Even if you’re not close to menopause yet, it may already be on your mind. It is for many of my clients over the age of 35, who worry about the impact of hormonal changes on their shapes and weights. The truth is, menopause, and the preceding perimenopause, can wreak some havoc with your metabolism. However, I’ve seen many women successfully lose weight during and after this life transition, and now new research published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics sheds a little more light on which strategies work.
In the University of Pittsburg study, researchers tracked more than 500 post-menopausal women for several years. After six months, they found that four specific behaviors led to weight loss: eating fewer desserts and fried foods, drinking fewer sugary beverages, eating more fish, and dining at restaurants less often. After four years, eating fewer desserts and sugary drinks continued to be associated with weight loss or maintenance. And in the long-term, munching on more produce and eating less meat and cheese were also found to be tied to weight loss success.
The great news about this research is that the same tried and true techniques we know to be effective earlier in life worked to support weight loss after menopause. In other words, you don’t have to resort to a drastic diet or feel doomed to grow wider as you grow wiser. And this isn’t the first study to show that midlife weight loss is achievable.
A Brigham Young study followed nearly 200 middle-aged women for three years and tracked information on their health and eating habits. Scientists found that those who did not make conscious dietary changes were 138 percent more likely to put weight, on average nearly 7 pounds. The silver lining here is that your habits do make a difference, so a lot of the control is in your hands, and that’s empowering. The key is to start now to stave off weight gain as you age and make weight maintenance later in life less daunting. Here are five savvy strategies to focus on today, and tips for putting them into action.
Banish sugary drinks
Replacing just one can of regular soda per day with water would save you the equivalent of five 4-pound bags of sugar each year. If you’re not a fan of plain water, check out my previous post about how to jazz it up and why diet soda isn’t recommended.
Replace concentrated sources of calories
Did you know that you could eat 1 cup (the size of a baseball) of fresh strawberries for the same number of calories in just 1 tablespoon (the size of your thumb from where it bends to the tip) of strawberry jam? As often as you can, choose fresh, whole foods rather than processed versions.
Get your fill of fiber
Fiber fills you up, but fiber itself doesn’t provide any calories because your body can’t digest or absorb it. Also, a German study found that for every gram of fiber we eat, we eliminate about 7 calories. That means consuming 35 grams of fiber each day could essentially cancel out 245 calories. The best sources are fruits and vegetables with an edible skin or seeds or those with tough stalks, as well as beans, lentils, and whole grains including oats, wild rice, and popped popcorn.
Eat more plant-based meals
Going vegetarian, even part-time, can give you a weight loss edge. Check out my previous post about the link as well as dos and don’ts for veggie-based meals.
Keep a journal
A Kaiser Permanente study found that keeping a food diary can double weight-loss results. One reason it’s so effective is that many of us overestimate how active we are, overestimate our food needs, underestimate how much we eat, and engage in a lot of mindless eating. In one Cornell study, researchers had a hidden camera filming people at an Italian restaurant. When diners were asked how much bread they’d eaten five minutes after the meal, 12 percent said they didn’t eat any and the rest ate 30 percent more than they thought they did. Journaling keeps you aware and honest, and can allow you to identify unhealthy patterns and change them.
What’s your take on this topic? Do you worry about menopausal weight gain? Or have you managed your weight through this phase of life? Please tweet your thoughts to @cynthiasass and @Shape_Magazine
Cynthia Sass is a registered dietitian with master's degrees in both nutrition science and public health. Frequently seen on national TV, she's a SHAPE contributing editor and nutrition consultant to the New York Rangers and Tampa Bay Rays. Her latest New York Times best seller is S.A.S.S! Yourself Slim: Conquer Cravings, Drop Pounds and Lose Inches.