Welcome to the Sisterhood of the Shrinking Pants!
If you’re anything like me, you woke up one morning and suddenly nothing in your closet fit. Has an alien mysteriously entered your closet during the night and shrunk all your clothes?
Maybe you try to cut back on the M&Ms and ramp up your exercise routine, but still the pudge keeps on coming.
Regardless of what number she sees on the scale, a woman’s weight through menopause and perimenopause is largely determined by five factors: hormones, diet, exercise, stress, and genetics. Though you may not be able to control all of these factors on your own, a healthy weight is certainly within reach.
Here are five steps to help you shed those extra menopausal pounds (a.k.a. the menopot belly):
- Don’t let your hormones get the best of you. Research shows that estrogen receptors located in the hypothalamus of the brain control food intake, energy expenditure, and body fat distribution. When estrogen levels in the brain dip during menopause, this control panel increases hunger, slows metabolism, and encourages fat gain around the waist. Hormone therapy could potentially be used to keep the brain’s estrogen receptors from promoting hunger, a sluggish metabolism, and a growing waistline during menopause. HT may prevent abdominal fat gain, according to research from Gunma University School of Medicine in Japan.
- Quit dieting! Seriously, diets don’t help.Deprivation diets cause weight gain, not loss. Since they don’t provide your body with the energy (a.k.a. calories) it needs, they can cause your body to slow the metabolism to conserve resources, according to the Mayo Clinic.On the flip side, in one study of 465 overweight and obese postmenopausal women by the University of Pittsburgh, women who simply ate more fruits and vegetables while reducing their consumption of desserts, meat, and cheese, not only dropped pounds, but maintained that weight loss for four years.If you are looking for an actual program to help you eat healthier, Weight Watchers is frequently recommended by physicians and has topped US and World News Report’s “Best Diets” list for weight loss. (My husband and I tried it with great success. At first I was reticent, as I would rather have a Pap smear than have to add up points, but if you use the Weight Watchers app, all the adding is done for you. WW taught us a new way of eating that was both size shrinking and life changing.)
- Exercise.Physical activity not only wards off saddle bags and thunder thighs, it also keeps the body young. Exercising during and after menopause can help maintain the muscle and bone mass that we tend to lose rapidly after menopause, according to the American Council on Exercise.If you’re unsure of where to start, try taking a walk. While all exercise raises your fitness and feel-good endorphin levels, breaking a sweat outside has been shown to increase energy and positive thinking while slashing tension, anger, and depression even better than indoor exercising, according to a review published in the Environmental Science and Technology. Wearing a pedometer or one of those activity trackers like Fitbit could give you incentive to move more. There are also plenty of apps for your smartphone like MyFitnessPal that can help you stay on track.
- Slash stress.It’s hard to relax, especially when you’re going through the trials of menopause, but it’s important for your mind and body to decompress. Stress not only tends to add weight around your belly but can also boost your appetite, creating a vicious cycle. High stress is a predictor of weight gain and can break your will to stick with a diet, according to research from King’s College London.Find some form of exercise that makes you smile. Grab your lover or friend and take a walk, ride your bike or go to the gym. Take the time to read a book, watch a favorite TV show, meditate, or simply enjoy your family and friends. Do whatever helps you decompress.
- Control your genes. Researchers now say genetics plays a huge role in weight at any age. If your female relatives developed curves in their later years, you probably will too—unless you do something about it. Maybe you can’t change your genes, but you can change the degree to which they impact your health. Walking briskly for an hour a day can cut the genetic influence toward obesity in half, according to a study from the Department of Nutrition at Harvard School of Public Health. However, a sedentary lifestyle (a.k.a. watching TV for four hours a day) increases the influence of your genes on weight gain by 50 percent, according to the study.
A positive attitude is the first step to feeling good and looking good. It’s never too late to start living a healthier life. Your brain and body will thank you and so will those clothes collecting dust in your closet. Take the first step! Go ahead—you can do it!