What Causes an Increase in Abdominal Fat after Menopause?

Posted: Jan 29 in Hormone Therapy, Obesity Risks by

It's a frustrating problem! The jeans you could easily slip into before menopause are now hard to button. You haven't gained significant weight, but your waistline has thickened. An increase in abdominal fat after menopause is an issue many women face. Even if you don't gain a lot of weight, you may notice where you store fat shifts toward the waist and tummy. Plus, a thickening waistline is a marker of too much visceral fat, the type that increases the risk of health problems like cardiovascular disease. Are you destined to have a thick waistline during the second half of life?

The key to getting rid of unwanted abdominal fat is understanding what causes it. After menopause, your body stores excess energy around your midsection rather than your hips and thighs. This is partly due to hormone changes, which make it harder for you to burn fat and more likely to store it around your waist. Lifestyle also plays a role in the higher propensity to store fat midline. Let's look at what causes belly fat to become more of a problem after menopause.

Hormonal Changes

Once you enter menopause, your ovaries produce less estrogen, leading to a redistribution of where you store body fat. You're less likely to send those extra pounds of body fat to your hips and thighs and more of it ends up around your abdomen and waist. Hormonal changes also cause a drop in lean body mass and an increase in abdominal fat. As a result, you carry more abdominal fat even if you didn't gain a large amount of weight.

Stress

Mid-life is a stressful time for many women, and the stressors that surround menopause, like hot flashes and problems sleeping, contribute to an expanding waistline and belly. Stress has a major effect on the level of cortisol in your body. Cortisol is a hormone that stores fat around your middle. It also causes you to crave high-sugar and high-carb versions of comfort foods, such as chocolate cake and French fries.

Tossing and turning at night and struggling to get a good night's sleep can also cause belly fat. A study published in the journal Obesity found that people who sleep five hours or less per night have more belly fat than those who sleep seven hours or more per night. One reason is that lack of sleep causes an increase in ghrelin, which is a hormone that makes you hungry, and a decrease in leptin, which makes you feel full. So, you eat more and make worse food choices.

It's important to have ways to manage stress at every stage in life, and that includes menopause. Some stress reduction tactics that help many people include:

  • Yoga
  • Meditation
  • Deep breathing
  • Nature walks
  • Writing in a journal
  • Practicing mindfulness

A Sedentary Lifestyle

Most people slow down a bit during mid-life. Exercise is one of the best weapons against metabolic syndrome and a sedentary lifestyle. Exercise helps maintain normal blood sugar levels and reduce the production of stress hormones, so you can enjoy better health and less belly fat.

Poor Dietary Choices

Treating belly fat after menopause requires a shift in lifestyle and diet. If your diet is mostly processed and includes foods high in sugar, you're creating an environment that promotes belly fat. How can you break the cycle? Substituting refined carbohydrates and ultra-processed foods with high-quality sources of protein and more non-starchy vegetables helps tame your body's insulin response so you store less fat around your midline. Consuming more protein also reduces hunger and sugar cravings.

How can you turn your diet around? Start by making small changes. Replace one starchy carbohydrate per week with a non-starchy vegetable and include a quality source of protein at every meal. Add more fiber to your diet to slow how quickly you absorb carbohydrates. This change reduces the amount of insulin your pancreas must produce. Too much insulin makes it easier to store fat around the midline. Prioritize veggies and protein! One study also found that eating veggies and protein before carbohydrates lowers the blood sugar response to a meal and insulin release.

Here's the good news. Losing belly fat after menopause is not impossible. You can't control the hormonal changes that work against losing belly fat, but you can change your lifestyle. The best exercise prescription is a combination of exercise that boosts your heart rate and strength training. Higher intensity exercise has the edge when it comes to reducing belly fat. The conclusion of a study published in the International Journal of Cardiology was that, "High-intensity-resistance training induced a faster visceral fat loss, and the potential of resistance training should not be undervalued." So, more movement and pick up the intensity a bit when you can.

Belly fat isn't only an aesthetic issue; it carries health risks. The reasons women have more of it after menopause are multifactorial. Still, lifestyle habits like managing stress, exercise, and eating a whole food diet are beneficial for keeping belly fat in check.

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