TOPS: Hormones don’t have to make you gain weight

MILWAUKEE, WI — Many women can feel that it’s harder to lose or maintain weight as they get older. For women, midlife hormonal changes can impact weight. In fact, the most significant weight gain in a woman’s life tends to happen during the years leading up to menopause — the stage called perimenopause, according to Nicholas “dr. Nick” Yphantides, M.D., M.P.H., Medical Editor for Take Off Pounds Sensibly Club, a nonprofit weight-loss support organization.
Weight gain during this time is not inevitable. By adopting healthier eating habits and leading a more active lifestyle, women can maintain their weight — or even lose weight, he said.
Fluctuating Hormones
Hormone levels can shift significantly during perimenopause and menopause. A few of the affected hormones are:
Estrogen: During menopause, levels of estrogen produced by the ovaries decrease. (Fat tissue also produces estrogen; some experts theorize that weight gain may result from the body’s attempt to replace the estrogen production lost by the ovaries with estrogen produced from fat tissue.)
Progesterone: Lower progesterone levels can cause insomnia and greater fatigue, which make it difficult to maintain a regular exercise routine.
Testosterone: This hormone helps produce lean muscle mass. During menopause, testosterone levels drop. The resulting loss of muscle slows down the body’s metabolism, making it difficult to burn fuel (calories) efficiently.
Androgen: When a woman reaches menopause, her body produces more androgen relative to the other decreasing hormones. These higher levels can result in noticeable increases in abdominal fat.
Other Factors
Apart from the hormonal influence, muscle mass diminishes with age, Yphantides said. Without working on strength training, the body’s composition will shift to include more fat and less muscle. Body fat slows down the metabolic rate at which you burn calories, which can mean added pounds over time.
Genetic factors may play a role, too. “If your parents or other close relatives carry or carried extra weight around the abdomen, you’re likely to do the same,” he said.
Several events that tend to occur at midlife — children leaving or returning home, divorce, family and health crises, and professional or financial setbacks — may also contribute to stress. Responding to stress in unhealthy ways, through emotional eating, smoking, substance abuse or ignoring depression that limits activity, often triggers weight gain.
What You Can Do
Weight gain after menopause can increase the chances of developing heart disease, type 2 diabetes or certain cancers. Maintaining a healthy weight and lifestyle is not impossible. Consider these strategies:
Eat in moderation. Follow the Food Exchange System, which is one of the methods taught by TOPS. Don’t fall into the unconscious, unhealthy habits of mindless eating or “stuff” your emotions with food.
Move more. Daily activity is even more important as we grow older. Yphantides said, “Take a walk, ride a bike or play hide-and-seek with little ones.”
Stay involved. Age is just a number. Take a class, volunteer in the community or help out a neighbor. Join a local TOPS chapter and offer support to fellow members. Keeping busy also helps build the momentum needed to stay physically active.
Seek assistance. Healthcare providers are excellent resources. Physicians and other professionals can lend an ear and help with what’s troubling you.
“Remember that your choices have a greater impact on your weight than your age or hormones do,” he said. “While there is no such thing as a fountain of youth, you can cultivate healthy behaviors and a youthful spirit that will allow you to get the most out of life.”
Do Men Experience Hormone Shifts?
“Yes, but not as rapidly or to the same degree as women do,” said Yphantides. Adult men experience a slow and gradual loss of testosterone that begins in their 30s. Long-term effects may include lower energy and changes in mood and sexual function. The key for men — as for women — is to maintain a healthy weight, lifestyle and perspective and to stay alert to the signals their bodies send.
TOPS Club is a nonprofit, noncommercial weight-loss organization that promotes successful weight management with a “Real People. Real Weight Loss.” philosophy that combines support from others at weekly chapter meetings, healthy eating, regular exercise and wellness information.
Visitors are welcome to attend their first TOPS meeting free of charge. Membership is at $28 per year plus nominal chapter fees. To find a local chapter, online visit www.tops.org or call 800-932-8677.

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