The Role of Hormones in Women Weight Gain

I am in early stage perimenopause and it’s not always fun! Last month I had a rip snorter of a migraine and this month night sweats! I wonder what symptoms you get (or are you one of the ‘lucky ones’?)? 

Our reproductive hormones also have a huge influence on our weight and waistline, but before we tackle this, we need to identify what reproductive stage we are at;

  • Early stage perimenopause,
  • Late stage perimenopause, or
  • Having reached menopause

Do you know what stage you are at?

What is Early vs Late Stage Peri-menopause?

Early stage peri can start as young as 35yo, and is generally classified by a gradual reduction in progesterone alongside more wildly fluctuating oestrogen (think high highs and low lows). It’s that rollercoaster of oestrogen coupled with lowering progesterone that can trigger some of the not so nice symptoms.  If your period shortens to less than 26 days/mth (assuming it was regularly 28 days) this is also a common sign of early stage peri. Whilst many symptoms cross across all the three stages, common symptoms in early peri are; new onset of sore/swollen breasts, headaches, and premenstrual night sweats. 

Late stage peri refers to the 1-3 years before reaching menopause, and the biggest sign is your monthly cycle starts to vary by seven days or more. So one month might last 26 days, and the next 35 days then back to 26 days, or you might skip months all together. This stage is where oestrogen is now declining rather than fluctuating, and progesterone still declining. 

There are biomarkers to test for this, but it’s nuanced.

Menopause has been reached when you have no longer had a period for 12 months or more and your FSH levels are >30 mIU/mL. the average age of menopause in most western countries is 51yo. 

Common Symptoms Of Peri (three or more suggest you are in peri): 

  • New onset of a heavier or longer flow
  • A shorter menstrual month less than 26 days 
  • New symptoms of swollen or lumpy breasts 
  • New symptoms of waking up at night 
  • Premenstrual night sweats 
  • Premenstrual cramps
  • New symptoms of headaches/migraines 
  • New mood changes or even brain fog
  • Weight gain without any changes in diet or exercise 
  • Hot flushes or night sweats
  • Varied lengths in your menstrual cycle (this can indicate you are 1-3 years away from peri-menopause)

Mechanism behind Hormone Changes & Weight Gain 

Here’s how these changes can affect weight:

  1. Oestrogen Decline: Oestrogen plays a big role in regulating metabolism and fat distribution. As oestrogen levels drop, our bodies tend to store more fat, especially around the belly. This shift from storing fat in the hips and thighs to the abdomen is a common challenge during perimenopause and menopause.
  2. Progesterone Decline: Progesterone helps counterbalance the effects of oestrogen. Its decline can lead to water retention and bloating, further contributing to weight gain and the sensation of increased abdominal weight.
  3. Insulin Resistance: Lower oestrogen levels can mess with our body’s insulin sensitivity, leading to higher blood sugar levels and a greater tendency to store fat.
  4. Cortisol Levels: Peri-menopause is often accompanied by increased stress levels, which may be due to lower progesterone which is akin to an “anti-stress” hormone. As cortisol levels are higher, this is linked to increased appetite and fat storage, particularly in the abdominal region. 

I have seen many women who have never struggled with their weight suddenly hit a brick wall of weight gain and stubborn weight during the peri and menopause transition. It’s important to learn about it and manage this transition carefully. Step one is tracking…

Tracking your Cycle: Why it’s important

I’m a huge advocate for learning how to track your cycle. Knowing when you ovulate and when you’re in your luteal phase (the week before your period) is essential for understanding your symptoms. This is also super important if you want to get your hormones tested since you can only test at certain times of the month.

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