If you’re in your late 40s, it’s likely you’re noticing a few changes in your body. You may take a bit longer to get started in the morning. Your periods might be getting a little erratic. And you might also be noticing your favourite tops and jeans getting a bit too snug…
Your body is preparing for (or already in) perimenopause.
Perimenopause is the term given to the 6-8 years before menopause. It’s when your body is starting to wind down its reproductive capabilities. Your ovaries produce less eggs, your hormones go a little bit whacky, and your body starts behaving a bit differently than it used to.
Night sweats, hot flashes and mood swings are not uncommon in perimenopause, making it harder for women to get a decent sleep. Many women find that they start putting on weight during perimenopause too.
If you’re struggling to maintain a healthy weight during perimenopause, let’s look at what you can do about it.
I’m in perimenopause. Why am I gaining weight?
There’s a lot going on in your body during perimenopause which can influence your metabolism and your weight.
● Hormonal fluctuations – During perimenopause, oestrogen and progesterone levels are dipping and rising a little out of sync with each other. Both elevated and low levels of oestrogen can lead to increased fat storage, making that belly fat a bit harder to shift.
● Muscle mass loss – As we grow older, our muscles lose their mass due to hormonal changes and decreased physical activity. Less muscle means a slower metabolism, which means you don’t burn fat as efficiently as before.
● Lack of quality sleep – Night sweats and overheating can make sleeping near-impossible. Some women in perimenopause also experience insomnia. Poor sleep has been linked to weight gain.
● Genetic factors – If your parents or other close relatives carry extra weight around their waist, you’re likely to do the same.
How to combat perimenopause weight gain
There’s no magic formula for preventing weight gain around perimenopause and menopause. But there are a number of lifestyle factors that you can control to maintain a healthy weight during this time.
Get regular exercise
Try to get some form of exercise for 40 minutes every day. Physical activity not only helps you maintain a healthy body weight, but it’s also great for boosting your mood, keeping your heart healthy, managing your blood sugar, and can even help keep you cognitively sharp as you age.
Try to mix up your routine to include a variety of moderate and challenging exercise. For example, one day you might go for a brisk walk. Another day you may join some friends for a swim at your local pool, or a run around the local park. You might join a gym and start weight training – this is excellent for your muscle mass. More muscle = more fat burning!
All exercise is good – make it part of your routine to do something that gets your blood flowing every day!
Watch what you eat
In your 20s you may have been able to skip breakfast, have a takeaway burger for lunch, go to the pub and drink until 1am, eat a cheese toastie before crashing into bed and not suffer too badly for it. (But we hope you didn’t!)
But as you grow older, you need to pay closer attention to your nutrition.
To maintain your current weight into your 40s and 50s, you need to consume about 200 fewer calories per day than you did in your 20s or 30s. To reduce calories without compromising on nutrition, choose more fruits, vegetables, wholegrains, healthy fats and lean proteins.
The Mediterranean diet has been found to help both women and men maintain a healthy weight, reduce their risk of disease, and increase their longevity. If you’re not sure what to eat, start there.
Also remember that calories come from what we drink too – so put down that extra glass of wine, throw out the fizzy drink and stock your fridge with chilled water instead.
Reduce your stress levels
Stress negatively influences so many processes in our bodies, including metabolism and sleep. Chances are you’ve got quite a lot going on in your 40s, and the pressures of balancing a busy family-life and work-life can all start to add up.
Start incorporating stress-reducing strategies into your life now – they will serve you well as your body ages. Get a babysitter for the kids once a week. Start meditating once a day. Take little trips away to refresh and revitalise your mindset. Practice self-care daily.
And if you simply cannot destress, see a counsellor and talk things through – they can give you valuable insight and coping strategies for all the changes happening in your life.
The bottom line
As your body progresses through perimenopause and into menopause, the changes you’re noticing now will continue to evolve. If you’re struggling with your weight in perimenopause, there are many things you can do right now to save yourself a bigger health problem in the future.
And besides, eating healthily, exercising regularly and practicing self-care are all key factors that not only keep you looking and feeling great, but improve your quality of life in perimenopause and beyond.