Around pregnancy, over the course of the month, or even during a single day, our weight can change. For this reason, it’s healthy not to overly focus on the scales day to day. A better approach is to mindfully think about what tendencies you have when it comes to eating and how hormones affect your body shape, especially around times of hormonal change, such as menopause.

Most people’s body weight increases with age and there are lots of reasons for this. Our bodies are amazing at adapting to the changes we encounter over our lifetimes. Lots of us tend to focus only on how our bodies increase in size, as opposed to the amazing feats they perform by managing to do things like sustaining a pregnancy, or helping us to recover from a medical concern. Society has a lot to answer for here, as beauty standards have for a long time told us thin is in.

Here at Hormonally we happen to think that all bodies are beautiful, in whatever shapes and sizes they come. We also understand that not feeling your best or out of sync with body at different points of your life can have an impact on your mood.

This article is going to get into the science, and break down how and why hormonal shifts can impact our body shape. We’re also going to get into those lifestyle factors that may need a look too. The one thing we would stress to keep in mind, is the importance of giving your body a break. It does incredible things to keep you going, yet sometimes we tend to look at ourselves with nothing but negativity. Sure, maybe you’re not the biggest fan of that c-section scar, but don’t forget it tells an incredible story about an important part of your life. So, before we get started, let’s practice some body positivity; pick a part of your body you’re not so keen on and give it some love.

Remember, practice makes perfect so let’s try and do that everyday.

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You may have heard people use the word ‘metabolism’ to describe how quickly their body makes use of the food they consume. For example, should someone say, I have a ‘high metabolism’, they may be communicating that they feel their body efficiently converts food to energy.

This description is for the most part accurate. Our metabolism is the process by which our bodies break down and make use of the nutrients we consume. The thing to flag however, is that our metabolism or our metabolic rate, will change over time. So, whilst in theory you may have always had a ‘fast’ metabolism, this could change with age. In general, most people find that once they turn 30, their metabolism slows down a little and that by the time they reach their mid-40s, their metabolism behaves pretty differently.

A slower metabolism is not the only reason it’s common for our bodies to change at mid-life. The truth is, we are generally less active too and it’s thought that this may play a bigger role in body shape change than our age alone does. See this as good news, as while we can’t do much about aging, we can usually do something about how active we are!

If you still want to be enjoying life into your later years, keeping a healthy body composition, (including minimizing weight changes and keeping muscle tone) is key. After 60, if your body is in a healthy place, aim to keep this stable by exercising regularly and maintaining good nutrition. This will help to reduce your chances of developing life-shortening conditions.

It’s great when you see older folks at the gym lifting weights, doing press ups or using resistance bands, as they’re actively reducing the loss of muscle mass that happens in later life and they’re actively keeping their joints and bones strong and healthy.

Stress and the body

High amounts of stress, coupled with a lack of sleep, is a recipe for increased stress hormones in the body — adrenaline and cortisol. Cortisol causes the body to release glucose (sugar) for a burst of energy to help you ‘flee’ whatever threat you’re facing. If you’re not physically running away from the stress(if only it were that easy sometimes) your body triggers the release of insulin, which packages the glucose away as fat.

Lots of stress over long periods of time can lead to something called ‘insulin resistance’ and fluctuations in your blood sugar levels, which can in turn lead to a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

So if you want to keep a healthy body shape and have less fluctuations in stress hormones, look at your stress levels and take action if they’re high.

Lack of sleep

Leptin and ghrelin may sound like they’re characters from Lord of the Rings, but they’re actually our two main hunger hormones and therefore closely related to our body composition.

Leptin acts as an appetite suppressant and ghrelin as an appetite stimulant. Our sleep helps to regulate these two hormones but if we’re not getting enough sleep, you guessed it, it can increase ghrelin which makes us feel hungry, and decrease leptin which stops us from feeling full.

Increased fat in the body can cause leptin resistance which means the normal signals to let us know we’re full become disrupted. Many ‘quick-fix’ weight loss plans don’t work, because they trigger increasing levels of ghrelin and do little but make us hungry.

The more we sleep the less hours in the day we’re going to be feeling those hunger hormones! In fact, research shows that our bodies actually really benefit when we have long gaps with no food being eaten. So, if you can avoid late night snacking, finish eating by 7 or 8pm and not eat again till late morning or midday the next day, you’re more likely to maintain a healthy body composition and have better cardiovascular health in the future. Plus, more hours in bed is always a pro!

