Why am I gaining weight when my diet hasn't changed?

Updated: Mar 2


A portion controlled plate is an excellent way to eat well at menopause
Menopause Diet

If I had a pound for every time a woman in midlife has asked me this question since I qualified as a Menopause Coach, I would be a very rich woman indeed.


I understand how frustrating it is as the same thing happened to me and I was absolutely furious!!! I was still working out at least 5/6 times a week and my diet hadn't really changed much since I cleaned up my eating habits a number of years before, yet my waistline and ribcage were expanding (either that or someone was shrinking my bras AND jeans!!)


Approximately 75% of women will experience weight gain as they enter their perimenopause and it is thought that most of those women will gain around 3lbs per year each year that they are in perimenopause.


If the average perimenopause length is roughly 5-6 years then women can expect to gain around 1.5 stone (or thereabouts) if they make no changes at all. A whole dress size bigger when we are already dealing with so many other debilitating symptoms and changes, seems like a very harsh cherry on the proverbial cake!


So why does this happen?


The answer I am afraid lies with our changing hormones and in particular the loss of oestrogen. The decline of oestrogen changes the way our bodies accumulate fat and in simple terms, we begin to store it in fatty deposits around the middle.


Unfortunately this happens at the exact same time that our metabolism starts to slow down, this is something that happens to both men and women, but for women we get the double whammy of the oestrogen loss at the same time as the metabolism slows.


So is there anything we can do about it or should we just give up, accept it and lie face down in a pile of sweets and chocolates as we resign ourselves to a 2 stone weight gain?!


Well no, we don't need to do that but we definitely do need to stop attempting restrictive diets, cutting out whole food groups and desperately striving for the exact body shape of our teenage years.


This is the perfect time to learn a whole new way of eating and adopting it for life. It is no longer about how 'slim' we can look but instead about eating to protect our bones, our brains and our hearts as we age.


All of these are negatively affected as we transition through menopause and as we begin to lose the protective effect of oestrogen, our risk factors for all the big diseases such as Alzheimer's, heart disease, cancer and osteoporosis increase.


So first and foremost we need to think about eating to mitigate these changes and to protect ourselves. To start making our bodies, hearts and minds as strong as possible as we journey into the third act of our lives. If we want to live long, healthy lives and be around to watch our families grow up, this HAS to be the number 1 priority.


There are so many aspects involved and women in particular are bombarded with confusing, conflicting messages on how to lose weight and what to do for your hormones. Some of it is sensible but far too much of it is complicated, restrictive and in some cases downright dangerous to women who are experiencing hormone fluctuations.


A lot of people advocate tracking your calories and this can certainly be very helpful as we do all want to be aiming for a calorie deficit (simply put - consuming less calories than we burn). I know of a number of women who have very successfully lost weight using My Fitness Pal and other calorie tracking apps.


But I have also worked with far more women who are just not able to do it - in a world when they are already busy, rushing around after children, caring for elderly parents, juggling housework, admin and full time jobs, unfortunately weighing, measuring and inputting of calories into an app is simply not something they can stick at - this was my experience too despite attempting it plenty of times in the past!


So what can we do if we want to change our weight and feel as good as possible during this often exhausting and overwhelming time of our lives?


When it comes to perimenopause every woman will have an entirely unique journey. One size does not fit all. Ever. However, there are some simple strategies that everyone can follow to help them adopt healthy attitudes to eating and feeling well.


HERE ARE MY TOP 5 TIPS:


1. PLATE BREAKDOWN


Take a look at the photo at the top of this blog and ask yourself honestly if this is how you break down your plate? This is the ideal we should be aiming for - roughly 1/4 of your plate should be made up of carbs, 1/4 of your plate should be made up of protein and half of your plate should be filled with vegetables, salad or fruit.


Why half a plate of vegetables, salad or fruit? They are packed full of the antioxidants and anti-inflammatory benefits to help protect us from all the diseases that become so much more prevalent after 40/45 years of age as discussed above. The more antioxidants you consume, the better chance you have of protecting yourself.


2. PORTION CONTROL


How many of you can truly say that when you eat spaghetti bolognaise for example, you don't fill your entire plate with it and that in fact you sometimes neglect to put any vegetables with it at all (unless you count the garlic on the garlic bread slice?!).


This is how we were often brought up to eat it and I was certainly guilty of this in the past. Maybe I might have added a big salad on the side too but there was still often a mountain of pasta and meat filling my main plate.


Try adopting the above breakdown and see how easy it actually is - you can even do it with your takeaway - try a child portion of fish (1/4 protein), a small portion of chips (1/4 carbs) and half a plate of mushy peas and salad. Once you get used to it, it becomes second nature!


Also have a look at your plate size - is it one of those huge plates that is so popular these days? If so, try swapping to smaller plate or bowl - we have a habit of filling whatever we use to serve, so start off smaller.


3. INCLUDE ALL FOOD GROUPS - YES EVEN CARBS!


We have been told for so long that carbs are bad that many women are terrified of them but they really don't need to be. You need to make sure you include carbohydrates to use it as fuel for the movement and exercise which you must also do to lose or maintain weight. As I said above, your serving size should be around 1/4 of your plate or about the size of your bunched fist.


There are better carbs than others to aim for such as wholemeal bread, rye, porridge, brown rice, couscous etc rather than white bread, white pasta and white rice.


Whole grains are particularly good for digestive health issues which many women develop at menopause. Without enough fibre in their diet, many women will struggle with constipation and other bowel problems during this life transition.


4. MINDFUL EATING


This is not some weird woo woo magic way of eating but is actually just about thinking about the environment we eat in. Do you stop and actually enjoy your food or do you eat it while standing up and doing other things? Do you look at your phone at the same time or shovel in lunch at your desk in front of your computer?


Rather than eating when we are ravenous and eating until we are so stuffed we have to undo our trousers, we should aim to eat when we are hungry and finish when we are satisfied.


Unfortunately by the time we notice our feelings of being satisfied, we have often rushed so quickly through the meal that we are already well on the way to being stuffed!


We need to eat more slowly and mindfully so please try to do away with any other distractions. When you eat with others, take a look around and see who finishes first. Try not to let it be you. Put your knife and fork down between mouthfuls and chew thoroughly!


5. REST AND DIGEST


As well as eating a diet rich in minerals, vitamins and nutrients to help us fight inflammation and prevent disease, our body also needs time to properly take a break and a rest from the hard work of digesting food.


If you are someone who reaches for a snack just before bed, you should know that your body will take a good few hours afterwards working to break down that food, when ideally you want your body to be fully resting the digestive system and instead getting to work on fighting the invader cells that roam around trying to find places to settle and grow.


Try to give yourself a full 12 hours of rest each night where you don't consume anything other than water or herbal tea. So if you tend to eat your breakfast or drink your first coffee at 7.30am, try a few weeks of making sure your last meal is all completed by 7.30pm the night before.


As well as providing a number of health benefits by doing this, I know a lot of women who have found that just cutting out that evening snack makes all the difference to their weight loss, as well as discovering as a by-product that they sleep more deeply and wake up feeling far more energised and refreshed.


“Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants”


Michael Pollan


If you would like access to a FREE ebook of my 'Top 10 Foods For Perimenopause' then sign up to my FREE 3 Day Series here:


https://www.emmabwellness.com/free3dayseries


If you enjoyed this blog, blease leave me a comment below, then why not check out some more tips about eating at midlife here :


https://www.emmabwellness.com/post/what-to-eat-at-midl

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