Weight gain and menopause

If you gain weight in midlife, you’re not alone. Women put on an average of 1.5 pounds per year between the ages of 40 and 60. About two-thirds of women ages 40 to 59 and nearly three-quarters of women older than 60 are overweight, meaning they have a body mass index (BMI) greater than 25. Being overweight increases the risk for many health problems, including:

  • Certain cancers, such as breast and uterine (endometrial) cancers
  • Heart disease
  • High blood pressure
  • Menopause symptoms, such as hot flashes and night sweats
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Type 2 diabetes

Why do I gain weight?

Genetics, aging, and changes in your lifestyle or hormones contribute to weight gain. As a woman, you also lose about 1% of your muscle mass each year starting around age 30. Your metabolism slows, and you burn fewer calories at rest and during physical activity. That means you may put on pounds even if you keep the same diet and exercise routine you did in younger years. 

Evidence doesn’t show menopause makes you gain weight. But as the ovaries ramp down their production of estrogen and progesterone, you may notice your body stores more fat in your midsection instead of hips and thighs.

Lifestyle tips

Manage your weight with simple, healthful lifestyle habits.

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  • Replace sugary soda and fruit juice with dairy, almond or soy milk; water; or unsweetened tea.
  • Eat in moderation. As you age, you need less food to feel full.
  • Don’t buy junk food. If it’s not in your home, you don’t have to fight temptation to eat it.
  • Eat lots of whole fruits, vegetables, grains and lean proteins.
  • Don’t skip meals, including breakfast. In long-term research studies, women who made time for breakfast every day gained fewer pounds from year to year than women who skipped breakfast.
  • Keep a food diary to track when and why you eat. It can help you find out if you sometimes eat because you feel bad or bored, rather than hungry.
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  • Take a short walk after eating to slow digestion, feel full longer, and help keep your blood sugar balanced.
  • Exercise regularly. Physical activity not only burns calories, but also can improve your sleep, mood and energy—so you’ll be less likely to grab a candy bar or soda when you feel sluggish.
  • Track your number of daily steps with a phone app, wearable fitness tracker or pedometer. You may hear that 10,000 steps a day is a good goal, but any level of activity can help you maintain a healthy weight.
  • Reduce your screen time. Spending long periods sitting can slow your metabolism.
Sleep and stress management
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  • Sleep at least seven to eight hours a night to help your body process calories as it should.
  • Schedule at least three hours a week for yourself to relax. You’ll reduce stress hormones that increase your appetite.

Treatment options

If long-term lifestyle changes don’t help you achieve a healthy weight, ask your doctor whether a medical problem or certain medication may be causing weight gain. Your doctor can also help you explore weight-loss treatments, such as prescription medication or bariatric surgery.

Frequently asked questions

What can I do to stop gaining weight?
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If you haven’t made any changes to your diet and exercise routines, try making some. The diet and exercise habits that worked for you in your 20s and 30s are likely now providing you with more calories than your body needs. Take a look at what you’re eating on a daily basis. Read food labels. Where are your extra calories coming from? Soda? Sugar in your coffee? Your favorite brand of salad dressing? Find ways to cut down on your calories consumed by swapping in healthier alternatives.

In similar fashion, take a look at what you’re doing for exercise. Even if you work out regularly, are you spending more time in front of the TV or hunched over your smartphone than you used to? Make a point of upping your amount of physical activity, aiming for at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise three times a week.

I cut calories and increased physical activity, but I’m still gaining weight. What’s going on?
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If you take medications, check to see if any of them list weight gain as a possible side effect. If medications aren’t the answer, it’s time to talk to a health care provider. Unexplained weight gain can be an indication of an underlying medical condition. A medical professional can help rule out conditions like hypothyroidism, and also advise on how best to address weight gain going forward.

Contact Us

Talk to a care navigator or schedule an appointment at the Women’s Health & Wellness Center.