Midlife weight gain in women: what can you expect? What can you do about it?

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September 13, 2018
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On average, women gain about 1.5 pounds/year during their midlife. After menopause, many women find that their middle gets “thicker” as a result of where their body stores adipose (fat) tissue. As we go through life, our bodies change.

Why do women gain weight in midlife?

Midlife women are exposed to many influences that promote weight gain: estrogen deprivation, potential mood disorders (e.g. anxiety, depression), trouble sleeping, lifestyle changes (exercise, social habits, enjoying the “good life”) and changes to their overall health profile.

  • As women age, they tend to be less physically active, resulting in less lean body mass which then lowers metabolism.
  • Women in midlife are likely to be juggling family matters. Children, aging parents, pets.
  • She may be making decisions about her current relationship and/or friendships. Is she surrounded by people who fill her up versus drag her down?
  • She may be focused on her career. Maybe she is climbing the career ladder. Or she is exploring her career options for something more fulfilling.
  • She is thinking about her finances and doing some financial planning for her future.

These changes may seem small and they can be quite subtle. However, put all together, they are impactful on our physical, emotional and spiritual selves. Most women do gain weight as they age, and as a result of hormonal changes, they change the pattern of where they store their weight.

We talk to our teenage girls about their changing bodies to help them understand and expect that their bodies will change. We normalize it because it is normal. Yet, when it comes to our aging bodies, we perceive it as abnormal and we fight it. All. The. Way.

 

Most women are dissatisfied with their bodies

You will be shocked to learn that 80-90% of women in their midlife report being dissatisfied with their bodies. Women are bombarded with images and messages that they are not enough. Their bodies aren’t good enough. They aren’t working  hard enough. They aren’t eating properly. They aren’t working out properly. They aren’t disciplined. They are not enough.

Many women turn to dieting to “fix” their weight. They internalize all that is out of balance with their life, and project it onto their bodies. They look at only a microcosm of their life – how do they “fix” their body (what do they need to do to lose weight?), without examining their life as a whole, to see what else might need attention.

 

Weight loss carries risks

Research has demonstrated that weight loss leads to a decrease in metabolism beyond what is expected based on changes in body weight and composition alone. This makes managing weight even more complicated in the future.

Peri-menopause and menopause both have an impact on skeletal bone health. Weight loss during this time is associated with increasing rates of bone loss and higher risk for bone fracture (Are you at risk of osteoporosis?).

There are also psychological harms that come from weight loss attempts, including disordered eating, eating disorders (yes, even in women in their midlife can struggle with eating disorders), and body image concerns.

 

What are the options for women in their midlife who want to address their weight?

You are where you are. It is part of your life story. It is part of the natural course of life to see your body change. Just like we educate our teenage girls on how their bodies change, learn how your body will change as you age.

Jump off the diet wagon. Stop punishing yourself with restrictive, unsustainable food plans. Shift your perspective to something bigger than just your weight. Think about your life as a whole. What is it that you really want? What is it that you need to add in to your life? What do you need to say yes to? What do you need to say no to? How do you want to be in this world? How does food and lifestyle fit into that vision?

Stop comparing yourself to others. Stop comparing yourself to your girlfriends, and family. You may observe people eating a certain way – but you have no idea how they actually eat behind closed doors. You have no idea if they are truly healthy. You have no idea what their relationship with food is.

Stop comparing yourself to a younger you. I have seen women who have spent the last 20+ years of their life trying to lose the same 20+ pounds. Our bodies change as we go through life. You are not the same person you were back then. What have you all gained in your life? What is your life story?

If you stopped channeling your limited time and resources into a weight that was from a different era in your life, what would open up for you? What would become possible in your life? What would life be like if you partnered with your body and offered it care?

Tune in.  If you are an emotional eater, tune in to those emotions to listen to what they might be trying to tell you, rather than trying to stuff them down or avoid them. Learning to be with uncomfortable emotions can feel scary – and yet, it can also open up your life to more emotional freedom. If this sounds like you, and this feels too over-whelming, you may benefit from talking to a professional to get the support you need and deserve.

Think bigger for yourself. Stop running around frantically managing all aspects of your life and start creating a life that feels fulfilling. Stop managing your weight as if it is another problem to be solved and start acting in choice for what you really want. Think bigger for yourself and your life.

Seek support. After having been on the diet wagon, you may have forgotten how to actually eat. You may be totally overwhelmed by all the information out there, which results in a perspective that there is a right and a wrong way to eat…..Is it okay to eat carrots? Yogurt? Is it okay to have carbs? Should I use butter or margarine? What about nuts? Seek support from a registered dietitian who can help pull out the knowledge that you already have, who can help clarify misinformation and put your mind at ease.

If the role models for your life were forever on and off different diets, be kind to yourself for where you are today. No one ever showed you how to eat and interact with food in a way that is not based in fear.

As Dr Yoni Freedhoff has said – find ways of eating and moving that you can enjoy and sustain. This is the holy grail for all of us.

Kristyn Hall
Kristyn Hall
Kristyn Hall MSc, RD, Food, Nutrition & Culinary Coach, Registered Nutritionist and Calgary Dietitian, Calgary, AB.

2 Comments

  1. Maria Ricupero says:

    What a lovely post, Kristyn. Acceptance really is liberating. Our changing bodies need to be celebrated and honored. Thank you.

    • Kristyn Hall says:

      Thank you Maria for your comment. Change, especially when it is out of your control, is difficult. However, when you know it is coming, it can help to understand it, rather than to totally repel it and respond with toxic, restrictive patterns.

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