Research shows us that weight-gain with menopause is common. The average woman will gain around 2 kilograms. While this doesn’t sound like a lot, 2kg of body fat can be very noticeable. If you’re troubled by menopause belly fat, your entire life can be affected. Weight-gain can contribute to a variety of lifestyle changes, from a decline in confidence and self-esteem to aggravation or onset of health problems.
I’m a qualified personal trainer and nutritionist here at The Sport Dietitian. I’ve achieved a master’s in health and nutrition, have worked for the NHS and also have a qualification from the International Olympic Committee.
Why am I telling you all this?
Because I’m about to lay out some very simple truths:
- You’re not going through this alone
- You don’t have to put up with this weight-gain
- You can beat menopause belly fat
- Anyone can make progress if they follow the right exercise and diet programs
- This is NOT just how your life has to be
If your weight is of concern to you and if you’re struggling with the “meno-pot” and want an answer to your problems, then keep reading this blog. From postmenopausal women with new belly fat to those concerned about their future, anyone and everyone going through menopause can benefit from the advice on this page.
Menopause Belly Fat: Does Menopause Really Cause Weight Gain?
This simple answer is yes. In a study that followed a number of women through all stages of menopause, it was found that almost all women gained fat and lost muscle mass. There are several reasons for this:
- Hormonal changes during menopause drive hunger, resulting in higher caloric intake.
- These hormonal changes also change where fat is stored. More commonly found around the hips in pre-menopausal women, menopause shifts fat storage to the stomach, leading to more noticeable abdominal fat or “meno-pot”.
- Menopause is linked to a slower metabolism, which increases weight gain.
- The menopause can result in higher levels of insulin in your blood, which causes your body to store more energy from your food intake than normal.
Other contributing factors to menopause belly fat include lower levels of physical activity amongst postmenopausal women, factors like retirement that lower the day-to-day need for burning energy or — conversely — high-level career progression that increases stress levels and results in weight-gain associated with said stress.
The long and short of it is that menopause belly fat is real. Whether caused as a direct result of physiological changes or lifestyle factors, it’s a problem many women experience.
Could Menopause Belly Fat Impact Your Health?
Most women will likely be concerned with the physical and noticeable changes in their body composition, and the overall appearance of their menopause belly fat. I’m not here to tell you that you should feel this way. Modern culture puts a big emphasis on body confidence and pride in whatever we look like, and that’s great if it works for you. However, not everyone feels that way, and if abdominal fat makes you feel unattractive or hurts your confidence levels, you’re going to want to do something about it.
But menopausal belly fat goes deeper than this. If you gain weight in menopause, you may find you’re at a higher risk of some serious health conditions. Menopause increases the presence of deep-tissue belly fat, known as visceral fat. Visceral fat is different from subcutaneous fat, which is found elsewhere in the body, just below the skin, such as on your legs and arms. According to Harvard University, studies show us that higher levels of menopause belly fat can lead to increased risks of heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, breathing problems and even breast cancer. Even if your BMI is healthy, because your overall body weight is low, a high occurrence of belly fat will raise the risk of early death.
I don’t want to alarm or scare you. But I feel it’s important that you are aware of the risk factors of menopause belly fat. Unfortunately, this isn’t just a bit of extra “podge” — you’re at an increased risk of ill-health if you find that you’re gaining weight around the middle, as many women do, following or during menopause.
And let’s not forget that the mental impact of weight-gain is also serious. Your drive to lose weight might not just be about feeling trim. Weight-gain has been shown to lead to social isolation in cases where embarrassment and lack of confidence impact mindset. You don’t feel like you, or the person you want to be, so you hide away from the world.
How to Get Rid of Your Menopause Weight Gain
Laying the Groundwork
To fight the meno-pot and get rid of that menopause belly fat, we’re going to need to work out your unique weight-loss strategy. Starving yourself isn’t going to work, because 1) it isn’t sustainable weight loss and 2) when you starve yourself, your body goes into starvation mode and actually stores even more calories. So we can’t starve ourselves to success, but we can’t just eat whatever we want either. That much is obvious. So in response, people often try fad diets, but again these don’t work because you can’t sustain them. Rice and chicken are low-calorie but they’re seriously boring and you’ll never stick to this kind of eating pattern.
The solution? You need to identify healthy foods that you like and that you can happily eat day after day without sneaking in a pizza because you’re sick of forcing down couscous. Browse recipe books, healthy food websites and try new dishes. To lose weight, you need to be in a caloric deficit, which is when the amount of food you eat provides less energy than your body needs to maintain its current weight. If you find great healthy foods, you can easily do this without having to skip meals or eat lettuce for lunch.
Finally, you’ll need to work out what kind of exercises you like. Nutrition is important for weight loss, but so is exercise. High-intensity cardio may burn away calories fast but it might not be sustainable for you. You need to find exercises that you can do without injury and those you feel driven to do. If you hate your exercise programme, you’ll find every reason you can to bin it and do something else. There are so many types of exercises and sports out there that there is absolutely going to be something you enjoy doing, even if you’ve never been a fan of workouts or have limited ranges of mobility. Back problems? Try swimming. Strapped for time? Home workouts can fit around your business lifestyle.
