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Fighting off postmenopausal weight gains

Published: Wednesday, Dec. 26, 2012 1:15 a.m. CDT

Even if a woman has never had a weight problem , she may find it harder to manage her weight or to take off pounds once she approaches and reaches menopause.

If you are one of the many women who struggle with this, you may be interested in the results of a recent study that looked at what helped postmenopausal women lose weight and keep it off for the long term.

According to the researchers who conducted the study, there is a combination of factors that make it difficult for anyone to maintain weight loss.  As one example, at the beginning of a weight-loss program, people may be highly motivated, but once they lose some weight their motivation may decrease. They go back to their old eating habits. 

And although it seems counter-intuitive, once a person has lost weight, their basal metabolic rate, or the rate at which their body burns calories at rest, may actually decrease. Both fat and muscle are metabolically active, meaning they use calories even while at rest. A smaller body means less tissue to burn calories.  

For postmenopausal women, there are other contributing factors which, when combined with the above, make it more difficult for them to lose and maintain weight. 

Hormonal changes may shift to a pattern of where fat is distributed but doesn’t necessarily trigger weight gain. Instead, the weight gain usually is related to a variety of lifestyle and genetic factors. 

For example, menopausal women tend to exercise less than other women, which can lead to weight gain.

In addition, we lose muscle mass as we age. Muscle tissue burns more calories than fat tissue, so if you don’t do anything to replace the lean muscle you’ve lost, your body composition will shift to more fat and less muscle. Therefore, even if you are eating no differently than in the past, you are likely to gain weight. 

The study, which was published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, included more than 500 women. They made changes to their eating behaviors which included: eating fewer desserts, eating fewer fried foods, drinking fewer sugar-sweetened beverages, eating more fruits and vegetables, eating less meat and cheese, eating more fish, and eating at restaurants less often. 

After 4 years, researchers found that eating fewer desserts and drinking fewer sugar-sweetened beverages continued to be associated with weight loss or maintenance. Eating more fruits and vegetables and eating less meat and cheese also were important predictors for long-term weight loss. 

The researchers felt that these particular changes were successful because they were easier to sustain than, say, swearing off french fries or restaurant meals for the rest of your life.

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