Menopause does not get a good rap from many women — it’s perceived as a difficult time where much changes for the worse. As well as dealing with mood swings, hot flushes, night sweats, and poor sleep, many women put on weight and feel it is impossible to shift.
Melbourne-based Professor Susan Davis, president-elect of the International Menopause Society, says it’s easy to blame going through “the change” for putting on kilos, which tends to occur predominantly around the belly.
Professor Davis says abdominal fat is not good for our health. “It increases your risk of Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular risk,” she says. Studies have found it also increases your risk of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, insulin resistance, and some cancers.
She says women need to understand that weight gain is not due to “hormones going crazy” or a “changing metabolism” during menopause. She says the science does not back this up.
“I have patients who come to me and complain that they’ve put on weight and nothing seems to be working for them, but I’m afraid many women in this situation don’t really want to get serious about losing weight,” she says. “They blame it on everything except what they’re putting in their mouth. I’m not very popular with some of them.
“It boils down to looking at what you’re eating. To lose weight, it doesn’t matter what age you are or what you are going through, you need to look at calories in, calories out. You need to eat less, move more. It’s that simple.
“The International Menopause Society and I did a white paper on weight gain during menopause, and what the study found was that it is a myth that menopause causes weight gain. However, the study did find that women who are on HRT [hormone replacement therapy] during menopause are less likely to see an increase in weight gain.
“As a society, we eat too much, including far too much incidental eating. A lot of us don’t realise how much we’re consuming. A good idea is to keep a food diary as many people don’t realise their calorie intake.
“Think about the fact that many of us have at least two coffees a day. Even low-fat lattes have calories. In our parents’ day, they would have been far more likely to have about four cups of tea a day with a splash of milk — that in itself has far fewer calories.”
Professor Davis says she is not unsympathetic to menopausal women such as shift workers or office workers who work long hours in desk jobs where they do a lot of sitting down.
“The trouble is women get exasperated telling me they go to the gym three times a week but nothing changes physically,” she says. She says that unfortunately exercise doesn’t undo the harm of sitting for too long.
While she applauds the commitment to the gym, she says menopausal women need to make a concerted effort to be more active. “Too many of us are too sedentary at this time in our lives.”
“Many of us wouldn’t walk 10,000 steps a day [equivalent to about seven or eight kilometres]. Start by boosting your incidental exercise. Walk up the stairs at work instead of taking the lift, get off the bus at an earlier stop on your way to and from work and home, walk to the shops to buy milk instead of jumping in the car,” she says.
National guidelines recommend that women do up to 300 minutes of moderate physical activity each week — that’s about 40 minutes a day — which could include brisk walking, cycling, playing golf or tennis.
While some menopause experts advice women should eat a healthy diet of lean protein such as chicken and fish, as well as veggies, some fruit and whole grains, Professor Davis says women will lose weight during menopause if they choose to.
“I had one patient who had had no real results for some time and then one day she turned up and the weight had really started to shift. I asked her what had changed and she said she’d finally decided to take the weight loss seriously,” she says.
Have you tried to lose weight during menopause and found it difficult? Do you agree with Professor Davis?