All you older ladies reading this know that losing post-menopausal belly fat can feel hard or almost impossible. Today we will talk about why that is and look for a few tips on how to get rid of postmenopausal belly fat.
As you go through menopause, some significant hormonal changes happen in your body that greatly affect your ability to use body fat for energy and increase its storage. I will talk more about that in a moment.
The same hormonal changes will also affect your muscles and bone health, so it’s important to do your best to counteract them.
Menopause can also lead to decreased activity which can further worsen then situation.
So let’s look at what it is exactly that menopause does to a woman’s body and what causes belly fat in females over 50.
Menopause, hormones, and fat
In menopause, the function of the ovaries deteriorates and eventually stops. This leads to a reduction in production estrogen which also affects the levels of progesterone and testosterone. This change in hormones has significant effects on your health and ability to burn body fat.
Technically you enter menopause when you have your last natural spontaneous periods. On average the menopause happens between the ages of 45 and 55 but there is natural variation from 40 to 60.
The most typical symptoms from the hormonal changes of menopause include sweating and hot flashes. Sleep disturbances are also very common.
Depression, mood swings and lack of motivation are also possible mental effects of menopause. Reduced estrogen and testosterone levels naturally affect libido and lowered libido is very typical.
Menopausal belly fat is linked with testosterone, estrogen, and progesterone. All of these hormones have important function in your metabolism. They keep your muscle mass at youthful levels and help you keep active. They also directly affect how your body uses nutrients.
Essentially after menopause, your body is primed to lose muscle mass and to store fat.
Loss of muscle mass is natural as we age and menopause exacerbates the problem with these hormonal changes.
During menopause, your estrogen levels can fluctuate. Fluctuations and high levels of estrogen are associated with water retention. Water retention can mask fat loss and make you look a lot heavier than you really are.
The good news is that once you are post-menopause your estrogen levels will be low. This will likely lead to less water retention. This means that all the fat you can grab on your midsection is likely just that, fat.
You should see this as a good thing since its faster to see the real effects of fat loss when they aren’t masked by monthly water retention.
The bad thing is that all the fat you see is really fat. You can’t take water retention supplements or drugs to lose 5 pounds overnight.
How menopause affects metabolism
The combination of reduced steroid hormones (estrogen, testosterone, and progesterone) and reduced muscle mass can greatly affect your metabolism post-menopause.
Animal studies have shown that estrogen also appears to control body weight directly through appetite, physical activity and resting metabolic rate.
Lab animals eat more and move less when estrogen levels are reduced. Possibly the same mechanism is behind weight gain with women after menopause.
There are some studies that have shown increased resting metabolic rates in postmenopausal women receiving estrogen replacement therapy.
Lack of estrogen can also affect how your body utilizes energy from carbs like starches and sugar since it can affect insulin sensitivity.
There are other age-related factors to contribute to weight gain and the ability to lose fat. As you age you are less likely to exercise and be active. This directly affects how much energy you consume.
You also lose muscle mass which lowers your resting metabolism and ability to utilize nutrients. This also affects the amount of energy you consume negatively. The same amount of exercise you did in the past now results in fewer calories burned.
Three tips for losing postmenopausal fat
Tip 1: There is no spot reduction
Hate to break it to you ladies, there is no such thing as spot reduction. Doing ab crunches to lose fat around the midsection is nonsense, no matter what the commercials say.
Where we store our fat is determined mainly by our genes, sex, and age. Hormones affect it to an extent but genes are what dictates it. Men typically store more fat in the belly while women carry most in the legs, breasts, and stomach.
In general we humans carry most of our fat on the chest, belly, glutes, and legs because of it closest to our center of mass and it has some useful uses there like providing cushioning, insulation and mating signals.
So getting rid of belly fat means getting rid of BODY fat. You might lose it somewhere else first or simultaneously but it requires you to lower your overall body fat. The good thing is that all the body fat you lose is a step towards a healthier life.
So if someone claims they can cure your bulging belly with a device or news exercise, you can rest assured its a scam. Every legit program aims for an overall fat loss instead of spot reduction.
Now let’s look at tips on how to actually lose the body fat to get rid of the belly fat.
Tip 2: Weight training
Because of the hormonal profile of postmenopausal women, there are two things that exercise needs to accomplish. The first is that it needs to maintain or increase muscle mass.
