Whether you’re in perimenopause (the two to ten years leading up to menopause) or you’re in the throes of menopause itself, you may notice it’s harder to lose weight than it once was—particularly around your middle. Most women gain some stubborn belly fat (affectionately called the “menopot”) in their 40s and 50s, and it can be extremely frustrating to try and work it off. Here’s the deal: in order to lose belly fat in menopause, you have to take other factors into consideration aside from your daily exercise. Are you eating the right foods? Are you doing things to keep your hormones in balance? Let’s explore nine natural things you can do to banish menopausal belly fat for real.
Why Women Gain Belly Fat In Menopause
During menopause, your hormones get thrown out of whack. Your estrogen levels plummet, and body fat that used to settle around the hips, thighs, or butt tends to now settle around your middle. Your progesterone also decreases, which contributes to elevated cortisol levels in the body. Elevated cortisol can cause you to hold onto stubborn belly fat. (Yikes!) You may have unknowingly become a bit more sedentary as you’ve aged, too; your metabolism slows down as you lose muscle and perhaps aches and pains or a busy schedule have kept you from getting as much exercise as you used to. All of these factors can contribute to an increase of belly fat during your menopausal years.
Why It’s Important To Lose Belly Fat
Belly fat isn’t just annoying, it’s also unhealthy. Fat that appears around your stomach is often visceral fat, which is fat that surrounds your organs within your abdominal wall. This type of fat puts you at an increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, and other health problems. According to Dr. Axe, having excess visceral fat “increases the production of inflammatory chemicals called cytokines, which leads to inflammation; at the same time, it interferes with hormones that regulate appetite, weight, mood, and brain function.” You want to minimize your belly fat not just to look and feel your best but to stay healthy for years to come.
9 Ways To Beat Menopausal Belly Fat
Enough with the doom and gloom—let’s learn what you can do to get rid of belly fat in menopause.
1. Start Your Day With ACV or Lemon Water
Kick-start your body’s natural detoxification process first thing in the morning by drinking a glass of warm water with lemon or apple cider vinegar in it. The acetic acid in vinegar helps your body burn fat and rids your body of toxins. It also gives you a little energy boost to start your day. The benefits of apple cider vinegar or lemon in your water are endless! Just add a tablespoon or two of apple cider vinegar, or slice a lemon and squeeze it into your water.
2. Add Strength Training To Your Workouts
According to the CDC, you need 150 minutes of cardio each week to stay healthy, but if you don’t add strength training onto that, your metabolism won’t work as effectively as it could. The more muscle you have on your body, the faster your metabolism works. And after the age 30, you start to lose muscle mass if you’re not actively replacing it. So do your part to keep your body strong and your metabolism revved: strength train at least three times per week! You can use your own bodyweight with moves like push-ups, lunges, and squats or use dumbbells, kettlebells, or resistance bands—it doesn’t matter how you do it, just get ‘er done!
3. Cut Back On The Sweet Stuff
Excess sugar is not your friend when it comes to belly fat. Eating too much refined sugar is not only unhealthy, but can cause you to cling onto stubborn belly fat. Start by eliminating any sugary beverages or sodas—then focus on reserving your intake of sugary foods like cakes, cookies, or ice cream for special occasions. Natural sugar like the kind found in fruit is fine because it’s accompanied by fiber—and when you eat fiber with natural sugar, your body can process it more slowly. It’s those spikes and crashes from artificial sugar that are harder on your body—they cause an insulin rise, and too much insulin can cause excess blood sugar to be stored as belly fat.
4. Eat Smaller Meals More Often
Another way to manage your blood sugar and thus, your belly fat? By eating smaller meals, more often. When you eat until you can barely move, you’re putting too much stress on your body. You’re spiking your insulin and blood sugar. Conversely, when you then go 6 hours before eating your next giant meal, your blood sugar crashes. This is hard on your metabolism and can make losing that excess belly fat even harder. Help your metabolism out by eating smaller meals more frequently instead of two or three giant meals per day.
5. Strengthen Your Core
It’s impossible to spot-reduce body fat—you need to lose it all over first through cardio, strength, and clean eating. But once you start to shed body fat, you can target your belly by using ab-strengthening moves like these:
6. Minimize Stress
Since you already know that too much cortisol (the stress hormone) can cause you to cling onto belly fat, work on minimizing stress as much as possible. Practice deep breathing and meditation at least 15 minutes each day. Journal. Take long walks in nature. Do yoga. Whatever brings you a sense of calm, spend more time doing it. It’s not just good for your mind, but your body (and belly fat!) too.
7.Keep Emotional Eating In Check
It’s tempting to want to deal with changing hormones through emotional eating. Fluctuating emotions make that late-night nosedive into the icecream even more appealing than normal. Trying to shed extra weight in menopause doesn’t mean you have to deprive yourself of everything, but you should monitor when you get the urge to binge on junk food and try to regulate your emotions in healthier ways—distract yourself, practice self-care, and become aware of whether or not your body is actually hungry.
8.Get 7-8 Hours Of Sleep Per Night
Ok, similarly to the “minimize stress” advice, this one is something you probably already know: you should be getting 7-8 hours of sleep per night. But did you know that getting less than that can throw two of your body’s hunger hormones out of whack—leptin and ghrelin—which can cause you to hold onto more fat and crave sugary, salty foods more frequently? Prioritize sleep, like stress management, for your mental well-being as well as your weight!
9. Circuits and Intervals!
High Intensity Interval Training or HIIT is a great way to burn more calories in less time—as are circuit workouts! Interval workouts require you to do short bursts of all-out effort followed by brief periods of rest, while circuits are one exercise after the next without rest until the whole circuit is over. Both of these methods are different than steady-state cardio workouts like walking or jogging because they get your heart rate up and help your body burn fat better.
If losing stubborn belly fat proves impossible and you’re also overweight, you may want to talk to your doctor. You can have your hormone levels checked—many women also have thyroid issues that can make weight loss harder than it needs to be. A talk with your doctor can’t hurt if belly fat or weight issues in menopause are affecting your health or well-being!