This is a common question; unfortunately, it’s complicated to answer. First let me say that while I know weight gain affects many women’s sense of being desirable, what I read and my own informal research suggests it’s rarely an issue for their partners (some of whom are, in fact, oblivious—in a good way—and just as attracted as ever).
There does seem to be a physiologic drive to deposit fat during the menopause transition. The theory is that fat produces estrogen (estrone—a relatively weak estrogen), so in the presence of impending organ failure (menopause) and loss of estrogen from the ovaries (estradiol-the major, more important estrogen) that will occur, the body does its defensive thing: It deposits fat, really efficiently and effectively.
Unfortunately, estrone doesn’t provide many favorable effects. The major location for depositing fat is the midsection. Women who have yo-yoed in weight over the years seem to struggle more; those fat cells seem to remember readily how to deposit fat. Even women who have no weight gain during this transition will have a waist circumference increase of up to two inches.
Minimizing the weight gain starts with maintaining a healthy weight over time; those who are most successful in this transition benefit from years of stability at a healthy body weight leading into those years.
Those menopause transition years will be an added challenge, so start to make small healthy changes early on. Women lose muscle mass quite readily at this time of life, so work to maintain or gain muscle with strength training activities.
It’s a fact of life that at this point, it takes more effort to get the same results, requires more dietary caution and exercise, and leaves little room for not paying attention. My motto: You’re now high maintenance; behave like it!
Dr. Barb DePree, M.D., has been a gynecologist and women’s health provider for almost 30 years and a menopause care specialist for the past ten.