Seasonal changes and the body

It’s pretty standard for most people’s bodies to change in the autumn and winter months. Well, we can blame not only our hormones for this one, but evolution too. The hormone melatonin can be up to 80% higher in winter months and this can increase our appetite. This could be linked to when our ancestors had to store up fat in the winter months as insurance against the risk of not being able to find food.

These days, we can also blame changes to our bodies in winter on exercising less, because it’s cold and wet outdoors (for most of us). We also tend to socialize and ‘indulge’ more over the festive period too. While it can be tempting to crash diet and hit the gym hard after a period where you’ve been less active, remember that this type of behavior isn’t sustainable. If you feel like getting more active again, take things slowly. Get back to habits that feel healthy and remind yourself, taking time out isn’t ‘bad’ or ‘wrong’. We all need to enjoy a break, and we all deserve to relax with friends and family over the holidays.

There are many conditions that cause our bodies to change. These include: thyroid disorders; diabetes; Cushing’s syndrome; polycystic ovary syndrome; metabolic syndrome; and sleep apnea. Many of these conditions are linked to the way our hormones work.

If you have experienced unintentional changes to your body weight (it could be going up or down), it’s a good idea to see your doctor to try and figure out the reason for this change before embarking on any drastic changes to your eating or exercise habits.

Many women worry about changes to their body shape during perimenopause and menopause. A lot of information feeds into this fear, telling us our hormones are to blame. The truth is however, while hormones have a part to play, perimenopause and menopause is a perfect storm of lots of different triggers that can leave you vulnerable and open to spotting changes in your body.

It is important to recognize that you will experience age-related metabolism changes in perimenopause and menopause. Your metabolism will be slowing down and the drop in testosterone you experience will have a big impact.

Changes to your metabolism means your body struggles to use the food you are consuming as effectively as before, yet you are still doing the same levels of activity meaning changes to the body are common. Doesn’t seem fair, right?!

If we add in the effects a lack of estrogen will have, we can see another trigger. When the ovaries slow down and the production of estrogen reduces, your body will try to get it elsewhere and this is mainly from your fat cells that produce a different type of estrogen called estrone. Your body thinks, ‘hey, we need more of this estrogen-producing tissue, let’s make some more of these fat cells, and let’s have them in the belly!’ This is why many women find they tend to notice changes to their middle once they hit perimenopause and menopause. The reduction in estrogen also leaves us prone to craving foods higher in sugar and unhealthy fat.

You may have trouble sleeping (due to melatonin changes), which in turn disrupts our Lord of the Rings friends, leptin and ghrelin we mentioned earlier. This can cause us to eat more to compensate for our low energy.

It’s common to experience raised levels of stress during perimenopause and menopause. This increases the stress hormone cortisol, and this can again increase our appetite. Cortisol often gets raised during the night when we aren’t sleeping as well as we were. You might wake up with not only a racing heartbeat, but also hunger cravings in the middle of the night too.

Psychological and emotional changes at perimenopause and menopause, such as a lack of motivation or feeling low and worn out may nudge us to comfort eat more than usual. It can mean you feel less like exercising too. You may find yourself suffering with aches and pains in your muscles and joints, which makes the idea of doing anything strenuous seem like more than your body can cope with. Because of this, you may find you exercise with less intensity, for a shorter period, or less frequently.

If you need any more reasons for why it’s common for your body to change at perimenopause and menopause, you can add the following to the mix. Changes to your hormones also affect the levels of your brain’s neurotransmitters, dopamine, serotonin, and oxytocin – neurotransmitters that are linked to comfort eating, appetite regulation and affect your gut health too.


So the age related metabolism thing, maybe that one we can accept and can even embrace on a good day, but what can we do about the other factors that change our body shape? Luckily, the answer is a lot!

Tips to maintaining a healthy body shape

Whatever age or phase of life you’re in, come rain or shine, winter or summer, there’s things we can try and incorporate as lifelong habits to help keep our bodies happy and healthy. You can read about these here. [hyperlink to anchor ‘all age healthy eating basics’ in Diet resource]

Here’s Hormonally’s advice on improving your sleep and protect your sleep and top tips to keep stress in check.

