Weight gain during the menopausal transition (Peri-Menopause)

ageing gut health menopause perimenopause plant-based protein womens health

Mood changes, hot flushes, insomnia: the struggles associated with the menopausal transition are all-too familiar for many women in this stage of life. For many, the frustration of unwanted weight gain is another symptom to add to the never-ending list. In fact, the menopausal transition is associated with 2 to 2.5kg of weight gain over 3 years on average [1]. Increased fat tissue can make women feel less like themselves and can put them at increased risk of health conditions such as increased risk of insulin resistance, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease [1]. Let’s delve into why you may be experiencing weight gain and importantly, what you can do about it!

 What causes weight gain?

Hormonal changes [2].: During perimenopause, oestrogen levels fluctuate and eventually decline which can play a role in weight gain. Oestrogen regulates glucose and lipid metabolism, and when oestrogen levels drop it triggers metabolic changes in the body. Women are more likely to accumulate fat around their mid-section and also lose muscle mass which slows down metabolism. This means that women would need fewer calories than they did previously to maintain their weight, otherwise their unchanged intake would lead to weight gain.

Symptoms [3]: Many women experience perimenopausal symptoms including insomnia, stress, depression and other mental health challenges, all of which can influence weight gain. When we’re sleep-deprived, stressed, and in a poor mood, we may be more likely to reach for nutrient-poor and energy-dense foods to compensate for a lack of energy or make ourselves feel good in the short-term. In fact, your physiology can even work against you as your hunger hormone increases after a poor sleep. These symptoms can also make you less likely to engage in physical activity.

Life pressures [4]: During this life stage, women may be faced with many life pressures from family commitments to work commitments that leave them stretched thin. Life demands and competing priorities may lead to less time for self-care activities, and less time to make healthy choices. Women may find themselves with an increased reliance on takeaway foods, less time for exercise, and leading more sedentary lifestyles overall. Diets that are higher in sugar, especially sugar-sweetened beverages, can lead to weight gain as can a lower protein diet and higher intake of alcohol.

What can you do about it?

Watch for hidden kilojoules: Hidden kilojoules in foods and drinks or during mindless snacking can really add up throughout the day. Check your intake of alcohol, large coffees, smoothies, and mindless snacking during the day. To help you watch your calories, try buying pre-portioned snacks, keeping healthy foods in sight and less healthy foods out of the house, and set a limit on your alcohol intake.

Check your Lifestyle: Physical activity has many benefits for health, and it can help to prevent the tendency to gain weight [6]. Aim for 30-60 minutes per day, including a combination of weight-bearing activities (like walking or running) and resistance-training (like lifting weights or yoga) to help you maintain muscle mass. The best type of exercise will be the kind that you enjoy and can stick to! If you find you’re not sleeping well at night, try setting up a night-time routine, minimising distractions, and sticking to a schedule to get a good night’s rest.

Increase Protein: As mentioned, women tend to lose muscle mass as they age. Aiming for 20-30g of protein at meals with an even distribution throughout the day may assist with maintaining muscle mass and losing weight. Leucine-rich protein sources can be particularly helpful such as milk, yoghurt, and lean meat.

Eat a healthy and balanced diet: A healthy balanced diet is key to helping you manage your weight. Recent research has found that healthy dietary patterns like the Mediterranean Diet, which emphasise vegetables, whole grains, legumes, seafood, fruit and minimise ultra-processed foods and red meat, can help women manage symptoms of menopause [7]. One study of 176 perimenopausal women found that those who followed the Mediterranean Diet more closely were found to have a lower fat mass [5]. Choosing these high fibre foods will help keep you fuller for longer as well and may help curb your cravings.

A Final Word

Women going through the menopausal transition can be faced with many challenges, including unwanted weight gain. However, there are many strategies that you can put in place to empower you during this life transition and take charge of your health. If you would like individualised advice and support on how to navigate this life stage, our gut health dietitians can work with you for a personalised nutrition plan to support your goals!



[1] Polotsky HN, Polotsky AJ. Metabolic implications of menopause. Semin Reprod Med. 2010 Sep;28(5):426-34. doi: 10.1055/s-0030-1262902. Epub 2010 Sep 23. PMID: 20865657.

[2] Silva TR, Oppermann K, Reis FM, Spritzer PM. Nutrition in Menopausal Women: A Narrative Review. Nutrients. 2021 Jun 23;13(7):2149. doi: 10.3390/nu13072149. PMID: 34201460; PMCID: PMC8308420.

[3] Papatriantafyllou E, Efthymiou D, Zoumbaneas E, Popescu CA, Vassilopoulou E. Sleep Deprivation: Effects on Weight Loss and Weight Loss Maintenance. Nutrients. 2022 Apr 8;14(8):1549. doi: 10.3390/nu14081549. PMID: 35458110; PMCID: PMC9031614.

[4] Miller C, Ettridge K, Wakefield M, Pettigrew S, Coveney J, Roder D, Durkin S, Wittert G, Martin J, Dono J. Consumption of Sugar-Sweetened Beverages, Juice, Artificially-Sweetened Soda and Bottled Water: An Australian Population Study. Nutrients. 2020 Mar 19;12(3):817. doi: 10.3390/nu12030817. PMID: 32204487; PMCID: PMC7146120.

[5] Flor-Alemany M., Marín-Jiménez N., Nestares T., Borges-Cosic M., Aranda P., Aparicio V.A. Mediterranean diet, tobacco consumption and body composition during perimenopause. The FLAMENCO project. Maturitas. 2020;137:30–36. doi: 10.1016/j.maturitas.2020.04.002. 

[6] Sternfeld B, Aradhana B, Wang H, Sharp T, Quesenberry CJ. Menopause, physical activity, and body composition/fat distribution in midlife women. Medicine & Social Science in Sports & Exercise. 2005;37(7):1195–1202.

[7] Vetrani C, Barrea L, Rispoli R, Verde L, De Alteriis G, Docimo A, Auriemma RS, Colao A, Savastano S, Muscogiuri G. Mediterranean Diet: What Are the Consequences for Menopause? Front Endocrinol (Lausanne). 2022 Apr 25;13:886824. doi: 10.3389/fendo.2022.886824. PMID: 35546996; PMCID: PMC9084275.


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