Some of my most frustrated patients are women requesting help for weight gain and changing body shapes that develop during their menopause transition years.
And though each woman’s personal story and weight journey differs, what they share is a feeling of powerlessness to take back control.
If this sounds like you, know that though I can’t give you back your pre-menopause body shape, what I can do is help you take control of your weight, get healthier and feel better.
Here are some tips I hope you find helpful:
1 – Maintain Muscle Mass & Metabolism
Because lost muscle mass that occurs with aging brings a lower metabolic rate, it’s crucial that you develop what I call a ‘movement portfolio’ to build fitness.
Focused exercise helps to counteract the body changes that occur during the menopausal transition, along with your reduced calorie needs.
You can tap into the many virtual workouts available to put a plan into place for doing a combination of aerobics, resistance training and flexibility workouts such as yoga or Pilates.
For aerobics, many of my patients do a regular, brisk walking program outdoors that they find invigorating and an important part of their de-stressing routine. Others use home exercise equipment like a treadmill, elliptical, or bike, run or cycle outdoors or use apps to access many virtual aerobics classes that may include dance or spinning.
For resistance training, using free weights, bands and exercise balls offers you home exercise options without having to go to a health club. You can also do calisthenics that use your own body weight for resistance, such as squats, planks and push-ups. Engaging in core strengthening exercises may also reduce your waist circumference.
Another benefit to these workouts is they help lower the risk of post-menopausal osteoporosis.
If you feel you need more guidance to develop a safe exercise program, some personal fitness trainers and physical therapists are offering telehealth options.
You can check with your state to see if you need a doctor’s order for physical therapy. For trainers, you can check local fitness facilities to find one that’s credentialed by the American Council on Exercise, National Academy of Sports Medicine or the National Strength and Conditioning Association.
2 – Feel Full on Fewer Calories
Because we all need less calories as we age, it’s important that you become calorie-aware while also paying attention to the types of foods that are nutritious, less calorie-dense but still help you feel full and satisfied.
The premise behind this strategy is that the volume of foods you eat matter to your feelings of fullness.
Instead of eating less of everything and feeling deprived, you want to replace more calorie-dense (more calories per bite) foods such as fried foods, high-fat meats, cookies, cakes, candies, chips, with nutrient-rich, less calorie-dense foods, such as vegetables, fruits, salads, bean dishes, broth-based soups and whole grains like oatmeal.
The secret to this strategy is the high water and fiber content of certain foods increase their volume, making them more satisfying but without increasing calories.
Making sure your meals and snacks contain lean, lower-fat protein sources will also help you feel more satisfied between meals.
In my self-help book, Six Factors to fit: Weight Loss that Works for You!, we help you build your own healthy eating meal plan that’s consistent with this philosophy. You’ll get meal and snack ideas that also include treat-type foods to satisfy your cravings in healthier ways, along with other evidence-based healthy eating strategies that have worked for my patients and can work for you also.
In essence, my program helps you build skillpower, not willpower to manage your weight.
3 – Focus on Health, not Weight
On your road to managing menopausal weight gain and achieving a healthier body weight, you will see many non-scale victories along the way. It’s important to acknowledge and embrace them!
You see body weight and shape are only one component of how we define one’s health – and these become even less important with age.
Other non-scale victories my patients enjoy are being able to keep up with their grandchildren, being able to participate in fun new activities such as dance or hiking that were previously too difficult, feeling more comfortable in their bodies and in social situations, seeing improvements in medical conditions such as diabetes or high blood pressure and being able to get off of or decrease use of medications that treat those conditions.
Appreciating a range of improvements in your health will encourage more focus on enjoying life and less fixation on the numbers on the scale.
Better health habits and less frustration seem to go hand in hand.
Robert Kushner, MD