably during menopause, but can also be the result of PCOS, a hysterectomy, and other medical conditions.
Symptoms of low estrogen include:
• Irregular or missed periods
• Hot flashes
• night sweats
• Vaginal dryness
• Low libido
• Moodiness or irritability
• Dry skin
• Weight gain
Menopause and weight gain
Many women report weight gain during menopause, especially around the stomach and waist. In fact, menopause belly is a well-known condition. For some women, this is their first experience of weight gain.
One of the forms of estrogen (there are three) is a called estradiol or E2. As estrogen levels fall, so too does estradiol. Estradiol is involved in metabolism regulation. Lower levels of estradiol are linked to a slower metabolism. This means that your body uses fewer calories per day. If you continue eating the same amount of food, this will soon lead to weight gain.
As estrogen levels fall into decline, many women notice that they not only gain weight, but that weight accumulates around the abdomen and waist. This type of fat gain is called visceral fat. Because it’s situated around the internal organs, visceral fat has been linked to several serious medical conditions including:
• Heart disease
• Some cancers
In addition to hormonal changes, menopausal women may be less active and lose muscle mass. These factors mean that there may be a significant calorie surplus that is all-too-readily converted to fat.
The good news is that menopausal fat gain is not a foregone conclusion – there is a lot you can do to prevent it. Unless you are prepared to undergo hormone replacement therapy, menopause will just have to run its course, but that doesn’t mean you have to gain a whole lot of weight.
How to avoid menopausal weight gain
Weight gain is a common complaint among menopausal women, but that doesn’t mean it’s inevitable. In fact, there are several things you can do to make sure you stay fit, healthy, and lean right through menopause and out the other side.
1. Strength training
Strength training is the best way to preserve muscle mass and avoid menopausal muscle loss. If you allow your muscle mass to decline, your metabolism will slow down too. Muscle is biologically-active tissue which means the more of it you have, the more calories you will burn per day, even while you are sleeping.
Lifting weights or even doing bodyweight toning exercises also strengthens your bones. Bone mass is linked to estrogen, and as levels fall, bone mass may decrease. While some bone loss is a natural part of the aging process, if unchecked it can become osteoporosis. Osteoporotic bone is fragile and prone to fracture.
A lot of women are nervous about strength training. They think that hitting the gym will lead to big muscles. Of course, that’s just not true! It takes a lot of effort, food, and testosterone to build muscle and it doesn’t happen by accident. If you are serious about beating menopausal weight gain, doing some form of strength training is a must!
You should also do your best to remain active, and not just when you go to the gym. All physical activity burns calories so dig out your walking shoes, grab a snow shovel, pick up the leaf rake, or find any other way you can inject your day with some extra calorie-burning movement.
2. Avoid alcohol
While menopause and declining levels of estrogen may be unavoidable, the last thing you should do is hasten that decline. Over consumption of alcohol can speed up the menopause, bringing it on earlier. Excess alcohol suppresses estrogen production. That’s bad news if you are a younger woman, but terrible news if you are approaching or in the grips of menopause.
It’s no coincidence that people who drink often have t-shirt stretching beer bellies – or wine bellies, or vodka bellies. Alcohol makes your body store fat in the same places as menopause.
While the occasional alcoholic drink is fine, and may even offer some health benefits, excess drinking increases your risk of breast cancer and type 2 diabetes, and will definitely contribute to menopausal weight gain. Drink in sensible moderation if at all, and definitely avoid binge drinking, arguably the most harmful way to consume alcohol.
Eating your greens, is without a doubt, one of the best things you can do if you’re struggling with menopausal weight gain. And the reason for this is that they help rid the body of bad estrogens. Examples include broccoli, spinach, cabbage, kale, Brussels sprouts, and cauliflower. Broccoli especially contains compounds known as indoles which have very potent anti (breast) cancer-fighting properties as well as improving the liver’s estrogen detoxification abilities. However…
Do you fancy eating 25 pounds of steamed broccoli? Nah, I didn’t think so and that’s where a natural remedy called DIM comes into play. You see, many women with weight loss resistance have an estrogen dominance problem. This doesn’t mean that you have high levels of estrogen, but instead high levels of estrogen when compared to other hormones like progesterone.
Estrogen balance is a problem that affects 75-80% of women over thirty-five. Specifically, DIM reduces 2-hydroxy-estrone and 2-hydroxy-estradiol, so that you have more protective estrogens and fewer bad estrogens. Get this balance right and you’ll have a much easier time losing weight, not only from your belly, but your hips, butt and thighs too.
Menopause might be unavoidable, but menopausal weight gain is not. Your body will go through some significant changes during menopause, and there will be times where you feel like a stranger in your own skin. But you don’t have to let falling estrogen levels take control of your life. Speak to your doctor, seek support from other women, and give menopausal weight gain the finger! Age gracefully? Try aging disgracefully instead!