Weight gain in menopause: why it happens and what can be done about it 

Weight gain in menopause can be frustrating, but there are ways to minimise it.

Weight gain in menopause is a common issue and affects a lot of people going through this life change. In fact, it’s one of the most common menopause symptoms, but when we’re dealing with everything else menopause throws at us – hot flushes, anxiety, night sweats and aching joints to name a few – weight gain can seem like the final straw.  

We’ve all heard the phrase “eat less, move more”, but it’s not always that simple. The reality is that weight gain in or after menopause can happen for a multitude of reasons, and it’s not that easy to shift it, either.

But it’s not all doom and gloom. It is possible to have a positive menopause – a time when we embrace our bodies and all they can do. So before we console ourselves with a large slice of cake or try to run it all off on a treadmill, let’s look at why weight gain in menopause happens and what can be done about it.

Weight gain in menopauseCredit: Shutterstock / Rawpixel.com

Before we dive into why you might gain weight during menopause, it’s important to remember that you are so much more than what you weigh. A number on a scale is just that: an arbitrary measure that does not define your worth. A scale can’t tell you how much energy you have, how happy you are, or how much you are loved. If you have gained weight due to menopause and would like to know why, and how to lose it, I can help. But don’t let it become the be-all and end-all, because there are far more important things such as your overall health and wellbeing to focus on.  


Why do people gain weight during menopause?

Weight gain in menopause is common – though not inevitable – due to fluctuating hormones. Dean Zweck, product development manager at Total Fitness, says: “Menopause brings changes in oestrogen levels, leading to increased fat stores and a drop in metabolic rate. This means burning fewer calories throughout the day, coupled with heightened hunger, making weight gain more likely.” 

During perimenopause (the time leading up to menopause) and beyond, oestrogen levels drop, which leads to the female body storing more fat around the stomach. You might have heard women bemoaning their “middle-age spread”, because it can feel as though anything you eat makes its way to the stomach and stays there.  

But it’s not the oestrogen levels that cause weight gain in menopause. That is usually attributable to ageing and lifestyle changes affecting the following:  

  • Loss of muscle mass. 
  • Increase in fat.  

From age 30 onwards, we can lose around three to five per cent of our muscle mass per decade. However, there are things you can do to combat this, as we’ll discover. The loss of muscle mass can slow our metabolism – the rate at which we burn fat. If you’ve ever wondered why you can’t eat as you did in your twenties, that’s the reason!  

It’s also a fact that we tend to become more inactive as we age. Sport England reports that 22% of adults aged 45-54 are inactive, but this jumps to 27% for those aged 55-64, and increases again at age 65 – with 30% of people being inactive.  

Inactivity, coupled with an unhealthy diet, will lead to an increase in body fat, weight gain, and potentially many other health problems.  

What can be done about weight gain in menopause?

First, consider whether you want to do anything about your weight gain after menopause. You might be perfectly happy with how you are, and that’s wonderful. You might want to drop a couple of pounds or lose even more.  

Try and look at weight loss as part of the bigger picture – think of it as a lifestyle change. Because it’s less about how you look and more about how you feel and the health benefits that come with it. Maintaining a healthy weight can help with the following:  

  • A reduction in visceral fat – the unhealthy fat that sits around your organs and can narrow the blood vessels.  
  • Better heart health – your heart doesn’t have to work so hard to pump blood around the body if you’re a healthy weight.  
  • A reduction (or even reversal) in type 2 diabetes 
  • Lower blood pressure.  
  • Healthier joints – as they’re under less pressure.  
  • Better sleep. 
  • More energy. 
  • Better mental wellbeing. 

The following tips can help with weight loss:  

Slow and steady wins the race

Slow and steady is the best approach when it comes to weight loss. It might be tempting to try and shift pounds as quickly as possible, but being overly restrictive or crash dieting isn’t sustainable in the long term. Ultimately, you could end up putting all the weight back on again, and more.  

It’s a scientific fact that to lose weight you must burn more calories than you consume, creating a calorie deficit. That can be achieved through eating fewer calories, exercising more, or a combination of both. The combined approach is better, because it means you don’t need to be too restrictive with your food intake.  

On average, a calorie deficit of about 500kcal per day will lead to a pound of fat loss per week. Note I say “fat loss” – the scale might show a larger loss, but that can be influenced by water weight, bowel movements, sodium intake and more. This rate of weight loss is sustainable, meaning you’re more likely to keep the weight off.  

You don’t need to be fastidious about counting calories – after all, your body needs food as fuel. Just be mindful of portion sizes and opt for whole, unprocessed foods where possible. 

Eat a balanced diet

Cutting food groups is never a good idea and can lead to us craving those things (such as carbs) even more. Eating a healthy balanced diet is key. I always say aim for 80% adherence – don’t make your life miserable by denying yourself any sweet treats or a glass of wine, for example.  

The Mediterranean diet has many health benefits, including protection against type 2 diabetes. It’s not a “diet” you follow, more a way of eating that many people find enjoyable and satisfying.  

