One of the most common questions I get from women over 50 is what to do about an increase in belly fat. I understand the frustration. In this post, I explain why it happens and how to lose it.
Belly Fat over 50 Summary
- Menopause causes hormonal changes that decrease a woman’s resting energy expenditure and favors fat deposits around the waist
- Choosing low-glycemic foods and healthy fats can mitigate weight gain and control hunger
- Intermittent fasting is safe for women over 50 and effective at reducing waist circumference.
- Increased physical activity can accelerate results. For the most effect, combine aerobic and resistance exercises
Belly Fat in Women Over 50: Why It Happens | How to Lose It [Video]
In this video, you’ll learn…
- What causes belly fat in women over 50.
- The best diet for avoiding belly fat.
- Additional tips on intermittent fasting and exercise.
Menopause and Belly Fat
As we age, there are several factors that contribute to belly fat. Menopause is certainly a major factor, and that applies even if you are in the premenopausal stage of life.
When we were younger our ovaries were the major producers of estrogen for our bodies. In the years leading up to menopause, this major producer starts to shut down.
Estrogen production does not drop down to zero because we still get a small amount made in the adrenal glands and a more significant amount made by our fat cells.
The more fat that we carry after menopause, the more estrogen that we make. While you may think that more estrogen is good, this estrogen production is linked to postmenopausal obesity, which increases a woman’s risk of breast cancer (1).
The reduction in the sex hormones after menopause has also been shown to reduce a woman’s resting energy expenditure, which means that we burn fewer calories throughout the day than we did when our hormones were plentiful.
With this, we see that the sugar and refined treats that we used to seemingly get away with eating, now cause us to gain weight.
On top of that, we see that hormonal changes change the way that fat is stored on our bodies.
After menopause, a woman’s body tends to store a greater portion of fat around the waist, than it did when she was younger. The reason for this is not well understood, but many women, possibly you included, have experienced this shift in body fat.
How to Lose Belly Fat Over 50
We can put a lot of blame on our hormones, and unfortunately, we can’t turn back time and naturally rejuvenate our estrogen output. That does not mean things are hopeless.
Losing weight after menopause is certainly possible. We just need to work on the things that we have control over.
Choose Low-Glycemic Carbs
The thing to work on that is going to give you the most results is your diet.
I work with a lot of women who are over the age of 50. What I have found to be most effective is a diet that is focused on low-glycemic carbohydrates and healthy fats.
The glycemic index is a measure of how much a food will impact your blood sugar. By focusing on low glycemic foods you keep your blood sugar levels low, which in turn, keeps insulin levels low. This is important because insulin is a nutrient-storing hormone.
When it is high your body is storing nutrient energy in places like your fat cells. For the body to release fat from storage, insulin levels must be low.
When you look at foods found on the glycemic index, you notice that they are mostly plant-based foods. This is because plants are the foods that contain carbohydrates and therefore have the potential of raising your blood sugar level.
Many animal products like fish, eggs, poultry, and meats are not on the glycemic scale because they are essentially free of carbs.
Another thing that you’ll notice is that low-glycemic carbs tend to be high in fiber. The high fiber content slows down the absorption of food, which dampens the impact on your blood sugar.
You’ll be happiest with your weight loss efforts if you focus on whole, high-fiber carbs, like leafy greens and non-starchy vegetables, raw nuts and seeds, avocados, and berries. Beans are also low glycemic, high-fiber foods that can work their way into a low carb diet for some people.
Add Healthy Fats
Adding healthy fats is the other half of the diet equation. Healthy fats come from whole-food sources like avocados, nuts, seeds, wild-caught fish and high-quality, grass-fed meat and dairy products. Certain oils, like olive oil, avocado oil, and coconut oil have health value as well.
By the time we reach our 50s, we have gotten locked into a lot of our eating habits. If you are like me you were raised on the idea that a low-fat diet was the way to lose weight. However, allowing healthy fats into your daily diet has a number of valuable benefits.
For instance, all of our cells are surrounded by a fatty cell membrane. By including healthy fats and excluding unhealthy ones like soybean and other vegetable oils, you strengthen your cell membranes.
This strong boundary allows for the successful transport of hormones into your cells where they do their work. Another perk is that healthy fats are also very hunger-satisfying so cravings naturally diminish.
Practice Intermittent Fasting
Intermittent fasting is a simple timing strategy that splits your day between a distinct period of eating and not eating or fasting. There are many ways to do intermittent fasting, but I suggest that you start by narrowing the number of hours that you eat down to 12 hours.
For instance, stop eating at 7PM and do not eat again until 7AM. When you are comfortable with that level, narrow your eating window down to 8 or 10 hours.
Intermittent fasting has been found to be safe for women over the age of 50 and effective in helping women lose fat around their waist.
A review study published in 2016 showed that four weeks of fasting reduced total weight, body mass, index, and waist circumference, preventing metabolic disorders that are common in older women (2).
Exercise is another weight loss accelerator.
Many studies show that exercise is very good at improving insulin sensitivity, which a mark of how well your cells take in and use energy. The benefit was seen in both aerobic and resistance exercises with a maximum effect being seen when these two forms were combined.
Reaching the age of 50 and menopause set the stage for weight gain, but these factors don’t prevent weight loss. By limiting your carbohydrate intake to low-glycemic carbs, allowing healthy fats into your diet, practicing intermittent fasting, and adding physical activity you can turn the tide and lose menopausal belly fat.
Cleary, Margot P., and Michael E. Grossmann. “Obesity and breast cancer: the estrogen connection.” Endocrinology 150.6 (2009): 2537-2542.
Nair, Pradeep MK, and Pranav G. Khawale. “Role of therapeutic fasting in women’s health: An overview.” Journal of mid-life health 7.2 (2016): 61.
AbouAssi, Hiba, et al. “The effects of aerobic, resistance, and combination training on insulin sensitivity and secretion in overweight adults from STRRIDE AT/RT: a randomized trial.” Journal of Applied Physiology 118.12 (2015): 1474-1482.
Suh, Sunghwan, et al. “Effects of resistance training and aerobic exercise on insulin sensitivity in overweight Korean adolescents: a controlled randomized trial.” Diabetes & metabolism journal 35.4 (2011): 418-426.
About the Author
Dr. Becky Gillaspy, DC graduated Summa Cum Laude with research honors from Palmer College of Chiropractic in 1991.