Weight Loss

How Changes in Hormones Affect Weight Gain in Menopause

Key Takeaways

Key takeaways:

  • Menopause causes lower estrogen levels, which can change where fat is distributed on the body
  • There is not a significant increase in weight in individuals around menopause, only about 5 pounds throughout perimenopause
  • Weight gain around menopause may be caused by other factors, like the rate of metabolism slowing in all adults 60+ by about 0.7% per year
  • While menopause may not directly cause weight gain, the change in hormone levels can result in increased abdominal fat

Menopause weight gain can catch you off guard, especially when your eating and exercise habits haven’t changed. That’s why we’re here to set your mind at ease by explaining exactly what’s happening in your body around menopause and what you can do about it.

Why does weight gain happen in menopause?

In order to understand weight gain in menopause, we first have to go over the three stages of menopause. Perimenopause occurs after your reproductive years come to an end, and this is when you may start to notice symptoms such as hot flashes, mood swings, and weight gain, as well as less frequent menstrual cycles. Menopause begins when you’ve gone 12 consecutive months without getting your period, and you may continue to experience symptoms. Postmenopause refers to the rest of your life after menopause, when symptoms will begin to subside.

During perimenopause, hormonal shifts cause a number of symptoms, and many individuals will experience weight gain around menopause. However, the amount of weight gained by those in perimenopause is not significantly higher than premenopausal people of the same age range. So while perimenopause and weight gain may occur simultaneously, weight gain at this stage could also be related to other factors like aging, lifestyle, and genetics.

In fact, the weight gain that many experience at this time may actually be a result of a change in fat distribution due to lower estrogen levels. During your reproductive years, estrogen causes subcutaneous fat to develop in the breasts, hips, and thighs. When your estrogen levels drop as a result of menopause, there may be an increase in central or visceral fat, which is located within the abdominal organs and surrounding your stomach, liver, and intestines. Visceral fat brings a higher risk of medical issues like diabetes, cardiovascular disease, hypertension, and certain cancers.

When the visceral fat within the abdomen increases, you may notice a roll of fat around the stomach area, which is sometimes called middle aged spread or midlife spread. This fat can occur with or without weight gain, and has more to do with fat distribution.

While this new belly fat may be caused by hormonal fluctuations brought on by menopause, weight gain around menopause may be more related to general aging. Fat generally increases with age as diminished muscle mass slows down the rate of metabolism, which is how quickly your body uses up the calories you consume. Regardless of menopause, your metabolism is most stable from age 20-60, at which point your metabolism will begin to slow down by about 0.7% each year.

As you can see, there are a number of factors that can influence weight gain around menopause.

What age does menopause weight gain start?

Since menopause weight gain could actually be caused by factors other than menopause, it’s hard to say exactly when it starts. That being said, the median age of menopause is 51 and perimenopause lasts a median of four years, so menopause weight gain could begin around age 47.

What is the average weight gain during menopause?

The average weight gain during menopause is surprisingly low, with studies finding that people in perimenopause gained an average of five pounds during the menopausal transition. However, some people are at risk for greater weight gains.

How long does menopause weight gain last?

If weight gain occurs as a symptom of perimenopause, it’s possible it could go away with menopause, as that is when many other symptoms begin to subside. However, if weight gain is  a result of a slower metabolism, your metabolism will only continue to slow down as you get older. Any weight or fat put on during menopause will remain on your body unless you take action to lose it.

How risky is weight gain after menopause?

Weight gain is always risky, especially when you gain visceral fat in your abdomen, associated with a higher risk of subclinical atherosclerosis which can lead to cardiovascular disease. Postmenopausal people also have a higher rate of obesity, a known risk factor for a number of health problems.

How to lose weight in menopause 

The weight loss method best suited to you will probably depend on the underlying cause of your weight gain. If you’re gaining weight as a result of hormonal changes, one option is to address the hormonal imbalance with menopausal hormone replacement therapy, which can also significantly reduce all-cause mortality and cardiovascular disease when initiated at or near menopause.

On the other hand, if your weight gain is caused by aging, genetics, or something else, you can consider weight loss medication in addition to a number of lifestyle changes you can make to prevent health issues as a result of weight gain. 

Adults should get at least 150 minutes of exercise each week regardless of weight loss goals, and this should include aerobic exercise as well as strength and resistance training.

It may also be necessary to change your eating habits, especially if your metabolism has slowed and the amount of energy you expend is no longer enough to use up your caloric intake. Consider  including more fiber in your diet to help satiate you without having to eat more. 

No matter how you choose to lose weight, it’s always a good idea to start by talking to a licensed Canadian healthcare practitioner about your options so that you can safely decide on the treatment that’s right for you.

Now that you understand what causes weight gain around menopause and what you can do about it, you’ll be well equipped to handle whatever menopause throws your way.

Medically reviewed by


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