Muscles are our motors and energy burners. They also store energy in the form of glycogen.
When you can’t store energy in the muscles, your body will store it as fat. The other thing we need to accomplish to support that energy storage is an increase in insulin sensitivity and anabolic hormones.
The most effective way to achieve these goals is through weight training. The higher the intensity, the better. In this case, intensity means weight.
Moving heavy weights gives your body a signal on a hormonal level to start producing anabolic hormones like growth hormone and testosterone to adapt to the demand. This will lead to more energy being used and stored in muscles and increased use of body fat.
I know right now you might be thinking about manly looking female bodybuilders or anorexic fitness models. Rest assured that moving some heavyweights for health will not result in bulging muscles, especially in postmenopausal women.
If you are a 15-year old lean male with exceptional genes and a good appetite this might be the case but adults, in general, don’t have to worry about things like this.
Large muscles and low body fat are the result of years of high-intensity weight training with a perfect diet at young age. Actual competitive professional female bodybuilders, that look manly, are always on steroids. Always.
It’s simply impossible for females to build that kind of physique without anabolic drugs. The same goes for most male bodybuilders and even YouTube fitness stars.
Tip 3: Low carb diet with a slight caloric deficit
The fact is it’s impossible to lose fat without a caloric deficit. The postmenopausal hormonal profile is unfortunately not very anabolic (muscle growth inducing). This means that if you run a high caloric deficit you are at higher risk of losing precious muscle mass and other lean tissue and even your bone mass.
Because of the hormonal changes and high body fat, insulin sensitivity will be low. This means that when your blood glucose is high your muscle cells won’t be able to store the glucose as glycogen as readily and your body will prefer lipogenesis. This means storing excess energy as body fat.
This can even result in a situation where you are in a caloric surplus but because of your hormonal profile, you will lose muscle mass while increasing fat mass because your muscle cells can’t make use of all the energy. Talk about a bad deal.
The solution to this is two-fold. Increase the demand for energy in your muscle cells with high-intensity weight training like we talked about in the previous chapter AND reduce your blood glucose and insulin levels simultaneously.
The easiest way to lower your blood glucose and insulin resistance is by a low-carb diet. It doesn’t need to be a ketogenic diet (almost 0 carbs, where you go into ketosis) but you should keep your carbs as low as you can without feeling uncomfortable.
Once your physical fitness, strength, and body fat improves you can start slowly increasing your carbs if you feel like you are stalling in your workouts.
You should keep your protein intake moderate to high to encourage an anabolic environment for your muscles. Don’t go overboard with the protein though as it will also increase your blood glucose and insulin. 30% to 40%of your overall calories should be fine.
On a low-carb diet, fat will be your main source of energy. This should come from healthy sources like fatty fish, nuts, avocados, and olive oil. Egg yolks are fine in moderate amounts and the cholesterol in them is actually beneficial.
Dairy fat and red meat should be avoided as the research does show a high correlation with cardiovascular disease even though there are self-proclaimed experts out there that claim otherwise. I wouldn’t risk it.
For best results, you should count your calories, at least in the beginning to know what you are actually eating. You should aim for a fairly low caloric deficit of around 200 to 300 calories.
This will be sufficient to drive fat loss without causing loss of muscle mass if you do resistance training and eat enough protein. This will translate to a fat loss of around 0.5 – 1 lb every week or two. It’s slow, but it will be maintainable and healthy.
If you just want to eyeball it, you have a lot greater chance of failing. My best tip, in that case, is to eat the same meals every day and use the same size plates every time, and to weigh yourself every week. This way you can adjust the amounts you put on your plate according to your weight change. Beware that your weight won’t fall in a straight line but it will fluctuate.
Look for the trend, and don’t panic from small increases or if it stays the same for a few weeks. We are not machines and this is normal.
If you want a clear program for fat loss, check out my recommendation for the best weight loss program for seniors.
If you enjoyed reading these tips about losing post-menopausal belly fat feel free to drop a comment below.
Adding strength training to your exercise routine and changing your nutrition can feel like a daunting task but they are both very beneficial to your health and actually quite fun!
So don’t be afraid to try them and if you have any questions, you can ask them in the comments section below. We are more than happy to help!
If you are unsure how to start with strength training and a news diet, please bookmark the site. We will be adding content on those topics very soon.
See you next time!