Losing post menopausal belly fat

Losing post menopausal belly fat

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.

Water retention

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.

Losing post menopausal belly fat

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.

Conclusion

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!

Elder Strength

 

21 comments

  1. Thanks for the detailed post. I have just hit the menopause weight gain and its all in the wrong spots. I tried spot reduction, seems to do the opposite! Will reduce those carbs. Its hard after 5 decades of consumng carbs without the stagnating weight.

    1. Thanks for the comment Zikora! Definitely try combining strength training with slightly reduced carbs. There is no need to remove them all together from your diet. The strength training will create a better hormonal environment for storing the energy from carbs into muscles instead of fat. If you reduce the excess carbs your body will tap into the body fat for energy while building muscle.

  2. Thanks for the great post. I’m a pescatarian any particular tips in terms of diet?
    Also I’m a yoga teacher and the thought of doing weight training doesn’t appeal to be honest, any alternatives to weights you could suggest please?
    Huge thanks
    Samskara

    1. Glad you found the post useful Sherraine and sorry for the late reply. Fatty fish combined with green vegetables is actually on of the most hormonally beneficial and healthy meals you can eat so that’s my recommendation. Eat carbs reasonably but don’t leave them out completely. Yoga is actually a very good form bodyweight weight training but it depends on your workouts if it can completely replace actual strength training. If you get your muscles sore ever and have to really engage your core and leg muscles, it’s very likely enough for health. You can also include a super fast strength routine you can do couple of times a week in addition to yoga. A set or two of bodyweight squats, a and a set of push-ups for example. Doesn’t take more than 10 minutes. You can check out my free strength training program for ideas.

  3. Hello, I retain water now in post menopause. I never retained water before menopause. MENOPAUSE SUCKS! IT CHANGES EVERYTHING FOR THE WORSE! NO ONE PREPARES YOU FOR ALL OF THIS! SO MUCH TIME AND RESEARCH IS SPENT ON PREGNANCY BUT HARDLY NO TIME OR EFFORT ON MENOPAUSE WHICH CAN LAST FOR 10YEARS!! – PREGNANCY LASTS 10MONTHS! COME ON WE NEED MORE ON THIS STAGE OF LIFE. WE WILL BE LIVING IT FOR 30-40YEARS!!!

    1. Sorry to hear that you are having a hard time with menopause Carolyn. Keep in mind that your body is master in adaptation, it just needs time to get used to the new hormonal environment. It’s true that menopause causes significant changes in your hormones that can have some unwanted health effects like fat gain, loss of muscle mass and osteoporosis. However, you need to keep in mind that in biology everything is for a reason. Menopause is a natural part of aging and while I’m not a doctor it’s my understanding that reduced estrogen levels will protect you from breast cancer and other hormonal cancers to a degree. So you can look at it as a trade off that allows you to live a longer healthier life if that helps.

  4. I’m 48 and haven’t had a cycle in 3 years. Over the last 2 years I’ve put on about 10-12 pounds, seemingly all in my belly.

    I read things like what you’ve posted, but I’m struggling to find “how to” for food. I have seven kids and am constantly on the run. I can make life changes, but I need to know what those should be.

    1. Sorry to hear about your situation Sonja. The good news is that 10 to 12 lbs is nothing, so you can definitely lose it in a short time frame! The problem is “how to” for food is that everyone’s needs are different. Your basal metabolic rate, your activity levels, possible food allergies, preferences etc.

      It doesn’t really matter what kind of a diet you follow as long as it’s balanced, i.e. has enough protein, fats and carbs and vegetables for nutrients. Then it’s just about the amount. If you already have a balanced diet, the only thing you need to do is to reduce the amount of food slightly to lose 10lbs over a few months. Since you have 7 children, I presume you cook your own food. Basic home food with enough vegetables is a good start.

      It’s important to do some form of strength training while losing weight, especially after menopause, because this helps you maintain your muscles mass so the weight is reduced from your fat stores. Without strength training and sufficient protein intake, it’s very likely you will lose significant muscle mass since your hormonal profile after menopause doesn’t support maintaining muscle mass otherwise.

      If you want to read about different kinds of diet options, check out my posts about nutrition: https://elderstrength.com/category/nutrition/

      Hope this helps!

      1. Thank you.
        I have full access to weights, etc. My husband has a well-stocked home gym. Here I’ve been doing cardio my whole life and didn’t realize I’ve been doing it wrong the last few years restricting calories and pumping up the cardio. 😳

        I’ll look into the diets. Thank you.

        1. That’s actually a very common misconception people have about weight loss and it was actually the common recommendation in programs and magazines in the past. But in the past couple of decades science has made it very clear that when you are losing weight, you will lose muscle mass unless you perform some form of strength training and get enough protein. Your diet dictates the rate of weight loss and your exercise routine dictates where it’s lost. So a slight caloric surplus combined with strength training will guarantee that you loose most of the weight from your fat stores instead of your muscles.

          Great to hear you have an access to a good home gym! It’s also great that you have someone there to teach you the basics. Don’t be afraid to use heavier weight once you learn the movements, you should be doing work with weight you can lift for about 5 to 15 repetitions with good form before failure.

  5. Enjoyed the articles but to the person who chose a 20-ish body to portray weight loss for a middle age lady sucks. It’s hard enough on us with body image without having to compare our body to that of a young person. I wonder when the day will come that pictures used in ads will actually reflect the article? Obviously, this one does not. My guess, it was chosen by a man who read the content as female = weight loss= wrong target group

    1. You know what Sandra, you’re absolutely right. The picture was from a stock photo service that didn’t have pictures of the right target audience. I’ll see if I could find a better match. For the record, I encourage everyone to focus on having a healthy and functional body over looks.

