How to reduce weight gain in peri and menopause


If you are in your 40s and female, there is a good chance you are in perimenopause. This inevitable change has emotional, physiological, and spiritual impacts. It’s a big shift for many women and one we are dismally prepared for by our care providers. The average woman will gain between 2 to 5 lbs (1 to 2 kg) of body fat during the menopausal years, this number often increases if you are already in a state of higher body fat percentage or obesity.

This is definitely not happening in your head. The changes occurring are not only a result of lifestyle, they are also hard physiologic shifts. They include hormonal decreases and fluctuations of estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone, changes in receptor sites for any estrogen we have, temporary shrinking of brain mass (startling, but often rebounds after 5 years), and all resulting in increased body fat, particularly around the midsection. To avoid blaming and shaming yourself for how your body, mind, and mood are changing, it is so important to remember that a physiological and metabolic shift is occurring.

This extra visceral fat increases inflammatory processes in the body, which increases the risk for heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, and some cancers. Menopause also simultaneously results in decreased lean muscle tissue. This muscle becomes important, as you will read below, because a loss of 3-8% per decade, after the age of 30, will reduce the body’s metabolic rate. Being mindful and making changes to affect how much fat you gain during these years becomes important for multiple reasons.

There are, however, habitual lifestyle patterns that will reduce the severity and intensity of weight and body fat changes. Gaining muscle as opposed to fat, for example, would increase body weight, but with lots of positive impacts.

Here we go through 5 areas to become mindful of and shift, to reduce the chances of excessive fat gains during peri and menopausal years:



If you were active when you were younger, it can feel like you should be able to slow down as you age. But in fact, the opposite is true. You need to increase both the intensity and frequency of movement in your life during these years. There are two ways this can happen:

  • Increasing N.E.A.T. (Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis). Doing so has profound impacts on weight and fat mass, and doesn’t require a gym membership. Instead, it requires you to move more during your workday by sitting less. This can look like moving, pacing, doing chores while you work if possible, going up and down your staircase, walking, and talking with your pet. Even standing as opposed to sitting while you work will increase tiny amounts of thermogenesis, which have a huge net effect. If you have ever looked into a standing desk, remember they can go from thousands of dollars to simple, cheap, and effective cardboard stands for a few dollars.
  • Then there is the classic physical exercise we think of, for the purpose of getting exercise. Physical exercise, in this stage of life, needs to include weight training. It is not only key for women to encourage abdominal fat loss, but also for maintaining metabolically active muscle tissue. During perimenopause, there are drastic changes to the function and efficiency of mitochondria in our cells, meaning our muscle cells get sleepy. Waking them up with a bare minimum of two 20-minute weekly sessions of training with weights is crucial to keeping bone and muscle tissue. If you can find some movement you already enjoy and tack on or add weights to it, it becomes effortless. Remember, movement can and should be joyful, and enjoyable, so you are motivated to stay consistent.


Women who sleep 6 or fewer hours nightly during mid-life tend to have higher BMIs and body fat percentages. A minimum of 7 hours of sleep nightly is necessary for proper hormonal secretion and brain function. Sleep can be especially difficult during these menopausal years due to all the stress and symptoms that women experience in this stage of life. The key is making sleep a priority above late-night scrolling. Work on all the factors you can control to support sleep, such as not eating 3 hours before sleep, avoiding screens at least 30 to 60 minutes before bed, sleeping in an ice-cold, dark room to stimulate melatonin, keeping a regular daily schedule, reading before bed, or doing some deep breathing or meditative practice before sleep. If you still struggle, you may need to speak to your doctor about other issues at play.



Alcohol is the elephant in the room for women. Developed nations have women’s alcohol intake approaching or exceeding men’s intake between the years of 45 to 60. This contributes significantly to excess abdominal fat as well as the risk of stroke. Reasons for increased alcohol use are often a combination of indirect effects of serious stressors: negative pressures of life circumstances including raising children and marital woes, work and career stress, and disappointments and unmanaged expectations that have gone unmet. Aiming for a maximum of 2 drinks weekly, divided over days, lowers risk. The stigma around wanting to reduce or eliminate alcohol is rapidly disappearing. Finding alternative methods to destress, including support from women’s groups, therapy, any form of movement, journalling, and sometimes medication treatment, can be beneficial.



Skipping lunch feels easy. If you haven’t prepared it, many women take the “skip lunch” opportunities that a busy workday presents. There could even be a subconscious drive to skip lunch to “save a few calories and lose weight”, but in fact, the exact opposite is true. Eliminating calories and food from the middle of the day increases the chances you will be hungrier after dinner and prone to snacking to make up the difference. Another blow during the menopausal years is the increase in appetite due to the estrogen drop. It can feel completely unfair that during perimenopause, hunger hormones like ghrelin increase, while appetite-suppressing hormones such as leptin and neuropeptide Y, decrease and leave you wanting more. Therefore, eating at regular intervals, at least 3 times a day, is so important during these years. Even having a late-afternoon snack, with a minimum of 10 grams of protein, can help reduce late-night snacking.



By mid-life, most women have had serious ups and downs in life. Some true joy and happiness, but also disappointments and expectations that have not been met with life, work, children, or marriage. Studies show that women who can share their menopause related-struggles with a group experience fewer symptoms. Having a group of women around you can also help with accountability for the positive behaviors you may be trying to build, which can support fat loss. Because of the dearth of scientific study and stigma around menopause, talking to your doctor or other care providers isn’t always a helpful or supportive solution. It’s important to discuss openly and honestly the difficult symptoms (irritability, sleeplessness, brain fog, angry outbursts, depressive or anxious feelings, fat gain, migraines) that you may be experiencing so you feel heard and understood. This can look like starting with regular friend meetups, a women’s walking or sports-based group, religious groups, parent or volunteer groups where you connect, or creating a reading club or writing group.

The years between perimenopause and the end of menopause can be a rollercoaster, but they shouldn’t come with fear, shame, or blame. Working on what is in your control can help the process immensely.

Nishta Saxena, MSc, is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, founder of Vibrant Nutrition, and busy mother of two kids. Her expertise is focused on pediatric and family nutrition, coaching families through their life cycle. She also works with adults managing and preventing chronic diseases, including heart disease, fatty liver, high cholesterol, and Type 2 Diabetes. In her 15 years of clinical practice, Nishta has helped thousands of families worldwide move through their lives with energy and experience the powerful health effects of optimal nutrition. She is also a well-known “nutrition myth buster,” promoting evidence-based nutrition with a common-sense approach. In addition to her private practice, seeing clients globally, and her speaking work, Nishta is a national media expert in food and nutrition, appearing regularly on Your Morning, The Marilyn Denis Show, The Social, CBC, Today’s Parent, and Best Health. Her favorite food is chickpeas.