By DR. TRISTI MUIR

The weight gain around the middle that accompanies midlife can creep up on you and then hang on for dear life.

Loss of muscle mass that accompanies aging and decreased physical activity are the primary contributors to a slower metabolism; however, there are other potential contributors to the midlife spread.

Eating out, alcohol, sleep deprivation, stress, medical problems and family genetics can all pack pounds around our waistlines. With the scale creeping up an average of one pound a year, how can you fight back?

I know you guessed the right answer: diet and exercise!

Maintaining your figure after menopause means cutting calories — approximately 200 calories per day — and increasing your activity level. Estimated caloric needs (to maintain weight) for menopausal women are 1,600 calories (for sedentary women), 1,800 calories (moderately active women) and 2,000-2,200 calories (active women). A calorie deficit of 500 calories or more per day is a common goal for women who want to lose weight.

Food has to be purposeful. You need to understand the source of the calories in your diet. A food diary can give you insight into high-caloric foods that may be trimmed from your diet (e.g., beverages with high-calorie counts like soda, fruit juices, coffee bar drinks and alcohol).

Once you have insight into your diet, modify it to reduce refined sugars, cholesterol and saturated fat. (A good rule of thumb is to avoid fat that is solid at room temperature). Stick to whole grains. Women of all ages should consume 20-30 grams of fiber daily.

Spontaneous food selections when you’re hungry are often high-calorie quick fixes rather than healthy choices. Plan your meals and pack your lunches.

Fruits, vegetables and lean protein are nutritious, contributing to your overall health and well-being rather than your waistline. Eat slowly and maintain portion control; your satiety center has a 20-minute delay in telling your body that it’s full.

Enjoying every bite can allow you the time to realize you’re full before you’re stuffed.

Try to get in least 150 minutes of moderate exercise (brisk walking or biking on level terrain) per week. Muscle strengthening activities involving all major muscle groups should be performed at least twice a week.

As we age, exercises that improve balance become very important. If you have chronic medical conditions, discuss an exercise program with your physician before buying your gym membership.

One of the outstanding benefits of regular exercise is that the more calories your burn working out, the more you can eat (or the more weight you lose). However, the benefits of exercise don’t end there.

It also improves mood, sleep and brain function, is a great stress reliever, and is great for your stamina in the bedroom.

To avoid watching the scale creep up after menopause requires permanent changes in diet and exercise habits.

To take the first step, you need to understand what and when you eat. Start a food diary and then substitute non-healthy choices with vegetables, fruits and lean protein that you like.

Take a brisk walk every day (building up to 30 minutes a day) and lift weights to fire up your metabolism.

Our Bodies, Our Lives focuses on issues surrounding women’s sexual, gynecological and emotional health. Dr. Tristi Muir is the director of the UTMB Pelvic Health and Continence Center at Victory Lakes. Visit www.utmbhealth.com/pelvichealth.