By Rachel Lankester, Founder Magnificent Midlife
Why do we put on belly fat around menopause?
Many women experience weight gain around the time of menopause. Menopause gets blamed for many things and increased belly fat is certainly one thing that gets attributed to it. There is some truth in this because our bodies definitely change shape as we age and changes in hormones have an impact on where our body fat is distributed.
When menopausal bodies try to cling on to belly fat it may also be because after menopause when we have less oestrogen in our bodies than before menopause, estrogen is still found in our adipose tissue (fat) and also produced by our adrenal glands.
So reducing our body fat has to be done in balance with what the body wants to do to protect us if it sees us as needing protection. When the body perceives us to be under stress it will lay down fat stores to protect us rather than allowing us to lose weight. So it’s all about balance – both for our hormones and our weight.
While we may not like the appearance of belly fat, as we age, it is not so much how we look that matters but more the impact of additional tissue around our internal organs. It’s been found that women who carry a lot of weight around their stomach area can experience more health issues related to their internal organs as they age. Adominal of Visceral fat has been linked to metabolic disturbances and increased risk for cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. In women, it is also associated with breast cancer and the need for gallbladder surgery.
So getting a handle on our menopause belly fat is good not just for self esteem about how we look, but actually far more importantly, for our long term health. So if you feel inclined to think, I’m older now, it doesn’t matter what I look like, remember actually it really does matter how much excess weight you may be carrying if you are aiming for a long and healthy life span.
The one thing we sadly cannot do is spot reduce our weight. No matter how many situps you may do if you do not reduce your overall weight, you are unlikely to reduce your belly fat. I was actually quite pleased to discover this as I felt it could stop me wasting hours trying to reduce something in the most inefficient way possible! Things like planking are still great for building a strong core, which is all going to help reduce our tummies.
How can we get rid of menopause belly fat or at least make it less of an issue?
Eating a healthy diet is absolutely key to supporting our menopause transition. Good, organic sources of protein, not necessarily from animal sources, lots of leafy green vegetables, beans and pulses, reducing our intake of sugar and refined goods and eating organic as much as possible.
Reducing levels of stress are also crucial. When our body thinks it is under stress it lays down fat stores. We may be living a stressful life and not managing our stress levels very well. We may also be putting stress on our bodies by not balancing our blood sugar levels.
As we go through menopause the adrenal glands take over from the ovaries in producing estrogen. However if our blood sugar levels aren’t balanced and we are spiking them by consuming sugar alcohol and caffeine processed foods et cetera then the body will prioritise production of stress hormones over oestrogenic and contribute to the hormonal imbalance that we experience as we go through menopause. (You can read more about that here: How To Have A Happy Menopause.)
When the body is stressed it will be much more difficult to shift excess menopause belly fat. There is some truth in the adage mind over matter. We have to engage our mental health as well as our physical health when we want to lose weight. If you are depressed, for example, your body is unlikely to let you lose weight because it will know you are under stress and will therefore try to protect you by laying down more fat stores.
As we age we need more exercise not less. From about the age of 30 our metabolism naturally starts to decrease. By the time we reach menopause if we have not made efforts to maintain muscle mass, our metabolism will be much lower than it was when we were younger. Sometimes women will say, “I don’t understand what’s going on – I’m eating what I have always eaten, I’m doing the exercise I’ve always done, but I’m still putting on weight”. The issue is that this is completely to be expected because of our lower metabolism.
If we want to lose weight or even actually just maintain our weight, we need to eat less and exercise more. We also need to prioritize weight bearing exercise including actually lifting weights. This is particularly important for women as we go through menopause. Incorporating weight bearing exercise and some actual weightlifting into our exercise regime strengthens our bones and also maintains our muscle mass and therefore our overall strength.
Gone are the days when we can just skip a meal or two and return to an earlier weight. It takes time and effort but it can be done. Personally I have found the Noom app very helpful for helping to knock off some excess pounds I had accumulated and I was very happy to see them dropping from my belly too!
Another thing to consider is interval training – high intensity interval training or HIIT, which can provide quicker results in terms of improving fitness and weight loss when time is of the essence. Reducing carb intake is also important. Unless we are actually doing a lot of aerobic exercise we don’t need to eat many carbs at all. You may find it helpful to stop eating carbs after 6 PM for example. And beware of where you may be consuming carbs without realizing – in fizzy drinks and fruit juice for example.
Keep an eye on how you are emotionally and take action if you’re feeling down. Emotions can cause us to comfort eat or not do the exercise that we know will help us. Depression and anxiety are often common issues around the time of menopause, not just because of hormonal changes, but because of everything else that’s going on in life at the same time. So be sure to take care of your mental health as well as your physical.
To protect both your mental health and help with weight loss make sure you get enough sleep. If you are not sleeping sufficiently you are putting your body under stress and again if your body feels you are stressed it won’t allow you to lose weight. If sleep is an issue check out this post: Fighting Insomnia – How To Sleep Well
There are many factors to consider when trying to get a handle on menopause belly fat. It really pays to take a holistic approach to the issue. It’s important to get it under control as much as possible for your long term health, as well as how you feel about yourself as you age.
If you want to lose weight and get fit, I really recommend Pahla B Fitness on YouTube. She’s a menopausal women herself and understand all of our issues! Good luck!
You may all like our rather magnificent Weight Loss (& Maintenance) Workshop
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Rachel Lankester is the founder of Magnificent Midlife, author, host of the Magnificent Midlife Podcast, a midlife mentor and editor of the Mutton Club online magazine. After an initially devastating early menopause at 41, she dedicated herself to helping women vibrantly transition through the sometimes messy middle of life, helping them cope better with menopause and ageing in general, and create magnificent next chapters. She’s been featured in/on BBC Woman’s Hour, The Huffington Post, The Sunday Times, Thrive Global, Authority Magazine, The Age Buster, Woman’s Weekly, Prima Magazine, eShe, Tatler HK and Woman’s Own amongst others. She believes we just get better with age. Get her book Magnificent Midlife: Transform Your Middle Years, Menopause and Beyond.