By DR. TRISTI MUIR

You look in the mirror and see gray hair sprouting on your head and wrinkles streaming across your face.

As you glance further down, chins are forming and a muffin top spills over your jeans.

The average weight gain during midlife is 10 to 15 pounds. Is aging a battle that we must lay down our weapons against and accept as an eventuality?

Many women have picked up the sword to fight aging by covering up that gray hair or using skin products or Botox to soften wrinkles.

But what about the pounds in the middle? There are many changes in our bodies and activities as we age that can lead to weight gain.

Hormonal changes define menopause. Estrogen and progesterone are no longer produced in a quantity that will allow menstrual cycling.

Hot flashes, mood changes and vaginal dryness are only a few of the symptoms women experience. Is midlife muffin top also a symptom of hormone deprivation?

Researchers are still exploring the relationship between hormones and weight gain, but most agree that midlife muffin top is primarily related to the aging process and lifestyle changes rather than to a lack of female hormones.

A loss of estrogen may shift the weight gain to the midsection but is not the reason for the weight gain.

As we age, muscle mass decreases and fat increases, slowing the rate at which we burn calories.

With a slower metabolism, even if you are eating the same food as you did in your 20s or 30s, you will gain weight unless you increase your physical activity.

However, as we age, we tend to be less physically active (losing more muscle mass), and a lack of exercise slows our metabolism even more.

Is there anything else that we can shift the blame of the extra weight to?

Do other women in your family gain weight around the middle?

If the answer is yes, the muffin top over your jeans may be, in part, in your genes.

Many medical conditions can also lead to decreased activity such as arthritis, back and joint pain or urinary incontinence.

An underactive thyroid often is given the blame for weight gain, but rarely is the cause of the muffin top.

If you find yourself tossing and turning in bed — hot flashing or thinking about your weight gain — you might be worsening the problem.

Insufficient sleep contributes to weight gain and obesity as well.

Women who are sleep deprived have been found to have less dietary restraint and tend to reach for comfort foods after dinner.

Drowning your sorrows in alcohol will only worsen your bulging midsection, too.

Your liver will burn the calories in the alcohol instead of dissolving your fat stores.

Once our willpower has been melted away by the buzz of alcohol, we reach for those high-calorie foods that we’ve been craving, increasing the calorie count even more.

Menopausal weight gain can have serious health implications. Understanding what is causing the numbers on the scale to creep up can arm you with the tools to fight back.

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.