How Women Can Keep the Weight Off After Menopause

The deck is stacked against women hoping to keep slim after menopause, but researchers say some simple eating habits can keep weight down

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There’s no denying that losing weight is tough, and keeping it off is even harder. We tend to be less physically active as we get older, which is why women tend to gain weight after menopause. But a  four-year study published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics says there are ways that women can keep the pounds off as they age.

“As women move through menopause, it’s thought that without decreasing calories or increasing exercise, [they] may be prone to gaining weight,” said lead study author Bethany Barone Gibbs of the University of Pittsburgh Department of Health and Physical Activity, discussing the study in a podcast. Americans live in an environment that makes weight gain easy thanks to the availability of cheap and calorie-dense foods, and aging women also have a host of physiological changes working against them.

(MORE: The Secrets to Weight Loss: Keep a Food Journal, Don’t Skip Meals, Eat In)

For instance, after menopause women experience a natural decline in energy expenditure coupled with a lower resting metabolic rate and an increase in appetite-related hormones. It’s not exactly a recipe for a slim figure. Add in the fact that when people lose weight, their brain’s reward system is revved up and increases their desire to eat and it’s a wonder anyone can lose weight and keep pounds at bay.

In the study, the researchers followed 508 post-menopausal and overweight women for four years between 2002 and 2008. They examined their early and long-term weight loss in order to identify any eating behaviors that distinguished women who were successful in keeping their weight down and women who weren’t. The women were assessed at six months and again at the four year mark and filled out questionnaires detailing their food consumption at both check-ins.

(MORE: Calorie vs. Calorie: Study Evaluates Three Diets for Staying Slim)

The volunteers were split into two groups. Half participated in a Lifestyle Change group and met with nutritionists, exercise physiologists and psychologists while the remainder were in the Health Education group, which simply listened to general seminars about a variety of issues involving women’s health . The Lifestyle Change group also attempted to reduce their fat and overall calorie intake, increase their consumption of fruits, vegetables and whole grains and exercised regularly.

In the short term, the researchers found that at six months the eating behaviors associated with weight loss included eating fewer desserts and fried foods, drinking less sugary beverages, eating more fish and eating less at restaurants, a trend that continued at the four year mark.

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“That means that eating less as restaurants and eating less fried foods were either not effective in the long term, or were unsustainable,” said Gibbs in the podcast. “Eating more fruits and vegetables did not predict weight change at six months, but was one of the most important predictors for long-term weight change. That means if you increase your fruit and vegetable intake you may not see a big result at six months, but it may be a very sustainable behavior change that can help you with long-term weight control.”

The authors speculate that the sustainability of various weight loss strategies are what make some better than others in the long run. “People are so motivated when they start a weight loss program. You can say, ‘I’m never going to eat another piece of pie,’ and you see the pounds coming off,” said Gibbs in the podcast. “Eating fruits and vegetables may not make a big difference in your caloric intake. But that small change can build up and give you a better long-term result, because it’s not as hard to do as giving up French fries forever.”

(MORE: Study: The Best and Worst Food for Healthy Weight)

The authors say that slashing dessert and sugary drink consumption is consistently effective for short and long-term weight loss and more fruits and veggies and less meat and cheese are best for long-term pound-shedding. “If the goal is to reduce the burden of obesity, the focus must be on long-term strategies because changes in eating behaviors only associated with short-term weight loss are likely ineffective and not sustainable, they write. That seems to make sense for anyone hoping to keep their weight in check, not just for women after menopause.

18 comments
limegingerchicago
limegingerchicago

TIME....really. You shouldn't have 24-year-old girls with no medical background writing smug articles like this. How trite and thinly veiled judgmental is this? "There’s no denying that losing weight is tough, and keeping it off is even harder. We tend to be less physically active as we get older, which is why women tend to gain weight after menopause." Oh yeah,smug %^&? THAT is why women tend to gain weight?  Basically, you are saying that aged of women are lazy--and if only they would get off their ass and exercise they would lose weight.  Simple, huh?  My fervent wish for Alexandra Shifferlin is this: Alexandra---may you NEVER forget what you wrote here. May you get to your late 40s or early 50s and see what a dumpy body you suddenly have and not be able to lose it. Find yourself gaining 2-3 lbs per month for years -- and NOT being less active. Remember this facile opening paragraph you wrote that had faux compassion but actual animosity for these women you're writing about. It WILL happen. You will be amazed and horrified--and ruing what an intolerant incurious younger version of yourself you were.

crh25
crh25

@limegingerchicago , I so agree with you!!!  I was thin my entire life.  I couldn't keep the weight on, and now at the age of 52, forget it!  I've put on 17 pounds, and I'm ready to scream.  I exercise everyday, I don't eat sugar, grains or dairy, and I still can't lose the weight I have put on.  It's all due to hormones and no matter what I do, the scale doesn't budge.  When you're young like the writer of this article, you just don't get it.  My husband even told me to exercise harder.  Can you believe that??!!?  It's maddening!!

