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Menopause and Belly Fat


If you’re of a ‘certain age’, you know what I’m talking about when you hear those words. It seems, no matter how hard we try, we cannot lose that ring right around our middle. I’m an active personal trainer, on my feet most of the day, consistent with my workouts, and I’m still frustrated by it!

So why do we get it and what can we do about it?

In a nutshell, as we reach menopause both our estrogen and our metabolism decline. The two are connected. Estrogen contributes to metabolism slow down.

When estrogen levels drop after menopause, we tend to gain visceral fat in our abdominal area. Visceral fat is deep down, out of reach and pads in between our abdominal organs. It is responsible for a variety of health problems, (much more so than subcutaneous fat, which is the kind you can grasp with your hand) - cardiovascular disease, breast cancer, type 2 diabetes…

Declining estrogen levels also affect our ability to sleep. Studies link sleeping less than five hours a night to abdominal weight gain. Sleep also increases the stress hormone, cortisol, which also increases the tendency to store fat in the abdominal area. Lack of sleep also impacts our hunger hormones, increases appetite, craving for

unhealthy foods (high calorie and high fat) and the tendency to overeat.

Loss of estrogen has also been linked to us becoming more sedentary. We all know that moving less increases the risk of weight gain, especially if we don’t adjust our food choices and portion sizes. But it also contributes to sarcopenia – which is age related loss of muscle mass. Muscle mass is vital to increasing our metabolic rate – the rate at which we burn calories, even at rest. This contributes to weight gain, including around the middle. Even if we’re active, loss of muscle mass is a byproduct of aging and our calorie burn is decreased.

What can we do about it?

First of all, exercise. Both cardio to burn calories (400-500/day) and weight training to increase muscle mass thereby increasing metabolism – meaning we’re burning more calories even when we’re resting.

Be aware of portion sizes and make sure they’re reasonable and compatible with your metabolism and activity level. Make sure you’re getting enough fiber to help you feel full and stay feeling full.

Be conscious of mindless eating. When people start paying attention, they are sometimes amazed at how many calories they consume with snacks and beverages.

Make sure you’re getting enough quality sleep. Turn the temperature down, make sure the room is dark and sound free, and try not to eat within a few hours before bedtime, so your body is not working to digest food when it’s supposed to be at rest.

Good luck and let me know if you have other questions. I’d love to help!


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Karen Marcouiller

Personal Trainer and Health Coach

National Sports and Conditioning Association (NSCA)

American Council on Exercise (ACE)

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