Causes of Menopause Weight Gain, Symptoms and How to Lose Menopausal Weight Safely

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Jane McDonald

Causes of Menopause Weight Gain

Menopause marks a significant transition in a woman’s life, typically occurring between the ages of 45 and 55, though it can vary widely. This natural biological process signifies the end of menstrual cycles and reproductive fertility, which is confirmed when a woman has gone twelve consecutive months without a menstrual period. The journey into menopause, however, begins much earlier during the perimenopausal phase, where hormonal fluctuations start to present various physical and emotional changes.

One of the hallmark symptoms of menopause is weight gain, particularly around the abdomen, hips, and thighs. This specific change is not only a matter of cosmetic concern but also contributes to a higher risk of developing chronic conditions such as type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and certain types of cancer. The weight gain associated with menopause is largely due to a decrease in estrogen levels, which affects body fat distribution and can slow down the metabolic rate.

Additionally, menopause can bring a variety of other symptoms, including hot flashes, night sweats, mood swings, and sleep disturbances, all of which can indirectly contribute to weight gain. For instance, poor sleep and increased stress levels can lead to poor dietary choices and reduced energy for physical activity. Understanding these symptoms and their impacts on body weight is essential for managing health during this pivotal stage of life. This understanding empowers women to take proactive steps towards maintaining their health and well-being through targeted lifestyle and dietary adjustments tailored to their changing bodies.

Related: What are the most effective appetite suppressant available over the counter?

What is the Menopause?

Menopause is a natural biological process that marks the end of a woman’s reproductive years, signifying the cessation of menstrual cycles. It is not an abrupt event but rather a gradual transition, encompassing several stages: perimenopause, menopause itself, and postmenopause. Each of these stages is characterized by distinct changes in hormonal levels, which can significantly affect a woman’s health and overall quality of life.

Stages of the Menopausal Transition

  1. Perimenopause
    This stage typically begins several years before menopause, when the ovaries gradually start to produce less estrogen. Perimenopause can last anywhere from a few months to up to ten years, with the average duration being about four years. During this time, women may begin to experience menopausal symptoms such as irregular menstrual cycles, hot flashes, and sleep disturbances. The decrease in estrogen is not steady or predictable, leading to fluctuating hormone levels that can cause significant variability in symptoms.
  2. Menopause
    Menopause is confirmed when a woman has not had a menstrual period for 12 consecutive months. At this point, the ovaries have significantly reduced their production of estrogen and progesterone. This stage typically occurs in a woman’s late 40s to early 50s. Once menopause is reached, the intense fluctuations of hormones experienced during perimenopause begin to stabilize somewhat, although estrogen levels continue to be lower than during the reproductive years.
  3. Postmenopause
    These are the years after menopause. During this stage, menopausal symptoms like hot flashes may ease for many women. However, as the body adjusts to consistently lower levels of estrogen, women face an increased risk for several health conditions, including osteoporosis and heart disease. It’s essential during this stage to maintain a healthy lifestyle to mitigate these risks.

Hormonal Changes During Menopause

The hallmark of menopause is a significant reduction in the production of the hormones estrogen and progesterone by the ovaries. Estrogen is crucial not only for reproductive functions but also for maintaining bone density, skin temperature, and healthy cholesterol levels. Its reduction during menopause can lead to a variety of physiological and symptomatic changes:

  • Thermoregulatory Changes: Decreased estrogen levels are linked to the dysfunction of the body’s temperature control, leading to hot flashes and night sweats.
  • Vaginal and Urinary Health: Lower estrogen levels cause the vaginal walls to thin and lose elasticity, a condition known as vaginal atrophy, which can lead to discomfort during intercourse and increased urinary tract infections.
  • Bone Density: Estrogen helps protect bone health, and lower levels of this hormone after menopause accelerate bone density loss, increasing the risk of osteoporosis.
  • Cardiovascular Health: Estrogen is believed to have a protective effect on the heart. Reduced estrogen levels during and after menopause result in increased risk factors for cardiovascular disease, including changes in blood cholesterol levels and arterial health.

