11 ways to get rid of menopause belly
What is menopause belly?
‘Menopause belly’ is not a medical term but rather a nickname for weight gain around the midsection that some women experience during menopause. This weight can be stubborn and hard to get rid of. Weight gain isn’t just a natural part of getting older, there are certain biological factors that make this happen, and hormonal changes are one of these factors.
As oestrogen levels drop during menopause, metabolism slows down and the way the body stores and distributes fat changes. Pre-menopause, the body distributes fat evenly over various parts of the body, but during menopause, this tends to accumulate around the belly. As Liverpool Women’s NHS Foundation Trust notes, if you were to eat 1000 calories before menopause your body would burn 700 and store 300 calories but this switches during menopause meaning you would store a greater amount of calories than you burn.
Other factors such as psychological distress and lack of exercise due to achy joints, fatigue and loss of bladder control can increase the risk of developing menopause belly. Excess belly fat puts you at a greater risk of developing serious health conditions such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes and problems with the liver as the fat surrounds vital organs.
The good news is that although it’s stubborn you can lose belly fat and we’re here to show you how.
How to get rid of menopause belly
1. Get into an exercise routine
If you already have an exercise routine in place, great! Keep it up or up the intensity. Exercise is important at any age but it’s particularly important to not only shift stubborn belly fat but to also help with the physical and emotional symptoms of menopause.
Strength training is great to add to your routine to build your muscle mass which declines during menopause. Aim to exercise every day or at least 150 minutes of exercise per week.
2. Try different exercises to keep things fresh
Unless you love to exercise, it can get tedious occasionally. Incorporating exercises you’ve not tried before can make it interesting, this can be things like trying a new class or activity such as swimming. Swimming is a great activity to try as it’s easier on sore joints but still great for the muscles and burning calories.
Any sort of movement is great, you want to avoid sitting or lying down for long periods of time.
3. Eat little and often
Eating healthier and smaller portions can help combat snacking on unhealthy foods in between meals. It not only curbs cravings, but it also minimises blood sugar spikes and crashes. It will help to keep your energy levels up for exercise too.
4. Avoid foods that cause bloating
Sometimes, it may not be excessive fat causing your tummy to appear bigger, it may be due to bloating. Bloating is a symptom of menopause and you usually have discomfort with bloating such as cramps or flatulence which is how you distinguish it from excess weight. You may have bloating and weight gain and the discomfort of bloating can put another hurdle in the way of getting active.
Food can exacerbate bloating, so avoid the triggers. Beans, wheat, carbonated drinks, and some fruit and vegetables such as broccoli and apples are foods that are known to cause bloating.
5. Keep a food diary
At this stage, you may not know what foods are triggering your bloating but logging your food intake in a diary is a good way to find out. You can see what foods you were eating around the time of your bloating and eliminate these from your diet to see if things improve.
A food diary also helps manage your calorie intake if you’re trying to lose weight.
6. Exercise with a friend
Group exercises can be more fun and engaging than exercising alone. The encouragement from friends can help keep you motivated to exercise, plus, classes such as Zumba can be so fun they don’t feel like exercising at all!
7. Get enough sleep
Many women going through menopause experience poor sleep due to night sweats and hot flashes, but this lack of quality sleep could be impacting your weight. Lack of sleep can increase appetite, slow down metabolism, make you crave carbohydrates and sugary foods, and leave you fatigued during the day meaning you’re unlikely to exercise. All of this can increase weight.
If menopause is affecting your sleep it’s important to address this sooner rather than later. You can improve your sleep quality by removing electronic devices from the bedroom and avoiding using them before bedtime, avoiding other stimulants such as caffeine and alcohol, and creating a restful environment that promotes sleep. If home remedies aren’t working it’s worth speaking to your GP as good sleep can help you deal with the physical and mental symptoms of menopause better.
Like sleep, the effects of stress on weight can’t be denied. This applies to both weight gain and weight loss, but in terms of weight gain, the rise in levels of cortisol (stress hormone) can lead to an increase in appetite for foods that make us feel good but are sadly not good for the waistline such as sugary, high-fat foods.
Managing your stress can help to keep your weight within a healthy range. Stress and anxiety are symptoms of menopause for some women, so as well as treatments like hormone replacement therapy (HRT), making lifestyle changes can also reduce stress and anxiety. Make adjustments in your work if you feel you don’t have a work/life balance and this is causing you stress, you can also try meditation or mindfulness, taking time out for yourself and socialising more to ease the burden of stress.
9. Avoid emotional eating
Talking of stress, this brings us to our next point - emotional eating. The combination of stress and lack of sleep is a recipe for overeating. Whilst some people react to stress by not eating, others turn to food for comfort, otherwise known as ‘emotional eating’. Emotional eating occurs because you’ve formed a habit of eating when stressed and because when you eat your brain releases dopamine, a chemical that makes you feel good.
To gain control of emotional eating you first need to deal with any mental health issues you may be experiencing which is what our previous points touch on. Once you improve your mental health your relationship with food should also get better.
Other tips for avoiding emotional eating include:
- Fill boredom with better ways to cope with stress and avoid unnecessary snacking
- Don’t deprive yourself too much when you have urges to snack, replace snacks with something more nutritious instead
- Include how you were feeling when you were eating in your food diary to help you understand your habit
- Eat meals that keep you fuller for longer and be aware of physical hunger such as stomach grumbling and feeling shaky which helps you to distinguish when you are actually hungry as opposed to eating for comfort
- Exercise helps to lower your cortisol levels, and if you don’t feel stressed you’re less likely to comfort eat
10. Try gentle exercises and stretching
If you’re unable to do vigorous activity, gentle exercises and stretching are still enough to help you lose pounds around your middle. Simply standing more frequently gets your blood flowing and burns calories. Walking is one of the best exercises for weight loss, and as you build your stamina you can then move on to strength training with weights which is great for toning and building muscle as well as visceral fat loss.
11. Monitor your alcohol intake
The calories in alcohol have no nutritional benefit and should ideally be removed from your diet when trying to lose weight. The NHS recommends not exceeding more than 14 units of alcohol per week and this should be spread over a few days rather than in one sitting. Avoid getting into the habit of using alcohol as a stress reliever, and steadily reduce your alcohol intake each week to make it easier to stop drinking completely.
Losing weight during menopause has its challenges, it may feel as though your body is working against you, however, it’s still achievable. Making small lifestyle changes can make a big difference and have long-term benefits, you’ll not only feel lighter and more energetic but you are also helping to prevent comorbidities associated with belly fat.