How Women Can Keep The Weight Off After Menopause

There’s no denying that losing weight is tough, and keeping it off is even
harder. We tend to be less physically active as we get older, which is why women tend to
gain weight after menopause. But a  four-year study published in the Journal
of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics
says there are ways that women
can keep the pounds off as they age.

“As women move through menopause, it’s thought that without decreasing
calories or increasing exercise, [they] may be prone to gaining weight,” said
lead study author Bethany Barone Gibbs of the University of Pittsburgh
Department of Health and Physical Activity, discussing the study in a podcast.
Americans live in an environment that makes weight gain easy thanks to the
availability of cheap and calorie-dense foods, and aging women also have a host
of physiological changes working against them.

For instance, after menopause women experience a natural decline in energy
expenditure coupled with a lower resting metabolic rate and an increase in
appetite-related hormones. It’s not exactly a recipe for a slim figure. Add in
the fact that when people lose weight, their brain’s reward system is revved up
and increases their desire to eat and it’s a wonder anyone can lose weight and
keep pounds at bay.

In the study, the researchers followed 508 post-menopausal and overweight
women for four years between 2002 and 2008. They examined their early and
long-term weight loss in order to identify any eating behaviors that
distinguished women who were successful in keeping their weight down and women
who weren’t. The women were assessed at six months and again at the four year
mark and filled out questionnaires detailing their food consumption at both

The volunteers were split into two groups. Half participated in a Lifestyle
Change group and met with nutritionists, exercise physiologists and
psychologists while the remainder were in the Health Education group, which
simply listened to general seminars about a variety of issues involving women’s
health . The Lifestyle Change group also attempted to reduce their fat and
overall calorie intake, increase their consumption of fruits, vegetables and
whole grains and exercised regularly.

In the short term, the researchers found that at six months the eating
behaviors associated with weight loss included eating fewer desserts and fried
foods, drinking less sugary beverages, eating more fish and eating less at
restaurants, a trend that continued at the four year mark.

“That means that eating less as restaurants and eating less fried foods were
either not effective in the long term, or were unsustainable,” said Gibbs in the
podcast. “Eating more fruits and vegetables did not predict weight change at six
months, but was one of the most important predictors for long-term weight
change. That means if you increase your fruit and vegetable intake you may not
see a big result at six months, but it may be a very sustainable behavior change
that can help you with long-term weight control.”

The authors speculate that the sustainability of various weight loss
strategies are what make some better than others in the long run. “People are so
motivated when they start a weight loss program. You can say, ‘I’m never going
to eat another piece of pie,’ and you see the pounds coming off,” said Gibbs in
the podcast. “Eating fruits and vegetables may not make a big difference in your
caloric intake. But that small change can build up and give you a better
long-term result, because it’s not as hard to do as giving up French fries

The authors say that slashing dessert and sugary drink consumption is
consistently effective for short and long-term weight loss and more fruits and
veggies and less meat and cheese are best for long-term pound-shedding. “If the
goal is to reduce the burden of obesity, the focus must be on long-term
strategies because changes in eating behaviors only associated with
short-term weight loss are likely ineffective and not sustainable, they write.
That seems to make sense for anyone hoping to keep their weight in check, not
just for women after menopause.


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