By: Kristin M. MacDonald, MS, RD, LDN
Owner, Healthy Appetites Nutrition Counseling, L.L.C.
In my practice I often see women who are frustrated by weight gain and difficulty shedding extra pounds. Those who could once drop five pounds without much effort may find that this is much harder as they enter the middle-aged years.
As women enter their 40’s, and some as early as their mid-30’s, hormonal changes occur leading up to menopause. During this ‘perimenopause’ time estrogen levels fluctuate and ultimately decrease, and progesterone decreases too. Such changes impact the way a woman’s body processes fat. This ultimately leads to loss of lean body mass (muscle), increased fat storage, especially in the midsection, and a decreased ability to burn fat.
So what can be done to counter these inevitable changes? Exercise, diet and lifestyle are key!
The Institute of Medicine recommends 60 minutes of physical activity per day for the average adult. For middle-aged women variety is particularly important. Aim to include all types of activity - cardio, strength-training and stretching (as in yoga). Weight-bearing activity, such as jogging or running, is particularly good for bone health, another area of concern for women of menopause age. Women should aim to incorporate strength training at least twice per week.
When it comes to diet, middle-aged women should try to eat a moderate amount of protein spread evenly throughout the day. Eating protein, along with strength training, can help to preserve and build muscle, which burns more calories than fat when the body is at rest. Aim for 25 to 30 grams of protein at each meal.
Women should also eat fewer sugary carbohydrates, such as those found in sweetened coffee beverages, soda, cakes, cookies and candy. These foods provide empty calories without providing a feeling of fullness. Instead, focus on complex carbohydrates in the form of whole-grains, beans/legumes, fresh fruits and vegetables. When paired with protein, complex carbs can increase satiety and provide great fuel for physical activity.
Complex carbohydrate foods are also good sources of fiber - aim for 25 grams per day. Eating adequate fiber and drinking 48 to 64 ounces of water per day can also help combat constipation, one of the digestive challenges that many middle-aged women also face.
As women age, overall calorie needs decrease. For this reason, controlling portion size becomes even more important. Pay attention not only to what you are eating, but how much you eat. You can control portion by using smaller plates, bowls and cups. You can also use measuring cups and spoons to determine exactly how much you eat.
When eating out at restaurants, make choices that help to limit calories:
Also, look for opportunities to move! In addition to planned physical activity, create opportunities for spontaneous movement. For example, park in the furthest spot in the parking lot or walk down the hall to see your co-worker instead of picking up the phone.
We all face demanding lives and time constraints, especially middle-aged women who are often juggling families, jobs and other responsibilities. But, consistent focus can help - start by making small changes, one at a time. If weight loss seems daunting, set a goal of weight maintenance and go from there.
Information adapted from:
Coleman Collins, Sherry. “Boomer Health: Weight Gain and Menopause.” Today’s Dietitian. 17.2 (Feb. 2015): 30. Web 30. Mar. 2017.
Jacobsen, Maryann. “Midlife Nutrition - Helping Women Over 40 Overcome Nutrition Challenges.” Today’s Dietitian. 16.3 (Mar. 2014): 30. Web. 30 Mar. 2017.
Josephson, Scott. “Perimenopause and Nutrition.” ideafit.com. IDEA Health & Fitness Association. 11 Jan. 2011. Web. 30 Mar. 2017.
“Eating Right During Menopause.” eatright.org. Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. 21 Jan. 2015. Web. 30 Mar. 2017.