Many women struggle with weight gain during menopause – but what happens once we are the other side of menopause? Has your weight crept up after menopause? If so, what’s the best and safest way to lose weight and maintain a healthy weight as you get older?
In this post we look at some popular diets - including the keto diet, 5:2, alkaline, Mediterranean and raw food diet - and how they might work for women post-menopause…
A 2016 survey revealed that, in the previous year, almost six out of every 10 British women had been on a weight loss diet and, for many of them, it wasn’t the first time they had tried to lose weight. It’s a pretty staggering figure but a worrying one because there’s plenty of evidence to show that the overall effect of being on and off weight loss diets repeatedly - extreme diets, in particular – isn’t effective in the long-term. It’s not good for our general health, either.
Diet and weight management is a hot topic for our Menopause Community Forum members so it’s a subject we often return to in our articles and expert guides. In this post we’re taking a look at some of the most popular weight-loss diets and approaches to eating to see what works and what doesn’t and what the latest research on healthy eating for women post-menopause reveals.
The keto diet
The keto – ketogenic – diet has been around for almost a century and is similar in many ways to the Atkins diet. It’s based on a low carbohydate, high fat regime, with an appropriate amount of protein, and encourages the body to burn fats rather than carbohydrates. It was originally developed to help children and young people who suffered from epileptic seizures and is still used in this way today; it has also been used to treat a range of diseases and conditions such as Alzheimer’s, autism, brain cancer and Parkinson’s disease.
The keto diet, in various forms, has now become more mainstream and is widely promoted as an effective weight-loss diet.
Could the keto diet help you to lose weight post-menopause?
If you like fatty foods enjoy meat, fish, eggs and dairy products but are not keen on carbs - and can keep to a disciplined regime - then the answer is probably yes. If you are vegetarian or vegan, dislike fatty foods and enjoy carb-rich foods like pasta, then the answer is definitely no. The keto diet can produce unpleasant side effects such as constipation, hair loss, nausea, and sleep problems and even its most enthusiastic promoters recommend that, unless you are on the diet for medical reasons, it shouldn’t be used long-term or permanently. So, if it suits your eating preferences, you could use it in the short-term to lose weight, then move to a balanced, healthy eating plan.
Read more about the keto diet here.
The alkaline diet
This is another diet originally developed to help prevent specific medical conditions, in this case kidney stones and urinary infections. It’s based on the assumption that certain foods, like meat, processed foods, refined sugar and wheat make the body produce acid, which is bad for you. The emphasis, therefore is on eating foods, like fruit and vegetables - to make the body more alkaline - to prevent these and other conditions, and to lose weight.
There has, however, been much controversy surrounding the alkaline diet and organisations like Cancer Research UK and the NHS say that there’s no scientific evidence for some of its claims, for example that it is effective in treating cancer. It has also been linked to nutritional deficiencies, particularly in certain vitamins and minerals.
Could the alkaline diet help you to lose weight post-menopause?
Given its emphasis on natural plant-based foods, it almost certainly can - but no more than any other similar diet. And given the warning about nutritional deficiencies, it might not be the best choice.
Read more about the alkaline diet here.
The raw food diet
The raw food diet is by far the oldest diet in our list; its origins go back to pre-history! It wasn’t until humans developed tools and learned to control fire that cooked food appeared on the menu… But it began to take off as a health and lifestyle choice in the early1900s, endorsed by pioneering naturopaths in Europe and the USA.
The aim is to for raw and ‘living’ foods (such as sprouted beans and grains) to make up 75% of your diet, with cooked foods the remaining 25%.
Could a raw food diet help you to lose weight post-menopause?
Although it’s not primarily a weight-loss diet, the raw food diet is low in fats, proteins and carbohydrates so you will almost certainly lose weight. The downside of the raw food diet is that, like the alkaline diet, it can lead to protein and vitamin deficiencies, particularly B12 – and not all foods are safe to be eaten raw. What’s more, some foods are better for us, nutritionally speaking, once they’re cooked.
Read more about the raw food diet here.
The 5:2 fast diet
The 5:2 diet is a type of intermittent fasting, made popular by one of television’s favourite health programme presenters, Dr Michael Mosley. The basic principle of all intermittent fasting regimes is that you restrict your calorie intake for certain periods. On the 5:2 diet, you eat normally (but not excessively) for five days of the week and limit your calories to 500-600 on the remaining two (non-consecutive days). For example, you could eat normally on Monday Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday, and stick to limited calories on Wednesday and Sunday. Follow this regime until you reach your preferred weight and then move to a maintenance plan, say 6:1 or whatever works best for you.
