Postmenopausal Women

If you're a postmenopausal woman, you probably don't need a medical study to tell you that gaining weight is easy—and that losing it can be a battle. But you may find it helpful to know that a new four-year study from the University of Pittsburgh Department of Health and Physical Activity shows how a few simple dietary changes could make a significant difference to your body weight over several years—not just for the short term.

In a separate statement, the authors of the study, published in September 2012 in the Journal of Nutrition and Academy Dietetics, attribute the greater difficulty that postmenopausal women have losing weight and keeping it off to several factors. These include

  • a slower resting metabolic rate
  • increased appetite-related hormones
  • decreased motivation after weight loss begins
  • natural decline in energy expenditure

The study followed almost 500 obese and overweight postmenopausal women for four years, comparing each woman's weight at the beginning of the study, at six months and finally at 48 months. The researchers hoped to learn what distinguishes women who are successful at maintaining or losing weight over four years from those who weren't successful.

The participants engaged in the following dietary changes associated with weight loss:

  • Increasing servings of fruits and vegetables
  • Eating more fish
  • Consuming fewer desserts and sugar-sweetened drinks
  • Limiting fried food, cheese and meat
  • Dining out less often

Short-term (six-month) weight loss in the women who made the suggested dietary changes was shown to be largely associated with consuming fewer fried foods, desserts and sugary beverages, eating more fish and dining out less often. But, after four years, achieving and maintaining loss were attributed instead to eating more fruits and vegetables and less meat and cheese while continuing to limit desserts and sugary drinks.

Although cutting back on fried foods and restaurant meals remain good strategies for losing weight, the researchers suggest that these are hard habits to break and therefore may be too restrictive for many women to sustain in the long term. But, they say, adding a serving or two of fruits and vegetables may be more manageable. Doing so can make a significant difference over several years—even if that change doesn't make much difference at the six-month mark.

The bottom line if you’re aiming for long-term weight loss? Set your sights on the small changes you can make, which will likely make a big difference years from now. Try adding vegetables such as broccoli, green beans, leafy greens, zucchini, cauliflower, cabbage, carrots and tomatoes to your diet. All are low in calories yet high in fiber, vitamins and minerals.

And eat fruits of different colors for a variety of nutrients: orange (citrus fruits, mango), green (kiwi, cantaloupe), red (berries) and yellow (bananas).

Even though you may not see any weight change at six months as a result of adding more fruits and vegetables to your diet, you'll likely see a healthier payoff down the road—and one that you'll be better able to sustain.

Doctor's Viewpoint

Carmen Roberts, MS, RD Dietician, Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center

Excess weight increases the risk of diabetes, heart disease and some cancers, so it's important to understand which behaviors influence weight loss. Keeping weight off is often a greater challenge than initially dropping pounds. The University of Pittsburgh study highlights the difficulties of older women who try to maintain substantial weight loss over time—and that some behaviors associated with successful weight loss in the short term aren't effective or sustainable for the long term.

We shouldn't discount exercise as a weight-loss strategy, either. Simply put, healthy weight loss is best achieved by consistently decreasing calories and increasing activity.

Source: Prepared by the Editors of The Johns Hopkins Medical Letter: Health After 50

Publication Review By: the Editorial Staff at Healthcommunities.com

Published: 21 Jul 2013

Last Modified: 19 Mar 2015