Getting rid of menopausal belly fat starts with avoiding the foods that encourage hormonal weight gain and replacing them with the list of belly-fat burning foods.
Post-menopausal belly fat. It’s a problem for many women over 50. If you’ve reached this stage you’ve likely noticed that fat storage isn’t what it used to be.
During and after menopause you’ll find that pounds are more likely to cause a fat tummy and less likely to accumulate on your legs, hips and butt.
Special Note: Prior to menopause, PCOS is the most common hormonal problem for women. If you’ve been diagnosed with PCOS, learn how PCOS creates a perfect storm of hormonal issues that encourage belly fat.
What causes belly fat after menopause?
As a woman ages, hormonal imbalances cause a shift in fat distribution (1). Fat is now easily stored in the belly.
This newly bulging belly comes with a significant health risk. Stomach fat is “metabolically active” which means that it more easily releases fatty acids into the bloodstream. This increased blood fat increases the risk of heart disease in women over 50 (2).
Hormones and menopausal weight gain
Estrogen is the hormone that most of us blame for post-menopausal belly fat.
Estrogen is produced by your ovaries and by your fat cells. When menopause puts the brakes on estrogen from your ovaries, your body looks to your fat cells to keep it supplied.
So, after menopause belly fat helps your body make the estrogen it wants.
But, in the big picture of menopausal weight gain, estrogen is only part of the story.
Your Body Shape and Hormones
The spots on your body where you carry your most stubborn fat are determined by predictable hormonal imbalances.
For natural “pear-shaped” women who gain weight easily in the thighs and hips, fat distribution is ruled by excessively high estrogen levels, which is a condition known as estrogen dominance.
For natural “apple-shaped” women who easily gain stomach fat, another hormone called cortisol may have a strong influence on her shape (3).
Drop in Estrogen Changes a Woman’s Shape
The natural drop in estrogen levels after menopause, cause natural pears to store more fat in the belly area and less in the lower body.
Both pears and apples easily gain stomach fat during and after menopause when high stress, inactivity, and poor eating habits are present.
While you can’t turn back the hands of time on estrogen production, you can control some of the other hormonal imbalances that cause post-menopausal belly fat by reducing stress, getting adequate sleep, exercising, and most importantly changing the foods you eat.
How to Lose Menopausal Belly Fat with Diet
Getting rid of menopausal belly fat and correcting hormone imbalances involves three things:
- avoiding foods that encourage fat storage
- avoiding all-day grazing
- eating foods that encourage fat burning
Foods to Avoid for Menopausal Belly Fat
1. Packaged Low-Calorie Diet Foods
Foods that are packaged and promoted as “diet foods” are often unhealthy, and rarely a helpful part of a weight loss diet. Diet foods reduce calories by doing one or more of the following:
- Low in calories due to small portions. Yes, you’re getting fewer calories, but the portion is not satisfying and could trigger cravings for more.
- Low in calories due to artificial sweeteners. While there are differing opinions on artificial sweeteners, there is some evidence that they are inflammatory foods, which increases stress on the body. There are also those that theorize that artificial sweeteners boost cortisol levels, which in turn leads to belly fat. Additionally, low-calorie sweeteners have also been linked to insulin resistance, which is a common cause of weight gain (4)
- Low in calories due to replacing fat with sugar. Fat gives food a satisfying flavor, so when it’s removed from a food, something equally satisfying needs to take its place…enter sugar. Sugar has fewer calories per gram than fat, so it reduces the overall calorie count of the food, but the food is just as fattening…
2. Sugar and Refined Carbs
The refining process removes fiber from food. Without fiber, there is nothing to slow the absorption of sugar into your bloodstream.
This high blood sugar level must be cleared out quickly, which is why most of it is dumped into fat cells.
Belly Fat & All-Day Grazing
Do you grab snacks all day long to satisfy your hunger? If so, this practice could add belly fat.
A few years ago, many in the diet arena promoted five or six small meals throughout the day to reduce your weight. As it turns out, this advice may promote fat storage, not fat loss.
Think of movement in and out of your fat cells as the tide you observe when you visit the beach. A tide either moves in or moves out, never both at the same time.
The same thing happens in your body. You are either storing fat or removing it. The deciding factor has a lot to do with your eating schedule.
