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I am 52 years of age and since starting the menopause I put on weight very easily, which foods should I eat to increase my metabolism? — Anne, En

Christine Palumbo


This is a very common complaint. Women frequently gain weight in their late 40s and early 50s, and then the weight gain tapers off. Some of this weight appears to be fat gain that's related to hormonal changes that start occurring even before the onset of menopause. But some of the gain is due to being more sedentary and other lifestyle changes.

After age 30, women lose about a third of a pound to a half a pound of muscle each year. When you lose a half-pound of muscle, you burn about forty fewer calories a day. These changes accelerate at perimenopause and during early menopause. You can lose five pounds of muscle in just five years. This lost muscle is replaced by fat. Muscle is metabolically active, which means it burns calories even at rest, but fat is not. So replacing muscle mass with fat means that the number of calories we need each day drops as well. Dieting alone won't change our metabolism. And dieters who don't exercise often lose muscle mass along with the fat, only adding to the metabolism problem.

The only way to stop this is to exercise regularly. This includes both aerobic exercise and weight training. Weight training helps maintain or increase lean tissue stores, which is the metabolically active component of our bodies. It also helps support bone health. The exercise has to be intense enough to stimulate change in metabolism. You may wish to work with a trainer to initiate the change and get through the hard part at the beginning.

Some changes are almost impossible to alter. One of these is the depositing of fat in the abdominal area and the triceps, even without weight gain. This is something to live with and accept.

Carefully examine your eating habits. Many women start eating out more at this age because their children are no longer in the house. They may have a glass of wine with dinner and not count those hidden calories. Eating a well balanced diet that's low in fat and sodium and rich in whole grains, fruits and vegetables is a big help. One study found that postmenopausal women were not able to burn off the calories of a large meal as well as several small meals. Although more research is warranted, you might wish to distribute your calories among three or four similar-size meals rather than eating most of your food at lunch or dinner.

You can't turn back the clock, but you can maintain good health and vitality by cutting back on calories and boosting your metabolism with weight training exercises.



About Christine Palumbo

Christine Palumbo, MBA, RD has been a nutrition communications consultant since 1989, providing dietary counsel and analysis on various nutrition, health and weight management topics to corporate clients and news media outlets nationwide. An active member of the American Dietetic Association (ADA), the Illinois Dietetic Association, Chicago Dietetic Association for more than twenty years, she has served on a variety of boards and practice group committees within those organizations. In 1981 and 1982, Palumbo was honored by the Chicago Dietetic Association and the Illinois Dietetic Association, respectively, as the Recognized Young Dietician of the Year.

Palumbo has been featured as the expert speaker in numerous national health panels and has published many articles and pamphlets regarding nutrition and healthcare. She has been featured in national women's, health and business magazines, daily newspapers and local and national radio programs. Palumbo has also appeared on numerous local and national TV news programs, including a segment on the Oprah Winfrey Show in 1997 on the health benefits of drinking water.

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