Understanding these stages and hormonal changes is crucial for managing the symptoms and associated health risks of menopause. Women are encouraged to seek regular health screenings and discuss symptom management strategies, including hormone replacement therapy (HRT) and lifestyle modifications, with their healthcare providers.

Causes of Weight Gain During Menopause

Weight gain during menopause is a multifactorial issue influenced by hormonal imbalances, metabolic changes, muscle mass decline, and lifestyle factors. Understanding these causes can help in developing targeted strategies for managing weight during this transitional period.

Hormonal Imbalances

One of the primary reasons for weight gain during menopause is the decrease in estrogen levels. Estrogen helps to regulate metabolism and body weight. Lower levels of this hormone during menopause can lead to increased fat storage, particularly around the abdomen. This type of fat distribution is often referred to as “central” or “visceral” adiposity, which is linked to a higher risk of heart disease and diabetes. Additionally, estrogen influences leptin and ghrelin, hormones that control feelings of hunger and fullness. As estrogen levels drop, the natural signals of satiety might become less effective, potentially leading to increased food intake.

Metabolic Rate

Metabolism generally slows down with age, a process that is exacerbated by hormonal changes during menopause. The basal metabolic rate (BMR) — the amount of energy expended while at rest — decreases, which means fewer calories are burned throughout the day. This reduction in metabolism can be attributed to hormonal shifts as well as to the natural aging process. As a result, without a corresponding decrease in calorie intake or an increase in physical activity, weight gain is likely to occur.

Muscle Mass

As women age, they naturally lose muscle mass, a condition known as sarcopenia. This loss accelerates during menopause. Muscle burns more calories than fat, even at rest, so a decrease in muscle mass lowers the BMR, further reducing calorie expenditure. This muscle loss not only contributes to a slower metabolism but also affects mobility and strength, which can reduce overall physical activity levels, compounding the challenge of maintaining or losing weight.

Lifestyle Factors

Lifestyle factors play a crucial role in menopausal weight gain. These include:

  • Diet: Menopausal women often experience changes in their taste preferences and appetite. There might be an inclination towards higher calorie, less nutrient-dense foods. Moreover, changes in lifestyle (e.g., retirement) can lead to more time spent in sedentary activities like watching television, during which time snacking is common.
  • Exercise: Physical activity often decreases with age due to various factors, including increased joint pain, more frequent injuries, and less overall energy. This reduction in activity not only contributes to loss of muscle mass but also to a decrease in caloric expenditure.
  • Sleep Patterns: Menopause can disrupt sleep due to symptoms like night sweats and insomnia. Poor sleep has been linked to weight gain, as it affects hormones that regulate appetite and can lead to increased hunger and consumption of calorie-dense foods.

Addressing these factors through dietary management, regular physical activity, strength training to preserve muscle mass, and strategies to improve sleep can help mitigate menopausal weight gain. Maintaining a healthy weight through these changes not only improves overall health but also enhances the quality of life during and after the transition into menopause.Share

Health Risks Associated with Weight Gain in Menopause

Menopause-related weight gain is not merely a cosmetic concern but poses significant risks to overall health. The accumulation of excess body fat, especially around the midsection, is linked with various chronic conditions, which can have substantial health implications.

Increased Risk of Cardiovascular Diseases

The distribution of body fat plays a crucial role in cardiovascular health. During menopause, the tendency to gain weight around the abdomen increases—a phenomenon known as central obesity. Central obesity is particularly concerning because it is strongly associated with cardiovascular risks, including hypertension, high cholesterol, and atherosclerosis. These factors contribute to an elevated risk of developing heart diseases, such as coronary artery disease and stroke. The decrease in estrogen levels further compounds these risks, as estrogen is believed to have a protective effect on the heart by helping to maintain healthy levels of cholesterol and promoting good vascular function.