When you eat a meal, sugar enters your blood. That sugar causes insulin to be released. When insulin is high, fat is stored, and not burned (i.e. the tide is moving into your fat cells, not out).
When you fast, your blood sugar level, and therefore your insulin level is low, so fat is able to leave the fat cells. By fasting at night, you can create a 12-hour time-restricted eating pattern that speeds fat loss.
Menopausal Diet Plan
You can actively encourage belly fat burning by selecting better foods.
Naturally low in calories and high in nutrients and fiber, vegetables help to stabilize blood sugar levels, which eliminates the high insulin levels that promote fat storage.
2. Whole food fats
Foods, such as nuts, seeds, and avocados block fat storage by providing the right mix of healthy fats, protein and fiber.
3. Chia seeds and flaxseeds
These weight loss foods lower blood sugar and encourage fat burning.
This tasty seasoning improves insulin sensitivity, which lessens the belly fat storage caused by high cortisol levels.
5. Dark Chocolate
To keep your diet interesting, you can choose dark chocolate, which is lower in sugar than regular chocolate and keeps cortisol levels in check making it less likely for fat to build on at your waist.
The key to enjoying chocolate as a healthy treat is to choose the right type and don’t overdo it.
Healthy dark chocolate contains 70% or higher cocoa content. Even though dark chocolate has health benefits, too much will ruin weight loss, so stick with a square or two as a small dessert.
6. What about alcohol?
According to the North American Menopausal Society, moderate drinking is acceptable.
“Midlife and older women who drink moderately have a lower risk of becoming obese than nondrinkers.”
To stay in the moderate range, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAA) recommends that you drink “no more than seven drinks per week and no more than three drinks on any single day.”
This is how the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAA) defines one standard drink (5):
- 5 fluid ounces (one glass) of wine (about 12% alcohol). Don’t let your wine glass fool you—most hold much more than 5 ounces.
- 12 fluid ounces (usually one can or bottle) of regular beer (about 5% alcohol)
- 1.5 fluid ounces (one-shot) of distilled spirits (about 40% alcohol)
I recommend that members of my program abstain from alcohol initially. After a pattern of weight loss is established, they can experiment with adding alcohol back into their diet. I suggest starting with no more than 3 drinks a week as they monitor their weight to make sure it’s still dropping
Bottom Line…It is possible to lose weight after menopause
If you’re at the age of menopause, and you’re finding it hard to control your growing belly, then you want to get your hormones working for you.
The foods I’ve listed above are a great starting point, but if you’ve struggled with putting a complete plan together to successfully fight menopausal belly fat, then I encourage you to look into my Weight Loss Coaching Program.
The program is ideal for perimenopausal or menopausal women over 40 who want a sane approach for overall weight loss.
More articles on Women and Belly Fat:
- Women with Too Much Belly Fat Have This In Common
- Why Increased Belly Fat is a Problem for Women over 40
- Dr. Becky’s Favorite Belly Fat Fighting Foods
- Losing Weight Over 50-How To Get Thin Now That Life Has Changed
(1) Davis, Susan Ruth, et al. “Understanding weight gain at menopause.” Climacteric 15.5 (2012): 419-429.
(2) Hernandez-Ono, A., et al. “Association of visceral fat with coronary risk factors in a population-based sample of postmenopausal women.” International journal of obesity 26.1 (2002): 33.
(3) Daubenmier, Jennifer, et al. “Mindfulness intervention for stress eating to reduce cortisol and abdominal fat among overweight and obese women: an exploratory randomized controlled study.” Journal of obesity 2011 (2011).
(4) Nettleton, Jodi E., Raylene A. Reimer, and Jane Shearer. “Reshaping the gut microbiota: Impact of low calorie sweeteners and the link to insulin resistance?.” Physiology & behavior 164 (2016): 488-493.
(5) “What Is A Standard Drink?” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 9 Oct. 2019, https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/what-standard-drink.
Dr. Becky Gillaspy, DC graduated in 1991 with a Doctor of Chiropractic degree from Palmer College. She has worked as an on-air health consultant for a local ABC TV affiliate and spent most of her professional career teaching a range of college courses from Anatomy to Nutrition. She now works full-time helping people reach their health and weight loss goals through her website and YouTube channel.