You’re eating right and exercising regularly, but the number on the scale keeps creeping upwards over time.
While there are several possible reasons why you might be gaining weight, there’s one explanation you may not have considered: menopause.
It’s relatively common to gain weight as you age into your 40s and 50s.
And the average weight gain for women during menopause is 2 to 5 pounds — sometimes more.
But that doesn’t mean you’re stuck with those extra pounds forever.
Keep reading to learn why menopause and weight gain seem to go hand-in-hand — and how you can still achieve your weight loss goals.
What Causes Menopause Weight Gain?
Menopause officially starts 12 months after your last period.
But weight gain may start in the decade or so before that happens, known as perimenopause.
There isn’t one specific reason for menopause-related weight gain, but rather a perfect storm of factors that all influence the number on the scale, according to Carrie Lam, M.D., a board-certified physician specializing in family medicine and anti-aging and regenerative medicine.
These factors may include:
Estrogen and progesterone are two of the most important hormones in the female reproductive system.
“These hormones fluctuate day to day, phase to phase,” says Lam.
Estrogen and progesterone levels typically rise and fall unevenly during perimenopause, then decline during menopause. Research suggests lower estrogen levels during menopause are associated with increased abdominal fat storage.
One study found that postmenopausal women burned fewer calories over the course of a day and spent significantly less time on moderate exercise than premenopausal women.
Feeling hangry all the time? Perimenopause might be the reason for that.
One study found that levels of ghrelin — a.k.a. the “hunger hormone” — were higher among women in perimenopause when compared to pre- and postmenopausal women.
If you’re eating more calories than you burn, this could lead to weight gain.
During menopause, many women have trouble falling asleep and staying asleep — and research suggests poor sleep can contribute to weight gain.
Can You Prevent Menopause Weight Gain?
While you don’t exactly have control over your hormones or the aging process, these five healthy habits can influence your weight loss.
1. Pay attention to your diet
It might be tempting to go on a restrictive diet to prevent any menopause-related weight gain, but severely restricting calories can negatively impact your overall health.
Research suggests calorie restriction may also be associated with decreased bone mineral density — something that’s already a concern during menopause.
According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, women may lose up to 20 percent of bone density in the 5 to 7 years following menopause.
If you’re not sure where to start, a guided nutrition program may be the answer.
With a nutrition program like 2B Mindset, you’ll follow the Plate It! system with food ratios to help you cut calories while still eating a large amount of lower-calorie foods.
Or if portion control is more in line with your lifestyle, Ultimate Portion Fix with Autumn Calabrese will show you how to perfectly portion all your meals so you’re well-fed and well-fueled.
2. Increase your activity level
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control recommends that adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity cardio exercise ant at least two strength-training sessions every week to maintain overall health.
This might seem like a lot, but low-impact cardio like cycling or swimming can help you meet those weekly activity goals.
3. Add in resistance training
Muscle mass may decrease during menopause, but the best way to counteract this is through strength training, says Dani Singer, a NASM-certified personal trainer.
Resistance training not only builds muscle, but in one study, menopausal women who followed a 12-week program of walking, stretching, and strengthening exercises reported better vitality and mental health than their non-exercising peers.
“Cardiovascular training is still important,” Singer says. “But, for transitioning through menopause, strength training comes at number one.”
4. Drink more water
Hormone changes during menopause may affect fluid regulation, so dehydration is a concern.
The good news: Adding in even two extra cups of water to your daily intake may help with weight loss, especially if you drink it before meals.
5. Be patient
Your body goes through many changes during menopause, so adding the stress of losing weight on top if it can be too much. Don’t let it get you down.
Instead, focus on taking small steps toward your goals every day, which can measure up to big results in the long run.