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May 14, 2022
Want to Lose Weight During Menopause? Learn the Life Cycle of Your Metabolism
Sometimes weight gain feels like a betrayal.
Your body is supposed to be your partner in crime. So what happens when you wake up one day and find that the habits you’ve always used to maintain your weight aren’t working anymore?
Why is it so hard to lose weight during menopause?
When your metabolism slows down, there’s a little bit more going on beneath the surface than what it may seem. Here’s what to know…
The Real Cause of Weight Gain During Menopause
Weight gain in menopause usually comes down to two things: Your hormones and your metabolism.
Hormones are chemical messengers that help manage all kinds of functions throughout your body (1). There are over 50 types of hormones in the body that we know of—so far.
Hormones shift many times throughout a woman’s life. In our older years, we produce less of certain hormones and more of others, and sometimes our body becomes less receptive to those hormones’ signals (2). It all adds up to a heap of changes within our systems that create both physical and emotional changes.
Hormones have a hand in all kinds of functions in your body, including growth, reproduction, sleep cycles, blood pressure, mood, and—you guessed it—metabolism (3).
Your metabolism is the process in your body that converts food into energy. Everyone has what’s called a basal metabolic rate, which is the number of calories your body needs to do its most basic “invisible” tasks, like breathing, circulation, and cell growth.
Many hormones contribute to slowing your metabolism with age, but three, in particular, take center stage: Testosterone, estrogen, and cortisol.
For starters, testosterone dips during menopause, which can cause weight gain, fatigue, and changes in mood (4)...
“Women in menopause have a hard time maintaining weight due to the drop in hormones, particularly testosterone,” explains women’s health expert Dr. Stephanie Seitz, ND. “They will see they lose muscle mass or have a hard time building muscle due to low testosterone levels. Women may also start developing fat around the midsection.”
At the same time, the body’s estrogen levels decrease. This can cause weight gain around the stomach and waist, along with an increased risk of health issues like heart disease and high blood pressure (5, 6).
And then there’s cortisol, the stress hormone. While testosterone and estrogen decrease, cortisol levels tend to rise as women age, and levels are higher in older women than in older men (7).
Cortisol creates our body’s “fight-or-flight” sensations, so while it’s helpful in genuinely dangerous situations, it’s not much fun in everyday life. Cortisol has been linked to weight gain, as well as other health risks (8).
How Your Metabolism & Hormones Change Through Your Life
Men and women’s bodies generally consist of the same hormones, but the way women’s bodies process, distribute, and utilize hormones is completely different (9).
As women, we experience several major changes in our hormonal and metabolic make-up during a lifetime. Our bodies are always evolving.
And because metabolism is connected to hormones, it’s a major part of the fabric of your life. To understand why weight fluctuates over the decades, we need to understand the full life cycle of a woman’s metabolism and hormones.
Here’s what happens…
In a girl’s first ten years of her life, her levels of estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone are somewhat low. Her metabolism is strikingly high until age 5, and then it starts to decline until age 20 (9).
“In adolescence, our hormones are at peak performance,” says Dr. Seitz. As anyone who experienced it remembers, the teen years are a time of extremes. Teenage girls’ hormone levels are high, and that translates to mood swings and growth spurts (10).
The metabolism is slower than it was in childhood, which can make an already confusing phase of life more stressful (11).
Your metabolism soars high in your late teens and early 20s. Your hormones are also high, and so are your libido and mental sharpness. The mood swings of adolescence usually even out. Your menstrual cycle becomes more predictable, and your fertility is at its highest (12).
Many women have their first children during their twenties, which sets off another series of hormonal shifts. After each pregnancy, it takes about six months before hormones return to their normal state (13).
In your mid-30s, you may start to notice your metabolism declining (14).
At the same time, hormones start to decline too. So does the strength of your bones. This is when we set in motion the path toward potential osteoporosis down the line—women in their 30s might want to start focusing on weight-bearing exercises and collagen supplementation to strengthen their bones.
“From puberty until the mid-30s, hormones tend to be more regular and consistent,” says Dr. Arianna Sholes-Douglas, MD, menopause expert and author of The Menopause Myth. “By mid-30s and definitely by mid-40s, hormonal patterns tend to look more similar to puberty years when the hormonal patterns are more erratic.”
For some women, their mid-to-late thirties mark the beginning of signs of menopause—something few expect.
“The menopause transition can last up to 10 years for some women,” explains Dr. Sholes-Douglas. “This is a very common misunderstanding about women around their hormones. Most women assume that menopause is a period that will affect them in their mid to late 50s, however a woman can be menopausal, or complete her menopause transition by age 45. This means that there are significant hormonal fluctuations potentially as early as age 35. A woman in her mid-30s should be aware that this could mark the beginning of her menopause transition.”
This can mean the 30s include the first appearance of the changes that many of us associate with menopause. “These can manifest as simple changes in menstrual cycle length or frequency, but they can also include insomnia, worsening PMS, irritability, and an increase in anxiety and depression.”
This decade is when most women’s bodies begin their lead-up to menopause. “As we get to perimenopause, we will see progesterone lower followed by estrogen, [and then] testosterone falls as well,” explains Dr. Setiz.
This can equate to irregular periods, weaker bones, hot flashes, and depression. (If you feel emotionally erratic this time, you’re not going crazy!) Women often experience weight gain during this time as their metabolic slowdown continues.
