During perimenopause and menopause, the average amount of weight can be 1-2kg per year. As a result, many women will seek ways to lose this weight. For some women, it can be difficult to lose weight during menopause. This can be due to a number of reasons including hormonal changes, and reduced energy to exercise. This week we will be discussing calorie counting, its advantages and disadvantages, and its use in menopause to lose weight.
What is Calorie Counting?
Calories are units of measure for energy. They can be used to describe the amount of energy that food contains, or how much energy we burn during exercise. The average recommended daily calorie intake for men is 2500kcals and 2000kcals for women. However, calorie requirements vary between individuals based on several factors including activity levels, age, and illness.
Calorie counting is popularly advertised as a way to lose weight, by calculating your energy requirements and then eating fewer calories than this to create a calorie deficit. This diet trend has become more popular with the creation of diet tracking apps, and smartwatches to monitor calories in vs calories out . Calorie-counting style diets include 1200 calorie diets.
Benefits of Calorie Counting
Evidence has shown that calorie counting and staying in a calorie deficit can be an effective way to lose weight. One meta-analysis found that greater weight loss was found in individuals who followed a 600kcal deficit diet, compared to a generalised low-calorie diet of 1200kcal/day .
Weight loss can be beneficial in menopause if you find that you have gained weight and are at risk of obesity, as is common with lots of menopausal women. Studies suggest that high oestrogen levels can promote fat gain , explaining the increases in weight. Women also tend to store more weight in their hips and thighs as they age, leading to a pear-shaped body type. It is stored as subcutaneous fat which can be hard to lose but isn’t thought to increase the risk of disease much. However, low oestrogen levels throughout menopause can cause visceral fat to be stored in the lower abdomen area, which can increase the risk of insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease .
Another factor thought to influence weight gain in peri-menopause is hormonal changes that increase appetite and overall calorie intake. One study found that levels of ghrelin in peri-menopausal level were significantly higher than in pre- and post-menopausal women. Ghrelin is a hormone produced mainly by the stomach and is known as the ‘hunger hormone’. This is because it stimulates appetite, encourages fat storage, and can increase food intake. High levels of this hormone in peri-menopausal women could explain weight gain .
Additionally, low oestrogen levels experienced during menopause can diminish the function of neuropeptide Y and leptin. Neuropeptide Y is a protein, responsible for stimulating food intake, with a preference for carbohydrates. Leptin is a hormone released by fat cells that contributes to the regulation of body weight. This suggests that women with low oestrogen, seen in the later stages of peri-menopause may be likely to increase their caloric intake [6,7].
Disadvantages of Calorie Counting in Menopause
Although calorie counting has its benefits for weight loss and preventing complications of obesity, there are several disadvantages associated with it.
Firstly, it is important to understand that not all calories are equal. Eating within a calorie deficit may help you to lose weight but is important that you are still meeting your macro and micronutrient needs. The energy you get from 100kcal worth of processed food such as chocolate or crisps, is the same as that in healthier foods such as avocado or fruit, however, the micronutrient content of the unhealthier option is lower. Nutrient-dense foods may also contain fibre and protein which can help to make you feel fuller for longer.
Additionally, you may find that more calorie-dense foods fill you up less. A smaller amount of these foods will have the same number of calories as a larger portion of lower-calorie foods. Filling up on lower-calorie foods can ensure that you stay fuller when in a calorie deficit.
Finally, focusing on calories can negatively affect individuals mentally, especially those who are vulnerable to eating disorders. One study viewed the opinions of individuals using calorie-counting apps. They discovered that they were more motivated to lose weight by setting their own goals within a particular time frame .
Sustainable Weight Loss in Menopause
Instead of focusing on calorie counting for menopause weight loss. There are a number of ways that you can manage your weight throughout the menopause:
- Increase your physical activity – the NHS recommends doing at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity per week or 75 minutes of vigorous activity a week. Physical activity can be anything from hiking to cycling to carrying heavy shopping bags.
- Eat well – all adults should aim to eat a healthy, balanced diet.
- Try a Mediterranean-style diet – this can help to reduce the risk of heart disease. This diet consists of a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and unsaturated fats. You can read our blog post on the Mediterranean diet here.
- Try alternative therapies such as yoga, herbal treatments, and meditation. These treatments may help with any negative mood symptoms you experience.
- Control portion sizes – try measuring out your snacks, and check the recommended serving sizes on everyday foods. Practice mindful eating to ensure you are eating when you are hungry, not because you are bored or for comfort.
- Plan meals – this can help you to make healthy decisions when preparing meals.
- Keep yourself accountable – try exercising with friends or making healthy meals for your whole family to stay motivated.
- Don’t do too much at once – make small lifestyle changes, instead of drastic ones. This can make it more likely for you to stick to the changes you have made.
Calorie counting has its advantages and disadvantages in menopause weight loss. However, it is important to find what works for you. It is important to understand the role of other nutrients such as fat, sugar, protein and fibre in weight loss. Prioritising a healthy, balanced diet which is rich in nutrient-dense food choices. Additionally, focusing on making sustainable changes can be a great way to support weight loss during menopause.
Caroline Hill is a specialist menopause dietitian supporting women making dietary change. Caroline uses her extensive knowledge, skills and expertise of food and nutrition to help women manage their symptoms and weight during menopause. Caroline believes in providing sustainable, individualised, evidence-based advice to women making dietary change.