I have had lots of women in their 50s comes to me saying "I've just started gaining all this weight, and it's in my stomach now - I've never gained weight in my stomach before! And I just can't seem to lose it!"
Weight gain at menopause freaks women out. Their bodies don't react the way they used to. It's like going through puberty all over again, but with consequences that threaten not only their self-view, but their heath and well-being. You've probably heard the bally fat contributes to diabetes, hypertension, some cancers including breast cancer and heart disease. Scary stuff!
Hormone replacement therapy is an option some women choose to pursue, and can be helpful in many cases. But many women can't or don't want to take this step. That doesn't mean you're doomed to gain a lot of weight or feel horrible all the time. Here are some steps to take.
1) Reduce your calories, within reason. I'm always cautioning people not to eat too little (under 1200 calories per day) because it will stall the metabolism, making your body into a fat-hoarding system. But as we age, we need fewer calories, and most women do not take this into account around the age of menopause. Take a good look at your diet and how much you're really consuming. Use a food diary to help you, and acquaint yourself with portion sizes. Even too much of something healthy can cause weight gain! You may have been able to get away with a lot of indulgences when you were younger - that doesn't mean you won't see the effects now. That doesn't mean you should never have a treat. Just plan for it and don't go overboard. Pay attention to how food makes you feel. If you feel guilty or physically sick after a treat, how much of a treat is it, really?
There's an awesome calorie needs calculator here that takes your age and activity level into account. Check what you should be getting and start adjusting if you're been getting too much (or too little!!).
2) Women tend to exercise less as they get older, when we need it more than ever! You've got to move if you want to maintain a healthy weight past menopause. This can take the form of things you like doing, like gardening, riding your bike, walking, bowling, golfing, tai chi (try it, it's awesome!), yoga... whatever you like to do that involves moving, do more of it! Weight training will also help. Muscle burns more than fat even when you're not moving, so keeping your muscles working will help you keep the fat off. It will also help you maintain a healthy bone density. Don't worry about getting bulky. Women have to work a lot harder than men to get big muscles, and more than likely you won't be embarking on a hardcore weight training regimen. Just start doing some strength training 2-3 times a week. You should try to get in some form of exercise every day. Yes, every day, whether it's taking a walk, strength training, doing an activity you enjoy, or something more high intensity like the elliptical machine. We're made to move, so stop thinking of exercise as something you only have to do 3 times a week. Move as much as you can and learn to love what your body can do!
3) Eat better foods. If you're limiting your calories but constantly eating crap, your body will continue to have metabolic problems, resulting in being unable to lose weight or even continuing to gain weight. So: eat lots of fruits and vegetables. Increase your fiber intake. Avoid packaged foods and foods high in fat and processed sugar. Lay off the caffeine. Drink plenty of water.
4) Adjust your attitude. Menopause is often a time of depression, of self-doubt, of "giving up" on health and vitality. It doesn't have to be that way! Get support from family and friends and spend time every day thinking positively about your life and what you want to get from it. If necessary, get professional help from a counselor or life coach. Consider hiring a personal trainer to help you get your fitness goals on track. Reexamine what you're doing that makes you happy, or not, and start moving toward the things and behaviors that bring you joy. Happier people are healthier people, so figure out what you need to be happy, and pursue that!
Weight gain during menopause can be frustrating and disheartening, but it can be dealt with. Take a good look at your lifestyle and make changes where needed. You've got the rest of your life to look forward to, so make it good!