Symptom Guide: Weight Gain

Mar 2, 2022
Medically reviewed by: 
Leah Millheiser, MD

What is Weight Gain?

It’s normal to put on a few pounds as you age. As women go through menopause, that weight gain tends to be more pronounced. Not only does the number on the scale go up, but the extra weight is often distributed around the midsection. Fortunately, healthy lifestyle habits can go a long way in getting rid of unwanted weight even during menopause.

What Causes It?

Weight gain during menopause doesn’t have a single cause. While it’s tempting to link it to shifting levels of hormones like estrogen and progesterone because these changes tend to happen at the same time, it’s unclear whether there is an association. Some other contributing factors are directly related to aging but not to menopause, such as a slowed metabolism and lifestyle changes like less exercise, mobility issues due to injury, and difficulty sleeping.

What’s Happening Inside Your Body?

Getting older generally leads to a decline in muscle mass, which in turn causes the metabolism to slow down, making it harder to burn calories. And because of shifting life priorities, illness, and other changes associated with aging, people also tend to become less active as they get older, which means they don’t burn as many calories.

The impact of declining estrogen and progesterone levels on weight gain isn’t fully understood. Research in animals suggests that the drop in estrogen makes it more difficult to regulate eating and slows the metabolism, which means it takes longer to burn calories. Some research has shown that women in perimenopause have higher levels of the hormone ghrelin, which contributes to hunger. During menopause fat tends to be distributed around the midline, leading many women to shift from a pear-shape figure to an apple-shaped one. In addition to hormone changes, menopause is associated with other symptoms, including hot flashes, night sweats, and increased anxiety. These can lead to trouble sleeping, which is also associated with weight gain. 

What Does the Research Say?

  • According to a report published by the Mayo Clinic in 2017, women on average gain 1.5 pounds per year in their 50s and 60s, regardless of their body type or ethnic background.
  • A small study presented at the annual meeting of the Endocrine Society in 2021 showed that sleep disturbances contribute to menopausal weight gain and that addressing these sleep issues can reduce the risk of weight gain.
  • In a study published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation Insight in 2019, women doubled their fat mass and lost lean mass at the start of the menopausal transition but maintained fat and lean mass post-menopause.

How is weight gain addressed?

Changes to lifestyle, exercise, and eating habits are the most common and effective treatments for weight gain during menopause. Like at any stage of life, eating healthier and staying active go a long way in helping get rid of unwanted excess pounds.

What are some effective treatments?

  • Getting the right kind of exercise. Exercising more is guaranteed to burn more calories and help get rid of unwanted weight, but certain activities may be better suited to your changing body and interests. The CDC recommends a total of 150 minutes per week of aerobic exercises like walking, running, and swimming for adults. It also recommends that adults do strength training exercises like yoga, Pilates, or lifting weights at least twice a week to help maintain muscle and bone mass. A health professional can design an exercise plan that takes all aspects of your health into consideration.
  • Eating better and more mindfully. Increasing the portion of fruits and vegetables in your diet, and decreasing consumption of refined carbohydrates like white flour and rice, can help get excess weight under control. Being thoughtful about portion control and practicing mindful eating can help you avoid consuming unnecessary calories.
  • Maintaining your mental health. Stress, anxiety, and other mental health conditions can affect eating habits, sometimes leading to emotional eating or binge eating. A lack of sleep can also contribute to unhealthy eating as well as decreased activity and motivation. A physician or mental health professional can help identify and address mental health factors contributing to weight gain. 

What to do next:

  • Make a plan with your healthcare professional. Speak to your doctor about your weight gain concerns, and they can recommend an exercise and diet plan that suits your physical and medical needs. They may also suggest seeing a nutritionist or mental health professional for additional support.
  • Stay motivated. You’ll see the best results from exercise and diet if you keep it up over time. A good way to stay motivated is to find a workout buddy to exercise with or a weight loss community, like Weight Watchers or Noom, that can provide encouragement and support. In addition, staying open to new forms of exercise (for example, dancing, Tai Chi, or spinning) can help you find a workout that you look forward to doing.
  • Be kind to yourself. Changes in weight can have negative impacts on self-esteem, but find confidence and comfort in knowing that you’re taking steps toward a healthier version of yourself. And remember that some weight gain during midlife is normal, and it’s only an issue if it bothers you or causes other issues with your health.

Learn more:

Are you experiencing other symptoms that you want to better understand and learn how to treat and manage them? Check out our following guides:

Disclaimer: This information isn’t a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. You should never rely upon this article for specific medical advice. If you have any questions or concerns, please talk to your doctor.