Many women entering the fourth and fifth decades of life find themselves in the years of menopause. These can be very trying years in many ways. Some women may notice a gradual gain in weight, change in body shape or clothes fitting differently. This has much to do with the hormone changes that occur in the years leading up to menopause and continues into the postmenopausal years.
I find the most troubling change for many of my patients is the increase in weight, especially in the abdominal area. Many women say they have had a flat stomach all their lives and now they find that has changed. Some are even plagued with abdominal bloating and constipation. It may seem that no matter what you do or how much you monitor your diet and exercise, these changes stubbornly remain.
There is hope, however, but it takes a lot of hard work. Yes, that’s right. There is no magic pill. Staying in shape through your postmenopausal years is hard work but it can be done. Let me explain.
What happens within the body
After menopause, the body tends to lose muscle while the amount of fat will increase. Your metabolism will decrease and you will require fewer calories. You will not be able to eat the same portions as you did when you were in your twenties or thirties. Because of these changes in body composition, there is an increased risk for cardiac disease. In addition, cholesterol levels may rise and blood pressure may increase. Women are also at greater risk for osteoporosis. Despite this grim outlook, now is a good time to reassess your diet and lifestyle and make some positive changes that will boost your overall health.
To counteract these changes, women must introduce some kind of regular exercise into their daily routine. Weight-bearing exercise is the key to menopausal weight loss. The most beneficiary exercises include using TRX suspension training equipment, kettlebells or free weights. Unfortunately, just walking will not suffice.
Weight-bearing exercise helps to increase muscle mass without creating bulky muscles. In fact, it is very difficult for women to build muscle due to our hormonal makeup. You will not look like a “body builder” unless you want to. Most competitive body builders look that way due to supplementing with androgenic hormones. Instead, you will just look toned and your clothing will fit better again.
As we build and tone our muscles, we will be able to burn more fat. Muscle can burn fat even while you sleep. Ever wonder why your husband can lose weight more quickly than you can? The answer is he has more muscle mass.
What to eat
Dietary changes are also important. The biggest change should be a decrease in portion sizes across the board. There is no magic or special diet that I endorse – my best recommendation for the postmenopausal female is to eliminate all processed foods from your diet. A simple rule is, eliminate any food that is packaged in a box or bag. This will eliminate most snacks and junk foods. Instead, eat fresh and seasonal by choosing from lean meats, fish, fresh vegetables and fruits. As we age, protein is also important, however we can get protein even from plant-based diets by eating beans, nuts, cheese or yogurt.
You will also need to be sure to have adequate vitamin D and calcium in your diet. This does not need to come from dairy only. Calcium and vitamin D can also be found in many green leafy vegetables. A very good example of this is kale.
Lastly, try not to eat alone or on the go. Enjoy a meal at the table with family or friends. Learn to eat mindfully, not mindlessly. Eating on the go leads to overeating and digestive distress. Meal planning and prepping for the week can help avoid last minute poor choices.
Set realistic expectations
Most importantly, be kind to yourself. Be the best you that you can be. Keep your goals realistic. We will not look the same in our postmenopausal years, nor will we have the same body we did when in high school so don’t expect to accomplish that. The goal is good health and feeling well as we age. Make one small change at a time and accept who you are.
Susan Carro-McBride, FNP-C, practices at Saint Agnes Care LQMG in Fresno. To request an appointment, please call (559) 450-5777.
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