"If your waist is ‘thickening’, your body-shape is changing and you are going into or through menopause, then let me explain why!"
[Dr Wendy Sweet, Women's Healthy Ageing Researcher & MyMT Coach]
I had no idea how much my weight-gain, thickening waist and constant feelings of bloating were influenced by menopause hormonal changes, when I hit my late 40’s and early 50’s. I knew nothing about menopause, oestrogen dominance, nor did I realise that changes to our body shape aren’t just due to menopause hormones – they are the result of other factors too.
Poor sleep, changing liver health over our life-time, nutrition and exercise advice that hasn’t been researched for women in mid-life and the fact that as we lose oestrogen, we also lose muscle tone and size too – all these factors impact on our weight gain in menopause.
Muscle loss is important. When we begin to lose muscle, our metabolism drops off. Skeletal muscle has the most effect on our metabolism. Muscle loss is highest for women during menopause and when we lose muscle we don’t ‘burn’ as many calories as we used to either. This muscle loss condition is called sarcopenia. This changes our metabolism and the loss of essential mitochondrial cells, means that we aren’t burning fat the way we used to before menopause arrived.
But the thing is that all of these factors from not sleeping, to changing liver health, to muscle loss and even stress, all interact to create the ‘perfect storm’ for weight gain during our menopause transition. It can creep on and on as the years advance. But we mustn’t ignore it. Because if we don’t stop the menopause weight gain mayhem, then we already know from our mother’s generation, that weight gain around the trunk at this time of life sends women into post-menopause heart disease, obesity and Type 2 diabetes.
The surprising thing was that as I did my women’s healthy ageing research, many of the women I was interviewing told me similar stories about their health concerns as they transitioned through menopause. The surprising thing was that for all of them, experiencing first-hand the instability and fragility of their own mother’s ageing-related decline gave then a window into the functional decline that growing older might also bring to them. This was a powerful and confronting reminder of what can be in store in the future for them too. ” My mother had problems with her hips” remembered Helen, “and after a while you start to think, well is this where I am going to head?”
It’s such a confusing time of our lives isn’t it? When I felt like this too I went to the gym, exercised hard as I have done for years and changed my diet but what I had done in the past was no longer working for me during menopause. That was when I realised that our generation (women in menopause) are not well catered for in the lifestyle research. We are thrown into a one-size-fits-all approach with younger females, athletes and males. It’s not surprising that we are confused and I’m not the only one – Kaye was confused too.
To improve our fat-burning capability when our hormones are against us, we need to achieve four things:
- Sleep all night.
- Improve liver and gut function.
- Hold onto our muscle tone.
- Manage our blood sugar levels and therefore, our insulin regulation.
If you are putting on weight that you are struggling to manage, then please have a read, because I want to share with you my five main reasons your body shape changes in menopause.
Menopause has such an impact on our sleep patterns, but so too does our lifestyle, e.g. staying up late, using technology and eating the wrong foods at dinner-time. All of these factors impact on the production of our sleep hormone called melatonin. When melatonin levels are too low before bed-time, then we can experience more hot flushes, night sweats and as many of you will already know, you lie awake. But when this happens night after night, you lose your overnight fat-burning capability too. If you aren’t sleeping well, then this is the first breakthrough you need to focus on for halting any further fat-gain as well as for helping you hold onto your precious muscle as you age.
Turning around the health of your liver during menopause is important for fat-loss. The reason for this is because fats are broken-down by bile and bile is stored in our gall bladder. In the past this system has worked well for you – because you’ve had oestrogen. But as we lose oestrogen, our liver changes in size and we produce less bile. The consequence of this is that you have less bile to emulsify fats and cholesterol. On top of this is the fact that as women in our early 50’s, we’ve had a lot of different changes to our diet over the years which has possibly impacted on the health of our liver.
When inflammation is present in the liver, then it doesn’t absorb the crucial B-vitamins, which we need for our energy, and we don’t turn over the amino acids present in proteins. For many women putting on a lot of belly fat, or if you have the ‘hard-fat’ sitting around your abdomen, then please try to come on board into my ‘Transform Me’ weight loss programme, because I have researched how to turn around our liver health and improve the function of our gall-bladder. It’s also why I don’t promote the high-fat, high protein diets that are popular in the fitness and nutrition industries at the moment. Many of these are not researched for our health during our menopause transition. Read more here …
Changing oestrogen levels impact on how much Vitamin D (in the form of D3) is absorbed into you. This is because our skin has oestrogen receptors so this vital vitamin isn’t made as readily as it used to be. It also gets low when our skin isn’t exposed to natural sunlight, so it’s a problem in many locations where winter months are long. When Vitamin D levels are low, this has a negative impact on some other hormones too, especially your thyroid and blood-sugar regulation hormones, both of which help to control your metabolism and your sleep hormone, called melatonin.
It’s understandable that for a generation of women, used to heading to the gym, or pounding the pavements to ‘burn calories’, that the first thing we think we should do to lose weight, is even more exercise. I used to think this way too – especially after 30+ years in the fitness industry! However, as we know from sports science research, when you aren’t sleeping well, then you aren’t able to recover from exercise training and this sets up a chain reaction of more hot flushes, worsening inflammation and because our stress hormone called cortisol stays high, then women find that their higher intensity exercise isn’t working for them as it used to. What’s more, weight loss research also reports that the harder the exercise, the more we eat! I found this too. In fact I realised that the combination of high intensity exercise and menopause hormonal changes meant that my blood sugar levels were all over the place. With my women’s healthy ageing and exercise studies, I learnt that there is a fine balance between too-much exercise and not-enough exercise for your weight loss needs in menopause.
That’s why I have a ‘rule’ for all of the ladies on the MyMT™ programmes and that is, very simply, “If you aren’t sleeping all night for at least 7-8 hours, then your body and muscles are not recovering from high-intensity exercise, which causes you to hold onto more fat. It’s a survival mechanism as part of the stress response in females as they age.”
My number 5 reason, is for you not to forget that even though you still ‘feel young’, your internal cells, tissues and organs are ageing. This means that our body doesn’t resist stress as well as it used to, so blood pressure, heart rate and temperature go up more readily when we are feeling stressed and overwhelmed as we continue our busy lives. Some stress is good for us, but the problem in our menopause transition is that too much stress (and this includes from not sleeping and/ or too much exercise) increases cortisol levels. This powerful hormone is one of your stress hormones but it works in conjunction with melatonin, your sleep hormone. Too much stress (emotionally and physically) interferes with your sleep. When you don’t sleep, your insulin levels stay high and you resist overnight fat-burning. It’s a vicious cycle that I would love to help you to break because I was like this too.
From my research on women’s healthy ageing, I have tackled our menopause weight management and more importantly, what to do to firstly, stop gaining and secondly, start losing. The programme runs for 12 weeks and it is all on-line, so you can access them anywhere you happen to be. There are 6 learning modules which take you through step-by-step lifestyle solutions. Women also love my private coaching community which is a complimentary part of the programme.
Oh and by the way, when I got this photo of Kaye from Australia 18 months after she had completed the MyMT Transform Me programme, I was so proud of her. Amazing the difference she now feels and looks!
Wendy Sweet, [PhD/ MyMT Women’s Healthy Ageing Researcher & MyMT Creator & Coach
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