Welcome to a clear, no-nonsense guide on tackling menopause belly fat; an all-too-common issue for many women as they transition through menopause. But what exactly is “menopause belly”? It’s the term used to describe the stubborn fat that accumulates around the midsection during menopause due to hormonal changes, natural aging, and shifts in lifestyle. This guide dives into why this happens and offers expert advice on how to manage and reduce lower belly fat effectively.

We’ll explore the hormonal rollercoaster that contributes to these changes, including the drop in estrogen that can slow down your metabolism and alter where your body stores fat. We’ll also look at how age and everyday habits can exacerbate this frustrating phenomenon. From practical lifestyle tips and dietary adjustments to exploring hormone therapy and even surgical options, this article is your comprehensive resource for understanding and taking control of your hormonal belly fat. Let’s start this journey towards a healthier, more comfortable you.

What is menopause belly?

Menopause belly is a term that is often used to describe the weight gain around the midsection that many women experience due to menopause.

 

What causes belly fat in menopause?

We cannot pinpoint exactly what causes this ‘middle-aged spread’ to just one thing. There is a plethora of reasons why you are noticing more lower belly fat than ever before, but when it comes to menopause:

 

Hormonal changes during menopause

When your body hits the menopause period your level of estrogen, a female hormone that helps regulate your metabolism and body weight, begins to decline. 

This drop in estrogen can lead to a slower metabolism, making it more challenging to maintain or lose weight. 

Not only this, but your body also begins to store fat differently than before. Instead of depositing fat in your hips and thighs, fat begins to accumulate around your stomach, leading to the dreaded ‘meno belly, or ‘menopot’.

 

Your age

Menopause signifies the end of your fertile years, which is a sign that you have some years of wisdom behind you (did you like our careful wording!)

Ageing is a natural process that brings changes to how the female body functions. This includes a slower metabolism and a reduction in muscle mass. 

Paired with declining levels of estrogen, that is some pretty deadly stuff for your long-term health. This combination means fewer calories burned naturally, and more influence on your body storing fat. Which for most women will be around their mid-section; that stubborn lower belly fat.

 

Changes to your lifestyle

The likelihood is that your life is probably a lot busier and stressful in comparison to your early twenties. 

Less sleep, or bad quality sleep as well as other commitments which do not allow for you to be exercising like a spring chicken? Or perhaps increased amounts of stress are causing you to overeat, or lean into that glass of wine of an evening time? 

All of these individually and together will contribute to your menopause symptoms, and in particular any weight gain during menopause.

All of this has to do with your hormone balance and cortisol…more on that later.

Weight gain, or developing a menopause belly during this life stage does not mean you are failing at life, your health or letting yourself go. Often, this happens without our lifestyle changing whatsoever. Be kind to yourself and remember that help is out there.

What does menopause belly look like?

Key characteristics of menopause belly:

  • Your body may change to more of an apple shape
  • Visually, you can see more fat around your mid-section
  • Your lower belly fat increases and in some women their bellies may begin to hang
  • Your waist size is bigger than before (you may notice you need bigger trousers or clothes)
  • You suddenly develop love handles or a muffin top

Your waist circumference increasing tells us that your subcutaneous fat (fat underneath the skin) and visceral fat (fat around your organs) have increased. This is a sign that your risk of cardiovascular disease and other health issues has increased.

Examples of menopause belly:

 

How to reduce belly fat during and after menopause – Our Expert Tips

Get better sleep

Easier said than done, we know.

But good quality and quantity of sleep is the key to solving many of your menopause issues, especially when trying to control weight gain during menopause and helping to prevent belly fat during menopause. If you can’t get quantity, then aim for quality.

As explained above, much of the issue with getting menopause belly is due to hormone imbalance. Working on improving your sleep will begin to restore hormonal stability.

Tips for getting better sleep during menopause

  • Aim for 7-8 hours sleep per night
  • Make getting a good sleep a holy ritual. Guard this time like your life depends on it!
  • Make sure your bedroom is cool and avoid wearing pyjamas that will trap heat
  • Avoid looking at your phone, iPad, or watching TV at least 30-minutes before you go to bed

Stay active with exercise

Staying active is essential for managing your weight gain during menopause. 

