here. --> Body Shape changes in Menopause: A Guide to Understanding and Acceptance - Rachael Cooper - Menopause Nutrition

Body Shape changes in Menopause: A Guide to Understanding and Acceptance

Changes in body shape and weight are common in menopause. Many women struggle to accept their changing body which can affect their self esteem. 

Can women learn to accept their body during menopause and learn ways to embrace the changes? 

There is hope. This article explains the reasons body shape changes during menopause and how you can take a proactive, body positive approach to acceptance and self love.

A fat white woman who's body has changed during menopause, stands on a sandy beach in front of ocean waves and a partly clouded sky, with her back to the camera. Her back, butt and thighs are shown. She is wearing a purple swimsuit top and mermaid-print shorts.
Image description: A fat white woman stands on a sandy beach in front of ocean waves and a partly clouded blue sky, with her back to the camera. Her back, butt and thighs are shown. This woman has pale skin. She’s wearing a purple swimsuit top and mermaid-print swim shorts.

Understanding menopause & body changes

Hormonal changes in menopause

During perimenopause (the period of time leading up to menopause), hormones such as estrogen and progesterone fluctuate more widely and erratically. Over time, the levels gradually decrease until menopause is reached.

Menopause is when a woman has not had a period for 12 months. After this point, a woman is postmenopausal and hormones like estrogen and progesterone remain low.

How hormonal changes affect body shape and weight

Prior to menopause, many women will have weight mostly on the hips and thighs. Once estrogen levels start to decrease, the weight becomes more distributed around the middle of the body (similar to men). 

Studies show that overall body weight often increases from perimenopause even if diet hasn’t changed significantly. Weight increase can be due to a number of factors including:

  • Decrease in metabolism as we age
  • Hormonal changes
  • Decrease in exercise
  • Stress
  • Poor sleep 

Many symptoms that women experience during perimenopause and menopause can also contribute to body changes. These may include tiredness, night sweats, mood changes and body aches and pains.

Another factor to consider is that lean muscle mass decreases during this time which may explain reduced metabolism. Lean muscle tissue is active tissue that contributes to a higher metabolism. Including adequate protein and regular exercise (particularly strength training) can reduce the loss of muscle for women during the menopause transition and beyond.

Other factors influencing body changes in menopause

Age

As women age, it’s normal for weight to increase. Metabolism slows down so you don’t burn off as much energy. In addition, lean muscle decreases which further contributes to a lower metabolism.

Restricting food in order to lose weight may not be best for your health. Nourishing your body with essential nutrients is very important as you head towards older age. Cutting out food groups or overly restricting the amount of food you eat may mean you are missing out on nutrition that can lead to a better quality of life as you get older. For further information about nutrition for midlife and beyond, read some more of my blog posts.

Furthermore, studies have shown that elderly people with moderately higher weights live longer so it’s important to acknowledge that a low weight is not necessarily the best goal as we get older.

Lifestyle

Lifestyle factors that may contribute to changes in weight during the midlife years include:

  • Increase time and focus on career
  • Challenges of managing a busy family
  • Less time for exercise and/or cooking meals at home
  • Caring for aging parents
  • Muscle and joint issues causing pain
  • Lack of sleep

Embracing your changing body in menopause

Why dieting is not the answer

It can be very tempting to try the latest diet that promises to help you lose weight and get back to your previous “slimmer” body. But it’s important to understand what the research says about weight loss from dieting and the almost inevitable weight regain.

Studies have shown that very few people maintain weight loss past 2-5 years. Research often uses 1 year as the definition of “successful” weight loss maintenance so many studies that report having the answer to long term weight loss are only referring to keeping the weight off for 1 year. A review of the literature showed that only 20% of people in a major weight loss tracking study were able to maintain the loss at 1 year.