DeirdreM_
DeirdreM_

When estrogen drops, your pack on fat because fat produces estrogen. Your body is trying to balance itself, so until you do your best (pretty difficult) to get estrogen up through a bioidentical cream, you're going to be carrying more belly fat than you'd like, and none of this exercise and eat right stuff is going to impact it much, if at all. This article's advice isn't correct. Things that work prior to menopause don't work afterward for a reason, and it's not because we're all just suddenly lazy and undisciplined. Be kind to yourself and get your levels checked and balanced.

crh25
crh25

@DeirdreM_ Hi there.  I like the way you explained this.  I've been doing everything right.  No sugar, no dairy, no grains, and daily exercise.  NOTHING is working.  Do you have any suggestions on how I can balance my hormones?  Do you think bio-identical hormones would even help?

Doxie57
Doxie57

I want to lose 20 lbs. I eat pretty well, exercise, and walk all over the place. I am 57, and had a hysterectomy years ago. I can't lose a pound. I just had my thyroid tested and it's normal. I am so frustrated I want to eat a Snickers bar...

Ladysensei1
Ladysensei1

1. The young woman who wrote this is obviously clueless and did research on this which is not true

2. I know most women who have gone thru Menopause and they still remain 25 pounds in the middle fat and they train in a gym 6 days a week, eat low calorie, take hormone replacements and NO CHANGE, still FAT in the middle.

3. Why is it people still think antiquated that if you just eat less and work out harder you will loose weight, well there are plenty of fit fat people out there! I see them every day in the gym and jogging daily trying so hard, they get toned but still remain chubby.

4. many postmenopausal women have thyroid disease and have no idea

5. Cope is a funny tern, life is change and menopause is part of life. Men go thru Andropause or male menopause too, look at their pot bellies. They too many train in gyms but the decrease in hormones again is the main reason.

6. Keeping a Daily diary is all well and good but the truth of the matter is there is no magic formula for this until doctors get it together and agree that people need natural hormone replacement therapy. Even the photo in this article shows a distended middle on 2 of these women. 

hachachacha
hachachacha

Thank you so much, finally a person who GETS it!  I am sick and tired of being told I just have to try harder when I am trying harder and it doesn't work anymore.  Sure, I could lose weight when I was younger, but forget about it now!  And it's insulting to older women.  People act as if we are lazy or "just give up" when that's mostly untrue. 

As far as thyroid disease goes, I keep testing normal even on the advanced tests, but a holistic doctor told me he thought I could have a thyroid problem anyway, so he wanted to put me on natural thyroid hormone - Only problem is, I had a bad reaction to it.  It turns out I have an acute sensitivity reaction to ANY hormones, including estrogen and progesterone, no matter how small the dose nor how it is delivered.  I've been to several doctors and it's always the same!  My luck! 

Pamela.Brown
Pamela.Brown

Great read!  I think it's also important to add that women going through menopause will benefit from learning how to cope with the emotional and mental aspects of menopause, and changing their mindset about the life changes they are facing, in addition to the fitness and nutrition aspects of menopause management.  www.pamelabrowncoaching.com

limegingerchicago
limegingerchicago

@Pamela.Brown Pamela -- see what facile rhetoric you're spewing in 20 years. You're in your mid 30s -- it is a different universe, girl. And thinking does not make it so or not so. It just IS so. Hormones, Pamela. Be careful with your preaching blaming women for being filled with despair and frustration. Very silly little self-promotional blurb you wrote.

Albin
Albin

I'm working on a lavishly illustrated book, tentatively titled "The Secret of Unbelievable Health".  Of course you need to buy and read it all, but I'll let out the takeaway from the diet section:  "Fill your plate with things you hate."

Jacqueline Tourville
Jacqueline Tourville

This is a much-needed study, but rather than just focus on eating habits of women who can lose weight, look at why so women can’t — it’s much more than eating fried food, etc. After menopause, women tend to be in a state of hormonal imbalance that makes weight gain impossiblehttp://www.womentowo.... As the the body tries to right the ship, it begins adding belly fat to enhance estrogen production (fat in the middle can actually produce estradiol). The key to losing weight is to healthy hormones!

JWR97
JWR97

So by exercising and eating healthy people can avoid weight gain?

Wow, brilliant journalism.

So glad I wasted my life reading this article.

page1rankings
page1rankings

we have been researching how to lose weight and keep it off for a client and came across this article. Thanks for the tips and the more study info on best and worst food for healthy weight. It has really helped with our work.