There’s a lot of interest in the health benefits of intermittent fasting and growing evidence that it can be effective in reversing conditions such as Type 2 diabetes.
Could you lose weight on the 5:2 diet post-menopause?
If you can cope with eating much less than normal for two days every week, and avoid binge eating on the remaining five days then you will definitely lose weight. And, by sticking to a sensible and healthy maintenance plan (for example, the Mediterranean diet below), you should be able to keep the weight off. It can be hard, however, if you are the only person at home following the 5:2 plan and you partner or other family members are stuffing themselves!
The Mediterranean diet
The Mediterranean diet is not, primarily, a weight-loss diet, it’s a way of eating better and eating well. Its name derives from the traditional healthy foods that form the basis of the everyday diets of people who live in the countries that skirt the Mediterranean: France, Greece, Italy, and Spain.
On the Mediterranean diet, you eat plenty of vegetables, fruits, legumes (such as lentils), nuts, beans, cereals, grains, fish, and unsaturated fats such as olive oil. At the same time, you cut back on meat, particularly red meat, and dairy foods.
There is plenty of evidence that the Mediterranean diet is good not only for your general health but for gut and heart health too. The importance of maintaining a healthy gut and cutting back on foods that cause inflammation is now widely recognised. And there is particularly reassuring news about the Mediterranean diet’s benefits for women after menopause. A recent study in the USA, showed that post-menopausal women on a typical Mediterranean diet, with plenty of fruit, vegetables and grains were less likely to die from breast cancer than those on a higher-fat diet.
Can you lose weight on the Mediterranean diet post-menopause?
Although the Mediterranean diet is higher in (unsaturated) fats than some other regimes, such as the keto diet, evidence is now emerging that it could help you to lose more weight than a low fat diet. But that’s if you follow it sensibly; for example, by eating your main meal in the middle of the day, rather than the evening. There are some excellent suggestions on losing weight on the Mediterranean diet here. The other plus is that you will lose weight gradually, while eating healthily, without resorting to extremes.
Read more about the Mediterranean diet here.
What’s the best way to lose weight after menopause?
Whatever your weight goal, your overall aim should be eat to as healthily as possible when you move beyond menopause. You need to take care of every part of you – including your gut, muscles, joints, bones and brain. Rapid weight loss diets aren’t a particularly good idea, especially when you’re older and, even if you lose weight initially, you’re more likely to put weight on again, once you stop dieting. Some of the more rapid or extreme diets are endorsed by celebrities, including actors and sportspeople, but that doesn’t mean that they are right for you – unless your GP recommends a particular diet for medical reasons.
- If you don’t need to lose much weight - then opting for a Mediterranean diet is ideal in the short and long term.
- If you need to lose quite a bit of weight to get down to a healthy level, you could try intermittent fasting, such as 5:2, or the raw food diet, and then switch to the Mediterranean diet to maintain a healthy weight. But do make sure that your weight-loss diet provides the age-appropriate vitamins and minerals that you need. Live Better With has a range of supplements, such as B50 complex, which includes Vitamin B12, although some of these are primarily for women during menopause, rather than after. Always consult your GP or dietician/nutritionist before taking supplements. They can check your mineral levels - iron, calcium and magnesium, for example - and recommend any adjustments you need to make to your diet or supplements that could help.
- And don’t forget, the best way to keep your weight at the right level is to combine exercise with healthy eating, so that you stay as fit as possible too. Try to include some weight-bearing exercises for upper body strength and stretches for flexibility, to keep your muscles toned, as this will help support your joints. (Yoga and Pilates are great for flexibility.)
If you are looking for menu ideas and inspiration, we recommend The Midlife Kitchen – Healthy Eating for Midlife & Beyond by Mimi Spencer and Sam Rice. It’s full of advice, information and recipes that will see you safely and healthily through your post-menopausal years.
Make sure that you consult your GP (or a professionally qualified dietician/nutritionist - your medical centre may have one) before you start any weight loss diet.
There are more than 3 million people aged 50+ in the UK who have osteoporosis, and many more have osteopoenia, and being diagnosed with either has implications for your diet. If you need to lose weight, it’s important to do so safely, healthily and wisely, taking account of any existing medical conditions or medication you are taking, as some diets and eating plans may not be suitable for you.
Visit the Live Better With Menopause Community Forum for information, advice, and tips, and to share your own questions and suggestions.