Research shows us that because of the decline of estrogen, hormonal changes, and the natural aging that occurs during menopause, you’re more likely to store fat around your midsection. Queue the menopause belly coming out of nowhere!

 

Thankfully, research also tells us that one of the best ways to combat this is with exercise—specifically strength training and regular movement.

Leading women’s health researcher Dr Stacy Sims says strength training triggers hormones that increase abdominal fat burning.

Bare in mind that keeping active will look different to everyone. 

 

Ideas for keeping active during menopause

 

Remember that any exercise or physical activity that you do, has to work for you and your lifestyle. 

You may be interested in: Strength Training during Menopause: How, why, and the benefits 

Start addressing your stress levels

Managing stress isn’t just about feeling better, it is vital for addressing weight gain during menopause. Stress and its hormonal effects significantly affect how and where your body stores fat. 

During stressful times, your body releases cortisol, the stress hormone that has the power to disrupt the delicate balance of other hormones – including those involved in menopause. High cortisol levels lead to increased fat storage in your midsection. Releasing cortisol is a natural process that is designed for survival, but is highly likely to be contributing to your menopause belly if your stress levels are chronically high.

 

How do I manage stress during menopause?

There are many ways to manage stress and cortisol levels. Here are some suggestions:

  • Incorporate at least one relaxation practice into your everyday routine. Think: deep breathing exercises, meditating, or journaling. You may even fancy adding yoga to your weekly routine. Being intentional about these activities can help to reduce the hormonal effects of stress, lower your cortisol production and the impact it has on your body
  • Regularly do something that you enjoy. How long ago did you do something simply because you enjoyed it? Doing things that can bring you even the smallest amount of joy will help to alleviate stress. Carve out 45-minutes during your week to read a chapter of that book in the bath, make a thing of calling your best friend on the way home from work the same day each week, whatever it is, do it
  • Arguably the most important of them all. Seek professional support if you need it. If you are finding that your stress levels are unmanageably high or affecting your daily life, you need to speak with a professional about this. No amount of keeping quiet and waiting for it to go away will make it go away any sooner. You could benefit from speaking to a counsellor or therapist to help address that thing, and begin to manage your stress. In some cases, medication is necessary and can make the world of difference, so be open to that too

Make some adjustments to your diet

Adjusting your diet is a powerful way to combat menopause belly and enhance your health during this life stage. Here’s how you can tweak your eating habits to better support your body during menopause:

  • Load up on the vegetables! Fill half of your plate with vegetables (ideally as much variety as possible throughout the week) that are vibrant and full of different colours
  • Where possible, prioritise whole and unprocessed foods. Get rid of anything 0-calorie and lean into more whole foods wherever you can. Lean protein sources, fruits and wholemeal/wholegrain options. These foods are nutritious but will also maintain your energy levels throughout the day.
As a rule of thumb, anything growing underground, on a tree, or on a vine would be ideal for managing your nutrition and menopause weight gain
  • Reduce refined sugars and processed carbohydrates. As much as possible, you want to avoid spiking your blood sugar levels too high, too regularly, sending your hormones into a frenzy and contributing to fat storage around your middle. Sweets soft drinks, 0-calorie anything…ditch them!

  • Increase your fibre intake. As many as 90% of UK adults aren’t eating enough fibre each day; with fibre being essential for good digestion and helping you to feel fuller for longer, this is an essential part of gaining weight during menopause. Having a diet high in fibre can also reduce bloating over time, and therefore reduce the size of your menopause belly.

You may be interested in: Menopause and Phytoestrogens – Could this be the key?

Medical and Surgical Interventions

Lifestyle changes alone may not entirely address the challenges of menopause-related weight gain, and if it is something that you are particularly worried about, you could consider other interventions:

Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT)

HRT is a medical treatment for managing a variety of menopause symptoms, one of which may be addressing your weight gain during menopause. HRT is not suitable for everyone, and you will need to be assessed by your Doctor to see if HRT is appropriate for you. Only then will it be prescribed.