Higher Likelihood of Developing Type 2 Diabetes

Weight gain increases the body’s demand for insulin and can lead to insulin resistance, where the body’s cells do not respond normally to insulin. Over time, this resistance can progress to type 2 diabetes. Adipose tissue, particularly when centrally located, is not merely a passive store of energy but actively secretes hormones and pro-inflammatory cytokines that can disrupt glucose metabolism, leading to higher blood sugar levels and increased diabetes risk.

Enhanced Risk for Certain Types of Cancer

Excess weight is a well-established risk factor for several types of cancer, including breast cancer, which is of particular concern post-menopause. Fat cells produce estrogen, and after menopause, when the ovaries stop producing this hormone, fat becomes the primary source. This can lead to higher levels of circulating estrogen, which has been linked to an increased risk of breast cancer in postmenopausal women. Additionally, obesity is associated with higher risks of other cancers, such as endometrial, colon, and kidney cancers.

Impact on Joint Health and Development of Osteoarthritis

Weight gain increases the mechanical stress on weight-bearing joints, such as the hips, knees, and ankles. This additional pressure can accelerate the wear and tear of joint cartilage, leading to osteoarthritis, a degenerative joint disease characterized by the breakdown of cartilage and the underlying bone. Symptoms include pain, stiffness, and decreased mobility, which can further reduce the ability to engage in physical activity, thereby creating a cycle that may lead to further weight gain and joint deterioration.

The health risks associated with menopause-related weight gain are significant and multifaceted. They not only impact longevity but also affect the quality of life. Addressing weight gain during menopause through lifestyle changes, including a balanced diet, regular physical activity, and medical interventions when necessary, is crucial for reducing these risks and promoting a healthier, more active postmenopausal life.

Managing Weight Gain During Menopause

Effective management of weight gain during menopause involves a comprehensive approach that includes dietary adjustments, regular exercise, good sleep hygiene, and stress management strategies. Here’s how to address each of these areas:


A balanced diet is crucial for managing weight during menopause. Here are some dietary recommendations:

  • Increase Intake of Fruits, Vegetables, and Whole Grains: These foods are high in fiber, which can help with satiety and prevent overeating. They are also packed with essential nutrients and antioxidants that support overall health.
  • Monitor Caloric Intake: Due to the decrease in metabolic rate associated with aging and menopause, caloric needs may be lower. Keeping track of caloric intake can help avoid unnecessary weight gain.
  • Include Lean Proteins and Healthy Fats: Foods high in protein, such as lean meats, fish, legumes, and tofu, can increase feelings of fullness and support muscle mass maintenance. Healthy fats from sources like avocados, nuts, seeds, and olive oil can also promote satiety and provide vital nutrients.
  • Limit Sugars and Refined Carbs: These can lead to spikes in blood sugar and insulin levels, increasing the risk of insulin resistance and fat accumulation.
  • Stay Hydrated: Sometimes, thirst is mistaken for hunger. Drinking enough water can help control appetite and support metabolic functions.


Regular physical activity is essential for weight management during menopause. The benefits include:

  • Cardiovascular Exercises: Activities such as walking, cycling, and swimming help burn calories, improve heart health, and increase metabolism.
  • Strength Training: Building muscle through weight lifting or bodyweight exercises helps counteract muscle loss associated with aging and increases the basal metabolic rate.
  • Flexibility and Balance Exercises: Yoga and Pilates improve flexibility, reduce stress, and enhance core strength, helping to prevent falls and improve overall physical functionality.

Aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes of high-intensity exercise per week, as recommended by health guidelines.


Good sleep hygiene is linked to effective weight management:

  • Regularity: Try to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day to regulate your body’s clock.
  • Environment: Ensure your sleeping environment is conducive to rest, with minimal light and noise, and a comfortable temperature.
  • Avoid Stimulants: Limit caffeine and heavy meals close to bedtime as they can disrupt sleep.

