Remember the Freshmen 10? Now meet the dreaded Menopause 15 – the typical 12-15 pounds many women gain when they hit midlife and menopause.
We’ve heard a lot about “intermittent fasting” – a regimen of eating and fasting within time limits – and because menopause weight gain is a thing, we wanted to know if intermittent fasting is (a) good for us, and (b) effective. Here’s what we learned about intermittent fasting and menopause…
Weight gain in women over 40 is extremely common, though the exact cause and effect is still under debate. Lower estrogen levels may mean a lower metabolic rate, which can result in weight gain even when our diet hasn’t changed. We may be less able to utilize starches and sugars due to increased insulin resistance. Or it’s those two enzymes that store and synthesize fat, which are more active in postmenopausal women contributing to menopause weight gain. Or it’s the loss of muscle mass causing us to burn fewer calories, even at rest. Frustratingly, many women deal with an increase in ghrelin, the hunger hormone, and/or a decrease in leptin, the hormone that alerts us when we're sated.
So one of the first things to realize it that weight gain in this time of life (or any time, for that matter) is not "failure" or lack of will power. Hormones exercise a much greater power over our emotions and actions than we give them credit for, and fluctuations in estrogen, followed by a decline in estrogen levels can make weight management a whole lot harder. Beating yourself up over it not only isn't accurate, it also doesn't burn calories, so please don't.
Where women gain the weight also shifts, from hips and thighs to belly and waist, making the gain more noticeable when your jeans no longer button comfortably. The menopausal weight gain around the stomach and belly doesn't just strain your jeans, though. Weight gain can impact your health: extra belly fat is tied to a higher risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, cholesterol, high blood pressure – even certain cancers.
Sudden perimenopause weight gain can catch women off guard, and be hard to combat once it's there. There are many purported menopause weight gain remedies and supplements, but be leery of the plethora of snake oil pushed upon the menopause crowd touted as a miracle cure.
Depending on the regimen you follow, intermittent fasting (IF) can be a pattern of eating normally most days of the week, and severely restricting calories or not eating at all on the other days. It can mean eating only in a window of a few hours a day (say, fasting for 16 hours, getting all your meals in in 8), or fasting every other day.
The idea is that fasting mildly stresses the body’s cells, making them stronger and better able to defend against damage. Advocates say IF can extend life, prevent disease, and regulate weight. There has been some success in studies with rats, and many who practice IF say it’s helped them feel more energized and boosted their metabolism.
There are some very famous (and very fit) proponents of intermittent fasting, including The Wolverine’s Hugh Jackman. However, the jury is still very much out on the effectiveness of intermittent fasting for the public at large, and more studies with humans need to be conducted to thoroughly understand the benefits and risks.
If you want to try IF, do your research first. Registered dietitian and food peace activist Julie Duffy Dillon says, as with all radical changes to diet, it’s best to proceed with caution and check with your doctor first.
“Intermittent fasting has not been shown to keep weight off long term (2+ years). There is absolutely no data on its capability to keep weight off. Plus, most of the research was done on mice and done for a very short time, just six weeks,” says Julie. “For most people, it’s just not sustainable long term or when they’re under stress.”
But even more, Julie is concerned about intermittent fasting triggering unhealthy, disordered eating. “Women with a history of disordered eating or sensitivity to estrogen changes would be setting themselves up for a massive binge/restrict/binge cycle or other disordered eating patterns mimicking anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa. I’d expect binge eating behaviors even for those not connected to eating disorders in their past following a restricting day.”
[see Julie’s thoughts on the links between Eating disorders, midlife, and menopause]
There are lots of ways to get to a healthy body, and for some, intermittent fasting may work. Just be sure to watch for warning signs of disordered eating and get help at the first signs that your diet has taken an unhealthy turn. Exercise for menopause weight gain is a less radical option, or can be used in conjunction with intermittent fasting (very carefully).
If you want to get healthy in a sustainable way, one really smart path is to work with a health coach who understands nutrition. Working with a good health coach can help you avoid the dangers of falling into disordered or just unhealthy eating patterns. Food isn't evil, it isn't the enemy in a battle with your will power — it's a tool to fuel your body and lifestyle.
A health coach can help you identify the foods you need for the right balance of nutrients and how to introduce more movement into your day. At Gennev, our clinic for menopause has health coaches — who are also Registered Dietitian Nutritionists — focus on health rather than weight loss, but losing some sizes and gaining some muscle generally come with a healthier eating plan!
Finally, Gennev health coaches receive special training in menopause issues and menopause care, so they can help you not only understand what your body is doing, they can help get menopause symptom relief and improve the quality of your life overall.
*This article is for educational purposes and is not intended to replace the advice of a health care professional. If you think you may be experiencing disordered eating, please seek help immediately.