“As we get into menopause, where you don’t have a cycle for 12 months, a woman’s hormones will drop due to the lack of cycle,” says Dr. Seitz.
During this time, your estrogen and progesterone continue to dip, which causes menopause symptoms for about 85% of women (15).
That can include hot flashes, trouble sleeping, mood swings, headaches, an increased risk of osteoporosis, and a slowed metabolism.
This plunge in estrogen may also impact your skin. “In general, estrogen is a hormone of well-being and affects the plumpness and elasticity of the skin,” says Dr. Sholes-Douglas. “As we age and estrogen levels decline, we will notice thinner skin and unfortunately more wrinkles and sag. Skin changes tend to be somewhat frustrating for women as their estrogen levels decline.”
Menopause symptoms can be tough, but being mentally prepared can help soften the blow. “In terms of how a woman may feel, this is definitely very patient-dependent,” explains Dr. Sholes-Douglas. “If women are not prepared, the changes that they notice as they enter into the menopause transition can be unexpected.”
The 60s and Beyond
After menopause, the clouds lift and women enter a vibrant new phase of life. Postmenopause is marked by a decrease in menopause symptoms and a more stable day-to-day experience.
Women in postmenopause are no longer ovulating, and their bodies are producing very low amounts of estrogen and progesterone. Which can result in a few different things…
1. The risk of heart disease increases.
This means that it’s all the more important to practice a healthy lifestyle…
Focus on eating whole foods, drinking plenty of water, moving your body, and incorporating stress-relieving activities into your day-to-day life (think: meditation, yoga, and gardening) (16).
2. The risk of low bone density and joint pain increases.
So now would be a good time to start monitoring bone health if you aren’t already (17).
Supplementing with collagen is a great place to start…
Grass-fed bovine collagen (with types 1 and 3 collagen) helps increase bone strength. And science backs it up. Several studies have shown a strong link between collagen supplementation and the improvement of menopausal symptoms like low bone density.
3. Metabolism continues to slow, and muscle fibers begin to shrink.
When it comes to a slowed metabolism, supplementing with MCT Powder may be the support that you need. From regulating blood sugar to ramping up your metabolic rate to curbing cravings, these healthy fats can make for easier, safer weight loss.
How to Speed Up Your Metabolism During Menopause
As the life cycle of a female’s metabolism shows us, it becomes increasingly hard to stave off weight gain as the years go on.
”Several of my patients report that it becomes more difficult to maintain a certain weight after 40,’’ says Dr. Sholes-Douglas. “This is not only related to estrogen but also to cortisol levels. The most common complaint is increasing weight around the midsection. Patients report that they are eating less and working out more but can’t get rid of the tire.”
Losing weight might feel impossible—but it’s not. You can actually speed up your own metabolism with certain habits and lifestyle changes. To change your metabolism for the better, stay physically active, and make strength training part of your regular workout routine (18, 19).
Boost your diet with plenty of healthy protein (22). Focus on eating whole foods, but make sure you don’t eat too little. While it may be tempting to drastically decrease your food intake, this can actually slow down your metabolism even more (23, 24).
A manageable decrease in your calorie intake can help you lose weight, but if you go below what your body needs, your system will start burning calories more slowly because it fears starvation. If you’re not sure what your daily caloric intake should be, consult with a registered dietitian to make sure you’re striking the right balance.
The Best Hormone Hack Is Awareness
Dr. Sholes-Douglas frames the female hormonal cycle by sharing a Native American saying that she says has become her favorite quote: “At her first bleeding, a woman meets her power. During her bleeding years, she practices her power. At menopause, she becomes it.”
During and after menopause, we come into our own in a whole new way.
The one constant in a woman’s life is that her hormones are always changing, and to keep up with them, knowledge is power.
“In my opinion, the best way to ‘biohack’ hormones is to first and foremost understand the impact that hormones have on your day-to-day life,” Dr. Sholes-Douglas explains. “It is challenging to live harmoniously with the changes if you don’t have a good appreciation for how these hormones impact your mood, appetite, sleep pattern, and even self-esteem.”
The Bottom Line
Losing weight during menopause requires an understanding of what makes your metabolism and hormones tick. Eating healthy, getting proper sleep, staying active as much as possible, and cutting back on stress can all make a difference.
Weight loss may not come as easily as it did in your 20s, but that’s because your body has undergone an amazing journey throughout the cycle of your life. The key is to stay persistent and do what you can to boost your metabolism.
Aging is a gift—and when you go in knowing what to expect, the process is that much sweeter.
As a writer, editor, and wellness seeker, Claire has written for Self, Health, Prevention, CNN, Mic, Livestrong, and Greatist, just to name a few. When she's not writing, she specializes in traveling, getting lost in health-related research rabbit holes, and finding new ways to spoil her cat.
This content is for informational and educational purposes only. It is not intended to provide medical advice or to take the place of such advice or treatment from a personal physician. All readers/viewers of this content are advised to consult their doctors or qualified health professionals regarding specific health questions. Neither Dr. Chad Walding nor the publisher of this content takes responsibility for possible health consequences of any person or persons reading or following the information in this educational content. All viewers of this content, especially those taking prescription or over-the-counter medications, should consult their physicians before beginning any nutrition, supplement, or lifestyle program.