The menopause is a time of change for the female body. Changing hormones can cause hot flushes, headaches, insomnia, irritability, and many other symptoms. For many women, the list includes weight gain.
One study (1) found weight gain in 69% of patients over the course of their menopause.
If you aren’t part of the lucky 31%, this post will teach you how to get rid of menopausal belly fat.
Why Does The Menopause Cause Weight Gain?
It’s hard to establish a definitive link between the menopause and weight gain, but scientific literature review (2) summarised the situation:
“Whereas weight gain per se cannot be attributed to the menopause transition, the change in the hormonal milieu at menopause is associated with an increase in total body fat and an increase in abdominal fat.”
The literature highlights numerous factors thought to contribute to menopausal weight gain:
- More of enzyme Aldh1a3 (3).
- Less spontaneous activity (4).
- Reduced muscle mass requiring fewer calories.
Here’s a bit more on each…
It’s thought that oestrogen “holds back” Aldh1a3, an enzyme that, when present, can increase visceral fat in the body.
This is the fat that develops around internal organs, as opposed to subcutaneous fat – the stuff that gets stored under your skin.
When the menopause takes place and oestrogen levels fall, A1dh1a3 levels rise (3).
A reduction in activity means fewer calories required
The menopause happens as we grow older, and for many people growing older also means a lifestyle with less physical activity.
And as we know: Less physical activity makes weight gain more likely.
Your muscle mass may decrease too, also thanks to lower oestrogen (2). This means your body requires fewer calories to fuel itself.
If your diet stays the same however, this means more weight gain!
How To Get Rid Of Menopausal Belly Fat
As we said earlier, one study found weight gain in 69% of menopausal patients (1).
Here’s how to beat the menopause belly, whether you’re in the 31% or not.
- Eat healthy: A diet with fewer calories than you use.
- Exercise regularly: Part of any effective weight loss plan!
- Make exercise social. It’s better to work out with a friend, especially if they’re going through the same thing as you.
- Stand up instead of sitting where possible: This burns more calories.
- Try to eat meals around the same time each day so your metabolism is consistent.
- Prioritise foods with healthy fats.
- Be diligent with what you eat: Avoid frequent and unhealthy snacking!
- Get a good night’s sleep! Sleep loss is linked to obesity (5), so getting enough shut-eye can help.
Remember that there are not specific exercises to burn fat in certain areas. While you can target certain areas for toning, exercise will burn fat all over the body.
Exercises For Menopausal Belly
It’s worth noting that the term “menopause belly” is used because of an “increased tendency for central fat distribution” (6).
Around the time of the menopause, the body is prone to store fat around your tummy rather than elsewhere. “You may notice a difference in the distribution of body fat, with more being stored around the stomach rather than on the hips and thighs.” (7)
There is motivating news about exercises reducing menopausal belly fat. This from the UK National Health Service:
“There is some evidence that women who exercise regularly and are more active tend to suffer less with menopausal symptoms.” (7)
If you’re wondering how to get rid of menopausal belly, here are some great ways to kick-start your exercise routine.
Prioritise aerobic exercise
Also known as cardio. This includes things like running, cycling, swimming, and brisk walking. In this type of exercise you burn carbs and fats from all over the body, including the menopause belly.
Consider high-intensity interval training (HIIT)
This means interspersing cardio with high-intensity bursts of activity. This will increase the amount of effort you’re spending, while not making your exercise too hard as to be unpleasant.
Make yourself sweat, but don’t push too hard!
Exercising more than your body can handle quickly does more harm than good. Ease yourself in, and make gradual refinements to your exercise routine as your strength develops.
Include weight-bearing exercise
This will strengthen your bones, which may get weaker during and after menopause due to reduced calcium.
There’s a great 10 minute abs workout (8) that includes stomach crunches, oblique crunches, planking, side plank, and stomach crunches with legs raised. These exercises are designed to tone your tummy, so it looks as trim as possible once the menopause belly fat begins to fall away.
Best Diet For Menopausal Symptoms
A balanced, healthy, and varied diet is encouraged, as always. But there are a few special considerations for your diet during and after menopause.
Falling levels of oestrogen mean less calcium in your bones, which can make them weaker. To counteract this look for foods with extra calcium and Vitamin D: Both associated with bone strength.
Calcium is found in dairy, fortified breads and cereals, kale (but not spinach, interestingly), figs, bony fish (the ones you eat whole, like anchovies, white bait and so on).
Vitamin D comes from sunlight, but if you think you’re not getting enough you can find extra in oily fish, red meat, eggs, and specially designed dietary supplements.
To tame the menopause belly you will also want to eat fewer saturated fats.
Using olive oil or sunflower oil instead of coconut oil (and olive or sunflower spreads instead of butter) is a great way to achieve this.
Oily fish is great for getting the right types of fat: Double points if it includes bones for calcium, too (fish like anchovies, whitebait, sardines and so on).
Eating less salt will help your general cardiovascular health, which is important when menopausal. Resist the temptation to add salt to your food, and look for foods with low amounts of salt.
You may also want to take dietary supplements that contain phytoestrogens. These compounds are structurally similar to oestrogen, and can bind to oestrogen receptors in the body. Because of this they are thought to play an important role in “lower[ing] the risk of cardiovascular disease, obesity, [and] metabolic syndrome” in menopausal women (9).
In short, you have a few options…
And here’s the kicker: All of them are delicious!
Although it’s a time of great change in your body, the menopause does not mean inevitable weight gain. Nor does it mean that you lose control of your body weight.
Despite the lack of a definitive answer on whether the menopause causes body weight gain or is just correlated with changes in lifestyle that lead to it, there are things you can do to stay in charge.
Remember: By following the tips in this guide, you should easily be able to show menopausal belly fat the door. A healthy calorific deficit, perhaps accompanied by the right dietary supplements, is all you need to achieve this: Whether you do this by adjusting your diet to include fewer calories, by incorporating more exercise into your daily routine, or both.
Seeing the menopause as an opportunity to make some healthy changes to your lifestyle – perhaps ones that you may think are overdue – is a great way of entering this next phase of your life gracefully.