Poor sleep can disrupt hormones that regulate appetite, leading to increased hunger and potential weight gain.

Stress Management

Stress can lead to emotional eating and increased fat storage due to elevated levels of cortisol, a stress hormone. Here are some techniques to manage stress:

  • Yoga and Meditation: These practices can reduce stress and improve physical strength and flexibility, contributing to better weight management.
  • Mindfulness: Being mindful about eating can help control overeating by making you more aware of your hunger and satiety cues.
  • Regular Relaxation: Activities such as reading, listening to music, or spending time in nature can also help reduce stress levels.

By integrating these strategies into daily life, managing weight during menopause can be more effective, leading to better health outcomes and an improved quality of life.

Medical Treatments and Supplements for Managing Menopause

Menopausal symptoms, including weight gain, can be managed through medical treatments such as hormone replacement therapy (HRT), as well as through various supplements and natural remedies. Here’s an overview of these options, including their potential benefits and drawbacks.

Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT)

HRT involves the administration of estrogen and, for women who have not had a hysterectomy, progesterone. This treatment aims to replace hormones that are at lower levels as you approach and enter menopause.


  • Symptom Relief: HRT is very effective at reducing many of the most uncomfortable symptoms of menopause, including hot flashes, night sweats, and vaginal dryness.
  • Prevention of Osteoporosis: By maintaining hormone levels, HRT can help reduce the risk of osteoporosis, which increases post-menopause.
  • Potential Reduction in Heart Disease: Early initiation of HRT (typically around the time of menopause onset) might help lower the risk of heart disease.


  • Risk of Blood Clots and Stroke: HRT can increase the risk of blood clots and stroke, particularly in pill form.
  • Increased Risk of Certain Cancers: There is an increased risk of breast cancer and possibly ovarian cancer associated with certain types of HRT, particularly when taken over a longer period.
  • Side Effects: Some women experience side effects such as breast tenderness, bloating, nausea, and mood swings.

Due to these risks, HRT is typically recommended at the lowest effective dose for the shortest time needed to treat symptoms. Decisions about HRT should be made in close consultation with a healthcare provider, considering individual risk factors and preferences.

Supplements and Natural Remedies

Several supplements and natural remedies are popular among women dealing with menopausal symptoms:

Black Cohosh:

  • Usage: Often used to treat hot flashes, mood swings, and sleep disturbances.
  • Effectiveness: Some studies suggest it might help reduce menopausal symptoms, although results are mixed.
  • Safety: Generally considered safe for short-term use, but it should be avoided by those with liver disorders.

Phytoestrogens (e.g., Soy Isoflavones):

  • Usage: These plant-derived compounds have estrogen-like properties and are found in foods like soybeans, flaxseeds, and sesame seeds.
  • Effectiveness: They may help alleviate mild menopausal symptoms and are thought to contribute to lower rates of menopausal discomfort in cultures with diets high in phytoestrogens.
  • Safety: Generally safe, though their use in breast cancer survivors is controversial due to their estrogenic activity.

Other Supplements:

  • Flaxseed: Contains lignans and omega-3 fatty acids, which might help with menopausal symptoms and improve cholesterol levels.
  • Evening Primrose Oil: Often used for breast tenderness and menopausal symptoms; however, evidence for its effectiveness is limited.
  • Vitamin D and Calcium: Important for bone health, especially crucial as the risk of osteoporosis increases after menopause.

It’s important to discuss any supplement use with a healthcare provider, as some can interact with medications or have side effects. The effectiveness of these supplements can vary widely among individuals, and their regulatory status is not as stringent as pharmaceuticals, meaning their potency and purity can differ.

In conclusion, managing menopause and its symptoms, including weight gain, can involve a combination of lifestyle adjustments, medical treatments, and natural remedies. The best approach depends on individual symptoms, risk factors, and personal preferences, ideally coordinated with the guidance of healthcare professionals.

