28th August 2012 -- Conventional wisdom says weight gain is inevitable with menopause and that losing weight is difficult, but a new study questions this wisdom.
Researchers examined eating behaviours among postmenopausal women in their 50s enrolled in a weight-loss study. They identified those behaviours that were common in women who managed to shed pounds and keep them off.
Cutting way back on sugary desserts and drinks topped the list, followed by limiting meat and cheese and eating more fruit and vegetables.
The new research has been welcomed by one UK menopause expert for highlighting the problems many women face with weight gain after the menopause.
The US study included about 500 overweight and obese postmenopausal women with waist sizes greater than 31.5 inches (80cm). None of the women had high blood pressure, heart disease or diabetes.
Half the women followed a weight loss plan that included regular meetings with nutritionists, exercise specialists and psychologists. None of these options were available to the other women, but they were given the opportunity to attend seminars on general health.
The women were followed for four years. During this time those in the nutrition and exercise group lost an average of 8 pounds, compared to around half a pound among those in the general health group.
Weight loss was highest in the first six months and the researchers noted that "some behaviours that are related to weight loss in the short term are not effective or sustainable for the long term."
Behaviours associated with weight loss at six months in the combined groups included eating:
Less sugar (desserts and sugar-sweetened beverages)
Fewer fried foods
Eating out in restaurants less often
"People who were able to decrease their consumption of desserts and sugar-sweetened beverages tended to have more success losing weight and keeping it off," says researcher Dr Bethany Barone Gibbs of the University of Pittsburgh in the US.
After four years, behaviours linked to long-term diet success emerged:
Also eating fewer desserts and drinking fewer sugar-sweetened beverages
Eating more fruits and vegetables and fewer meats and cheeses
Dr Barone Gibbs speculates that strategies that led to short-term but not long-term weight loss, such as restricting fried foods and eating out less often, may be difficult to sustain.
The study appears in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
"Weight gain is a major issue after menopause," says Nick Panay, chairman of British Menopause Society and consultant gynaecologist, Queen Charlotte's and Chelsea and Westminster Hospitals, London. "Therefore attempts to lose weight become more important."
He tells us: "The problem with the menopause transition is with falling oestrogen levels, the body body becomes insulin resistant. Women have a rise in insulin levels to try to control their blood sugar and it's this insulin resistance that leads to this gain of weight, particularly in the waist area - the change in the 'pear' to 'apple' shape.
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