Menopause belly refers to the abdominal fat that women of menopause age usually encounter due to fluctuating hormone levels, normal chronological aging, and behavioral factors, such as changes in diet, sleep, and exercise.
It’s a very common problem. Weight gain is a symptom of menopause experienced by 60%–70% of midlife women. On average, women gain about 1.5 pounds per year during the midlife period (age 50–60 years), independent of their initial body size or race/ethnicity. Age is strongly associated with involuntary loss of muscle mass such that after the age of 30, muscle mass declines by 3%–8%.
According to one study, visceral fat – the type of fat that accumulates in the belly – increases from 5 to 8 percent of total body fat during premenopause and 15 to 20 percent of total body fat in post-menopause.
How to cope with Menopause Belly? Tips
Middle age is a good time to start getting serious about your diet and exercise habits. Not only will this help induce weight loss, but it will also help balance fluctuating hormone levels, such as drops in estrogen and progesterone. This can help you manage your menopause symptoms, too.
Focus on eating a healthy diet that is free from refined sugars and processed carbs as these will spike your insulin levels and tell your body to store fat instead of burn it. Instead, focus on getting the majority of your calories from lean protein (organic meats, nuts, legumes, beans, and unrefined grains), healthy fats (nuts, seeds, olive oil, and avocado), and plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables.
Examples of foods to stay away from include alcohol, baked goods made with white flour, sweets, desserts, sweetened drinks, fast food, snack foods (chips and pretzels), and all processed foods (such as boxed macaroni and cheese, granola bars, canned soups, etc).
It’s also advisable to practice resistance training. This helps build muscle, which increases your metabolic rate so that you burn more calories while at rest. This is why having lean muscle boosts your metabolism. Working with a nutritionist and personal trainer can help you get started.
Walk! This is an underrated method of reduction in body fat. It’s low impact, reduces stress, burns calories, and is accessible to many. Grab a friend and make it a daily routine! There is something magic about 10k steps per day but start where you’re at and increase when you can.
If it’s accessible to you, consider hormone replacement therapy like pellets. They can make a world of difference when it comes to helping your body return to homeostasis.
Why am I gaining weight irrespective of my healthy diet and active lifestyle?
Here are the tools to improve their body composition through the menopause process.
As a woman ages and begins her transition (can be as early as the mid-30s), hormones begin to drastically fluctuate. When estrogen begins to decline and is less potent in the aging female body, it begins to shift how fat is stored. In a woman’s younger years, she stores fat in her hips, breasts, and extremities (thighs and upper arms) however as she ages and has less direction from her hormones, fat accumulates in the abdomen. Abdominal fat aka Meno-pot or Meno-belly is not just ordinary fat. It is inflammatory fat. It is stored deep within the abdomen surrounding organs and the heart. Abdominal fat especially around the heart can lead to the #1 killer of women: cardiovascular disease.
If an aging woman follows a low-caloric diet even if “healthy”, she is setting herself up for LEA: Low energy availability. Which causes the stress hormone cortisol to rise. When cortisol is up, metabolic flexibility goes down. When there isn’t enough caloric heat from food being eaten, the metabolism continues to go down. When the metabolism isn’t optimal, it is not efficient at using food as fuel, causing weight stagnation or weight gain.
A common myth in the aging process for most women is to think that over-exercising can contribute to weight loss. This too is counterintuitive. Too much “chronic cardio” will actually cause the opposite. Long workout sessions or workout sessions to exhaustion without much rest causes the metabolism to slow and cortisol to rise, once again leading to weight gain.
So, the old belief of ‘Eat less calories and exercise more’ does NOT work for the perimenopausal woman and beyond.
Dr. Bianca Beldini, a Doctor of Physical Therapy, Master Acupuncturist, Holistic Health Coach, and Menopause Wellness Expert Public Speaker on Menopause in the Workplace. www.menomethod.com
Heather Hanks, MS CAM, Medical Solutions BCN – Nutritionist and Medical Advisor, www.medical-solutions-bcn.com/en/