Though menopause is the end of the reproductive phase of a woman’s life, it is an opportunity to reassess their health goals and nutritional needs. As a certified nutritionist, I work with women who are pre, peri and post-menopausal, evaluating their current and future dietary needs.
Going through menopause can be met with an assortment of physical and emotional changes. Unfortunately, unbiased, and correct information is often difficult to find. It is important to understand the changes in your body and learn what nutrition strategies and lifestyle changes can improve health, as you transition into menopause and beyond. First, though, it’s important to understand what menopause is and what causes weight gain after menopause.
Menopause is simply the final menstrual period. Perimenopause is the period leading up to menopause. It is during this time that hormones produced by the ovaries begin to fluctuate and eventually decline. Changes such as irregular menstrual cycles, hot flashes, sleep disturbance, difficultly concentrating, irritability, digestive issues and weight gain may occur. Postmenopause is the phase after the final menstrual period and is associated with changes in bone density, vaginal health, and cardiovascular health, all of which are due to the depletion of estrogen.
WHAT CAUSES WEIGHT GAIN?
During the menopause transition, many women gain weight and/or experience an increasing waistline. Many women blame their body and loss of hormones. Although the change in hormones influence changes in body fat distribution (central fat deposition), research has shown that weight gain is usually the result of being less active, eating more, particularly due to lifestyle changes (e.g., empty nesters preparing fewer meals at home, eating out more often, traveling, drinking more), and as important the normal decline in metabolic rate that occurs with the aging process.
As we age, our bodies have different nutritional needs. With the guidance of a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, a woman can modify her customary meal plan, include important micronutrients (vitamins, minerals, botanicals), and incorporate health-promoting behaviors.
Women needs to be encouraged to implement these health-promoting changes during the perimenopausal years to prevent long-term health problems such as osteoporosis, heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and weight gain.
In my next blog, I will address what nutrition interventions can help women maintain a healthy weight and improve wellness.