By: Igor Klibanov
A lot of audiences, clients and fitness professionals ask me about losing weight after menopause. Why is it so hard? And how can you overcome the difficulty and do it?
That’s what we’ll explore in this article.
After all, if you have clients who are women between the ages of 45 and 55, they might have noticed some unpleasant changes, like:
- Weight gain – so their clothes are starting to feel tight, and they don’t like the way they look in pictures
- That weight is around their belly and love handles – and they don’t like it
- They don’t sleep as well
- Their energy levels are down
And worst of all, what used to work for them in their 20s and 30s no longer does.
Basically, all the reasons that they likely hired you as their personal trainer.
Never mind all the other changes that can come along at that time of their life, like:
- Hot flashes, which embarrass them at business meetings and family gatherings
- Foggy brain – they can’t focus, and they forget easily. They have a lot of things on the “tip of their tongue”
- Dry skin
Well, let’s talk about how to get rid of a good chunk of those pesky issues. As a fitness professional, if you can help your menopausal clients lose weight and get healthier, they’ll tell about you to everyone, and you may become the “menopause specialist” in your area.
Losing Weight After Menopause – Why It’s So Hard
So your menopausal client has been slim and trim her whole life, and now, after 40, she’s gained a few pounds – it seems without any changes in exercise and nutrition. Or, she might have already had a few extra pounds, and now it’s a few more than a few.
In either case, something is going on in her body. And it’s not good.
So what is it that makes losing weight after menopause so hard? There are a number of factors:
Factor #1: Less Muscle
Every pound of muscle you have burns about 6 calories per day. Doesn’t sound like much, but imagine losing 10 pounds of muscle. Now, you burn 60 calories per day fewer than if you had those 10 pounds of muscle. Multiply that by 7 days, and you’re burning 420 calories per week fewer than if you had those 10 pounds of muscle.
So even though you might be eating the same type and amount of food as you did in your 20s and 30s, you’re no longer burning as much.
The average age of menopause is 51. But “average” means that some women get there earlier, and some get there later. So in one study, the results showed that women who are menopausal have lower muscle mass than women who are not menopausal, but of the same age.
Factor #2: Poor Sleep
With hormonal changes, sleep can get interrupted. Either:
- It takes a long time to fall asleep, or…
- You fall asleep just fine, but you wake up throughout the night, or…
- You wake up at 4-5 in the morning, and can’t fall back asleep, or…
- You fall asleep fine, you stay asleep fine, but you wake up and you don’t feel refreshed.
Regardless of what the issue is, poor sleep (whether quality, or quantity) results in:
- Lower energy levels, so you move around, and fidget less. And small things like that can add up to hundreds of calories per day. As a fitness professional, you know that this is called NEAT (nonexercised activity thermogenesis)
- Decreased effort in the gym, or even a tendency to simply skip the gym
- Increased cravings for foods that you know are bad for you
…none of which are good. And we, as fit pros are always harping on our clients about the importance of sleep (by the way, I hope you’re not reading this at 1AM 😉)
Factor #3: Increased Insulin Resistance
With changes in estrogen, progesterone and testosterone also come changes in insulin. And insulin resistance means that your body makes a lot of insulin, but it’s not doing its job (and its job is to lower blood sugar).
That can give you a hard time losing body fat.
Factor #4: Hormonal Changes
I saved the most obvious for last. Here, I’m specifically referring to changes in estrogen, progesterone and testosterone. In the “stone age”, we used to believe that menopause is nothing more than low estrogen. Oh, how simple life was back then. But that’s not the case. Our knowledge of the hormonal changes that happen during and after menopause is so far ahead now.
These days, we realize that there are actually 12 different hormonal profiles, based on the levels of testosterone, progesterone, and estrogen.
- Woman 1 might have high estrogen, normal progesterone, and low testosterone
- Woman 2 might have low estrogen, low progesterone, and normal testosterone
- Woman 3 might have normal estrogen, high progesterone, and high testosterone
And yes, there are 12 different variations of this. If you want the full scoop, just pick up Dr. Joseph Collins’ book, Discover Your Menopause Type.
And the crazy thing is that both high and low levels of these hormones can produce excess body fat.
For instance, low testosterone in women will produce high body fat. But so will high testosterone (because it’s usually accompanied by high insulin). Same for estrogen and progesterone. Both high and low levels will produce high body fat. Normal is best.
Losing Weight After Menopause – How to Do It
So now we know 4 of the factors that contribute to weight gain during menopause (there are more than 4 factors, but we’re trying to keep this article of a reasonable length). How do we address these?
Method #1: Strength Training
If the first factor that causes menopause weight gain is loss of muscle mass, then what should we do to stop, and reverse that? The obvious – increase muscle mass. How do we do that? Strength training. Yes, you can do your little celebration dance, since you do that with your clients anyways.
Method #2: Sleep Better
As outlined earlier in this article, poor sleep causes a lot of problems. So fix your clients’ sleep. I’ve written extensively about improving sleep, so if you want to read about that in more detail, check out these articles that I’ve written:
- How to Sleep Better
- Supplements for Sleep
- How Bad Sleep Affects Your Hormones
- What Happens When You Sleep
Method #3: Hormonal Optimization
Numerous studies show that hormone replacement therapy (HRT) improves body composition. But you should weigh both the risks and the rewards of it, and look at other systems that may need to be optimized (like liver, adrenals, etc.) before HRT is an option.
For these kinds of matters, I send my clients to a naturopathic doctor (that I’ve personally interviewed, and selected out of about a dozen other NDs that I interviewed. A lesson in branding: be very selective who you attach your name to)
So what kinds of results can you expect as a result of improving all of the above? Fortunately, there’s not much of a difference in the speed of fat loss between menopausal women, and younger women.
In one study, the researchers took 2 groups of women, of more or less equal body composition. The only difference between the two groups was their age. One group of women had an average age of 43 years, and the other was 58 years old. Both did the exact same exercise and nutrition program, and both lost the same amount of fat (on average, 14.7 pounds).
Hopefully now, you have some strategies in your arsenal on how to help this difficult, but underserved, and often affluent part of the population improve their quality of life.