It’s not your imagination.
You eat the same foods and move the same way you always have, yet your waistline has disappeared.
If you’re a woman around the age of 50, and you suspect that your body has fallen victim to the hormonal shifts of menopause, then you’re right.
The problem is that your 50ish-year-old body wants more fat than it did when it was 30 because fat cells make the estrogen it’s starving for.
Menopause and belly fat might be two things that go together, but this doesn’t have to be your fate.
By tweaking your:
you’ll successfully trim menopause belly fat, and be fit and fabulous in your 50’s.
Menopause and Belly Fat 101
Sue was like most other girls. At the age of 12, she got her period, and besides the usual monthly cramps and mood swings, she managed her menstrual cycle just fine.
Her monthly cycle ran on autopilot, and she was blissfully unaware of how her hormones were causing her to ovulate on day 14 and bring about her period on day 28.
During these early reproductive years, there were two main hormones driving her monthly menstrual cycle: progesterone and estrogen.
Progesterone is linked to ovulation (i.e. the release of the egg from the ovary).
For the first two weeks of your cycle, progesterone is almost non-existent, but then it shoots up like a rocket immediately following ovulation and stays high until just before your period.
Estrogen is linked to your period (i.e. bleeding) because it helps to build up the lining of the uterus.
Estrogen is always present but does go up and down during the month.
Your ovaries make most of your progesterone and estrogen with smaller amounts of both coming from your adrenal glands.
Estrogen is also made by your fat cells, and that’s true for men and women.
Attention Alert: The fact that your fat cells make estrogen becomes significant later on in our menopause and belly fat story.
At the age of 35, Sue started her first stage of menopause, but she didn’t know it.
The 4 Stages of Menopause
Stage 1: Early Perimenopause
Early perimenopause is the first stage of menopause, and like many women, Sue entered this stage in her thirties but had no idea that her increasing love for sweets and step up in jeans size had anything to do with menopause.
After all, her periods were coming like clockwork each month.
During early-perimenopause, most women experience their usual monthly periods but skip ovulation from time to time. This event typically goes unnoticed because most women don’t feel any different when they ovulate.
Skipping ovulation created a hormone shift in Sue’s body.
Without ovulation, the usual progesterone surge didn’t happen, and her body moved into a state of estrogen dominance.
While estrogen dominance didn’t directly cause Sue’s pre-menopausal belly to grow big, it did cause her hips and thighs to spread, and she found herself battling cravings for carbs like never before.
Stage 2: Late-Perimenopause
The years passed by and Sue celebrated her 50th birthday. By this time, she was in late perimenopause and was having periods that were all over the map.
One month her period would be heavier than usual and last for three weeks straight, only to be followed by two months of no period at all.
During late-perimenopause, your period and ovulation are unpredictable, so both progesterone and estrogen are thrown out-of-whack.
At this stage of her menopause journey, Sue was finding that her weight was harder to control, and she was increasingly bothered by cravings, irritability, and changes in moods that would take her from happy-go-lucky one minute to tears the next.
Although irregular, Sue kept track of her periods. They were coming less frequent, and then not at all. After one year of missed periods, Sue had reached menopause.
Stage 3: Menopause
Sue was surprised to find out that menopause is an event that only lasts one day.
Menopause is an anniversary. It marks the one-year anniversary of your last menstrual cycle. So, if your last period begins on August 2nd, 2016, then you’ll reach menopause on August 2nd, 2017.
The next morning, Sue woke up as a post-menopausal woman, a stage she’d stay in for the rest of her life.
Stage 4: Post-Menopause
With menopause behind her, Sue’s ovaries were no longer producing enough estrogen, and with only small amounts coming from her adrenals, her body turned to its last source of estrogen production – her fat cells.
The fat cell production of estrogen is a major reason why menopause and belly fat are linked.
Sue noticed that regardless of the fact that her eating and exercise hadn’t changed, her belly seemed bigger.
She no longer had a distinct pear-shaped body, and now had more of an apple roundness.
This increase in belly fat was the result of metabolic changes brought on by the drop in estrogen.
Sue’s post-menopausal body loved the extra belly fat because it was supplying some of the estrogens her body was missing.
