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“Meno belly” is real – and here’s what works to get rid of it

Reviewed by Dr. Mary James, ND

Finding it difficult to button up your favorite jeans? Midsection weight gain (aka “meno belly”) in perimenopause and menopause is real – and frustrating. It often feels like this stubborn weight just isn’t going anywhere, no matter how much you diet or exercise. 

But here’s the secret: when you deal with the underlying hormonal imbalance driving this weight gain, your body can finally let go of this weight – and you can look and feel the way you want!  

Dr. Mary James, ND, one of our Women's Health Network experts, gives her tips for losing "meno belly" fat in her new video. Watch it now -- or read the video transcript below for her easy steps.

[This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.]

If you are dealing with “meno belly,” the nickname for stubborn weight that often shows up around a woman’s midsection during perimenopause, I am here to help you understand why this is happening — and more importantly what you can do to lose this weight. 

Belly fat’s hormonal connection 

Perimenopause and menopause are stages of major flux in a woman's hormone levels. Estrogen may be dropping but also spiking. In this state of imbalance, hormonal or metabolic imbalances that were once simmering invisibly on the back burner can start making themselves known. 

One of estrogen's actions is to deposit fat onto your hips. As estrogen levels decline, that signal can weaken and fat deposition shifts to your abdomen, resulting in an expanding waistline. Sometimes this happens without weight gain — it’s more about body fat redistribution. If you were pear shaped as a younger woman, you might become more apple shaped as you age. 

Chronic stress feeds belly fat

Some underlying triggers for this weight shift may be out of our control, but other aspects are very much within our control. One factor that we can influence is stress. Belly fat contains receptors for cortisol, our body’s main stress hormone. When we're stressed our adrenals release cortisol and this stimulates these belly fat receptors — resulting in the formation of even more belly fat. 

Constantly feeling stressed out may seem like the norm in today's fast-paced society —but that does not mean that it's healthy. To tame your cortisol levels, do whatever works for you to slow down and de-stress: unplug, delegate, meditate, stretch and relax. Taking a high quality adrenal supplement also helps to support balanced cortisol levels.

Keep in mind that stress can also be physical, mostly due to inflammation. Chronic inflammation alone can make it hard to lose added weight because it inhibits some enzymes that normally break down fats in the body. So, get some help to optimize your health and tackle inflammation. Take care of gut imbalances and other inflammatory conditions, like thyroid disease or hashimoto’s. Slowing of your metabolism, weight gain and trouble losing it commonly go along with low thyroid function.

These issues may not produce symptoms until you hit menopause, so it's a good idea for any woman hitting menopause to get her thyroid function checked, including thyroid antibodies, especially if there's a family history of thyroid problems. [Take our Thyroid Quiz to learn more about your thyroid health.]

Insulin resistance is a trigger for meno belly weight gain

Insulin resistance can also contribute to weight gain. If your insulin receptors have become less sensitive to insulin, you can have higher levels of blood sugar and lower energy and also increased disease risk for diabetes and cardiovascular problems. Chronic stress and abdominal fat can encourage insulin resistance. This results in higher insulin levels that can make the body more easily turn calories into fat — even if you're dieting. 

The good news is you can do something about insulin resistance. Strength training to build muscle also boosts your metabolism and makes those insulin receptors more sensitive, helping you to lose weight. Ever notice how men tend to lose weight more easily than women? It's because they have more lean muscle mass.  

Sleep your way to weight loss

Finally, how much sleep are you getting at night? Is perimenopause robbing you of sleep by causing night sweats and making you wake up at odd hours of the night? Is your system still too wired at bedtime to get into sleep mode, or are you simply just not getting to bed early enough to get seven or eight hours of sleep? 

A chronic sleep deficit — whatever the cause — can promote weight gain. This is because of the effects that sleep has on two hormones that regulate appetite. When you get enough sleep your body releases leptin, a hormone that controls appetite. Not enough sleep means a bigger release of ghrelin, a hormone that literally makes you crave junk food!

You may feel like you just have lousy self-discipline when in fact it's your body chemistry that's making it more difficult to eat healthy and to know when to stop. Whatever it takes, really try to make sure you get enough sleep at night. 

Crash diets don't work -- here's what does

You've probably noticed that crash diets don't work — the weight just comes right back again. The problem in perimenopause is that weight loss is more complex than "calories in/calories out" but that doesn't mean that you can't change your metabolism and lose unwanted pounds.

When your hormones are out of balance in perimenopause, balancing your hormones and optimizing your overall health are virtual requirements for losing unwanted weight and belly fat. A healthy diet and lifestyle and specific medicinal herbs and nutritional supplements can all help you get there. 

Just because that fat hasn't budged lately doesn't mean that it won't when you try a different approach!

Want even more new ideas for stopping hormonal weight gain? Read our article: Demystifying perimenopausal weight gain.

Last Updated: August 9, 2021

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