For many women, menopause is a time of anguish – whether hounded by constant hot flashes, or getting up in the night so many times you’d think you had a newborn baby around there is hardly time to think you are in your golden years! Many women come to our clinic because in addition to these menopausal symptoms, they are also gaining weight or unable to lose weight. While the answer may seem simple and obvious: eat less, exercise more, this isn’t always the case.
Why is this? It isn’t just old age or a slowing metabolism. It all comes down to hormones. So yes, it is true that we need to look at diet, but it is also just as important to balance hormones. What works for one person, might not work for another, as what is often overlooked is that we each have our own unique balance of hormones and as menopause comes around this is even more apparent.
What hormones are involved in menopausal weight loss or gain? The answer: all of them. We must assess all of our hormones to determine what is the culprit.
Cortisol, our stress hormone, causes increased fat accumulation around our midsection when in the presence of too much insulin. This is often described to us as that spare tire or belly fat. Insulin is both a fat storing and muscle building hormone. If you have too much insulin and are eating a reduced calorie diet, the weight you lose will more likely be muscle than fat.
Estrogen is not always bad! It works to balance the insulin and cortisol. Progesterone can affect cortisol, and vice versa. So when both estrogen and progesterone fall in menopause, the female body has a harder time staying lean – especially if there is added stress!
When looking at diet, a calorie is not a calorie. When we are young and active we are less resistant to insulin and we need more starchy vegetables to balance our hormones. As we age we become more carbohydrate sensitive and need to adjust our protein, fat and carbohydrate intake accordingly.
Let’s not forget about stress – our body does not know the difference between stress from a busy schedule, family stress, stress from exercise, or stress from a poor diet. It’s cumulative. If we are stressed out, and then go and increase our exercise in an attempt to lose weight, we may be increasing that cortisol imbalance and blocking our ability to lose weight.
If you are menopausal and having difficulty losing weight, a hormonal assessment may be in order. Our naturopathic physician Dr. Sara Kinnon is available for comprehensive hormone assessment and treatment.