The menopause is accompanied by increased risk of obesity, altered body fat distribution and decreased skeletal muscle mass. The resulting decrease in RMR should be accompanied by a compensatory change in energy balance to avoid weight gain. We aimed to investigate habitual energy intake and expenditure in pre- and postmenopausal women matched for abdominal obesity. We recruited fifty-one healthy Caucasian women, BMI > 18·5 and <35 kg/m2, aged 35–45 years (premenopausal, n 26) and 55–65 years (postmenopausal, n 25). Energy intake was measured using 3 d diet diaries and dietary fat quality assessed using adipose tissue fatty acid biomarkers. RMR was measured using indirect calorimetry, and total energy expenditure (TEE) and activity energy expenditure using a combined accelerometer and heart rate monitor. Postmenopausal women had lower RMR and TEE and spent significantly less time undertaking moderate exercise than premenopausal women. Postmenopausal women had a tendency for a lower energy intake, and a similar macronutrient intake but a significantly lower adipose tissue n-6:n-3 ratio (24·6 (se 1·6) v. 37·7 (se 3·1); P < 0·001). The main lifestyle determinant of bone mineral density (which was significantly lower in postmenopausal women) was TEE for premenopausal women, and dietary n-6:n-3 ratio for postmenopausal women. The present results suggest that weight maintenance is achieved in the post- compared with premenopausal status through a combination of reduced energy intake and reduced TEE in a regimen that compromises micronutrient intake and has a negative impact on lean tissue mass. However, lower n-6:n-3 fatty acid intake in postmenopausal women is associated with greater bone mineral density.