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This is why you gain weight when you start menopause

Menopause female checking kilogrammes getting on the scale - self care and body positivity concept - warm flare on left
Weight gain during menopause is completely normal. (Getty Images)

Menopause and perimenopause have several irritating side effects, but perhaps the one that can throw many women off kilter is the unexpected weight gain.

This is something actor Gabrielle Union recently experienced. Speaking on The Drew Barrymore Show, Bring It On actor Union, 47, said she gained 27lbs 'almost overnight'.

"It was 27 pounds in what felt like overnight," she explained.

Barrymore, 48, added that she’s been feeling the symptoms of perimenopause, which is the time before menopause where a woman’s ovaries gradually stop working.

Gabrielle Union at the Ralph Lauren Spring 2024 Ready To Wear Fashion Show at the Brooklyn Navy Yard on September 8, 2023 in Brooklyn, New York. (Photo by Gilbert Flores/WWD via Getty Images)
Gabrielle Union says she gained 27lbs during menopause. (Getty Images)

"When I am stressed, the cortisol in my belly gets so bad that I can look anywhere from six to eight months pregnant," she said. "It happens quite often to me, and I have to change my diet, really reset everything, and then I get back to centre."

How much weight will you gain during menopause?

Weight gain during menopause is common. So common that the British Menopause Society estimates that most women in the UK gain around 10kg (22lbs) by the time their menopause has finished.

So, what’s the reason for this drastic weight gain? Dr Deborah Lee of Dr Fox Online Pharmacy says that it’s mostly due to the steep fall of oestrogen levels that occur during the perimenopausal period.

"These cause metabolic changes in the body," she adds. "Because the ovaries stop working, oestrogen levels fall by 90% of their premenopausal values. This fall-off in oestrogen results in a change in the distribution of body fat.

"The amount of visceral (deep abdominal) fat increases from 5% to 8% in the premenopausal to 10% to 15%, in the post-menopausal, periods – increasing the waist circumference. As fat accumulates, lean muscle is lost, and hence the basal metabolic rates slow down, meaning fewer calories are burned."

Is there any way to prevent menopausal weight gain?

Dr Lee says, if you are conscious of any weight gain during the menopause transition, then the best way to prevent it or lose it is to stick to a healthy diet and do more aerobic exercise.

"Dietary surveys of perimenopausal women show that, overall, women have poor nutrition around the time of menopause," she adds.

"Only around 30% of women eat the recommended five servings of fruit and vegetables a day, less than half of women have the recommended intake of fish oil per week, the intake of dietary fibre is below the recommended 30g per day, and fat and sugar intake is too high."

Pain, stomach, endometriosis, women's health
Most women gain weight around their stomach during menopause. (Getty Images)

She adds that the weight you may gain over the menopausal period will not automatically drop off once it has passed. "The only way to do this is through sustained calorie control and increased exercise," Dr Lee adds.

Best foods to eat during menopause

Despite general advice to stick to a healthy diet, this doesn’t mean that the diet should be restrictive.

"Meals should be made up of one-quarter protein, one-quarter carbs and half fruit and vegetables," Dr Lee says.

"Go for carbs with a low glycaemic index meaning they release energy slowly and help you feel fuller for longer – such as brown bread, rice or pasta, whole grain cereals or porridge. Eat healthy good quality foods that are not high in fat or sugar. Take care to eat small portions. Stop snacking, and if snacks are needed, choose healthy options. Reduce alcohol as this is empty calories."

She also advises doing 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise a week, such as brisk walking, jogging, cycling, swimming or dancing.

Menopause: Read more