Success Stories and Motivational Tips for Managing Weight Gain During Menopause

Menopause can be a challenging time for weight management, but many women successfully navigate these changes with lifestyle adjustments and a positive mindset. Here are some real-life success stories and motivational tips to inspire and guide others facing similar challenges.

Real-Life Success Stories

Jane’s Journey:
Jane, a 52-year-old teacher, noticed her weight was creeping up as she entered menopause. She started a daily walking program, gradually increasing her duration and pace. Jane also joined a weekly yoga class to improve her flexibility and reduce stress. By adjusting her diet to include more vegetables and lean proteins and reducing her portion sizes, she successfully managed to lose 15 pounds over a year. Jane’s story shows the power of consistent, moderate adjustments to activity and diet.

Maria’s Transformation:
After turning 50, Maria struggled with her weight due to menopause and a sedentary lifestyle. She decided to take action by seeking the help of a dietitian and a personal trainer. With tailored exercise routines, including strength training, and a diet plan rich in whole foods, Maria gradually lost 20 pounds. She also discovered a passion for strength training, which helped her maintain her muscle mass and metabolic rate.

Linda’s Lifestyle Shift:
Linda found herself at her heaviest during menopause. She decided to focus on what she ate and why she was eating. By keeping a food diary, Linda identified patterns of emotional eating. With the help of a counselor, she developed healthier coping mechanisms for stress. Linda also joined a community garden, which increased her physical activity and gave her access to fresh produce. Over two years, not only did she lose weight, but she also improved her overall mental and physical health.

Motivational Tips and Strategies

  1. Set Realistic Goals:
    • Start with manageable goals that you can realistically achieve, such as walking 10,000 steps a day or incorporating vegetables into every meal. Small successes can build confidence and motivate you to maintain your efforts.
  2. Find Activities You Enjoy:
    • Exercise doesn’t have to be a chore. Find activities you enjoy, whether it’s dancing, hiking, swimming, or cycling. Enjoyment can significantly increase the likelihood of sticking to an exercise routine.
  3. Build a Support Network:
    • Surround yourself with friends, family, or a community group who support your goals and can offer encouragement. Consider joining a club or online community where members share similar challenges and goals.
  4. Keep a Journal:
    • Documenting your progress can be a powerful motivator. Keep track of your exercise, what you eat, and how you feel. This can help you understand patterns and celebrate successes, no matter how small.
  5. Be Patient and Kind to Yourself:
    • Weight management during menopause can be difficult. Recognize and accept that progress may be slower than expected, and be kind to yourself. Self-compassion can reduce the likelihood of giving up due to frustration or setbacks.
  6. Consult Professionals When Needed:
    • Don’t hesitate to seek help from dietitians, trainers, or medical professionals. They can provide guidance tailored to your health needs and menopausal symptoms.

By drawing inspiration from the success of others and employing motivational strategies, managing weight during menopause can become a more achievable and rewarding endeavor. Remember, each small step contributes to a larger journey toward health and well-being.

Conclusion: Managing Weight Gain During Menopause

Menopause is a significant life stage accompanied by various physical and emotional changes, including potential weight gain. Managing these changes effectively involves a holistic approach focused on diet, exercise, sleep hygiene, stress management, and possibly medical interventions. Here’s a recap of the key strategies discussed:

Diet and Nutrition

  • Adopt a balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats.
  • Monitor caloric intake to adjust for potentially lower metabolic rates during menopause.
  • Limit intake of sugars and refined carbohydrates to help manage blood sugar levels and reduce the risk of insulin resistance.


  • Incorporate a variety of physical activities, including cardiovascular exercises, strength training, and flexibility exercises, to burn calories, maintain muscle mass, and enhance overall fitness.


  • Prioritize good sleep hygiene by maintaining a regular sleep schedule and creating a restful environment, as quality sleep is crucial for hormonal balance and overall health.

