FACT : During the first two years of menopause, women can gain 8 to 12 pounds due to changes in their bodies(1).
FICTION : There is nothing you can do about it.
Menopause induces a lot of changes for the woman's life, including weight gain. Intermittent fasting is one of the solution that can help supporting a healthy menopause.
Unless one has entered menopause due to illness, surgery, or medicine, this life phase is a natural process of aging.
The early stage of hormonal changes experienced by midlife women, such as depleting estrogen and progesterone levels, is called perimenopause. Women who are typically in their mid-40s, but even in their 30s, will notice changes to their menstrual cycle alongside unwanted physical and emotional changes like hot flushes, decreased libido, mood issues, and yes, stubborn weight gain.
Full menopause occurs when a woman hasn’t had a period for 12 CONSECUTIVE months, which typically occurs by her mid-50s.
Debra Waterhouse, author of “Menopause Without Weight Gain,” offers this reason for why midlife women gain weight: “As soon as your fat cells detect a slightly lower estrogen level, they come to your aid to produce estrogen. . . . They increase in size, number and ability to store fat. The fat cells in your waist grow the largest because they are better equipped to produce estrogen than the fat cells in your buttocks, hips or thighs.”(2)
In addition, women in menopause might experience difficulty processing sugar and carbohydrates, especially junky carbs, and may become insulin resistant. Insulin resistance causes the body’s glucose (sugar) levels in the blood to increase and store more unwanted fat.
Now that you know why you have put on weight as you’ve entered your 40s and 50s, it is time to figure out how intermittent fasting can help.
When we eat or drink foods containing sugars and refined grains, our blood sugar level rises, and the fat-storing hormone insulin is released. But when we stretch out the time between eating, insulin levels have a chance to decrease.
If enough time passes, and your insulin level gets low enough a different hormone is released called glucagon, which is a fat-burning hormone. You become more insulin sensitive and likely to lose weight when you allow your insulin levels to decrease through fasting.
One study showed that postmenopausal women may lose twice as much weight as younger, perimenopausal women when fasting. Postmenopausal women may also experience a 20 to 40 percent decrease in insulin resistance.(3) The differences between these stages of menopause may be explained by a difference in activity level due to some of the other issues the perimenopausal woman must face.
In the same study, postmenopausal women following intermittent fasting showed a 20% decrease in “bad” (LDL) cholesterol and improved blood pressure.(3) Both factors can decrease the risk of heart disease and stroke.
Osteoporosis (weak, brittle bones) risk increases due to a decline in estrogen, which is important for bone strength.
Research suggests that intermittent fasting contributes less to bone loss than traditional dieting.(4) A study in the Journal of Mid-Life Health found a link between intermittent fasting and improved bone health. That study also showed that periods of fasting can positively impact the musculoskeletal disorders commonly experienced by middle-aged and elderly women.
Fasting also improved women’s muscle and joint pain and made low back pain and arthritis less noticeable.(5) When your body feels better, you are more apt to exercise.
If you’ve just started intermittent fasting and are experiencing hormonal issues, here are some suggestions:
If you’re already experiencing annoyances due to menopausal changes, you can start with a 12 to 14-hour fast and build up slowly, over a couple of weeks, to a 16 to 18-hour fast length. This gives both your body and mind time to adjust to determine if or how fasting affects your menopausal problems and will help you stick with it.
Before you start, write down any problems you are having with hot flashes, sex drive, mood, memory, etc. Give each issue a rating of 1 to 10 for discomfort or interfering with your life, with 1 meaning “no issues” and 10 being “unbearable.” As you begin fasting, review this list every few days and rate yourself again to ensure that these issues are improving and not worsening.
Every BODY is different. Only you know what feels good and is suitable for you. Pay attention when you eat – which foods energize you and uplift your mood? Which ones make you feel sluggish and unfocused? Note how you feel during the final 30 minutes of your fasting time. Are you even hungry? Are you starving and uncomfortable? Adjust your fasting time each day, if needed, depending on how you feel.
When done right, Intermittent Fasting is a game-changer for the menopausal woman.
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