Holiday Weight Gain: 8 Tips to Keep Menopause From Adding Unwanted Pounds
Ah, the holidays. That time of year when we’re surrounded by loved ones—including tempting party hors d’oeuvres, flowing champagne, and seemingly never-ending dessert spreads. But menopause changes how our bodies process things. These annual splurges might stick around long after the holidays are gone—in the form of stubborn extra pounds, and even new health concerns like high blood pressure, cholesterol issues, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.1
Why is this year different?
Lower estrogen levels, a slower metabolism, a less active lifestyle and loss of calorie-incinerating muscle mass all may be factors that allow extra pounds to creep on, and make them tougher than you expect to drop.2 Many women in menopause also suffer from inadequate sleep, which can be linked to weight gain.3
If you’re experiencing weight gain during menopause, you’re not alone. About 64% of the ~2,230 women we surveyed say that they’re also weighing in heavier now than they were before.4
We know that the menopause transition typically adds 4 to 6.5 pounds to a woman’s body over 3 years.5 But there’s got to be a way around this, right? How can we avoid the post-holiday surprise of stubborn extra pounds and the health issues they can bring?
It’s a matter of shifting your perspective, and adjusting your holiday lifestyle to your body’s new everyday reality. And we’ve put together these pro tips to help you do just that.
1. Look for healthy holiday “swapportunities”
Sure, there are certain must-haves that everyone expects on the holiday table. But when you’re hosting, try reworking the rest of your menu to boost nutrients while lowering salt, saturated fats and calories.
“Vegetables can be your best friends right now,” says Colorado-based nutritionist Brianna Towne, MS. She suggests substituting vegetable dishes like baked squash or grilled fresh Brussels sprouts for one or two of your traditional starchy sides or meat-based recipes. Try preparing fall and winter squashes and root vegetables with the herbs and spices you normally use in stuffing, so there’s a lighter choice available on the buffet table. (Bonus: it’s also packed with fiber, which is your best friend if hormonal shifts are messing with your regularity.)
“You can also add more vegetables into the dishes you’re already making,” she says. “You can also top your sides with vegetables to lower the overall calorie count. I like to use cherry tomatoes for this. They make servings seem a lot bigger, and they give everything a bright, festive look.”
2. Have your dessert in a cup
Instead of biting into the holiday flavors you love, like pumpkin spice, cranberry-orange or mint, try them in tea form. Laced with naturally sweet, spicy flavors, an herbal blend, a warm cup of Chai, or a turmeric latte may just be satisfying enough to eliminate after-dinner dessert cravings, or keep your fingers out of the cookie tin between meals. And if you really need a bit more of a sweet fix, Brianna Towne recommends stirring some local honey into your tea, for the added benefit of helping with seasonal allergies.
3. Take steps
Instead of sitting around chatting after a big holiday dinner, why not make a post-celebration walk part of your holiday tradition? You can express your gratitude, reflect on life and catch up with each other while you’re on the move. At the same time, you can all burn calories, build muscle mass, and outpace unwanted weight.
4. Don’t stop drinking (water)
Lifestyle coach and personal chef Ginger Lewis of Ginger’s Healthy Habits recommends having 16-18 ounces of water 20-30 minutes before a meal. “You may think you’re hungry when you’re really just thirsty,” she says. “A big glass of water may satisfy you enough to reduce your portion size, and keep you from overindulging.”
5. Enjoy yourself mindfully
Rich party food and alcohol sneak excess calories into your diet, increasing your risk of gaining weight.2 For a lot of us in the menopause years, drinking may also interrupt sleep, make night sweats worse, and leave us with horrendous hangovers. But at this boozy time of year, what's a socially active menosister supposed to do?
Ginger Lewis suggests having a little pre-party convo with yourself about your priorities. “Make a declarative statement, like ‘I won’t have any alcohol tonight’ or ‘I will only have one appetizer’, and then keep that promise to yourself,” she says. “This forces you to be aware of everything you pick up to eat and drink.”
Remember, avoiding holiday weight gain doesn’t mean avoiding the things you love. If you consciously appreciate the joy each indulgence brings, you can be fulfilled with smaller, more controlled portions than you used to, without feeling deprived.
6. Maintain your active schedule
Yes, you're busy right now. We all are. But if you let your overflowing calendar bump you out of your regular fitness routine, you’ll have an even bigger problem when January rolls around. Rather than waiting for resolution season, stick with a routine of weight bearing exercise twice a week, and cardio (like brisk walking) for at least 75 minutes a week2 through the holidays. Treat your workouts like meetings you can’t reschedule, and they’ll help you maintain your weight, your ongoing health and your physical comfort.
7. Treat yourself with a little self care
Next time you feel like reaching for a holiday cookie, reach for a bottle of colorful nail polish and give yourself a manicure. Or give yourself a little time out for a facemask treatment. It’ll keep you occupied long enough for the craving to pass, and leave you looking good for your next social gathering.
8. Focus on people, not food
Being fully present and grateful for the people who matter to you is what the holidays are all about. During menopause, your mindset is probably shifting this way naturally, as you start to realize how quickly time really passes. By paying less attention to the buffet table and more to your friends, neighbors, family members, and co-workers, you’ll see these relationships for what they truly are: the best possible gift.
- US Department of Health and Human Services. Office of Women’s Health. “Menopause and your health.” 2018. Accessed on October 22, 2019.
- Mayo Clinic. “Menopause weight gain: Stop the middle age spread.” 2019. Accessed on October 22, 2019 <https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/womens-health/in-depth/menopause-weight-gain/art-20046058>
- Patel, S. et al. “Association between reduced sleep and weight gain in women.”American Journal of Epidemiology. 2006;164(10): 947-954.
- Equelle.com online survey of US women (2,228) from Sept 2019 – Oct 2019.
- Polotsky, HN et al. Metabolic implications of menopause. Semin. Reprod. Med. 2010 28(5):426-34.