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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. 

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

The secret for how to get rid of menopause belly is actually fairly simple: you first need to address the underlying hormonal imbalance driving this weight gain. When you do, 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 and updated for clarity and extended information.]

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 the meno belly diet that does

You’ve probably noticed that crash diets don’t work — the weight just comes right back again. The reason for this when you’re in perimenopause is that weight loss is more complex than “calories in/calories out.” To be successful a meno belly diet requires the added step of focusing meals and snacks around foods that help restore and maintain hormonal balance.

Meno belly diet — six key ingredients

  1. Cut the sugar. 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. Sugar is a trigger for for hormonal imbalance, so keep it to a bare minimum in your diet by eliminating sugary processed foods which are notorious for containing large amounts of added sugar as well as unhealthy fats that also harm hormones. If you’re craving something sweet snack on a serving of fresh fruit. Apples, pomegranates and cherries are considered superfoods for hormonal health because they contain hormone-friendly compounds that can improve hormonal balance — and satisfy your sweet tooth.
  2. Eat foods that lower inflammation. As you go through the menopause transition, increasing oxidative damage throughout the body can trigger chronic inflammation. Science tells us again and again that there’s a direct link between chronic inflammation and difficulties with shedding excess weight. You can stop this chain reaction and protect your body from oxidative stress by increasing your intake of antioxidant-rich foods. These include: broccoli, spinach, carrots, artichokes, cabbage, asparagus, avocados, beetroot, radish, lettuce, sweet potatoes, kale, nuts and even dark chocolate.
  3. Fill your meno belly diet with fiber. When your body is a state of hormonal balance it is making hormones in the correct ratios, but it is also metabolizing and excreting these hormones to keep the entire endocrine system humming along. To help promote healthy estrogen metabolism, eat more fiber. As studies have shown, high fiber diets promote healthy estrogen levels by helping the body to excrete excess amounts of the hormone. This is especially important for women with estrogen dominance. High fiber foods include dark green veggies, brown rice, oats, millet, root vegetables and seeds.
  4. Pack enough protein. Eating protein provides your body with amino acids, which in turn function as the building blocks of hormones, including estrogen, insulin and thyroid hormones. Protein in meals and snacks also helps to stabilize insulin levels, leading to more even energy levels throughout the day (something that makes sticking to a diet a little easier). To support healthy hormonal balance, aim to eat about 20-25 grams of protein at every meal and about 10-15 grams with a snack.
  5. Eat for symptom relief. Foods rich in iron and calcium can be helpful for relief of mood swings, hot flashes and other common menopause symptoms. When you have fewer menopause symptoms, you can get enough sleep (without hot flashes keeping you awake!) and better support your body in losing weight. Meat, fish, eggs, beans and lentils are good sources for both these nutrients. Foods to exclude or limit because they can trigger hot flashes and other symptoms include alcohol and caffeine.
  6. Supplement with medicinal herbs. Certain herbs and other plant medicines have been used for centuries to effectively balance women’s hormones, especially during perimenopause and menopause. These aren’t your usual culinary herbs, so to reap the benefits, look for herb-based nutritional supplements that can address your particular mix of hormonal symptoms.

How to get rid of meno belly with exercise

The good news is that losing a meno belly doesn’t require long, strenuous workouts. In fact, working out at too high an intensity can stress the body and trigger added cortisol production. The best forms of exercise for shedding meno belly fat are those that energize the body and work muscles at a more moderate level. Here are some exercises to try:

Walking. As simple as it gets, going for a brisk 20-30 minute walk on most days of the week is a cardio workout that relieves stress, gently works your muscles and lifts your aerobic output, helping you burn calories and belly fat. You can walk indoors on a treadmill, but try to get outside. Sunshine’s added Vitamin D boost helps your body maintain hormonal balance.

Yoga. Practicing yoga helps to calm your mind and reduce cortisol. It’s also a great whole body exercise for core muscle toning and balance.

Swimming and water aerobics. If your knees and other joints tend to hurt during exercise, try swimming and water aerobics. The buoyancy of water takes pressure off your joints, giving you the ability to exercise without pain. Plus, the added resistance of water gives your workout more muscle-strengthening power.

Strength training. Engage in exercises that focus on the major muscle groups — your arms, legs and core. Try a strength-training exercise like Pilates or hit the gym for a more traditional workout with weights. Regular strength training can help you reduce body fat, strengthen your muscles and burn calories more efficiently.

With so many approaches to try, here’s the encouraging message: just because that meno belly 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: November 15, 2022
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