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How to Beat Meno-Belly!

You've probably heard that women gain weight around menopause, you might even have heard of the dreaded... meno-belly... but, is it real? Are you actually stuck with weight gain, or is there something you can do about this?

Do I Have More Belly Fat? (and WHY?)

You're not going crazy - weight gain around the midsection is a hallmark of menopause for many women - even those who have been avid gym goers throughout their life. Reduced levels of estrogen after menopause can cause fat to be stored around your waist rather than on your hips and thighs. In postmenopausal women, belly fat accounts for 15 to 20% of their total body weight, compared with 5 to 8% in premenopausal women.

Unfortunately, belly fat is also associated with some negative health outcomes. Known as visceral fat, it can be a contributing factor in heart disease, type 2 diabetes, breast cancer, dementia, and increased vasomotor symptoms (such as hot flashes).

Why is it Harder to Lose Weight?

Aside from an increasing waist line, weight loss in general becomes more challenging as we age, but why? There are several factors that contribute to this, both mental and physical.

  1. Loss of muscle mass - On average, women aged between 45 and 55 years gain around a pound per year. As you get older, you lose muscle mass, which slows your metabolism and causes weight gain. So if your diet doesn’t change, you are likely to gain weight.
  2. Lifestyle changes - increased menopause symptoms like sleeplessness and low mood can make it harder to get motivated to get to the gym, as well as making us more inclined to reach for sweet treats and junk when we need a boost!
  3. Aging - as we get older, we are more susceptible to injury - especially given the risks of osteoporosis. In fact, during menopause, women experience an increased rate of bone loss of 3% to 5% per year for 5 to 7 years. This means injury can prevent activity, be it gym, gardening, or just enjoying life!

Does Estrogen Make Me Lose or Gain Weight?!

There is no black and white answer for this; Estrogen promotes the storage of fat for healthy reproductive years. When estrogen is balanced, the right amount of fat helps carry out female reproductive functions. However, when there's too little or too much estrogen, weight gain often results.

What this means for you, is that getting your hormones BALANCED is key - and not just estrogen, but progesterone, and testosterone too. Hormones in balance help ensure optimal metabolic functioning, meaning weight gain is less likely.

What About BLOAT?!

High estrogen and low progesterone levels can lead to water retention and bloating. Estrogen often acts as a fluid retaining hormone, while progesterone is a natural diuretic. Therefore, when these hormones are thrown off balance, you may notice bloating. The solution to this is typically balancing hormones, and often, that can mean adding in some progesterone. Remember, when you first start taking hormones there may be some bloat that occurs as the body readjusts to the presence of hormones; this is normal, and typically resolves in 6-8 weeks.

What Can I DO About It?

There are lots of things you can do about this, though the majority of them are lifestyle changes:

  1. Eat a diet high in fruits, veggies, and whole grains, and low in processed/refined foods and sugars. You can read more about this here.
  2. Exercise - specifically, weight bearing exercises. Building muscle mass not only helps metabolism overall, weight bearing exercises help to strengthen bone and prevent against osteoporosis.
  3. Move more - as well as exercise, think about incorporating in hobbies that include movement, such as dance, gardening, pickleball, or golf.
  4. Make a diary - we are often unaware of what foods go into our bodies and when. Intermittent fasting has become popular as it stops mindless snacking, but in general, greater awareness over what we eat is the key part.
  5. Destress - cortisol is a key culprit when it comes to hanging onto excess weight, and it can disrupt sleep and mood, which then leads to things like snacking or reaching for unhealthy treats. Find ways to destress by meditating, massage, socializing, or whatever else helps you unwind!
  6. Check your thyroid and your hormones - if your body is out of balance, all these things will help, but not as much as you'd like them too. You can end up feeling discouraged and stressed out, when in reality, you need to make adjustments to your hormone levels.
  7. Check your meds - Be aware that weight gain is a common symptom of many medications, and this is something to be aware of! Whilst you may be able to change meds, oftentimes you can't, so knowing that you may have this side effect can be important for your mental well being.

Does Anything Else Help?

Consider using some of the hormone DHEA as part of your hormone health. DHEA (Dehydroepiandrosterone) is the mother hormone from which testosterone and estrogen flow. Studies show that women who use small amounts of DHEA are more likely to see a decrease in waist circumference and an increase in energy. Decreasing waist circumference is important for reducing visceral fat - that fat that builds up around your organs and causes oxidative stress damage. More energy means you have the enthusiasm to start or continue your exercise routine and your healthy lifestyle strategies.

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