Midlife brings about many changes in a woman’s life – the maturation or ending of marriages, the stride or disruption of careers and the emergence into adulthood of their children, just as their senior parents may begin to show serious indications of true aging and decline.
As if these dichotomies weren’t enough, then enters weight. As women enter their mid-30s+, some begin to realize they must take intentional steps to preserve their health. The habits of their teens and 20s no longer serve them, and they assume all kinds of practices to stem weight gain and lose size. Yet many find that despite all their efforts, including clean eating and exercise, weight loss proves more challenging and fluctuates throughout the month.
But why? What factors drive the sometimes wild changes in a woman’s weight all within the same 30 days, even with steadfast practices to stay in shape?
It turns out that it’s not entirely women’s fault. Some of it is purely out of their control.
It’s hormonal, to a large extent.
Throughout life, women contend with hormonal shifts, swings and changes. Think of puberty. Consider the menstrual cycle. Then there’s pregnancy, postpartum and, now, perimenopause.
According to a professor at Michigan State University, women’s appetites unconsciously rise as they prepare for the possibility of pregnancy, even during perimenopause when women are still capable of conceiving: “Each month, the female body undergoes a menstrual cycle marked by changes in the hormones estrogen and progesterone. Monthly fluctuations in hormones cause women to increase the amount of food they eat and also causes emotional eating, which is the tendency to over consume in response to negative emotions.”
The shift in hormones that happens during perimenopause – usually a woman’s 30s to 40s – can play a part, too. Less estrogen can lead to more visceral fat in the abdominal area, and this is a common complaint of perimenopausal women – that they gain a spare tire they never had before, and it’s harder to lose than ever.
It's also a matter of what you eat and drink.
Aside from premenstrual indications, a woman’s weight can go up and down by as much as five pounds within 24 hours. In such cases, the explanation is usually attributable to water weight and sodium. Cutting back on salty foods and consuming foods high in potassium and magnesium can blunt the impact of sodium.
A casual scientific experiment in which several women tracked their weight over the course of a month is pretty interesting. Even with various levels of exercise, and a mix of “clean” diets to so-so, less disciplined eating, all the women’s weights changed over the course of 30 days.
Alcohol can also cause bloating and impose a state of dehydration that makes the body hold onto weight. This can cause puffiness in the face, the waist and elsewhere. Aside from the aesthetic effects, too much alcohol consumption can lead to a state of inflammation in the body, of which weight retention is a symptom.
Additionally, many people – when enjoying a glass of wine or a cocktail – don’t consider the caloric impact of this indulgence: A regular, 12 oz. beer contains 153 calories, and a small glass of wine (five ounces) clocks in at 125 calories. Many drinkers have more than one drink in a sitting – say, two beers while watching the game or a glass of wine followed by a mixed drink while enjoying a night on the town. Drinking on a regular basis (several days a week) while eating regular meals, snacking and drinking other high-calorie beverages, like frozen coffee drinks or fruit juices, can stack on the calories fast.
It’s about your activity level, too.
Exercise and strenuous activity rev up the heartrate, boost the metabolism and lead to perspiration. Exercise routinely, and you’ll drop water weight more consistently. And you’ll also reap the benefits of calorie burn, too.
According to Harvard Health, during a 30-minute workout of the following activities, a 155-pound person burns 108 calories when weightlifting, 144 calories from water aerobics, 144 calories during hatha yoga, 198 calories doing low-impact aerobics, 216 calories on a stepper machine, 324 calories on an elliptical machine and 360 calories doing step aerobics.
Metabolism with age may play a role.
It’s been said time and time again that metabolism slows with age. According to science, much of this has to do with the loss of muscle mass with age, not just getting older by default. Beginning around 30 years old, lean muscle mass starts to decline unless the person takes action to prevent it through weight bearing exercise and strength training. Researchers estimate that people lose 3-5 percent of muscle mass each decade if they don’t stay active. With less muscle mass, you burn fewer calories. And the weight you gain will be based on fat, not putting on muscle.
Despite this, recent studies published in the year 2021 reveal that metabolism and age don’t necessarily go hand in hand. Researchers found that between the ages of 20-60, metabolism actually didn’t change. Instead, it slowed down after the age of 60 by about 0.7 percent every year.
This evidence shows that the adage of metabolism getting sluggish with age is an unproven maxim. Instead the weight gain is attributable to a loss of lean mass and a reduction in physical activity, leading to weight gain.
Medications that help with conditions but can harm what the scale says.
Some people never needed any medications on a sustained basis until midlife hit.
Unfortunately, some of the medications women are apt to begin taking in their 40s and beyond can be associated with weight gain. Almost 25 percent of women in their 40s and 50s are on antidepressants, and many drugs in this class have been connected to weight gain. Frequently, the antidepressants themselves do not cause weight gain, but they can induce an increase in appetite that leads to more eating.
Aside from antidepressants, there are other medications connected with poundage. They include steroids, which are used for arthritis, asthma, lupus and other health conditions, and antihistamines, commonly used for allergies. Meds for epilepsy and nerve pain, like Lyrica, and beta blockers, which are prescribed for hypertension and anxiety, can also lead to weight gain.
Weight gain at midlife as a woman is a complex thing. As you can see, there are various clues and causes for it, from monthly hormonal changes beyond one’s control to lifestyle factors that are in one’s sphere of influence.
Some strategies for coping with age-related body changes include adopting a wellness-focused lifestyle that prioritizes feeling good more than fitting into a socially acceptable model of beauty. Developing this mindset doesn’t mean foregoing exercise and sound nutrition for French fries and sugar binges, but it does acknowledge that doing well by one’s body turns the focuses to maximizing its function for the long haul vs. short-term gains in unhealthily obtained weight loss.
Other methods include becoming even more cognizant of diet and exercise if you’re on medications associated with weight gain. Taking a drug that heightens appetite is not necessarily carte blanche to eat whatever, whenever. Rather it can be a sign to be that much more disciplined because an increase in desire to eat due to a medication doesn’t mean the body physiologically needs more food to fuel it.
With age comes change, as most of us can attest. Change in our lives, change in the world, change in our spouses and children, and change in our philosophies, ideals and goals. This can be a time to be more forgiving and tolerant of those changes, holding a mirror of acceptance and goodwill to ourselves as much as we extend that to others.
“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.”
The Real Peri Meno is devoted to all things perimenopause - the science, treatments, care, understanding, personal experiences, relationships, culture and more. The brain child of Keisha D. Edwards, The Real Peri Meno developed out of her own shock-and-awe experience with perimenopause and navigating the disjointed U.S. medical system in search of answers, support and relief.
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