“Focus on quality protein sources like chicken, fish, eggs, pulses, and soy, along with fruits, vegetables, and healthy fats such as nuts, seeds and avocados,” Zweck recommends. “Opt for minimally processed foods as they tend to be more satiating, reducing post-meal hunger and snacking. Remember, you can still enjoy processed foods in moderation. So be kind to yourself. Start with an 80/20 split between whole and processed foods and adjust as needed.” 


Carbs are not the enemy, but many people find that lowering (not excluding) them can help with weight loss, including during menopause and beyond. Try to focus more on lean protein, which will also help build and maintain muscle mass.  

Resist labelling foods as “good”, “bad”, “naughty” or “treats”. This can create an unhealthy mindset around food and dieting. If you have a day of celebrating, for example, or you go out for a meal with friends, do it, enjoy it, and don’t worry about it.  

Limit alcohol consumption

If you want to drink alcohol, then do so, but during perimenopause and after menopause it can be a good idea to limit your consumption. Alcohol has a lot of calories so can really impact your calorie intake if you have a couple of drinks a few times a week.  

On top of that, too much alcohol can affect how you feel the next day, leaving you sluggish, bloated, and craving junk food. It can also contribute to feelings of anxiety in menopause and hot flushes, both common symptoms that can be difficult to deal with. That effect on your mindset can increase feelings of unease over weight gain or a general lack of confidence.

Regular exercise

“Regular physical activity offers a multitude of benefits that can alleviate menopause symptoms,” Zweck says. “A large proportion of calories are burned off naturally throughout the day from activities such as walking. So try to be as active as possible, by using stairs rather than lifts, or park slightly further away from the shops – all will contribute to the calorie burn needed to lose weight.”  

If you’re experiencing other symptoms of menopause, such as fatigue or aching joints, the thought of exercising can seem daunting. If this is the case, start slowly and build from there. Try a five-minute walk, then build to 10 minutes, and so on. Opt for gentle, restorative exercise as a way of improving mental wellbeing as well as helping to prevent weight gain.  

“Exercise acts as a natural mood booster, stimulating the release of endorphins – the feel-good chemicals in the brain,” Zweck says. “This flood of endorphins promotes happiness, reduces stress, and enhances overall mental wellbeing, reducing cortisol levels. 

“Exercises like tai chi, yoga and meditation are fantastic for enhancing your mood. They incorporate gentle movements, stretching, and deep/slow breathing, which are ideal for reducing anxiety and improving mental focus – which can also help anyone experiencing brain fog.” 

Cardio exercise

One of the benefits of cardio exercise is that it can aid weight loss by helping your body burn more calories than it consumes. It works best for weight loss when combined with a balanced diet, as detailed above. Cardio exercise also has the added benefit of improving heart health, lowering blood sugar levels and promoting better sleep, all of which can also help with weight loss.  

Cardio can vary in its type and intensity, and can include:  

Strength training

Strength training is important if you want to lose weight, as it helps to burn fat and increase muscle mass. Remember, it’s muscle that helps our metabolism work harder. 

Muscle and fat weigh the same, but muscle takes up less space on the body. Remember when I said it’s not about the number on the scale? You could – theoretically – weigh more but appear slimmer if you’re strength training regularly, because you’ll have less fat on your body.  

Another benefit of strength training is that it protects against osteoporosis, as Zweck explains: “The decline of oestrogen during menopause poses a risk to bone health, increasing the chances of osteoporosis. Strengthening exercises, such as weight training, play a pivotal role in increasing bone strength, which minimises the risk of injury in the future.” 

Just like cardio exercise, strength training can take many forms:  

Embrace life

Finally, the best tip I can give you when it comes to weight gain in menopause is not to get too hung up on it. Just embrace life and all it has to offer. Ageing is a privilege and, by the time we reach menopause, our bodies have done a lot. Maybe they’ve given birth to children, maybe they’ve helped us work manual or physically demanding jobs. Maybe they’ve given us the ability to walk the dog each day, do the shopping, drive a car. 

Our lives are worth more than what we weigh, so nourish, exercise and honour your body. Focus on what it can do rather than how it looks and embrace who you are.  

Becky Fuller

Written by Becky Fuller she/her


Becky Fuller is a fully qualified Personal Trainer, specialising in strength and conditioning for over 50s. Becky is passionate about Kettlebell training, and runs a regular kettlebell club in the local community. Prior to this, she worked as a Fitness manager in a local gym. Becky’s focus is helping people to become stronger both in body and mind, and to move well without pain.

Becky also has many years’ experience working as a freelance journalist, writing for a wide variety of publications such as Screen Rant, Geek Feed, and Daily Actor. She also regularly reviews theatre productions for UKTW.

Away from work, Becky unsurprisingly enjoys exercise, with a focus on lifting weights, kettlebells, and Olympic rings. She loves watching theatre, swimming, and reading a good book. She has three teenage children and enjoys spending time with them, preferably on a Cornish beach.

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