Don’t give up on losing weight and staying fit

Postmenopausal weight gain and loss of muscle tone aren’t inevitable—you just need to work a little harder.Remember when you could eat whatever you wanted (within reason) and you still looked great in a bathing suit? As long as you ate a generally healthy diet and stayed active, you were able to keep your weight in check. Now those pounds stick much more stubbornly, and it seems like no matter how much you exercise and how healthy your diet, you just can’t take them off.It’s harder to control weight after menopause because our metabolism is slower and we have less muscle mass. “If the muscle is smaller and it doesn’t work as much and use as much power, it doesn’t burn the calories,” explains Dr. George Blackburn, associate director of the Division of Nutrition at Harvard Medical School. “If you don’t learn how to eat a postmenopausal diet—primarily portion-controlled—the same calories you ate before are going to lead to weight gain.”

Losing weight post menopause

Losing weight is more difficult after menopause—but it’s not impossible. You just need to put a little more effort into it than you did when you were younger. “You have to work harder. There’s no doubt about it,” Dr. Blackburn says. Take heart: that work will pay off. When he and his colleagues studied weight-loss techniques in overweight or obese postmenopausal women, they found that a combination of 45 minutes or more of moderate-to-vigorous exercise five days a week and a reduced-calorie diet helped women lose an average of nearly 20 pounds—more than 10% of their body weight.

If you’re overweight, taking off even a few pounds can yield great rewards. Studies show that losing just 5% to 10% of your body weight can lower your risk for diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.

The keys to losing weight are to eat fewer calories and limit the amount of unhealthy fat in your diet, but you don’t need to go on an official “diet.” Dieting may even be counterproductive, because dramatic eating changes are harder to maintain. “Make dietary changes that you can sustain for the rest of your life,” Dr. Blackburn suggests.


Eating tips

Here are a few small, achievable strategies to cut calories and trim the unhealthy fat from your diet:

  • Eat on a smaller plate. Have your dinner on a salad plate. It’s an easy way to cut your portion sizes. Or, you can serve food in a container left over from a low-fat frozen meal. You’ll probably be surprised at how satisfied you feel on fewer calories.
  • Switch from saturated to unsaturated fat. Cook with olive oil or canola oil instead of butter.
  • Bake, don’t fry. If you’re craving French fries or chicken fingers, bake them in the oven instead of dipping them in hot oil.
  • Eat out less often. Save restaurants for weekends and special occasions. If you do eat out, cut your portion in half and save the rest for later.
  • Cut way back on red meat. Once or twice a week, replace the red meat in your recipes with a lower-fat protein, such as skinless chicken breast, ground turkey, fish, beans, or tofu.
  • Move to low-fat dairy. Switch from whole milk to 1% or skim and use low-fat cheese.
  • Try to substitute at least one high-energy fruit or vegetable serving a day for high-calorie snacks like cookies or crackers.
  • Limit sodas. Instead, spray lemon or lime juice into sparkling water. When you can’t overcome the urge to drink soda, stick with a diet soda.
  • Change your dessert strategy. If you’re really craving something sweet after dinner, eat a bowl of berries topped with a low-calorie sweetener, or have a small dish of sugar-free gelatin. Save the heavy desserts for rare occasions.
Walking is a healthy, low impact exercise

Walking for good health

Get more active

The other component to controlling weight is exercise. Although the government recommends at least 30 minutes a day of moderate- to high-intensity exercise, that’s probably not enough to help you lose weight. It also can be harder to exercise as energetically as you did when you were younger, especially if you have arthritis or another mobility-limiting condition. To get the same results at a lower intensity, you’ll need to exercise for twice as long, Dr. Blackburn says.

Don’t just think of exercise solely in terms of going to the gym and sweating on a piece of fitness equipment. You don’t need to get your daily 60 minutes of activity in a gym at all. A better strategy is to make activity a bigger part of your life. Take a walk every day if weather permits. Set up a weekly tennis or golf game with friends. Take the stairs whenever you can. Wear a pedometer so you can track how far you walk each day; this might motivate you to add another block to your neighborhood walk to satisfy your daily quota.