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Keys to Weight Loss after Menopause

Conventional wisdom says weight gain is inevitable with menopause and that losing weight is difficult but a new study questions this wisdom….

Researchers examined eating behaviors among postmenopausal women in their 50s enrolled in a weight-loss study. They identified those behaviors that were common in women who managed to shed pounds and keep them off.

Cutting way back on sugary desserts and drinks topped the list, followed by limiting meats and cheeses and eating more fruits and vegetables.

"People who were able to decrease their consumption of desserts and sugar-sweetened beverages tended to have more success losing weight and keeping it off," says researcher Bethany Barone Gibbs, PhD, of the University of Pittsburgh.

The study included about 500 overweight and obese postmenopausal women with waist sizes greater than 31.5 inches. None of the women had high blood pressure, heart disease, or diabetes.

Half the women followed a weight loss plan that included regular meetings with nutritionists, exercise specialists, and psychologists. None of these options were available to the other women, but they were given the opportunity to attend seminars on general health.

The women were followed for four years. During this time those in the nutrition and exercise group lost an average of 8 pounds, compared to around half a pound among those in the general health group.

Behaviors associated with weight loss at six months in the combined groups included eating:

  • Less sugar (desserts and sugar-sweetened beverages)
  • Fewer fried foods
  • More fish
  • Eating out in restaurants less often
  • After four years, behaviors linked to long-term diet success emerged:
  • Also eating fewer desserts and drinking fewer sugar-sweetened beverages 
  • Eating more fruits and vegetables and fewer meats and cheeses

Margery L. Gass, MD, professor of obstetrics at the University of Cincinnati and executive director of the North American Menopause Society, stated that, while weight gain is common among women in their 40s and 50s, menopause is not to blame.

"It happens to men as well as women," she says. "For some reason, as we get older weight seems to redistribute to our middles. This is not good because fat in the abdomen increases [heart disease and stroke risk."

Gass says that while weight gain is not inevitable, most middle-aged women need to eat less and exercise more than they once did to maintain their weight. "Virtually all of my patients who have been successful tell me they have done this," she says.

She notes that weight gain around the time of menopause is much less common in Japan than in the U.S., suggesting that Western eating patterns are largely to blame.

Women in Japan typically eat more fruits, vegetables, and fish, and less sugar, red meat, and fast food than women in the United States.

"Japanese women also live longer than women in any other country (an average of 88 years), and their healthier diets are a major reason for this," Gass says.

Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Aug. 2012