But, Sue was not thrilled with her expanding waistline and decided it was time to fight back.
Breaking the Menopause and Belly Fat Link Tip #1 – Food Choices
To lose belly fat after menopause, you must maintain and healthy lifestyle, which starts with paying attention to your food choices.
Focus about 90% of your diet on foods that meet one or more of the following criteria:
1. A high nutrient-to-calorie ratio. You want to select foods that are naturally high in nutrients and low in calories.
Leafy greens and non-starchy vegetables top the list because they are packed with vitamins and minerals, yet extremely low in calories. Make these foods the focus of your daily diet by having a large salad every day and cooked non-starchy vegetables as a side dish for your evening meal.
Beans and fruit also have a favorable nutrient-to-calorie ratio and should be part of your daily diet.
Nuts and seeds are high in nutrients, but also high in calories, so while their nutrient-to-calorie ratio is not as high, in small portions (i.e. a couple of tablespoons a day) they help with weight loss.
2. High fiber. High fiber foods prevent the insulin spikes that push fat into storage.
Fiber is only found in plant foods, so vegetables, beans, fruit, nuts, and seeds contain fiber.
Whole grains also contain fiber, but check the nutritional facts when eating grains. A whole-grain food should have at least 3 grams of fiber per serving to keep insulin low.
3. Low sugar. Sugar should not be one of the top three ingredients of your food selection.
Sugar does not need to be broken down, so it enters your blood immediately after you eat it. The high blood sugar causes insulin to rush into your blood, which encourages fat storage and turns off fat burning.
4. Healthy fats. Healthy fats have been found to be very beneficial for menopausal belly fat loss. However, you need to pick the right fats.
Healthy fats come from whole foods, so make sure you’re getting a daily dose from nuts, seeds, avocados, or fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, or lake trout.
Breaking the Menopause and Belly Fat Link Tip #2 – Eating Pattern
The key to getting ahead of menopausal belly fat is to create metabolic states that encourage fat burning.
You can encourage fat burning on a nightly basis with a simple shift in your eating pattern.
Scientists from the Salk Institute in San Diego have done some of the most interesting diet research in the past decade, particularly their research into time-restricted eating patterns.
In multiple studies, they found that adhering to a nightly 12-hour fast allowed insulin levels to drop and stay low, which put the body into a fat-burning state.
Achieving this shift in your eating pattern is easier than it sounds.
(See my post on fasting at night for more information).
Breaking the Menopause and Belly Fat Link Tip #3 – Exercise Approach
Exercise will give your weight loss an edge as you move through menopause. It’s also great for leveling mood swings.
Your best approach will be to alternate between fun, cardiovascular exercise days and short, but focused muscle-building days.
Sample Exercise Schedule
Sunday: 30-minute of cardio
Monday: 15-minutes of resistance exercises
Tuesday: 30-minute of cardio
Wednesday: 15-minutes of resistance exercises
Thursday: 30-minute of cardio
Friday: 15-minutes of resistance exercises
As you age, your body loses muscle mass.
Because one pound of muscle can burn up to 50 calories just by being on your body, it’s important to do exercises that encourage muscle preservation or gain.
Just 15-minute of a resistance-style workout three days a week is all you need to prevent the loss of muscle mass.
If you have access to the gym, you can train against resistance using free weights or gym equipment. If you prefer to exercise at home, bodyweight exercises (i.e. squats, burpees, pushups, sit-ups) work fine.
On the opposite days, do something you love like walking, riding a bike, swimming, or yoga. These cardiovascular exercises help to burn calories and leave you feeling energized for the rest of the day.
Menopause and Belly Fat Conclusion
As you move through the stages of menopause, your hormones shift causing a shift in where your body deposits fat.
Menopause and belly fat are two things that go together, but this doesn’t have to be your fate.
By making better food choices, shifting to a time-restricted eating pattern, and combining cardiovascular and resistance exercises, you can effectively fight back and preserve your waistline.
About the Author
Dr. Becky Gillaspy, DC graduated Summa Cum Laude with research honors from Palmer College of Chiropractic in 1991.