So, you didn’t sleep so well last night, you’re feeling a little irritable today, lunch left you bloated, and you’re seriously eyeing the space under your desk for a little snooze. Want to hit the gym?

Yeah, me neither. But you might want to drag yourself in anyway. Menopause is a time when a lot of women gain weight. That may partly be due to a slowing metabolism as hormone levels decline, but it may also be that at this time we tend to eat more (due to decreased sleep and increased anxiety) and exercise less (thank you, bloating and fatigue).

First, we want to say we think you look terrific. Seriously. And a little extra weight may actually be protective. But if you want to get more fit for health reasons, or just stay in shape for the coming zombie apocalypse, we’re here to help.

Why worry? Comparing apples to pears

Why worry about your weight? It’s a legitimate question. Many women embrace aging as it puts less emphasis on their looks and figure and more on their wisdom and experience. But the truth is, too many extra pounds in midlife can be hard on your health because of the way our bodies accumulate fat as we age. Before menopause, fat tends to be stored on hips, thighs, and buttocks, resulting in a pear shape. During and after menopause, fat is more likely to accumulate in the midsection, turning pears into apples.

And apple shapes are more likely to suffer from heart disease, making it a very good idea indeed to avoid gaining too much weight in midlife.

Finding your weigh

So how much should you weigh? Excellent question to which science has no easy answer. Your weight can vary significantly from day to day depending on hydration, and, if you’re still having periods, on where you are in your cycle. You can use BMI (body mass index) to give you a ballpark figure (ha ha), but BMI doesn’t take into account your fat-to-muscle ratio, and it measures excess weight, not excess fat.

Better indicators of ideal weight may be as simple as gauging how you feel. Are you able to walk and talk comfortably without gasping? Can you climb stairs, garden, chase children or grandchildren? Are your clothes comfortable or snug? Instead of fretting over numbers on a scale, decide – in consultation with a doctor or physical trainer – what your fitness goals are, and shoot for those instead.

PEBGAW

You’ve assessed your fitness level, determined some healthy goals, and you’re ready to shed some unhealthy pounds.

Now what?

You know “now what” – boost the fruit and veggie intake, get your full allotment of sleep, drink plenty of water, reduce low-nutrient foods like white breads and processed foods, cut back on sugar, and exercise. While human bodies are way too complex and variable for the reductive “calories in/calories out” idea, I’m guessing most of us have an idea or two how we can improve our diet and make lifestyle changes.

But here’s the issue: getting it done.

Perhaps it’s different for you, but for me, the problem isn’t necessarily knowing what to do – it’s having the discipline to do it. Tech support folks use the acronym “PEBKAC” (“Problem Exists Between Keyboard And Chair”) for when the issue isn’t the software or hardware, it’s the user. I’m going with “PEBGAW”: Problem Exists Between Goals And Willpower.

Again, the idea of “willpower” is too simplistic – there’s so much more going on than simply strength of will – but let’s concentrate on that portion we can control.

Rethinking the shrinking

Part of the mental and emotional problem of dieting is the notion of subtraction, of doing without, and that can be demoralizing. What if, instead, we focused on adding in, on increasing fullness and richness and variety?

  1. Add in gut-friendly foods. Kombucha, sauerkraut, miso, kimchi, kefir and yogurt, natto beans… all of these are great for the digestion, which can help you feel better generally. Probiotics may play a very significant role in weight management, and when digestion is easier, life is easier, including exercise.
  2. Feast on fiber. Not only does fiber fill you up and keep you feeling fuller longer, it also helps reduce risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. Fiber helps people control their diabetes and may reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. On a personal level, I had roasted broccoli for dinner last night, and it was a revelation.
  3. Embrace water. It’s just good for you. While upping your water alone may not promote weight loss, if you’re subbing water for sugary soda or juice, that’s a great way to trim out extra pounds. And there’s some evidence that gulping a glass of H20 before a meal reduces the amount you eat, but the jury is still out on that. Consider adding a couple of tablespoons of apple cider vinegar if you want to try something trendy.
  4. Gorge on camaraderie. Friends can be a great support system as you work to lose the weight. They can help you stay accountable, join you in exercise that would be lonely or boring otherwise, advise you on great recipes or restaurants that won’t wreck your progress, and break out the pompoms when you reach that next milestone.
  5. Find your sweaty passion. The best exercise is the one you’ll do. Consistently. OK, so running’s not your thing, but walking or hiking might inspire you, especially if you have a dog or camera to take along. Love problem solving? Consider rock climbing. If your body mechanics are better for low-impact, swimming and biking can be great fun. The trick is to find that thing that doesn’t feel like punishment. Personally, when I get bored with my routine, I get a new (or used but new to me) piece of gear. Gear is fun and more motivating than you might expect.

Weight gain in menopause isn’t inevitable. And combating it can actually be a pleasure, with the right ideas and attitude. Most importantly, don’t beat yourself up. Beating yourself up does not burn calories or build muscle, so cut it out (if you can). Perfection is not the goal; taking steps toward feeling better tomorrow than you do today is. Defeat PEBGAW by focusing on adding, not subtracting, and celebrate the victories as they come, whatever size they come in.

We’d love to know what you’re doing to be healthier, so please share triumphs, fails, and everything in between on Facebook and Twitter!


Shannon Perry

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