The other thing to consider when it comes to dieting  is the cost that comes with it. For many people, in order to lose weight, they need to restrict food intake and/or exercise considerably to lose weight. What effect does that have on how you socialize, participate in important cultural or family events and manage stressful, busy times in your life? 

More importantly, what effect does weight regain have on your mental health and how you feel about yourself? Feelings of guilt, poor self worth and body image may be the result. 

Body acceptance and self love

Loving your body as it is now is not easy. We have been conditioned for many, many years to believe that a smaller body is a better body. We’ve been told a smaller body is more attractive and more healthy. It’s not surprising that it’s hard to love your body when it changes. 

Maybe body love is not what you need to be aiming for. Body acceptance may be more realistic. You can learn to accept that your body has changed and that it’s quite normal for it to change as you get older. Unfollow people on social media that make you feel bad about your body and find new people to follow that encourage you to embrace the body you have now. Some of my favourites on Instagram are:

  • Body Image with Bri
  • Megan Jayne Crabbe
  • Nicole Haggett
  • Hannah talks bodies
  • Tally rye

Overcoming societal beauty standards and ageism

Unfortunately in western countries, we are bombarded with messages about what beauty looks like – and it’s usually thin and young. We don’t see enough variety when it comes to fashion, beauty and the media although there has been a slow change more recently.

It’s time to change your idea of what looks good and find more examples of older women from a range of body sizes, backgrounds and cultures to expand your thinking. This may help you accept your changing body and embrace getting older. In addition, try focusing on what feels good for you rather than the external ideas being fed to you about beauty and looking good.

Some questions you may like to reflect on are:

  • What clothes feel comfortable to wear?
  • What clothes help you feel confident and good about yourself?
  • How do you feel about grey hair?
  • Are you wearing make-up for yourself or because you feel you need to?
  • What determines your self worth? Is it how you look or is it how you live your life?
  • When you’re old and at the end of your life, what do you think you will reflect on most about your life? Will it be how you looked or what experiences you had?

Celebrating your midlife 

The midlife years can be challenging and changes in body shape are often top of the list of concerns for women during this time. But what if you can change the story that perimenopause and menopause is a horrible time and ruining your life and focus on some of the positives you may experience.

Provided your menopause symptoms are well controlled, (if they are not, make that appointment with your health care provider now!) midlife can be a time to really get to know yourself. You’ve been on this planet for at least 40 years and have plenty of life experience behind you. You know what you like and what you don’t and you’re more confident to do what is right for you.

Here are a few things to reflect on to help you feel more positive about the stage of life you’re in:

  • What do you want the second half of your life to look like?
  • Do you have more time for yourself now? What can you do with the time?
  • What are your interests and how have they changed?
  • What do you want to do more of and less of?
  • What are your values (maybe they’ve changed as you’ve aged)?
  • What do I love about my life now?

Positive affirmations for body shape changes in menopause

If you need reminders that your body is not an “issue” and to learn to embrace what it is now, positive affirmations can help. Write a few down that feel good to you and stick them where you will see them regularly eg. the bathroom mirror, the back of the toilet door, in your car. Or you could save it as a screensaver on your phone.

Here are a few affirmations to get you started:

  • I am thankful for what my body can do
  • I don’t hate my body, I hate the way I’ve learned to feel about my body
  • My body is the least interesting thing about me
  • I am enough, just as I am
  • My body doesn’t determine my worth
  • I am working towards accepting my changing body
  • By body allows me to (insert action)
  • My body grew and nourished my children

Summary

Body shape and weight changes are common during menopause. There are a range of factors that influence these changes including hormonal changes, lifestyle changes and age.

Although there are many diets that will promise to help you change your body to make it smaller/slimmer/more toned, the research is clear that long term weight loss after 2 years is very unlikely with the vast majority of people regaining the weight.

The alternative to dieting is to learn to accept your new body and embrace your midlife years in a positive way rather than feeling bad about yourself and focusing on changing it. There are many positive things to look forward to during this time in your life. You just need to look for them.

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