By Dr Wendy Sweet, Women’s Healthy Ageing Researcher & MyMT Coach
If your waist is ‘thickening’, your body-shape is changing and you are going into or through menopause, then let me explain why!
Are you feeling ‘bloated’ and your clothes feel tighter? Have your hot flushes increased too? Perhaps dieting and exercising aren’t working for you either?
Despite over 30 years working in careers in nursing, the exercise industry and teaching university-level exercise, nutrition and sports science education, when my weight went up and I felt so bloated during peri-menopause, I became so confused as to why things I had done in the past to manage my health no longer seemed to work for me. My cholesterol levels, blood pressure, joints and muscles were changing – let alone the extra ‘fat-roll’ under my breasts and around my belly and no amount of exercise or dieting was getting rid of this. I became worried about the transition into worsening heart and health problems as I aged.
It’s such a confusing time of our lives isn’t it? When I felt like this, I went to the gym, exercised hard and changed my diet too. No processed carbs and low sugar. Isn’t this what we are all supposed to do? But I was still putting on weight and my blood cholesterol levels were rising.
So I started to do some studies. When my study participants told me of the similar experiences, this was when I knew that for women everywhere, I had to research what was really going on in menopause and move our symptom management out of medicine and into wellness.
Although not all women put on weight during menopause, the majority do. Are you one of these women? If so, then perhaps you aren’t sleeping, have more hot flushes and night sweats, or experiencing changing cholesterol levels, palpitations, sore joints and muscles. Did you know that all of these symptoms are connected as we transition through menopause? No, until I looked into it, I didn’t realise this either.
Menopause is the time of our life from our mid-40’s to late 50’s when we lose oestrogen-producing cells from our ovaries and head into our natural, biological ageing. For millions of women, this time of life makes them feel exhausted, hot and un-motivated and medical experts have been quick to blame our ovaries and low oestrogen levels.
But, here’s the kicker. Because all of our hormones ‘talk’ to each other in our body, our changing levels of both oestrogen and progesterone create a bit of chaos with other hormones too. When these other hormones get out of balance, this means that our body is going into ‘survival’ mode as it tries to rectify the changing hormonal environment. But what happens to many of us women, is that this means that our fat cells are storing excess oestrogen in order to ‘survive’ – and the fat cells that are targeted are the thousands of fat cells around your belly, breasts, back and bum – I call this the ‘Four B’s!
I’m so pleased I looked into it, because when fat increases around our diaphragm and abdominal areas, then this leads to a condition called ‘Metabolic Syndrome’. This is the name that medical experts give to the cocktail of health issues (high cholesterol, high blood pressure and changing blood sugars) that are linked to post-menopause heart disease.
So, if this has happened to you too, then I share these
5 main reasons your body shape changes in menopause
1. Low Vitamin D3 absorption
Changing oestrogen levels impact on how much Vitamin D (in the form of D3) is absorbed into you. When Vitamin D levels are low, this has a negative impact on some other hormones as well, especially your thyroid and blood-sugar regulation hormones, both of which help to control your metabolism.
Vitamin D3 levels have an impact on your sleep hormone, called melatonin, as well. So, for millions of women transitioning into and through menopause, suddenly, their sleep quality declines…. and their fat burning overnight stops.
Weight gain also increases the prevalence of night sweats. This is due to the powerful interaction of low Vitamin D3 levels, low melatonin levels and high insulin levels which lead to an over-active thyroid, which is working hard to cool you down at night!
2. Poor Liver Health
I know when I went into peri-menopause myself, I had no idea that my liver would be so important to me!
Did you know that even though your oestrogen and progesterone levels are declining in mid-life, your pituitary gland in your brain is still pumping out ‘messages’ to your ovaries to keep making oestrogen. Crazy isn’t it?
What this does though is to cause oestrogen receptors in other parts of our body, including the liver and our fat cells, to store oestrogen too. When this happens, this disrupts the opposite hormone called progesterone which increases the work of our adrenal glands which produce our stress hormones.
