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Have you noticed that the pounds are piling on all by themselves now that you've entered the menopause? Welcome to middle age! Is there anything we can do to combat this nasty menopausal weight gain?

When I entered the menopause at around 50, I did experience some hot flashes and a spike in blood pressure, but on the whole I was pleasantly surprised. Other women seemed to talk about the menopause as if it were among the most difficult things they had ever been through, but I really didn't think it was that big of a deal. The one thing I didn't — and don't — like is the fact that I went up two clothes sizes. While I used to wear a European size 36, I now need a size 40. My increased weight seems to adorn my hips, thighs and abdomen. 

What's more, all this happened even though I neither started eating more (and may even be eating less now) nor decreased my physical activity. It's incredibly frustrating, and when I look around, it is obvious that I am not the only victim of this phenomenon.

What causes menopausal weight gain, and what, if anything, can we do about it?

What Causes Menopausal Weight Gain?

With a whopping 90 percent of women gaining weight at around the same time they're entering the menopause, it's easy to conclude that the hormonal changes related to this phase of life are to blame for that notorious middle-age spread. Correlation doesn't equal causation though, and the International Menopause Society organized a study, published in the journal Climacteric (worst journal name I've ever heard, by the way), that dispelled this very persistent myth. It isn't a drop in estrogen that causes those pounds to pile on in menopausal women after all, it turns out.

While dropping estrogen levels do lead to a change in the way weight tends to be distributed around a woman's body — the abdomen becomes a favorite fat-retention spot — it is, in fact, non-hormonal factors that lead to an overall increase in weight around this time. 

Lots of things are changing at around the same time you'll enter the menopause, and they can all lead to weight gain. Yes, many women naturally get more stiff and achy when they get to this age, and tend to decrease their levels of physical activity. Many women also become empty-nesters at around the same time they go through the menopause, naturally often diminishing their need to run around like headless chickens and perhaps even increasing their comfort-eating habits!

Biology-wise, mind you, your metabolism slows down as you get older. Your muscle mass decreases, while your percentage of body fat goes up. That slower metabolism means that the same amount of food will stick to your reserves more easily, leading to a muffin top. Indeed, you may find yourself exercising like crazy and still not see that flab disappear. There's a genetic component too. If your female relatives became heavier after they entered the menopause, watch it — you are at a higher risk of having the exact same thing happen to you!

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