Belly Fat...How to Tackle It?


Many women (and men) notice after age 45 that fat seems to accumulate readily around the waist. What does the science tell us about peri-menopausal and menopausal belly fat? What are the hormonal shifts that occur during this changing time?

Belly fat, increases during peri-menopause and menopause. Abdominal fat is biochemically different and more metabolically active than fat stored in other areas. That means preventing or reversing belly fat is not just a vanity project, it’s an important step in managing a woman’s overall health because abdominal fat has been linked with insulin resistance, (also known as weight loss resistance), impaired glucose control, (or high blood sugar) and overall higher cardiometabolic and breast cancer.

I’m often asked, “Marlyn, how can I get rid of my belly fat?

It is important to know how changes in sex hormones interact with other endocrine systems and also with nutrition and lifestyle choices.

Top five hormonal changes associated with the menopausal transition.

1. Changes in estrogen: Menopause is often framed simply as the loss of estrogen. Between age 35 and 45, most women are beginning to experience hormonal changes. During this time reduced progesterone coupled with high and erratic estrogen occurs. Estrogen declines but in relation to diminishing progesterone - creating an imbalance in the estrogen-progesterone partnership. With declining progesterone, estrogen is left unchecked and out of balance.

2. Cortisol: Cortisol excess can manifest as increased fat mass and metabolism disturbances such as insulin resistance (or weight loss resistance.) Declining estrogen levels during menopause can have a knock-on effect on cortisol formation. Higher cortisol contributes to estrogen dominance and belly fat.

3. Insulin: Fat cells accumulating in the abdomen ate linked with insulin resistance. The pro-inflammatory markers produced by abdominal fat interferes with insulin signaling. This results in insulin resistance where cell response to insulin is lost, which creates a cycle where greater production of insulin is required to manage blood glucose levels. Insulin is a gatekeeper of metabolism, and rising insulin levels can set off a chain reaction that ultimately leads to a cycle of weight and abdominal fat gain.

4. Leptin: Leptin is the put-down-your-fork hormone, the one that tells you when you are full. Elevated insulin levels eventually lead to elevated leptin. Consistently elevated leptin levels lead to a dysfunction of leptin receptors and they stop sending signals to the brain to tell you to stop eating – this is called leptin resistance. High intakes of refined carbohydrates have been linked with its development.

5. Thyroid hormones: Thyroid hormones, which regulate how quickly we burn calories and maintains our metabolism, can become unbalanced with age. An under-active thyroid can lead to symptoms including weakness, fatigue, and weight gain.

What can be done?

Below are steps YOU can take today to begin modifying and managing your hormones:

1. Make changes to dietary intake. Remove foods, like gluten, dairy, and refined sugars, as these pro-inflammatory foods contribute to inflammation in the body. Add in foods rich in antioxidants which promote detoxification. Eliminate (or reduce) alcohol which robs you of deep sleep and lowers metabolism by more than 70% for 24 hours.

2. Add more movement to the day. Sitting is the new smoking. Approximately 35 chronic diseases and conditions are associated with sedentary behavior and make people more prone to gain body fat. High-intensity interval training (HIIT) is effective at reducing abdominal fat, as well as improving insulin sensitivity and building muscle. In addition to HIIT programs, practicing yoga is excellent for reducing stress hormones.

3. Support reparative sleep. A primary step to losing belly fat is to get enough sleep and to make it quality sleep. Studies have repeatedly shown links between sleep duration and the risk of obesity and central belly fat. People sleeping 7-8 hours/night have been shown to accumulate less visceral fat mass than those sleeping for 6 or fewer hours/night. Sleep debt leads to changes in leptin and other hormones related to satiety, greater feelings of hunger, dietary indiscretion and poor food choices, as well as reduced physical activity and insulin resistance. In other words, getting that solid sleep needs to be a priority. As well as sleep quantity, sleep quality is associated with higher belly fat.

Join us at PROJECT RADIANCE/ LA where we’ll be diving into all these topics and more!!!

NOTE: This article was inspired and adapted from an article written by Sara Gottfried, MD and Annalouise O’Connor, PhD.

Marion Hebert