Long-Term Weight Loss Strategies For Menopausal Women

Connie K. Ho for redOrbit.com — Your Universe Online

Researchers recently looked at strategies related to long-term weight loss following menopause and found that, while some behaviors work for the short-term, other behaviors do not work in the long-term.

As women age and enter the post-menopausal period, energy expenditure declines and weight loss can be a more challenging task. Based on the results of the study, scientists concluded that it is necessary to focus on particular behaviors that can help long-term obesity treatment. The findings of the project were recently published in the September issue of Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

“Not only does motivation decrease after you start losing weight, there are physiological changes, including a decreased resting metabolic rate. Appetite-related hormones increase. Researchers studying the brain are now finding that you have enhanced rewards and increased motivation to eat when you’ve lost weight,” noted lead investigator Bethany Barone Gibbs, a researcher at the University of Pittsburgh Department of Health and Physical Activity, in a prepared statement.

Researchers believe that some factors can fight against long-term weight loss. For example, traditional behavioral treatments that highlight caloric intake do not have strong long-term outcomes. As such, the researchers worked to identify how changes in eating behaviors and specific foods could affect weight loss for overweight post-menopausal woman.

According to The Guardian Express, 508 women were randomized into two different groups and studied over a four-year period. One group, the Lifestyle Change group, regularly met with exercise physiologists, nutritionist, and psychologists. They focused on reducing fats and caloric intake, continuing a moderate amount of exercise, as well as upping the consumption of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. The Health Education Group was offered seminars by health professionals on general women’s health, but not specifically weight loss.

In the study, the researchers discovered that eating behaviors correlated with weight loss at six months; these behaviors included drinking less sugary drinks, increasing consumption of fish, decreasing consumption of desserts and fried foods, as well as frequenting restaurants less. After four years, eating less desserts and consuming less sugary beverages continued to be associated to long-term weight loss. However, important signs for weight-loss also proved to be increased consumption of fruits and vegetables along with less consumption of meat and cheese.

Some researchers believe those old habits die hard and some practices – like prohibiting the consumption of fried food – will not last in the long-term.

“People are so motivated when they start a weight loss program. You can say, ‘I’m never going to eat another piece of pie,’ and you see the pounds coming off. Eating fruits and vegetables may not make as big a difference in your caloric intake. But that small change can build up and give you a better long-term result, because it’s not as hard to do as giving up French fries forever,” explained Dr. Barone Gibbs in the statement.

“If the goal is to reduce the burden of obesity, the focus must be on long-term strategies because changes in eating behaviors only associated with short-term weight loss are likely to be ineffective and unsustainable,” continued Gibbs in the statement.

Reducing stress is also another way to manage weight.

“If things are very stressful, things are going on in your life, often stress management techniques can help,” Dr. Scott Kahan, director of the STOP Obesity Alliance, told The Guardian Express.

Overall, weight management can be difficult for post-menopausal women, as their bodies adjust to changes in lifestyle and metabolism. Hormonal changes could impact the distribution of weight, increasing abdominal weight. As people age, muscle mass also decreases and fat may take the place of muscle. The change in metabolic rate also makes it an obstacle to lose weight.

“Their lives have changed,” commented Dr. Lauren Streicher, an assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University, in an article by ABC News. “They´re not running around after kids, they´re eating out more, they´re driving more and walking less, they´re moving out of their houses and into apartments.”

Some women empathize with the results that were found in the study and the difficulties that post-menopausal women face.

“I recall at age 25 if I wanted to lose five pounds I could do it in a week.  Now, it takes far longer to lose weight,” remarked Karen Giblin, the president of a menopause support organization called Red Hot Mamas North America, Inc., in The Guardian Express article.

Lastly, the study notes a few limitations including the self-reporting of eating behaviors and physical activity. There was also a difference in season from baseline to six-month assessments. Furthermore, the researchers note that snacks consumed between meals were not tracked.

“These results suggest that decreased consumption of desserts and sugar-sweetened beverages consistently associate with short- and long-term weight loss or maintenance, but increased fruits and vegetables in controls, as well as decreased meats and cheeses, in an intervention are additional factors that can help for long-term but not necessarily short-term weight loss or control,” the authors noted in the paper that was highlighted in a Med Page Today article.