Recently I attended a wedding and while standing at the buffet table I overheard a woman say to her friend, “Ever since I went through menopause, I keep gaining weight.” I felt like I was at the office since that phrase is probably the one I hear more often than any other in the course of a day.
And it’s true. On average, women put on 1.5-4 pounds per year after age 50. But no one believes it when I tell them that it isn’t the lack of estrogen that puts on the pounds, but mid-life changes in metabolism and lifestyle. Women who continue to menstruate until they are in their late fifties also start to gain weight even though their ovaries have not shut down.
This is not only unfair, but really upsetting. And I get it. Because it happened to me. Since the day I went through puberty and immediately put on 20 pounds, with hips that I could rest a tray on, I accepted the fact that I would never be the type who could eat whatever I wanted.
So, I started my life long commitment to keeping my weight down. Most of it was pure vanity, but when my father had his first heart attack in his 40’s and ultimately died from coronary heart disease at 63, I realized that the genetic cards I had been dealt were less than fabulous and, that for me, keeping fit was also a medical necessity. Overall, between eating carefully and being active, I kept my adult weight within 5 pounds of my college weight.
Fast forward to 50. Suddenly the consistent exercise routine and the healthy diet weren’t working. When my scale registered 7 pounds over my “acceptable ” weight and 10 pounds over my “ideal” weight I did what any sane person would do. I bought a new scale. The new scale didn’t lie any more than the big lump around my middle where I had never had one before.
I then started to be much more careful about everything I was putting in my mouth, but in spite of making an attempt to do all the things I had been telling my patients to do for years (eat on smaller plates, no soda, count calories, watch the portions, eliminate bread), the new scale was stuck.
I was terrified since I had witnessed it so many times with my patients. A few extra pounds in a year don’t seem like a lot, but if you gain 5 pounds a year starting when you are 45, by age 55 you are looking at 50 extra pounds!
So, I got serious and made some changes. I checked my thyroid level, which was normal. I kept an honest food diary. I dramatically cut down on the wine once I acknowledged that my 1-2 glasses at dinner at 120 calories/glass added up to 25 pounds a year! I sent an emergency 3 a.m. e-mail to my friend Jim Karas, author and fitness guru, who shockingly answered it by 4 a.m. (nice to know I’m not the only one with insomnia) and immediately set up a time for me to meet with one of his trainers. I switched to Jim’s cardio-free approach and took off the weight. It isn’t easy, but it can be done.
And yes, I will admit that estrogen does impact the distribution of weight, so you can blame menopause if you suddenly have a muffin top even if you haven’t gained a pound!