It’s a common story. A woman is physically active, has a nice figure, and has never had problems controlling her weight. She prides herself on having a high metabolism. Then, in her late 30s, early 40s, she suddenly has a belly. She tries dieting (code for trying to starve the belly fat away) and exercise, but it won’t budge. What’s happening to her, she wonders, as she struggles to zip up the jeans that fit her just fine last year. Menopause is what is happening to her.
Hormones are rough on metabolism
Though almost everyone gains some weight as they age due to hormonal shifts and age-related muscle loss, women face a double-whammy. The sometimes cataclysmic hormonal shifts women experience during menopause specifically foster weight gain, especially in the tummy region.
But there are ways to increase your metabolism during menopause, ways that will help you lose weight or maintain a healthy weight. Before discussing those ways, however, it might help you to know what’s happening to your body during menopause.
Stages of menopause
Menopause refers to the cessation of the menstrual period, but there is a turbulent hormonal period called perimenopause that leads up to it.
Perimenopause typically begins in your late 40s, and can last two to eight years before your periods cease. During this stage, the amount of estrogen and progesterone your ovaries produce fluctuates wildly. This results in unpredictable periods. Sometimes your menstrual flow will be heavy, sometimes it will be very light. And sometimes, you will skip a period here and there.
The fluctuating amounts of estrogen and progesterone also cause many symptoms, including:
- Rapid mood changes
- Hot flashes
- Night sweats
- Disturbed Sleep
- Weight gain
To be considered officially in menopause, you must have gone 12 consecutive months without a period. If you go six months, and then have a period, you must start all over again, counting another 12 months. During this time, you are still fertile and could still become pregnant.
Although the wild hormonal fluctuation are behind you once you hit menopause, you may still experience some of the symptoms above.
Postmenopause are the years following menopause, and although you may still experience menopausal symptoms for a few years, they will eventually fade away. But weight gain is one that doesn’t fade away so easily.
Metabolism and menopause
There are a few reasons way menopause causes weight gain, and it’s not all about the metabolism — at least, not directly.
You see, research indicates that menopause actually changes your body composition. It takes away muscle, and gives women more fat. And that fat is redistributed around the midsection, that well-known “muffin top” that so many women try to get rid of. (If you’re looking for something to blame, the culprit seems to be estrogen.)
At any rate, this muscle loss slows your metabolism, leading to weight gain. In addition, before menopause, estrogen improves insulin sensitivity, and both estrogen and progesterone control the negative effect of cortisol. During and after menopause, when estrogen and progesterone levels drop, your cells may become resistant to insulin, a known risk factor for obesity. Plus, with cortisol no longer controlled, belly fat accumulates even more.
But despite all the changes of menopause, there are some changes you can make today to increase your metabolism and lose weight.
Ways to increase your metabolism
Here are some easy ways to increase your metabolism during menopause.
Eat More Nutrient-Dense Protein Foods
Eating more nutrient-dense proteins is a proven way to increase your metabolism. You burn more calories digesting protein that any other macronutrient. For instance, beef or chicken uses 10 to 20 times more energy to digest than carbohydrates. This digestive process increases the metabolism. Additionally, protein is essential for muscle protein synthesis, which you’ll need to build and retain muscle.
Try some of these metabolism-boosting proteins:
- Egg whites
- Non-fat Greek yogurt
- 100% pure, unflavored whey
Fill up on Non-Starchy Vegetables
Did you know research shows the act of chewing and digesting vegetables can increase your calorie burn (metabolism) by up to 30 percent? Non-starchy vegetables also fill you up quickly, preventing overeating, and they keep your blood sugar levels stable. This results in a higher metabolism, and weight loss.
Some vegetables that will pump up your metabolism include:
- Brussels Sprouts
Eat Whole-Food Fats in Place of Starches and Sugars
Contrary to everything you’ve learned in the past, eating fats (especially good fats) will not cause you to gain weight. In fact, just the opposite can happen. If you replace starches and sugars in your diet with whole-food fats, your body will start to prefer burning fat to burning its old fuel source. What does that mean? When it runs out of the fat you consumed recently, it will start taking some from your belly, and thighs, and anyplace else you have excess weight.
Here are some great whole-food fats that can make your body a fat-burning machine:
- Flax Seeds
- Whole Eggs
Drink Plenty of Water
Drinking plenty of water is essential to successful weight loss, for a number of reasons. Studies have shown that drinking water raises the metabolism; this effect is doubled if you drink ice water because your body has to use energy to warm the water up. Studies have also shown that drinking water improves the rate at which the body burns fat. Drinking water before each meal will make you feel full and prevent overeating, which is one more weight loss benefit of H2O. By the way… if you don’t like plain water, try putting a squeeze of lemon in it. You can also drink green tea, which has a metabolism-boosting effect of its own.
Perform Eccentric Exercises
Eccentric exercises are ones where you focus on the downward part of the movement. For instance, when you stand up, that’s a concentric movement. When you squat to sit down, that’s the eccentric part of the movement. Studies have shown that eccentric exercises increase the metabolism. In fact, one study showed that participants who emphasized the eccentric portion of the rep in leg presses, experienced an increase in metabolism that lasted for up to 48 hours after the workout.