I don’t like to focus on perimenopause weight loss with my clients, simply because I believe there are far more important things to worry about when it comes to our health and frankly, our lives.
As Glennon Doyle famously said, “Your body is not your masterpiece — your life is.”
However, around age 40, the age that begins the 10-15 years of perimenopause that most women experience, women can have difficulty with weight loss and it can affect their health and their lives. Fortunately, there are specific solutions for weight loss in perimenopause that will also improve overall health for women in the 40-55 year old age range.
What I do like to focus on is supporting women to have heart, hormone, bone, and brain health – mental focus, energy, enthusiasm, sex drive, strength, power, and joy. And often, when we focus on these things, perimenopause weight loss is a welcome side effect.
In fact, in the last session of our Hormone Balance Program, one of the women lost 12 pounds in 6 weeks. But, to her, it was really just a side effect to the energy she got back in the morning, and the significant improvements in her pain and autoimmune disease. Best of all she felt hopeful and back in control of her health and her energy after feeling like she was sleep walking through her life for years.
Weight is just one small factor when women decide to improve their health.
What To Do to Optimize Perimenopausal Health and Get The Side Effect of Perimenopausal Weight Loss?
Recognize that weight loss is a warning signal for a deeper hormonal imbalance.
When women gain abdominal weight, that is a specific sign that her blood sugar balance and insulin levels are off, and that her estrogen levels are decreasing (Davis, et al., 2012). Increased abdominal fat gain in the 40’s and 50’s is associated with increased risk of cardiovascular and metabolic disease, including type 2 diabetes, heart attacks and strokes, reduction in health-related quality of life, and reduced sexual function.
Thus, implementing specific lifestyle strategies that will increase estrogen levels, improve insulin sensitivity, and stabilize blood sugar are key to abdominal fat loss in perimenopause.
How to Increase Estrogen Levels in Perimenopause
- Exercise Less and Less Intensely. This might sound counterintuitive… exercise less to lose weight? But, the truth is that if stress hormone levels (such as cortisol or epinephrine) are high or out of balance, high intensity or lots of hours of exercise weekly can make stress hormone imbalances worse. When stress hormone levels are dysregulated, sex hormones levels (including estrogen) drop. To learn more about this, check out this video…
- Balance stress with mindfulness, meditation, prayer or spending time in nature. Restorative activities are essential to balance the stressors of modern life. In one randomized controlled trial, mindfulness meditation was associated with a significantly greater reduction in anxiety as measured by the Clinical Global Impression of Severity and Improvement and the Beck Anxiety Inventory (Hoge, et al., 2013).
- Reduce stress by reducing stressors, interactions with stressful people, delegation, and speaking up about work stress. In my practice, women are overburdened with the expectations of daily life – heavy work hours and responsibilities, work-life balance challenges, relationship stress, and hesitation with delegating responsibilities. In the 2017 Women in the Workplace Study, the researchers found that on average, 54% of women do all or most of the household work, compared to 22% of men, and this gap worsens when couples have children. Women with a partner and children are 5.5 times more likely than the male partners to do all or most of the housework. This disparity continues even when women are primary breadwinners (McKinsey & Company & LeanIn, Women in the Workplace, 2017)
- Take Maca. While the data is limited, adding maca to smoothies or taking it in supplement form has been shown to improve estrogen levels, balance hormones, and reduce perimenopausal symptoms related to low estrogen (Lee et al., 2011 & Meissner, et al., 2006).
How to Improve Insulin Sensitivity and Blood Sugar Balance in Perimenopause
- Time Restricted Feeding and Intermittent Fasting. While the data is limited, there are trends in the research that show that eating meals at regular intervals earlier in the day vs. later in the day, and intermittent fasting improve weight and reduce health risks in perimenopausal women (Hutchison, et al., 2017 & Nair & Khawale, 2016). Health improvements related to intermittent fasting – in addition to weight loss – include reducing cancer risk, and supporting cancer treatment, improving metabolic issues such as PCOS, and reducing cardiovascular disease and depression.
- Low carbohydrate nutrition. Nutrition plans that emphasize a high intake of vegetables, fiber, healthy fats, and proteins have been shown to improve metabolic risk factors, including insulin resistance and blood sugar instability (Hu et al., 2012).
- High Intensity Interval Training. Women who add HIIT training to their workout program show benefits of improved insulin sensitivity, fat loss, and improved growth hormone levels for building muscle (Boutcher, 2011). Of course, considering that I began this article recommending less volume and intensity of exercise, this is only for women who have first balanced their stress hormones and built up their stress resilience
Boutcher, S. H. (2011). High-Intensity Intermittent Exercise and Fat Loss. Journal of Obesity, 2011, 868305. http://doi.org/10.1155/2011/868305
Davis SR, Castelo-Branco C, Chedraui P, Lumsden MA, Nappi RE, Shah D, Villaseca P. (2012) Understanding weight gain at menopause, Climacteric, 15(5), 419-29. doi: 10.3109/13697137.2012.707385.
Hoge, E. A., Bui, E., Marques, L., Metcalf, C. A., Morris, L. K., Robinaugh, D. J., … Simon, N. M. (2013). Randomized Controlled Trial of Mindfulness Meditation for Generalized Anxiety Disorder: Effects on Anxiety and Stress Reactivity. The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 74(8), 786–792. http://doi.org/10.4088/JCP.12m08083
Hu, T., Mills, K. T., Yao, L., Demanelis, K., Eloustaz, M., Yancy, W. S., … Bazzano, L. A. (2012). Effects of Low-Carbohydrate Diets Versus Low-Fat Diets on Metabolic Risk Factors: A Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Clinical Trials. American Journal of Epidemiology, 176(Suppl 7), S44–S54. http://doi.org/10.1093/aje/kws264
Hutchison, A. T., Wittert, G. A., & Heilbronn, L. K. (2017). Matching Meals to Body Clocks—Impact on Weight and Glucose Metabolism. Nutrients, 9(3), 222. http://doi.org/10.3390/nu9030222
Lee MS, Shin BC, Yang EJ, Lim HJ, Ernst E. (2011) Maca (Lepidium meyenii) for treatment of menopausal symptoms: A systematic review, Maturitas, 70(3), 227-33. doi: 10.1016/j.maturitas.2011.07.017.
Meissner, H. O., Mrozikiewicz, P., Bobkiewicz-Kozlowska, T., Mscisz, A., Kedzia, B., Lowicka, A., … Barchia, I. (2006). Hormone-Balancing Effect of Pre-Gelatinized Organic Maca (Lepidium peruvianum Chacon): (I) Biochemical and Pharmacodynamic Study on Maca using Clinical Laboratory Model on Ovariectomized Rats. International Journal of Biomedical Science : IJBS, 2(3), 260–272.
Nair, P. M. K., & Khawale, P. G. (2016). Role of therapeutic fasting in women’s health: An overview. Journal of Mid-Life Health, 7(2), 61–64. http://doi.org/10.4103/0976-7800.185325