Resistance Training: The Answer to the Menopause Belly Fat Problem?
You can’t change your hormonal structure, so there are some uphill battles of menopause that you’ll just have to face in order to fight off the belly fat. But there are others we can address a bit more easily to maximise results. There are three core factors that we can look at:
- Menopause results in lower levels of muscle mass, but muscle requires more energy to sustain day-to-day.
- Menopause results in higher levels of insulin, but muscle mass can help stabilise insulin levels.
- Menopause slows your metabolism, but more muscle mass speeds it up.
Notice a pattern here? Beating that weight around your belly can benefit from strength training, and many women see great results from lifting weights. Generally speaking, it’s more common for women to favour cardio exercise over muscle-building, but introducing weight training to your routine can increase your body’s requirement for energy, boost overall metabolism and contribute towards the stabilisation of high insulin levels that are creating all that unwanted belly fat.
Make Your Schedule and Commit to It
A schedule for your weight-loss journey is so important. And no, it’s not so you can beat yourself up for not reaching your goals, but so you can track your progress. To lose weight, you have to be committed, and schedules help you work out a strategy that pushes you forward.
Exercise here and there, healthy dinner when you can manage it — that’s not going to cut it.
Build a weekly schedule of when you’re going to train, what you’re going to eat and stick with it. It’s okay if you can’t meet your schedule needs. It’s hard to know from day one how we’ll respond to a new training regime, but the best results are all about sustainability and accountability. So if your schedule isn’t working for you, don’t fight to fit it into your life but change it up. Keep working on it until you find a system that’s getting you to where you want to go.
Key Takeaways for Battling Menopause Belly Fat
The above steps outline exactly what you need to succeed. You’ll notice they aren’t specific rules or instructions — eat this meal, do this exercise — but are instead a set of loose lifestyle guidelines that can help you change the way you think about weight loss.
Everything we practice at The Sport Dietitian is about sustainability and lifestyle adaptation that revolves around you. Fad diets don’t work. They aren’t going to help you keep off your menopause belly fat because they don’t fit into your unique situation. And you need to be making sure your weight-loss strategies are something you can stick to.
Once you’ve gone through menopause, this is what life will be like from this point onwards. It’s not a case of battling the meno-pot short term — the threat of that belly fat is here to stay.
Follow my advice and you can form a resistance to this ever-present risk factor.
Having said that, there are some basic things we recommend that you consider incorporating into your weight-loss and exercise programme to battle menopause belly fat. Again, if they don’t work for you, then don’t try to force them. However, if you can get them to work for you, they can be very effective tools.
Extra Tips to Cut Menopause Belly Fat
Lower Carbs — You’ve probably heard the low-carb rule for diets a hundred times. For those fighting menopause belly fat, though, there’s an added depth to this idea. The Mayo Clinic outlines how a low-carb diet reduces insulin levels in your body. As we’re trying to lower insulin to cut down on fat, low carbs support your goals.
Try Interval Training — High-intensity interval training — or HIIT — is a series of fast-paced movements that are designed to activate lots of muscle groups and raise your heart rate to burn calories within a short period of time. HIIT sessions usually range from 15 to 30 minutes. They’re favoured by people because they’re quick and effective; they also result in weight loss for 48 hours after sessions. While HIIT is great, we only recommend you do interval training once or twice a week because of the stress it puts on the body, so it’s good to mix HIIT in with other workout ideas. Another note is that HIIT is good for insulin control.
Eat Fibre and Protein — Fibre and protein are both excellent for controlling hunger. They are complex nutrients that take the stomach a while to digest. Diets that contain lots of fibre and protein will ensure you feel fuller for longer and reduce your urges for snacks and other food cravings. Another benefit of high protein is that protein is required for maximising muscle growth. A healthy supply of protein helps you build that muscle mass you’re trying to achieve to battle menopause belly fat.
Monitor Your Mood — Changes in mood are common during menopause; that’s no secret. How this impacts weight loss is that it can impact motivation and lead to comfort-eating. The best thing to do is not to worry if you notice these signs. Instead, address them head-on and look to ways of helping yourself manage these more challenging menopausal experiences. Right now, motivation and support can be key. We can work together to solve this problem. Book a free call with me today if you need help staying on track with your health and fitness targets during menopause.
Enjoy Treats — A treat every day is a problem, but so is never treating yourself at all. You don’t have to always say no to cakes, or refuse to go out to restaurants because it doesn’t fit with your schedule. Banning yourself from the good things in life puts you on the fast-track to weight-gain rebound. All things are okay in moderation.
Sleep Well — Sleep is a little-known weight-loss weapon, no matter who you are. Bad sleep lowers mood, encourages poor eating habits and slows metabolic rate. Good sleep leads to better choices, higher metabolism and heals your body faster after workouts, so you can work harder to burn calories.
If you want to build a powerful and effective training and diet programme that’s both sustainable and results-driven, then get in touch with The Sport Dietitian. We’ll work closely with you to devise a system that works for you. Beat that menopause belly fat, build your confidence and stave off health risks like heart disease and diabetes. Book your free call with me today and start your journey to a new and healthier you.