For decades, the standard advice for women struggling with hormonal weight gain in peri/post menopause has been to “Eat less and exercise more.”
The truth is – this advice has caused mass frustration and failed weight loss attempts among menopausal women everywhere and is totally counter productive to the goal in mind.
There are four main reasons for why this is true:
- Increased Stress: Restricting calories and over-exercising causes stress on the body. This can lead to hormonal imbalances as increased stress can result in increased cortisol levels, negatively affecting thyroid function and leading to weight gain, especially around the middle. Restricting calories can also cause estrogen levels to plummet putting you in a state of hormonal havoc. Weight may come off quickly at first but at a cost to your mood, appetite regulation and sleep, resulting in weight re-gain+. In addition, stress is the primary issue if you are doing everything right and you still have belly fat.
- Slower Metabolism: When we restrict calories and over-exercise, our bodies go into “starvation mode” slowing down our metabolism to conserve energy. This most often leads to slower weight loss and more difficulty in maintaining any weight loss results long-term.
- Increased Hunger: Restricting calories and over-exercising can make you “hangry” which is the biggest obstacle to weight loss there is. It leads to overeating or even a full-on binge – negatively affecting hormonal balance and overall health.
- It’s just way too simplistic for the complex situation of hormonal weight gain and if it worked, I and all of my nutrition colleagues would be out of business.
So specifically, In menopause the idea of calories in vs. calories out is out the window! Yes it’s true that as we age our metabolism dips (approximately 5% for each decade over 40) and we need less calories and so I would never say they don’t matter at all but what matters more is not so much the quantity but the quality of your calories and your hormonal response to them – that’s the real deal.
There’s a very complicated sciency explanation for why this is true but for our purposes here I’m just going to give you a short example:
For example: You can gain weight eating a 100 calorie pack of cookies and lose weight eating a 300 calorie serving of lean protein and veggies.
Why? Because the snack pack if full of hormonally unfriendly and inflammatory ingredients like sugar, refined flour and preservatives – all which promote fat storage and the lean protein and veggie snack is full of hormone-friendly nutrients that encourage fat-burning instead. For the most part it’s all about sugar and your hormonal response to it!
Regarding exercise: Your running on the treadmill an hour each day to burn off excess weight and belly fat but guess what – you are only making matters worse.
Exercising at too high an intensity, too long a duration and too much cardio can result in exhausting your adrenals causing hormone fluctuations. In menopause, its a given that your adrenal glands are probably not in tip top shape due to decades of stress and now your over-exercising is the straw that broke the camels back so to speak. Your adrenals become even more depleted making it nearly impossible to balance your hormones and lose weight – especially that pesky menopausal middle. In addition, instead of building up muscle, you are now breaking it down and decreasing your fat-burning ability as you need muscle to burn fat. So, too much of the wrong exercise causes more stress in the body which results in decreased muscle and increased belly fat. Again – it’s all about your hormonal response.
BETTER ADVICE: Eat Smarter, Move Smarter. Eat more nutrient-dense, less energy dense foods and do less cardio and more strength training and calming exercise like yoga, pilates, tai chi and stretching. This is less stressful on the body and builds more muscle which burns more fat without increasing your hunger.
So can you see that the advice of “eat less and exercise more” can actually be totally counter productive to what you are trying to achieve? This is actually good news because ugh – who wants to do that anyway!?
So the next time anyone says “Just eat less and exercise more” to you, just reply “I eat and exercise according to my hormonal response to both” – that will shut them up and maybe teach them a thing or two.
Let’s chat about how I can help you shed that excess hormonal weight and feel like yourself again – WooHoo!!
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