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The Menopause Myth: Why It Can Be EASIER to Lose Weight Later

Posted Feb 22 2012 9:43am

by Barbara Berkeley, MD

It's always healthy to be skeptical, particularly where dietary pronouncements are concerned.  

In the past year, I've been asked dozens of times about HCG.  Everyone is talking. It's all over the media. Does it work?   The answer should be obvious to anyone.  If HCG was any kind of obesity cure, 3 out of 4 people you know would be taking it already.  The first pill or treatment that comes along and can really zap obesity will burn through America with such rapidity that we won't know what hit us!  Lesson?  Just because someone or some newspaper article says it's so, doesn't make it so.  Skepticism is healthy in the diet world.

What many years of obesity practice have taught me is that we should also be skeptical of what passes for conventional diet wisdom.  Alot of it is just plain wrong.  And because we accept it as fact, we lose out on many opportunities to change our lives.

One of my least favorite "wisdoms" is that weight gain is inevitable after menopause.   I wrote about this a couple of years ago in my post on  weight loss after fifty .  As time goes on and I work with more and more peri and post menopausal women, I am more and more certain that lower weights can be maintained without difficulty despite age and hormonal status.  Further, I think it's often easier for women to get healthy when they are past 45. 

The key to weight loss and maintenance at any age is the same:  a complete overhaul of the foods you eat.  This seems so simple and obvious, but practically no one who goes on a diet does it.  The vast majority simply returns to a modified version of their original diet.  Because modern foods are addictive, this modified version becomes the full-blown version in very short order.

The key to weight control after menopause is the strict limitation of starches and sugars, and that includes grains, whole grains and the flour-based products made from them (pasta, breads, and so on).  As I explained in my earlier post, this is because we tend to be more insulin resistant as we age.  This causes us to make more insulin in response to these foods, which in turn causes easier fat storage and an inability for stored fat to be released.  If you can make the change to fruits and vegetables rather than grains, potatoes, breads and cereals (and you can learn how to do it in books like  Refuse to Regain  or others on Paleo or Primal diet) you will lose weight and your age will be immaterial.

But there are also reasons why weight loss and maintenance is actually easier for those who are post-menopausal.  

One of the major reasons is the empty nest.  Feeding growing children and ravenous teen-agers makes it extremely hard to adhere to personal dietary rules.  If you have kids but they are now out of the house, you will find it hugely easier to make your own plans and stick to them.  Most of my patients report (and this has been my own experience) that husbands are usually willing to be flexible about eating.  They will often follow along even if they've eaten differently at an earlier stage in life. 

A second reason that it's easier to make change is that social pressures begin to modulate.  A couple of years ago, Don and I took a trip to Las Vegas.  While sitting at one of the enormous breakfast buffets at the Mirage, I had to laugh.  All of the people under 45 were tucking into huge portions of bacon, eggs, danish, muffins and potatoes.  Those who looked to be over 50 were eating egg whites, little bowls of granola with skim milk, and prunes!  Getting further along in life puts you in mind of the final third of the journey.  You and your friends will start to be more conscious of health and longevity.  Sayng that you no longer eat foods that make you fat and that you want to reach 95 in good health will no longer elicit eye-rolls.  You'll be admired, not scorned.

Another factor that I mentioned in my earlier post is the greater ability to be yourself that comes at mid-life.  The opinions that others have of you matter alot less now, and your tendency to speak your mind and live life by your own rules increases.  Use this new freedom by declaring yourself and your rules for eating.  You've earned the right to make your own way.

If you no longer are feeding a family at home, it's a simpler task to clean your kitchen and vow never to allow fat-promoting starches, sugars and junk foods to enter.  The need to entertain and cook is often lessened.  You've probably had that role for many years and perhaps younger generations will take on all or part of it now.  Minimizing baking and complicated entertaining can be very helpful when you are trying to make permanent healthful changes.  Keep things simple for a while and see how much easier it is to control the food environment. 

Exercise is a vital component of health from mid life on.  You can get away with being sedentary when you're young, but it's for sure catching up with you by the time you pass 50.  The good news is that it's also a myth that exercise ability lessens with age.  While no one wants to get injured, many of us take to our couch at the first hint of soreness.  We are not as fragile as we think.  Unless you have a very real reason not to exercise, get out there and do activities that get you excited.   If this guy can run the marathon at 100 , you can train to walk a 5K, shake your booty in a zumba class or conquer the downward dog.  

Finally, changing your life and eating habits requires belief in your ability to get things done.  That's not something many people have in their 20s and 30s.  But after you've built your career, your family, your life, you clearly know how to get things accomplished.  Make the same kinds of plans you did to get other important things done in your life and take on your goal with a passion.  This is an advantage for  mid and later lifers.  Use it.
















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