When brand new research arrived in my in-box recently, with the words ‘menopause weight loss’ and ‘minimal exercise‘ jumping out at me, it got my attention. I hope it gets yours too – especially if you are in menopause or post-menopause.
There’s a common perception in the world of fitness and exercise that everyone has the time, energy and motivation to exercise. In an ideal world, this would be great. But in reality, mid-life women’s physical activity participation data, suggests the opposite. Australian and overseas data typically report that the main barriers to physical activity participant are the same ones that beset many of us in mid-life – work, care giving, illness and injury (Anderson, R. 2008). My guess is that much of this data reflects my own experience (despite being an avid exerciser throughout my life) which is that when I entered into peri-menopause, I felt too sore, too exhausted, too overweight and too busy, to do the type of exercise I had enjoyed for decades.
I find this time and time again with women who join me on the MyMT™ 12 week programmes as well. Many try to navigate getting back into exercise, but find they are sore, tired and too overweight to do the type of exercise that is promoted to us from the ‘no pain, no gain’ brigade. But there’s a problem with this approach for those of you not sleeping, feeling overweight and experiencing sore joints and muscles – your body isn’t healing from all the exercise you might be doing to lose weight. In fact, you may even be building up more and more inflammation.
That’s why in order to start my menopause weight loss journey, I cut right back on the type and amount of exercise that I was doing. I realised that this was just one thing that was adding to the accumulation of stress on my body from inflammation, especially when at the time, the emphasis was being given to High Intensity exercise in the ever-changing marketing of fitness and exercise. As I discovered myself, too much of this type of exercise, can be detrimental to our hormonal health as we move through menopause, especially when menopause hormonal changes rob us of our sleep.
That’s why I love this brand new research – it backs up everything that I was figuring out through taking a lifestyle science approach to the physiology of menopause. So, before you go on that Paleo or Keto diet and then jump into (literally) lots of exercise, to lose your menopause weight, I want you to read my Wednesday briefing this week. It might help alleviate some of the stress of not having the time, motivation or energy to exercise when your goal is to lose weight.
During menopause, there is a shift in fat distribution and storage from the hips to the waist. Research estimates that women may gain an average of 1-2kg or more during menopause due to the number of hormonal changes [including lowering oestrogen and progesterone and an increase in circulating androgens (testosterone)], leading many women towards changing metabolic health in post-menopause (Lombardo, Perrone et al, 2020). But it’s not just our hormones that are the issue with weight gain. For those of you who’ve been following my articles for a while, you will hopefully also reflect on your changing liver, gut and muscles as you move through mid-life. These changes affect your ability to absorb nutrients and your ability to remove toxins from your exposure to environmental factors that are also implicated in weight gain during menopause.
As a consequence of a multitude of changes to our organs and hormone levels as we age, visceral or abdominal fat can increase by a whopping 44% during this stage of life. With my own weight gain of 15kg despite all the intense dieting and exercise, these new stats don’t surprise me.
Hence, the key question is – how do we lose our menopause weight when we haven’t got the time, energy, or motivation to exercise?
Italy has been in the news a lot lately for all the wrong reasons with the pandemic, but I want to thank the women from Rome who, late in 2019 before their lives turned to chaos with the pandemic, entered into a nutrition study looking at the role of the Mediterranean Diet on their fat loss during menopause. Aged between 50-60 years, all were overweight as they entered this stage of life and undertook a range of biometric tests as baseline measures. All participants were placed on a 2 month, moderate-fat, restricted-calorie Mediterranean Diet – exactly the type that I have researched for the MyMT™ weight loss programme called ‘Transform Me’.
The main features of the diet for the study participants was that it was rich in plant-based foods including fruits, vegetables, legumes and whole-grains. Extra virgin olive oil was used for fat intake along with a handful of nuts, and as I promote in the MyMT™ programme Food Guide which I have as part of my programmes, the participants were encouraged to lower the amounts of eggs and animal fats that they were eating – [I promote the same approach, as these foods are higher in oestrogen compounds, which we don’t need when we arrive in menopause and post-menopause].
Analysis of the food diaries of the Italian study participants showed that their intake had an average macro-nutrient composition of about 0.85g/kg/day of protein, 25-30% fat (from plant sources) and 52-55% carbohydrate (from fruits and vegetables with some wholegrains).
“The change in lifestyle also brought a significant improvement in body circumference and blood pressure as well as improved lipid (fat) blood values including cholesterol.” [Lombardo, Perrone, et al, 2020].
This study is important for all of us who are entering our post-menopause years. My own studies on women’s healthy ageing reinforced that mid-life is a time when we become vulnerable to health changes with age. Maintaining muscle and reducing body fat is an important part of managing health as we age, but with many of us too busy, sore or exhausted to exercise, this study shows that we can manage our fat-gain and prevent lean muscle tissue loss when we follow a Mediterranean Diet. And yes, sleep matters too.
The dieting and fitness industries are replete with conflicting information about the best way to lose weight. But if these approaches aren’t targeted specific to your menopause and post-menopause transition, my suggestion is that you view these interventions with caution. I learnt this the hard way too and I realised that what I needed to do to lose weight was to follow the scientific evidence for this age and stage of life. Exercising in ways that are promoted to us in menopause can also be challenging when our joints ache and we aren’t sleeping. That’s why, even if you can’t join me for the 12 weeks of my weight loss programme called ‘Transform Me’, if you have aching joints, plantar fasciitis, or your muscles are sore, then I invite you to listen to my Masterclass on Menopause and/or look at purchasing the stand-alone module which I’ve called ‘Restore your Joyful Joints’. I tell you all about the incredible compounds in cold-pressed Olive Oil in this module and why I include this in the MyMT™ Food Guide for you.
The photo in the banner to this article is from the Saturday market in Chamonix, France. I visited there last year and it reinforced the beautiful and colourful foods that are part of the traditional Mediterranean Diet. I thought about it when I was making you this video above – not from Chamonix unfortunately, but from my kitchen in New Zealand. Have a listen when you can.
No matter what is going on in your life right now with all the chaos that we are all feeling globally, I hope you can spend some time looking around the MyMT™ website – there are lots of articles to distract you too. Menopause is the biological transition into our ageing and as I often mention to women in my coaching community – “It’s time to look forward into the future and change how we look after ourselves as we move into a different hormonal environment. With the MyMT™ programmes, I’ve done all the work and research for you. All you do is undertake the programme in your own time and at your pace, not mine.”
PS: If you aren’t able to join me for 12 weeks, then please explore getting my 2 hour Masterclass on Menopause Webinar instead (and yes, it’s pre-recorded, not live, so you can pause it anytime you want). It has lots of information and solutions in it for you and because I can’t travel at the moment, I recorded for you during our lockdown here in New Zealand. Details HERE.
- Anderson, R. (2008). Exercise and dietary behaviour change in a sample of midlife Australian women. PhD by Publication, Queensland University of Technology.
- Lombardo, M., Perrone, M. A., Guseva, E., Aulisa, G., Padua, E., Bellia, C., Della-Morte, D., Iellamo, F., Caprio, M., & Bellia, A. (2020). Losing Weight after Menopause with Minimal Aerobic Training and Mediterranean Diet. Nutrients, 12(8), 2471.
- Pettee G., Sternfeld B., Colvin A., Stewart A. et al., (2017). Physical activity trajectories during midlife and subsequent risk of physical functioning decline in late mid-life: The Study of Women’s Health Across the Nation (SWAN). Prev Med.105: 287-294.