Stress Management

  • Utilize stress-reduction techniques such as yoga, meditation, and mindfulness to help control stress-induced eating and enhance mental well-being.

Medical Treatments and Supplements

  • Consider Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) after discussing the potential benefits and risks with a healthcare provider.
  • Explore natural supplements like black cohosh and phytoestrogens, but ensure to consult with a healthcare professional for safety and efficacy.

Encouragement for a Proactive Approach

Taking a proactive approach to managing weight gain during menopause not only addresses the physical aspect of weight but also enhances overall health and well-being. Success stories of other women who have navigated this challenging time can serve as powerful motivation. These stories highlight the importance of persistence, lifestyle adjustments, and the support of a community or professionals.

It’s crucial to set realistic goals, find enjoyable physical activities, and cultivate a supportive network. Remember, every woman’s journey through menopause is unique, and what works for one may not work for another. Therefore, it’s important to tailor strategies to individual needs and preferences.

Embrace this time of change with optimism and determination. By focusing on comprehensive lifestyle changes and considering medical advice tailored to your personal health circumstances, you can manage menopausal weight gain effectively and lead a vibrant, healthy life during menopause and beyond.

Additional Resources for Managing Menopause and Weight Gain

Navigating menopause and managing weight gain during this period can be challenging, but a variety of resources are available to help. Here are some recommended readings, supportive communities, and professional advice for personalized guidance:

Further Reading

  1. Books:
    • The Wisdom of Menopause by Dr. Christiane Northrup – This book provides comprehensive insights into the changes women can expect during menopause and how to manage them effectively.
    • Menopause Diet Plan: A Natural Guide to Hormones, Health, and Happiness by Hillary Wright and Elizabeth Ward – This guide offers dietary advice specifically tailored for menopausal women.
  2. Websites:
    • – The North American Menopause Society (NAMS) provides a wealth of information on menopause management, including research updates and expert advice. Visit NAMS
    • Women’s – This government website offers information on menopause treatment, including lifestyle tips and medical options. Visit Women’s Health

Supportive Communities

  1. Online Forums and Groups:
    • The Menopause Chicks – This private Facebook group offers a supportive community for women to discuss menopause-related topics, share experiences, and seek advice. Join Menopause Chicks on Facebook
    • Women Living Better – An online community supported by experts that offers information and peer support on managing menopause. Visit Women Living Better
  2. Local Support Groups:
    • Many community centers, hospitals, and health clinics offer support groups for women going through menopause. These can be excellent resources for connecting with others facing similar challenges.

Professional Healthcare Advice

  1. Find a Menopause Specialist:
    • You can use the NAMS website to find a menopause specialist in your area who can provide personalized advice tailored to your specific health needs. Find a Menopause Specialist
  2. Consult with a Dietitian or Nutritionist:
    • A professional dietitian or nutritionist can help develop a personalized eating plan that considers your metabolic changes during menopause. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics offers a tool to find a nutrition professional. Find a Nutritionist
  3. Engage with a Personal Trainer or Physical Therapist:
    • Specialized exercise routines tailored to your body’s needs can be very beneficial. Look for trainers or therapists who specialize in working with midlife women.

Using these resources, you can gain valuable insights, receive support, and take proactive steps toward managing your health during menopause. Whether through reading, participating in communities, or seeking specialized advice, these tools can help you navigate the challenges of menopause more effectively.

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About the author

Jane Smith brings over two decades of dedicated service as an endocrinologist, with a deep-seated specialization in managing and studying diabetes, thyroid and parathyroid disorders, obesity, and lipid dysfunctions, as well as various hormonal imbalances. Jane's commitment to her field is evident in her active engagement with research aimed at uncovering novel medications and advancing technologies to improve the quality of life for individuals grappling with these chronic diseases. Her expertise and passion for endocrinology have made her a respected figure in the pursuit of innovative treatment approaches.