Is Menopause Putting on the Pounds? Fat Chance

Menacing midlife weight gain has taken on epidemic proportions. Chalking it up to menopause is a logical thought. But weight gain coincides with a woman’s midlife years to a certain extent irrespective of the timing of menopause. Which one is really to blame: is it aging, is it menopause, or is it hormone therapy (HT)?

The truth is, research is mixed regarding whether menopause causes weight gain, but HT is definitely off the hook. For instance, some studies have shown no significant differences in weight gain between hormone users and nonusers after 15 years of testing. Others even suggest that hormone therapy has a positive impact on the distribution of body fat by preventing the development of android (around the waist) body fat. In a recent study, three months of estrogen therapy has shown a decrease in waist-hip ratio. No studies support the notion that weight gain is caused by HT.

So what exactly is adding to women’s waistlines? Research points to the following factors:

  • Aging. Body fat continues to accumulate during perimenopause and beyond, adding to the ongoing fat storage that happens naturally throughout adult life. Activity and metabolic rate tend to decrease with time. At menopause, estrogen production goes low and stays low. Weight gain can sneak up on you. Do the math; 15 extra calories per day (that would be less than half of most cookies) is 2 pounds a year. So, 2 pounds a year for 5 years is 10 pounds.
  • Exercise and food choices. Eating “real” food is an important way of controlling weight. Buy your groceries from the outside aisles of your grocery store, picking fresh and frozen food without labels. Stay away from fast food, junk food, snack food, and processed food. Your portions should be no bigger than the size of your fist. When you go out, bring tomorrow’s lunch home (only eat half of the generous portions served in most restaurants nowadays). Exercise is also important. While aerobic activities are good, resistance exercise may provide greater weight control benefits. Resistance exercise, such as weight training, builds more lean body muscle tissue that burns more calories, helping women to lose weight. 
  • Lifestyle. Doing activities with friends, taking on new challenges, abstaining from smoking, eating good food, exercising, and taking your women’s one-a-day vitamin, vitamin D, calcium, and fish oil, help stop the “fat chance.”

Exercise, real food, and attention to lifestyle have the added benefit of improving overall health and well-being at the same time, while decreasing menopause symptoms. Menacing midlife weight gain can be stopped in its tracks and even reversed.

Last reviewed: November 2009

The Co-Editors of Menopause Flashes are Elizabeth Contestabile, RNC, BScN, Nurse Educator, Shirley E. Greenberg Women’s Health Centre, The Ottawa Hospital, Riverside Campus, Ottawa, ON, Canada; and Marcie K. Richardson, MD, Co-director, Harvard Vanguard Menopause Consultation Service, Boston, MA.

This e-newsletter, developed under the direction of the Consumer Education Committee of The North American Menopause Society (NAMS), provides current information, but not specific medical advice. It is not intended to substitute for the judgment of an individual’s healthcare provider. To unsubscribe, send us an e-mail request.

Copyright 2009. Distributing print copies of this e-newsletter, in whole or part, is strictly prohibited.

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