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Menopause and Weight Gain

Menopause creates many changes in the body, but one I see my clients struggle with is weight gain that just won't come off. In this week's episode of the Harmony with Food Radio Show, I talk about how menopause affects the body, and what you can do to combat the changes.



How Menopause Affects the Body


Menopause is a time of many changes in the body. One of those changes is gaining weight in places you hadn't before, especially your middle. Estrogen is stored in the belly fat, so as estrogen declines your body wants to store more fat in hopes of normalizing estrogen to improve your energy and sleep. This shift can lead to rapid weight gain and the feeling of total loss of control of your weight.


In addition to weight gain, many women suffer from bloating, increased fatigue, decreased libido, poor sleep, and low-grade depression.


The Role of Hormones in the Body


Estrogen influences activity in parts of the brain, including the hypothalamus which regulates temperature among other things. Estrogen is also involved in memory retrieval, cholesterol production and metabolism in the liver, which decreases its buildup in the coronary arteries, it dilates blood vessels, and helps to preserve bone density.


Progesterone is another hormone affected by menopause. It is made in the ovaries and prepares and maintains the uterus for pregnancy and affects brain function by producing calmness, sedation, and reduces anxiety, which helps promote rejuvenation during sleep and get into rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. Certain hormones help break down fat when we're in the REM sleep phase, so if you're never reaching deep sleep, you may see weight gain.


Progesterone is a building block for other hormones, including corticosteroids, which are produced by the adrenal glands. Having less progesterone can lead to less corticosteroids, which can cause fatigue. Lowered progesterone can also cause bloating, water retention, decreased sleep, and increased appetite.


Finally, testosterone is produced in the ovaries and adrenal glands. Its primary role is to provide energy and increase sex drives.


Menopause and the Thyroid


Thyroid changes happen during menopause, and when estrogen isn't properly counterbalanced with progesterone it can block actions of the thyroid hormone, even if the thyroid is working properly. So it is important to check and monitor your TSH, free T3 and free T4.


Weight Gain and Menopause


Initially, when going through menopause there is excess estrogen, sometimes called estrogen dominance, which is exacerbated by high insulin levels and stress hormones. Further into menopause, there is a drop in estrogen, which alters how the body stores fat. This leads to an increase in belly fat. Since fat cells produce estrogen, the body converts more calories to fat to restore normal estrogen levels.


Some women may experience changes in taste during menopause. Sometimes, there's an increased desire for sweetened carbs due to higher levels of insulin resistance. There's also a decreased desire for protein and increased appetite.



So how can you combat menopause weight gain?


Change Your Diet


The first thing you can do is to shift your macronutrients, which are carbohydrates, protein, and fat. You need all three in your diet, but you'll see better results if you slowly change the balance of your diet to include more protein and fewer carbohydrates.


Since you are most insulin resistant in the morning, having a high carbohydrate breakfast is likely to set the tone for a day filled with fluctuating blood sugars, increased cravings, and feeling hungry and tired. Having a high-protein breakfast with a small amount of carbohydrates and a healthy source of fat can lower the level of insulin resistance, lead to fewer cravings, increase your energy levels, and make it less likely that you're going to store fat.


Working with a dietitian like myself can give you an exact idea of how much of each macronutrient you should aim for each day and how much water you should be drinking. I can also run tests to determine exactly what food, drinks, and supplements you should and shouldn't be consuming based on your genome, microbiome, food sensitivities, food allergies, and more.


Improve Sleep Hygeine


As we mentioned earlier, getting into REM sleep is essential for combating both fatigue and weight loss. Good sleep hygiene means staying off electronics for at least one hour before bed, making sure you relax before bed, and creating a good atmosphere for sleep.


Look at the Microbiome


A research study in the Journal of Genes and Nutrition showed that prebiotic and probiotic supplementation can lead to weight loss. Another study showed that there were 15 strains of bacteria that are linked with lower weight and less visceral, or belly, fat.


This means that the key to weight loss just may be your microbiome. Through testing, I can look at the exact makeup of your microbiome and recommend a probiotic that will rebalance your gut and help you get results. I'll also recommend specific foods and supplements based on your test results to get you feeling your best.



Teen Mental Health Awareness Fair


The Teen Mental Health Awareness Fair is taking place at the Barrington Public Library on Saturday, January 27th. They're going to be showing a movie called Anxious Nation, they'll have speakers that specialize in mental health, and they'll have local businesses like mine.


You know that I've spoken on the show many times about the link between food and mood. Studies show that nutrition affects brain development and mental well-being of children more than adults. Children who eat more nutritional diets with more fruits and vegetables have better mental health and well-being, which can directly impact anxiety levels, sleep patterns, and more.


So if you're a teen or you have a teen in your family, invite them to the fair and come meet me!

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