Navigating weight gain during menopause: How intuitive eating can help

Women's Health

by Baylor Scott & White Health

Mar 11, 2024

Menopause is a time of many physical changes for women.

It’s normal to struggle with how your body is evolving during this transition. Shifting hormones and a changing body structure are a common occurrence for many women in this phase of life, but it still can feel discouraging.

In response to their changing bodies, some women start excessive dieting to combat any menopausal weight gain, rather than focusing on becoming their healthiest selves—inside and out.

Menopause can be a good time to look at your relationship with food and try to move away from the negative cycles of dieting. It’s important to have some self-compassion as you move into this new phase of life.

Let’s look at why menopause causes weight gain, as well as how intuitive eating and a mindful approach to food can help you feel your best.

Why does menopause cause weight gain?

The majority of menopausal weight gain is due to the loss of estrogen during perimenopause—the period leading up to the menopause phase. But the change in hormonal composition can also lead to increased total body fat, particularly around your stomach.

Surprisingly, this may not be a bad thing for women as they age. Recent studies have shown that people with an additional 5-8% body fat over their base weight actually may live longer. Many experts attribute extra weight as a protective factor against mortality and malnutrition as people age.

Can you diet and lose weight during menopause?

Many women seek out dieting and weight loss fads to shed some pounds during menopause, due to the unexpected changes in their bodies. Unfortunately, in a culture that praises thinness instead of overall health, you may feel pressured to try out unsustainable diets that hurt rather than help.

Weight cycling and inconsistent or unbalanced eating habits can put you at a higher risk for developing more serious conditions, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and a heart attack.

Diets can affect your mental health as well—they may make you feel like a failure or that you don’t have the self-control necessary for them to succeed.

Strictly limiting your food intake can also lead to:

  • Nutritional deficiencies
  • Muscle loss
  • Loss of physical performance
  • An increased risk of conditions such as osteoporosis, sarcopenia and heart disease

Instead of dieting to lose weight, women experiencing menopause should focus on creating healthy eating habits and listening to their body when hunger or cravings strike. Instead of restricting certain foods or food groups, honoring your body’s nutritional needs is key in maintaining your health as you age. This is known an intuitive eating.

What is intuitive eating?

Intuitive eating focuses on being in tune with your body and paying attention to hunger or craving cues to understand your body’s needs. It emphasizes health at every size and honoring how you feel.

When you’re stressed about what you’re eating or your mental health is struggling because of certain diet restrictions, consider making a change and enjoy fueling your body instead of worrying about weight gain.

One of the key principles of intuitive eating is to enjoy food for the biological and emotional reasons that run parallel with eating. Intuitive eating can help play a role in improving your mood and helping you feel more comfortable in your own body, even as it changes over time.

This approach to eating has been shown to have a positive impact on body image, self-esteem and well-being. It’s about learning to accept your body, challenge weight stigma and defy societal norms of thinness.

Rejecting the idea of diets, listening to your fullness cues and exploring how you feel about being full can help establish balanced food habits that will keep you healthy and happy for years to come.

How to start intuitive eating

When deeply ingrained diet culture is paired with new hormones and body changes, many menopausal women can feel frustrated or confused about which approach to take when it comes to their health. These changes—and the emotions that may accompany them—are natural and are not something to be ashamed of.

If you’re experiencing perimenopause or menopause, working with a registered dietitian can help you make a positive impact on what you eat by forming a healthy relationship with your body. 

Ready to get started on your intuitive eating journey? Connect with a registered dietitian today.

This article was contributed by dietetic intern Josephine Lee.

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