Updated: Jun 7, 2022
Before I begin - I just need to preface this talk tonight with the reminder that I am not a doctor, I am not a medical professional and should you seek further information, or more in-depth information around this topic, i strongly recommend you seek advice from your own medical professional.
Alright- menopause. The meaning behind the word menopause is literally to pause the month - meno = month, pause = pause. So it is the term used to described the fact that the monthly cycle of a woman has stopped. Interesting fact: you are considered to be in menopause once it has been a year since your last period. Yep - a whole 12 months. The time before that, when things are changing, is called perimenopause. Some people call it pre-menopause but the term most commonly recognised is the medical field is perimenopause.
It is interesting to note that not all women actually go through perimenopause nor do they recognise the symptoms. They simply find themselves in menopause!
During perimenopause a number of things start to change in a woman's body:
You will still be having periods - albeit they may be irregular, lighter, heavier or just different to what you are used to. Your cycles may slow down
Your ovaries start producing less hormones- most significantly estrogen. The levels start decreasing in our bodies and this is actually the biggest contributor to weight gain and bodyfat increase that we will get into later.
As your ovaries produce less estrogen, this throws the hormonal balance off because your ovaries are still producing progesterone - this is why we feel a little funny- hot flashes, tired, grumpy, moody, lethargic.
As I said before - we know when we are in menopause when we havent had a period for 12 months. At that point our ovaries have stopped releasing eggs and we are not longer able to reproduce - have babies. Not sure if thats a good thing or a bad thing!
So - this is a time for many women when their bodies really do start to change in terms of weight and body fat. Most commonly women find that they put on more body fat and weight, even though they have done nothing different in terms of eating and exercising. Also - women may find it harder to lose weight. Perhaps before you could simply cut your calories down to 1600-1700 a day and go for regular walks and your weight would be under control - you might lose a few kilos and you’d be back on track.
But you hit menopause, or even perimenopause, and this is no longer the case. It may even feel like nothing is working to shift that weight, or to stop the increase in body weight, and it all feels useless.
But the question I want to ask you is - why is this the case? Do you know?
Often women give up at this point and say ‘ its menopause weight - there’s nothing I can do about it’. Some doctors (insert eye roll) will even say this to their patients who are concerned about weight gain - it’s just menopause and your body has changed. Not much you can do. Move more and eat less. I call bullshit on that. The fact of the matter is - you just haven’t been educated on why your body is making these changes and what you can do about it.
Now don’t get me wrong - every body is different and just like before menopause where there are some people for whom traditional weight loss methods don't seem to work - there will be those in menopause who may never lose as much weight as they like because that's just their body composition - the way they were made to have a balance of fat, muscle and tissue. BUT there is absolutely no reason why you should be obese in menopause if you are equipped with the right tools - menopause is not an excuse - it still comes down to calories in vs calories out, moving your body, quality of nutrition and all those things to maintain a healthy weight. That healthy weight may just look differently for some people based on how they are moving their bodies. We will get into this in more detail next week but for now I want to give you the why. Why is your body changing to have more weight, more body fat and why is it harder to shift now that you are in menopause (or even perimenopause for some women).
The answer is in estrogen. As we mentioned earlier your ovaries stop producing estrogen. Now why is estrogen important? Many people think estrogen is only important for our reproductive organs - but it is responsible for so many other systems in our bodies. Estrogen is an essential hormone to assist with bone health, mental health and even the condition of your heart and cardiovascular system. So while it would be nice to say that the reduction of estrogen going into menopause shouldn't matter because we no longer want to make babies - it does.
There are 3 different forms of estrogen: Estradiol (E2) - which is produced by the ovaries and is most prominent through the child rearing years. Estriol (E3) is a form of estrogen that occurs through pregnancy and is responsible for fetal development and health, and doesn't have a huge impact on our bodies as women outside of pregnancy and breastfeeding.
The last form of estrogen, and the most important one is Estrone (E1). Estrone is the one responsible for the function of our bodies outside of reproduction. It is also made up of another hormone called androgens, and a special process that happens called aromatization is where our fat cells turn androgens into estrogen to use to keep our body healthy. Sometimes this process also happens (in smaller quantities) in our muscles. Let me say that again! Where does this process happen? In our fat cells and muscles! AHA!
So after menopause we don't need the other types of estrogen as much because we are no longer looking to have menstrual cycles, be pregnant or grow a baby. But Estrone is something our bodies still need to have in order to keep our bones, brains and hearts healthy! You may also hear about how some women have higher rates of osteoporosis and bone related disease when they get older? This is somewhat impacted by our estrogen levels (but that's a topic for the medical professionals).
We need estrone, and where is estrone made? Ovaries. Fat Cells. And when we go through menopause our ovaries stop producing hormones - we have been over this already. So, ladies, if our ovaries are no longer producing the estrone where is it going to get it from? That's right! Our fat cells. It is at this point that the body says well I no longer can get the estrogen from the ovaries so I need to increase the size of fat cells to ensure that we have enough of it in our bodies to keep everything else working at optimal levels.
Our bodies start to want to increase fat cells to maintain the same level of estrogen production that we had before menopause. It is that simple.
This is why our body holds onto body fat so much more! We gain weight quicker and usually without changing anything in our nutrition and exercise, and we find it harder to lose body fat because our bodies just want to hold onto it for protection, for survival. Remember how I always talk about the fact that our body doesn't care what you look like? It cares only about keeping you alive! This is one of those other times when you have to fight it!!
It makes sense, doesn't it? And it seems so simple that when i learned about it I was like - is that it? I was expecting it to be something SO complicated, so intricate because it is a HUGE issue for many women - to maintain a healthy body composition in menopause. I really did expect it to have so many different layers. And look - estrogen affects women in different ways so for some women there will be other side effects that may impact fat loss efforts. But for the most part - if we can understand this fundamental concept of why our bodies want more fat - then we are way better equipped to deal with it and combat it.
Let me know your thoughts below ladies! Is your mind blown? Or did you know this already? Did you expect it to be more complicated than that?
Now - I know your next question is going to be - how do I work with that information to lose the bodyfat? How does this change the fact that I can’t lose weight? These are the things that we are going to go over in our next blog post.