Shape Shifting - Menopause and Weight Gain
by : Serena Kirby
For nearly every woman, menopause means a lot more than just the last menstrual period. Research shows that, for around 90 percent of women, menopause also means weight gain.
To shine some light on the weighty side of menopause, Flourish spoke to Jon Gabriel, author of the international bestseller The Gabriel Method, which addresses the factors behind weight gain and shows a diet-free way to shed unwanted kilos.
Jon Gabriel is certainly not a woman - nor is he menopausal - but he does know what it’s like to gain, and lose, weight. Jon is a weight loss success story having lost 103 kilos without dieting (yes, without dieting). The onetime 186 kilo stockbroker is now 83 kilos and has sustained his slimmer self for five years without a single diet.
Feeling compelled to share his personal journey to ‘slim-dom’, Jon wrote The Gabriel Method, which has now sold 200,000 copies and been translated into 10 languages.
The difference in Jon’s approach to weight loss is extremely relevant to menopausal women and, as he now understands the body’s reasons for putting on kilos, he encourages women to stop focusing on ways to shed them through force.
His diet-free philosophy is far from being some quick fix gimmick as it is backed by solid, cutting-edge obesity research and more than four years full-time investigation into the role of biochemistry in weight loss. As a result of his research and discussions with hundreds of women in their mid-life years, Jon has highlighted two key elements that contribute to menopausal weight gain.
“The hormonal stress of menopause causes many women to develop ‘insulin resistance’ which results in making their bodies store fat, rather than burn calories,” explains Jon.
“While most women follow a low-fat, high-carb diet, after time, processed and refined foods make your body even more resistant to the insulin produced in your bloodstream. This insulin resistance, and the body’s resulting lack of ability to regulate its weight, also leads you to become tired, cranky and crave junk food.”
Experts agree that ‘insulin resistance’ changes how our bodies handle the foods we eat. For example, if you ate 1,000 calories before menopause, you would burn 700 of them and store around 300. After menopause, your body will store 700 and burn only 300. This is a big difference and the result is weight gain, which for most women can result in a change of dress size.
Tragically enough, not only are you more likely to put on weight during menopause but you’ll find the extra kilos won’t be as well dispersed as they were before. Where you may have been ‘pear’ shaped during your child-bearing years, you are now likely to become ‘apple’ shaped as the gained weight collects around your abdomen rather than your hips and thighs.
But not only is there the effect of insulin to deal with, Jon says there is another result of hormonal stress that comes into play during a woman’s mid-life years.
“Stress is a major player in a person’s weight levels and the real damage stress does is how it makes the body adapt. In many cases it causes the body to put on weight,” says Jon.
“By its very nature, menopause causes a chemical stress and the stress hormones it produces can prevent weight loss as they signal the body to go into storage or ‘starvation’ mode. In essence stress can actually trick the body into thinking it’s in famine - resulting in a stress-activated starvation-mode response.”
When Jon uncovered the influence of stress on weight control, while trying to understand his own weight gain, he stopped studying obesity and started studying starvation.
“Your body has certain genetic survival programs built into it and these are designed to force you to get fatter or hold onto fat when ever it feels that doing so will help keep you alive,” explains Jon.
“Stress produces chemical signals in our bodies and brains and often these signals are exactly the same as the chemical signals produced when we are starving or freezing. When the fat program is switched ‘on’, subtle hormonal and chemical changes take place in your body that will virtually make sure you get fat and stay that way. As a result you get hungry, have cravings and consume more calories. The key is to turn ‘off’ this fat program by convincing your body that being thinner is safer.”
Jon says by eliminating the reasons why your body wants to be fat it will - instead - want to be thin, naturally.
“You need to de-stress and think positively about yourself and your life,” states Jon.
“When you eat, focus on foods that add nutrients to your body rather than cutting back on the quantity of food. This is really important as being nutrientally deficient can trigger your body’s famine response. I know it’s been said often but you can’t ignore the link between ‘healthy mind, healthy body’ as it is extremely vital when it comes to weight loss.”
Of course, many without this knowledge rush to the latest weight loss diet to strip off the unwanted kilos.
“The biggest side effect of menopause is women rush on to diets and diets cause your weight to yo-yo and that’s not healthy,” says Jon.
“Diets aren’t good for you as they make the body think it is in famine so it holds on even tighter to the very fat you are trying to lose. You can compare dieting to holding a volleyball under water. When you let it go, it will shoot up higher than before. I was living proof of this as I would lose five kilos only to then put on 10.”
Jon, along with an increasing number of medical professionals, now believes that not only do diets not work, but the associated rapid weight fluctuations, constant failure and restrictive eating add immense stress on the mind and body. While most people associate stress with heart disease, high blood pressure and an increased risk of cancer, they don’t realise it can also cause weight gain. In effect, the more you try to diet, the more stress you put on your body, the more weight you gain and the vicious cycle takes hold.
So how can you change the effect of stress and insulin resistance during the challenging time of menopause?
Here are Jon’s words of advice:
* Reduce and manage mental and emotional stress and focus on visualising your ideal weight by practising some form of yoga or meditation.
* Start the day with a breakfast that is high in protein.
* Add Omega 3 fatty acids to every meal - either by eating fish, shellfish meat, eggs, walnuts or soybeans. You can also add it in the form of fish oil or by sprinkling ground linseed on your food.
* Add salads to meals and drink lots of water.
* Keep the focus on adding nutrients rather than dieting.
* In all you do, follow your heart and your passion as there’s no time like the present to start doing the things you always wanted to do. Sometimes, when we are not following our heart, life becomes stressful and reducing stress is the key.
* Be patient - it takes about six months for your body to adjust hormonally to your new way of being. Once that happens your body will become much more efficient at burning fat.
As weight gain and menopause go hand in hand for most women, it’s important to remember that you are not alone. You should also take comfort in the knowledge that the extra kilos are not appearing because you are lazy or undisciplined.
Menopause is not called ‘the change of life’ for no reason and women will have more success in controlling their weight during this time if they embrace change rather than fight against it. Menopause is, as its name suggests, a time to pause, gain strength, feed your soul as carefully as you feed your body and change your life… for the better.
Note to Remember. Menopause is different for every woman so you should always visit your doctor with any symptoms you are concerned about.
Jon Gabriel lives in Denmark, Western Australia and is a recipient of the prestigious Lifting Up the World with a Oneness-Heart award which honors individuals of inspiration and dedication. Other recipients include Nelson Mandela, Mother Teresa, Muhammad Ali, Carl Lewis and Sting. The Gabriel Method is available through all good bookshops or online at http://www.gabrielmethod.com.au