Some of you will find that you feel more anxious and ‘hot’ as your blood pressure and heart rate increase in response to the activation of your stress hormones.
Unfortunately, this also means a disruption to our cholesterol levels because cholesterol is needed to keep making stress hormones. This is why millions of women have changing cholesterol levels as they go through menopause.
This is why, in MyMT weight loss programme, I have researched how to improve the health of our liver. It’s the one organ that we rely on to help us clear all of the excess oestrogen. No amount of exercise will deal with it unless you learn how to manage your liver and hormonal health specific to your menopause transition.
3. When you aren’t sleeping, too much exercise causes more inflammation and weight gain
It’s understandable that for a generation of women, used to heading to the gym , or pounding the pavements to ‘burn calories’, that the first thing we think we should do to lose weight, is even more exercise. I used to think this way too – especially after 30+ years in the fitness industry!
However, as we know from sports science research, when you aren’t sleeping well, then you aren’t able to recover from exercise training. But what’s worse for women during menopause, is that not sleeping AND increasing weight gain, causes hot flushes and night sweats to become worse.
It then becomes a vicious cycle of despair! Don’t get me wrong, I love exercising and working hard, but when I went into menopause, these workouts left me feeling hot, exhausted and more bloated! It was so confusing, because there is a lot of good research and marketing, that to ‘work hard’ is better for us as we age.
This is why I was surprised, when my research led me down a different path for our exercise. And it made so much sense to me, because of the numerous studies on female athletes and over-training syndrome. What I discovered, is that there is a fine balance between too-much exercise and not-enough exercise for your weight loss needs in menopause.
4. Menopause heralds in a new hormonal environment, so changing aspects of your diet and exercise is important
As I often say in my live-events around New Zealand, we are the first generation of women to enter into our menopause years, having come through all the sport, fitness and dieting industries.
By the time we reach our mid-life, it is so confusing as to what we need to do to manage ourselves. So many of us, as I did too, turn to medical treatments. But these don’t get to the heart of the problem, which is changing our sleep, our nutrition, our exercise and cleaning out our liver and pancreatic health.
Menopause is known as ‘the change’. Although this relates to ‘changing reproductive levels’, what I teach women in the MyMT programmes,[I have two programmes – one for thinner women and one for women putting on weight], is that we have to change up what we are doing to suit our new hormonal environment.
When we do this and re-store the other hormones that get out of balance during menopause, then our symptoms go away, including our increasing belly fat!
5. Don’t forget that even though you ‘feel young’, your internal cells, tissues and organs are ageing and this affects how your body responds to fat metabolism as well
Sorry girls’, but the reality is that your muscles lose their tone as we go through menopause, because low oestrogen levels messes up other hormones that help you to turn-over proteins and hold on to muscle.
It’s a well known condition called ‘sarcopenia’. The same can be said for bone cells too, but this is more related to how we metabolise Vitamin D3 as we age [and I go into this in one of my learning modules on the MyMT ‘Transform Me’ programme].
It’s so important for us to hold onto muscle and strengthen our muscles and bones as we go through menopause, but because low oestrogen has an impact on our blood vessels and our exercise recovery, then it is important to understand that many of us have to strengthen muscles in a way that is ‘healing and not harming’.
By this I mean, not to place them under heavy, resistance loading. This puts up our blood pressure too much, worsening our hot flushes.
Wendy Sweet, [RN/PhD]
MyMT Women’s Healthy Ageing Researcher & MyMT Creator & Coach
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About Wendy’s “My Menopause Transformation” Programs
From her research on women’s healthy ageing, Wendy has tackled menopause weight management and symptoms reduction through lifestyle and education.
Wendy offers two programmes that run for 12 weeks and it is all on-line, so you can access them anywhere you happen to be. There are 6 learning modules which take you through step-by-step lifestyle solutions. Women also love Wendy’s private coaching community which is a complimentary part of the programme.