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The Weight-Loss Plateau

Updated: Mar 17, 2023

The weight-loss plateau is basic biology. When your body registers something threatening its survival, it automatically triggers a series of physiological responses to protect against the threat. When you reduce your food intake to try to compensate for the weight gain associated with menopause, your body believes it's under threat and reduces your metabolic rate to use less energy, which slows the rate at which you lose weight. Unfortunately, the common response by women is to further reduce calorie intake, which just makes the body respond even more aggressively. Research has identified that the plateau for weight loss appears between 3-6 months after starting to calorie reduce. Often, women start to see not just a plateau but even weight gain despite the calorie restriction.

So what's happening inside and why is it even more pronounced in menopausal women? Estrogen, specifically estradiol, regulates hunger and the satiety hormones called ghrelin and leptin. In general, estradiol blunts appetite, but reduced amounts of estradiol produced by menopausal women allow for increased appetite. It's not in your head - you actually are hungrier.

Low energy availability (LEA) as a result of dieting results in even higher levels of ghrelin (and lower levels of leptin), which increases hunger and promotes the conservation of fat stores. LEA also decreases thyroid performance, increases cortisol, and makes you resistant to growth hormone. To make matters worse, menopausal women often suffer from sleep disruption which compounds the increased ghrelin and lower leptin. Women who continue in this state will have decreased immunity, increased gut distress, worsening coordination, increased risk of stress fractures, and hangriness.

Instead of cutting your food intake, try this :

1. Revisit your weight-loss goal. Do you really need to lose more weight? If you've been exercising regularly as part of your weight-loss plan, you probably gained muscle and/or improved your muscle-to-fat ratio. Muscle is heavier than body fat so perhaps your goal weight should be modified. You're also likely to have changed where fat is distributed in your body, reducing the amount of unhealthy, visceral fat stored around the stomach, which reduces your risk of disease.

2. Focus on eating throughout the day. Ignore the latest fads and focus on eating regular meals throughout the day with an emphasis on breakfast. Controlled research studies have shown that your body burns calories from a meal 2.5x better in the morning compared with evening. If possible, make breakfast your biggest meal. And make sure to eat a snack before and after exercise. Commercially-available meal tracking programs can help you stay accountable to what you are consuming and when.

3. Consider more strength-building exercises. Incorporate strength training 2-3x per week into your exercise routine. Strength training increases your metabolic rate, unlike dieting which slows your metabolic rate. It also has benefits for improved posture and stability, stronger bones, and better blood pressure control. Choose complex, large muscle group exercises (e.g., squats, deadlifts, overhead press, chest press, pull-ups) and lift the heaviest amount you can safely manage for 5 repetitions for 5 sets. An effective workout shouldn't take more than 30 minutes but remember to warmup well before lifting and get professional instruction for proper form if you haven't done the movements in the past.

4. Review your food intake. Focus on nutrient-dense foods, fruits and vegetables, and lean meats. You shouldn't feel deprived or starving. Remember that no one ever became obese because they ate too much fruit and vegetables.

5. Relax and get some sleep. Stress will derail your weight-loss success. Stress increases your body's production of cortisol, which promotes fat storage and contributes to unhealthy food cravings. Try yoga, meditation, and low-stress exercises like walking. Also prioritize sleep hygiene to maximize your sleep.

In short, many women (and men) who are trying to lose weight eventually hit a plateau, which can be hard to break, but it's a sign your previously successful approach to weight loss needs modification. Menopausal women struggle even more with weight loss since quite a few physiological processes are interfering. But with a few simple changes to your routine (that don't include eating even less!), you can see noticeable improvements.

Disclaimer - Information on this website is provided for informational purposes only. The information is a result of years of practical experience and formal training by the author. This information is not intended as a substitute for the advice provided by your physician or other healthcare professional or any information contained in any product label or packaging. Do not use the information on this website for diagnosing or treating a health problem or disease, or prescribing medication, or other treatment. Always speak with your physician or other health care professional before taking any medication or nutritional, herbal, or homeopathic supplement, or using any treatment for a health problem. If you have or suspect that you have a medical problem, contact your healthcare provider promptly. Do not disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking professional advice because of something you have read on this website. Information provided on this website and the use of any products or services mentioned on this website by you do not create a doctor-patient relationship between you and any of the physicians affiliated with this website. Information and statements regarding dietary supplements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.

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