      1. Thank you so much! This info speaks to me in a way I can relate to and understand. Chemo put me in menopause at 46 and 7 years later I’m still dealing with all of the symptoms including changes with my skin and hair as well as weight, energy and body fat. This article was very helpful and succinct. I feel as though I have a chance as I don’t have to totally give up a food group or start working out 2 hours a day. For an exercise adverse, carboholic, I appreciate that very much. I don’t feel defeated before I’ve started. I’ve been fasting through breakfast and eating a lot of canned tuna in water. Have seen the weight gain slow, but the belly fat stays. I clearly need to try a different path. Feeling your advice will provide a positive outcome for the first time in years. I hope!

        1. Glad you found the article useful Julie! Menopause definitely makes losing weight harder but the good news is that the basic principles still apply. Eat less than you burn and do strength training to increase and maintain muscle mass. Many women find it hard to lose weight after menopause because their metabolic rate slows down and our diets are just full of high-calorie foods. The problem here is that if you only need for example 1400 kcal to maintain weight, you can’t really cut much from that because you are already getting little nutrients. That’s why I recommend controlling fat and processed carb intake, you can eat a lot more with fewer calories and get more nutrients if you choose the right foods. Mainly vegetables, high fibre carbs, lean proteins and fruits. Combination of cardio and strength training will help to compensate for the reduced metabolic rate. Good luck with your weight loss! I know someone who has successfully lost about 20 lbs of fat after menopause just by eating healthy and jogging several times per week this spring so it can be done!

  6. I have struggled with my weight my entire life. I would lose weight then gain it back. Finally a few years ago, i lost 45 pounds and kept a lot it off until menopause, then it piled on, plus more! I have hypothyroid too which is a double whammy. Do I embrace my weight (as much as I hate it) or do I continue to fight a battle that may already have the outcome predetermined negatively? I hate my excess weight. Is there any other thing i need to know for hypothyroid weight loss too? Thank you for your article. It makes a lot of sense.

    1. Sorry to hear about your struggles with your weight Jamie! Fat loss after menopause is definitely and uphill battle, but it’s important to try and keep your bodyweight at a healthy number. That doesn’t mean you should strive for the same weight you were in your youth though. Underactive thyroid coupled with menopause will make your weight loss attempts pretty much futile, so it’s very important to get that sorted out. I can’t naturally give you medical advice, so this is something you need to discuss with your endocrinologist. Keep in mind that you can always lose weight simply by eating less, but with your current situation, it might actually make things worse because you can end up losing significant amounts of muscle mass, which will further reduce your metabolism. So definitely start by getting the hypothyroid situation sorted out. Good luck!

  7. I am 55 and post menopausal. I have been doing a low carb lifestyle for quite awhile and I’m not seeing the results I used to. I can not lose my belly for the life of me. The problem with me doing strength training is I have physical limitations with both arms. Multiple surgeries so I jus feel stuck and frustrated. Any advice?

    1. Sorry to hear about your situation Sherry. Fortunately, there is always something you can do. The truth is that losing fat after menopause becomes increasingly difficult but it’s still a matter of eating less. The problem is that this can end up in losing muscle and malnutrition if your consumption is low to begin with. The good news is that you can train your legs effectively even if your arms have physical limitations, bodyweight squats and leg press are both great for this. Just simply adding low-impact activities like walking is very beneficial for fat loss so I recommend you do that as well. Good luck and don’t lose the hope! Just be consistent and do a few tweaks here and there and monitor your progress, the results will come.

  8. Thank you for the very informative article and your encouraging comments! I am a 59-year-old female, 130 lbs, and I have really noticed the loss of strength recently. In the article, you recommend getting around 30%-40% of calories from protein. Assuming a target of around 1800 calories per day, am I right that this would translate to about 135-180 grams of protein per day? When I look at my typical diet, I get probably 60 grams of protein on a good day! Do I really need to double or triple that? (Also, most of my protein is from red meat and dairy, exactly as you advise against, so I’ll need to sort that out as well!) Thanks for your guidance.

    1. Glad you found the article useful Ann! It’s impossible to give individual diet advice over the internet, so I would actually recommend talking to a nutritionist or a qualified trainer to go over your diet in detail. Your math is correct for the protein, although the 1800 calories seem a bit high for fat loss for a 130 lbs woman unless you are very active. Protein helps spare muscle loss during a caloric deficit and helps with recovery from strength training. That said, it’s not probably necessary to eat more than feels comfortable to you, especially from sources that might have negative health effects. You would probably benefit from increasing it from the 60 g to around 100 g for example. Hope this helps!

      1. Thanks! 100 g of protein per day sounds doable, and if I add the new protein by eating more eggs and fish and legumes, that will reduce the proportion from red meat and dairy to less than 50%, so that’s a start. I guess I used 1800 calories per day for the calculation because I always see 2000 calories per day on the nutritional information on package labels, so I thought a little less than that would be about right. But if that’s still too high, then I should go less. I don’t actually count calories, so I don’t know how many calories I am eating anyway. My weight has always been stable at 115-120 lbs my whole life; it’s just in the last few years that it has crept upward.

        I’ve already started increasing my protein intake, and it’s so satiating that the feeling of wanting to eat again an hour later is mostly gone! So it seems like it’s meeting a need that was going unfulfilled, which tells me it’s a good change to make. (Plus it will make it easy to eat less other stuff so that I lose rather than gain weight.)

        Now to start lifting heavier things, so the extra protein goes where it belongs!

        Thanks again for your guidance and encouragement.

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