Will taking HRT help with menopause belly fat?

Provided that you are a suitable candidate for HRT, it certainly has the potential to help with menopause-related weight gain and manage the fat deposits around your midsection. 

HRT and the right lifestyle changes where necessary are a recipe for successful menopause weight management!

Non-Hormonal Medications

For women who cannot or choose not to use HRT, there are non-hormonal options that can also support weight management during menopause. 

You must have this conversation, and explore the options with your Doctor. There are medications that can help regulate your appetite and better improve your insulin resistance, but they require medical supervision.

 

Surgical Options

In some cases, surgical interventions may be considered for substantial weight loss or for more cosmetic reasons.

  • If you are someone who is suffering from severe obesity and has been battling your weight for many years, your Doctor may recommend bariatric surgery. This is very rare, however. 
  • Some cosmetic options can help with stubborn areas of fat that will not shift even with the appropriate lifestyle interventions, such as liposuction – but this is not recommended for weight loss and is not available through your GP.

 

What now?

That is probably an information overload. If you’re starting to feel overwhelmed and like you need to do all of these at once in order to get rid of the hormonal weight gain around your lower tummy area…stop right there!

One thing at a time. 

That is the secret to weight loss and fat loss during menopause.

The likelihood is that you’re probably already doing some of what is mentioned in this article. If so, great! Mentally tick them off your list and keep going with whatever it is. 

If not, pick one thing to work on and start from there.

And pick one that you can work on pretty easily. At this point, you don’t need to be making any huge investments. 

Keep working at your chosen point. Once you notice it becoming a habit or things starting to change, pick up another. Do not overload yourself!

Small changes over time, add up to big results.

Remember that you’re in charge of your menopause journey. You have the power to address your menopause symptoms, and you absolutely can do something about your menopause belly!

References

Where we got our information for this article

References
References Dugan, S. A., Everson‐Rose, S. A., Karavolos, K., Avery, E. F., Wesley, D. E., & Powell, L. H. (2010). Physical activity and reduced intra‐abdominal fat in midlife African‐American and white women. Obesity, 18(6), 1260-1265.

Giannini, A., Caretto, M., Genazzani, A. R., & Simoncini, T. (2018). Menopause, hormone replacement therapy (HRT) and obesity. Current Research in Diabetes & Obesity Journal, 7(1), 12-18.

Isenmann, E., Kaluza, D., Havers, T., Elbeshausen, A., Geisler, S., Hofmann, K., … & Gavanda, S. (2023). Resistance training alters body composition in middle-aged women depending on menopause-A 20-week control trial. BMC Women’s Health, 23(1), 526.

Lovejoy, J., Champagne, C., de Jonge, L. et al. Increased visceral fat and decreased energy expenditure during the menopausal transition. Int J Obes 32, 949–958 (2008). https://doi.org/10.1038/ijo.2008.25

MacDonald, H. M., New, S. A., Campbell, M. K., & Reid, D. M. (2003). Longitudinal changes in weight in perimenopausal and early postmenopausal women: effects of dietary energy intake, energy expenditure, dietary calcium intake and hormone replacement therapy. International journal of obesity, 27(6), 669-676.

Stacy Sims and Selene Yeager. Next Level: Your Guide to Kicking Ass, Feeling Great, and Crushing Goals Through Menopause and Beyond.

Sternfeld B, Dugan S. Physical activity and health during the menopausal transition. Obstet Gynecol Clin North Am. 2011 Sep;38(3):537-66. doi: 10.1016/j.ogc.2011.05.008. PMID: 21961719; PMCID: PMC3270074.

Wietlisbach, V., Marques-Vidal, P., Kuulasmaa, K., Karvanen, J., & Paccaud, F. (2013). The relation of body mass index and abdominal adiposity with dyslipidemia in 27 general populations of the WHO MONICA Project. Nutrition, Metabolism and Cardiovascular Diseases, 23(5), 432-442.

https://www.bda.uk.com/resource/fibre.html

https://www.drstacysims.com/blog/want-to-burn-belly-fat-lift-weights

https://www.metagenicsinstitute.com/blogs/menopause-abdominal-fat/

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