If you want to tackle body shape changes head on, try some of these more targeted tips:

Plan your meals

Sometimes the word ‘food diary’ can be a big trigger for people. If you’ve ever struggled with eating issues in the past, you may have found yourself becoming obsessed with keeping an eye on what you are eating. There are ways to plan mindfully that don’t include counting calories though. Deciding what you are going to eat and prepping your meals for the week can be a fun way to try out new dishes and stay on top of any emotional eating you may find you struggle with. Reflecting on your emotions connected to food can be helpful here.

Ask yourself in the moment, am I hungry or stressed?

Either way a snack is fine, but learning the role food has in your life can be useful to understand.

Change up your routine

Use the insights from planning meals to also think about times you can remain active. A short walk outside after an evening meal can be a great way to make sure you’re using that food fuel as intended.

Keep well hydrated

Up your water intake, but keep the sodas, tea and coffee to a minimum as caffeinated drinks can act as diuretics and make you feel more dehydrated, as well as irritate your bladder.

Drinking more water is also great for our skin too, so an added bonus there!

Enjoy your meals

Ensuring you actually enjoy what you are eating goes a long way. While making time to cook an elaborate meal may not be something you can commit too, think about a shopping list of healthy options and think up some dishes you will enjoy that incorporate these. Include nourishing options that will help you feel satisfied so you’re not hungry a couple of hours later.

Protein, complex carbohydrates, and healthy fats are all good to include.

Eat regularly

If you find yourself eating little in the day and more in the evenings, try to get on top of this.

Although there can be valid reasons to skip breakfast or lunch (you may feel nervous to eat in front of others, or struggle to have time to prepare something to take to work with you) eating regularly is actually really helpful for regulating our hormones and metabolism.

Try having a meal earlier in the day with some slow release energy. This will reduce your evening hunger and boost your energy throughout the day.

Be kind to your gut

Your gut has its own bacterial environment (a microbiome), and it needs to have the right balance of good vs harmful bacteria to function well. A healthy gut helps not only your bathroom habits but your body shape, your mood, and your sleep.

Your gut likes a wide variety of fruit and vegetables (the more colors the better) and you can boost your good bacteria by eating pre- and probiotic foods.

Personal favorites at Hormonally are yogurt every morning for breakfast, (you can try adding fruit and nuts to improve the flavor!) This can do wonders for bloating and general abdominal discomfort.

Cut down or cut out alcohol if you can

This is a big one when it comes to the body. While some may say a glass of red wine is good for the gut, there are actually no nutritional benefits to be gained from alcohol. What’s more, over time, alcohol harms not helps your health. Introducing several alcohol-free days every week is a good place to start.

Some people find they will use alcohol as a food replacement, or a means to unwind at the end of the day and changing that habit can be the hardest to handle. Switching to an alcohol free option is a good option if alcohol has become something more emotional for you. Reducing your drinking is not only good for your body, it can improve your sleep, reduce your stress, and decrease the risk of health conditions in the future.

Purposeful not impulsive

Tuning into slower decision-making that is -true-to-you, can actually impact your food habits.

Mindfulness can help train the impulsive part of the brain, which often doesn’t lead to positive decision making when it comes to our health. Mindful eating which includes taking time over your meals to enjoy the flavors and textures is a good exercise to try to get started. It can also mean when we come to make decisions about meals and snacks we feel more in tune with what our bodies want and need instead of what may give us a quick hit of happy hormones.

So, now you know a bit more about what’s going on in your body and how this can impact its shape, you have some steps to think about.

Hormonally would like to remind you to be kind to yourself, please?!

Most likely, someone you know, and most definitely the media, will have conveyed a bunch of unhelpful messages to you about your weight and body shape. You don’t need to add any more negative voices to your list of stressors, so if you can, try to ignore these narratives and focus on things to celebrate about your body.

Maybe you love the feel of the rain on your face, or getting into a bed with freshly washed sheets. Whatever it is, take pause to enjoy how your body feels and celebrate what it does too!

Navigating hormone changes is hard enough, and we often fall into critical self-talk at these times. Have small, achievable goals (based on how you feel, not what the scales say) and praise and celebrate your wins, no matter how small.

Treat yourself like you would a good friend, with support, encouragement and compassion, even when things don’t go to plan.



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