Conquer Menopausal Belly Fat

By Staness Jonekos

Co-Author, The Menopause Makeover

Most women will agree that going through “the change” can pack on the pounds.

According to the North American Menopause Society, more than 70% of women ages 55 to 75, and 65% of women ages 45 to 55 are overweight (BMI greater than 25).  More than 40% are obese (BMI greater or equal to 30). With the average age of natural menopause in the Western world being 51, it is no surprise many blame the menopause transition on weight gain and extra belly fat.

What causes weight gain and that unwanted belly fat during these years?  Until recently there was no scientific evidence that menopause was the culprit for your increased waist size.  But now there is some evidence that menopause may be related to changes in body composition and fat distribution.  Several studies have shown that menopause is associated with increased fat in the abdominal region as well as decreased lean body mass, independent of age.

While the jury is out deciding if menopause is guilty, aging and lifestyle are mostly responsible.  Lean body mass decreases with age, and burning fewer calories through less activity increase fat mass and weight gain.

Not getting enough sleep, whether suffering from stress or night sweats, can cause changes in serum leptin and ghrelin levels increasing your appetite.   68,000 women studied in the Nurses’ Health Study found that women who slept five hour or less gained 2.5 pounds.  Women sleeping six hours gained 1.6 pounds.  61% of peri- and postmenopausal women report suffering from insomnia. If you are suffering from night sweats affecting your sleep, discuss treatment management options with your healthcare provider. The optimal amount of sleep varies from person to person, but 6 to 9 hours of sleep is a good rule of thumb.

The good news? Mid-life belly fat can be managed!  Making lifestyle adjustments can put you in the healthy BMI category (18.5 to 24.9).

  • Eat lean proteins, low to medium glycemic carbohydrates and healthy fats, combined with exercise most days of the week for 30 to 60 minutes can do the trick.
  • Limit your intake of saturated and trans fat and cholesterol.
  • Adjust your portion sizes.
  • Do not over consume beverages with sugars and caffeine.
  • Consume alcohol in moderation – some research has shown that red wine can have health benefits.
  • Decrease salt and processed foods.
  • Stop smoking.
  • When you dine out, take half home for lunch tomorrow.

These are all good common-sense strategies that work for everyone, but they are non-negotiable for menopausal women.  It takes commitment and effort to make lasting change.  If you do the work, you will maintain a healthy weight and manage that unwanted belly fat.

This is also an important time to work closely with your healthcare provider.  Increased weight and belly fat can increase your risk of getting type 2 diabetes, CVD, stroke, hypertension, and some cancers.

It is important to set realistic goals.  If you expect to look like your 20s, you may be disappointed. With a loss of skin tone and muscle mass from aging you just won’t look that same naked, but you are not alone.  Men too suffer from similar aging frustrations.

Focus on health, and you will feel happier about your body.

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