Menopause is one of those lifetime milestones that happen no matter how hard we resist. Along with it, you may see a few—or more—extra pounds creep up on the scale, or have difficulty losing weight using the same tried-and-true methods you used in your thirties. It’s hard enough to manage the emotional rollercoaster and physical symptoms such as hot flashes that come with the cessation of our period, but fighting weight gain may just be the most frustrating of all.
Pooch. Belly. Flab. Spare tire.
When your pants no longer button, and your waist is doing anything but wasting away, you may be seeing signs of menopause weight gain. During this time, where we store extra fat shifts due to hormonal changes and moves from the thighs and buttocks to around the waist (known as subcutaneous fat). This also includes wrapping around our internal organs in the form of visceral fat. With this in mind, which hormones are responsible for this shift?
The time between fertility and menopause is perimenopause. Surges of estrogen usually occur at this time, which can override your other main female hormone, progesterone, and cause your body to have too much estrogen (known as estrogen dominance) and increase abdominal fat. Often called menopause pooch or muffin top, this abdominal fat can also cause issues with overall health as fat can generate its own estrogen and keep the production of estrogen in high gear and, along with it, the expansion of your waistline.
Insulin resistance is when your body loses its ability to respond to insulin. Having additional abdominal fat is linked to insulin resistance, which can create a cycle wherein your body increases its production of insulin to manage blood sugar levels. As this occurs, your metabolism slows, which can contribute to further weight gain.
Your adrenal glands make this fight-or-flight hormone that is generated during real or perceived threats. Because cortisol is regulated in part by estrogen, it can rise during menopause as estrogen decreases and can no longer hold it back. This can also contribute to a slowed metabolism.
When thyroid hormones are unbalanced, all sorts of things happen to metabolism. As you age, your thyroid can become under-active (hypothyroid) and cause weight gain, in addition to weakness and lethargy.
What Can You Do?
While you should start by talking with your healthcare practitioner about your menopausal weight gain, there are a few things you may consider trying that have been shown to help.
Refined carbohydrates like white rice, flour, and especially sugar, can contribute to insulin resistance and cause blood sugar to rise (and then crash). Also, eating these foods throughout the day can lead to a constant spiking of blood sugar, and even more insulin resistance.
Eating food within a set amount of hours has been shown to reduce abdominal fat and body weight, in addition to helping with insulin sensitivity. Popular versions of intermittent fasting include 16:8 (eating window of 8 hours, and 16 hours of fasting) and 14:10 (eating window of 10 hours, and 14 hours of fasting). Because the fast is mostly done overnight while you sleep, it is easier to stick to. Even if there is little to no weight loss, intermittent fasting can help improve insulin sensitivity.
Exercise doesn’t have to mean a gym membership. It can be as simple as doing what you always do—walk! Add resistance or strength training to that, and you have a good mix of what is needed to burn away menopausal weight gain. Chances are your menopause belly is due to any one of these factors.
By adjusting a few things and working with your healthcare practitioner to develop a plan, you will have the tools you need to better deal with menopause belly and the other symptoms that go along with menopause.