Menopause is sometimes called the “change of life”—and for good reason. Beyond mood swings and hot flashes, menopausal belly fat is a common problem, even for people who exercise often and eat a generally healthy diet.
Generally, you are considered to be in menopause 12 months after your last menstrual cycle, the culmination of perimenopause.
“During perimenopause, women tend to gain weight in the abdominal area, which can be different than that before Perimenopause is when they’ll gain it in their hips and thighs,” explains registered dietitian Elizabeth Ward, MS, RDN, co-author. The Menopause Diet Plan: A Natural Guide to Managing Hormones, Health, and Happiness.
A natural dip in estrogen — combined with other midlife changes like bone and muscle tissue loss and a slight metabolic slowdown — can lead to weight gain and changes in body composition, Ward says.
As anyone who’s been there, lived through it, and written a book about it, knows that “physical changes can be mysterious, frustrating, and downright frustrating.”
While clockwork may not happen, there are plenty of habits within your control that can affect menopausal belly fat.
Here’s what to know about your midlife middle — and how to lose menopausal belly fat.
How to lose menopausal belly fat
1. Maximum sleep
Adults need seven or more hours of sleep a night, but Ward says it’s much easier to do.
“Sleep patterns evolve during the menopause transition when women often have trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, and sleeping deeply enough because of hot flashes,” she explains.
“One study found that perimenopausal women may sleep seven hours less a night than postmenopausal women,” adds Ward.
That said, he adds, you should definitely try to make sleep a priority.
“Regular, restful sleep is associated with easier weight control as well as other markers of good health,” says Ward
Even a night or two of sleep increases levels of the hunger hormone ghrelin and lowers the satiety hormone leptin, according to research.
2. Decreased insulin resistance
Insulin resistance occurs when your muscle, fat, and liver cells can’t use your blood glucose as easily.
This forces your pancreas to produce more insulin to help.
“Insulin resistance increases with age,” says Ward
So the American Diabetes Association recommends that “all adults without risk factors should be screened for prediabetes and type 2 diabetes starting at age 35.”
“Decreased estrogen levels may play a role in insulin resistance, but the research is still inconclusive,” he adds. “Weight gain and lack of exercise also promote insulin resistance.”
3. Reduce your calorie intake
If you’re dealing with menopausal belly fat, start by looking at your diet.
As we age, we move less—but our appetites and habits don’t balance that slowdown.
If you constantly see the number on the scale or your clothes fit differently, consider these nutritional changes to accommodate a slower metabolism.
4. Eat more plants and protein (and less sugar)
Menopause is a good time to reevaluate your overall eating plan, says Ward.
“I had to do this when I gained 10 pounds (and most of it was in my stomach) during perimenopause,” she says.
“A balanced diet will help prevent the changes that occur during midlife and menopause, and help women feel more energetic and positive during this stage of life,” she adds.
- A diet based on fiber-rich, plant-based foods
- At least 0.55 grams of protein per pound of body weight per day
- At least five servings of fruits and vegetables per day
- Whole grains three times a day
- No more than one alcoholic drink per day but preferably less
5. To reduce stress
Keeping stress under control can also help you lose menopausal belly fat.
When your daily stress is high, your body releases the stress hormone cortisol, which can cause excess belly fat and water retention.
And stress makes your sleep problems worse, creating a vicious cycle, Ward says.
“Research from the Study of Women’s Health Across the Nation (SWAN) sleep study found that chronic stress interferes with adequate sleep,” she says.
Ongoing fatigue and chronic stress can lead to behaviors that further contribute to weight control problems, including excessive alcohol consumption and regular ‘stress eating’ of fatty and sugary foods such as ice cream, cookies and chips.
6. Exercise regularly
Being active can help offset insulin resistance.
“Exercise uses up glucose in the bloodstream, which reduces the need for insulin,” Ward explains.
“Excess weight increases the need for insulin. Studies show that losing 5 to 7 percent of your body weight significantly reduces the risk of insulin resistance, which can develop into type 2 diabetes over time.”
Best Exercises for Menopause Stomach
Any exercise is better than no exercise, but certain types are good for the post-menopausal stage of life, says Bianca Beldini, DPT, M.S.O.M., doctor of physical therapy and acupuncturist.
“Visceral (abdominal fat) is best targeted by dietary changes (increasing protein and decreasing simple carbohydrates) and lifting heavy weights,” says Beldini.
“Strength training is most important at this stage of life because it can reduce the effects of estrogen.”
“Cardio is best done as HIIT or long sustained endurance versus high-intensity workouts,” says Baldini.
“Long periods of cardio can increase cortisol levels (leading to insulin resistance and sleep disturbances).”
He prefers indoor cycling with short, fast speed intervals of 30 seconds on and 1 minute off.
Plyometrics and bounding are also helpful.
“Jumping exercises are also very important at this stage of life to challenge the ligaments and tendons,” he adds. Just make sure you progress slowly with plyometrics to maximize your results while minimizing your risk of injury.
Core and abdominal exercises
Core exercises won’t directly shed menopausal belly fat—they’ll burn more calories and reduce overall body fat.
But abs exercises can build strength and help your core and abs look more toned.
Baldini loves planks and they are accessible for all fitness levels.
About half of the bone loss in women occurs in the decade after menopause, which can also accelerate or cause sarcopenia (loss of muscle mass).
Strength training can help offset both.
Aim for high weights and low reps in moves like squats, deadlifts and kettlebell swings to maintain bone density, Baldini advises.
Menopausal belly fat is a nagging reminder that nothing in life stays the same.
But, when Baldini’s clients are frustrated about the changes they feel and see, she gives herself the same advice.
“It is a transitional period of life. Choose healthy foods. Take time to be quiet. Meditation. take a breath Get a sleep schedule. Lift heavy weights. Transitions don’t last forever.”
Ward also focuses on himself and his clients to be able to control
“Our focus during perimenopause and beyond is to take care of our bone, brain, heart and emotional health.”