Belly Fat and Perimenopause

Perimenopause vs. Your Waistline: Winning the Belly Fat Battle

Pot belly. Paunch. Gunt. Middle Aged Spread. Spare Tire. Whatever you want to call it, belly fat and perimenopause  are far-too-often common companions for many women. One day, you’re going about your business, and the next, you wake up with the dreaded muffin top pouring over your favourite jeans. This is because perimenopause frequently triggers shifts in how and where your body stores fat. 

And unlike the more evenly distributed fat of earlier years, perimenopausal women tend to accumulate more visceral fat, the kind that surrounds internal organs within the abdomen. This visceral fat is associated with metabolic issues like diabetes and an elevated risk of cardiovascular issues.

Understanding the factors contributing to changes in body fat distribution during perimenopause is important. Because this knowledge empowers you to make informed lifestyle choices. Tweaking your diet, shaking up your exercise routine, and finding your zen can make a world of difference.  There are easy ways for you to effectively manage the accumulation of belly fat and support your overall well-being during perimenopause. And we’re here to to show you how. 

Understanding Perimenopause and Belly Fat

But first, a little more information on belly fat… 

Hormonal Changes and Fat Distribution

During perimenopause, your body goes through significant hormonal changes. Levels of estrogen and progesterone fluctuate, leading to changes in where fat is stored. Research indicates that lower levels of estrogen might prompt your body to store fat in the abdominal area, rather than around the hips and thighs. This shift often results in increased visceral and subcutaneous fat in the belly.

Estrogen’s Role Weight Management

Estrogen plays a crucial role in regulating your body’s metabolism and fat storage. As perimenopause progresses, the decline in estrogen may disrupt your body’s normal weight management mechanisms. An article published on Springer suggests that changes in estrogen levels affect the accumulation of adipose tissue, impacting overall body fat distribution.

Subcutaneous vs. Visceral Fat

Understanding the types of fat is important in grasping how perimenopause affects your body. Subcutaneous fat is the layer of fat located beneath the skin and is less harmful than visceral fat. Visceral fat, on the other hand, wraps around your abdominal organs and is linked to various health issues. During perimenopause, you are likely to observe an increase in the amount of visceral fat, which is significantly influenced by hormonal changes and is a greater concern due to its association with health risks. Check out this video to learn more…

Factors Contributing to Belly Fat During Perimenopause

Understanding the factors contributing to belly fat during perimenopause can guide you in making informed decisions for your health. As your body transitions, various biological changes can increasingly affect your abdomen, including:

Aging and Metabolism

As you age, changes in your metabolism can contribute to an increase in belly fat. Metabolic rate naturally decreases, which means your body uses fewer calories for energy. This slower metabolism can lead to an accumulation of visceral fat, the type that surrounds your abdominal organs and is linked to metabolic health issues, including diabetes and heart disease.

Insulin Resistance and Weight Gain

During perimenopause, your cells might become less responsive to insulin, leading to insulin resistance. This condition makes it harder for your body to control blood sugar levels, often resulting in weight gain around the abdomen. Prolonged insulin resistance can increase the risk of diabetes and exacerbate the accumulation of belly fat.

The Impact of Stress on Cortisol Levels

Stress causes the production of cortisol, a hormone that can promote fat storage in the belly area. Your hormonal balance during perimenopause can amplify this effect, making stress management crucial for maintaining hormonal health and reducing visceral fat accumulation.

The Effects of Sleep Disturbances

Sleep disturbances, which are common during perimenopause, can interfere with your body’s ability to regulate appetite-controlling hormones. This disruption can lead to overeating and an increase in belly fat. Good sleep hygiene is essential for maintaining a healthy weight and reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease and other related health issues.

Health Risks Associated with Increased Belly Fat

Increased belly fat, particularly visceral fat, can lead to significant health challenges, including: 

  • Diabetes: Research shows a strong link between the accumulation of belly fat, insulin resistance and the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
  • Heart Disease: Studies show that people with too much fat around their midsections and vital organs (visceral fat) are at increased risk for heart disease and repeat heart attacks. 
  • Metabolic Health: Visceral fat around your abdomen can be very troublesome. It releases inflammatory substances that can lead to insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, and, eventually, heart disease and stroke.
  • Hormonal Imbalance: Belly fat can disrupt the delicate balance of hormones in the body, which can have a negative cascading effect on your overall hormonal health.

Measuring Your Middle

Waist Circumference:

To gauge your risk related to belly fat, measure your waist size. Follow these steps:

  1. Stand and place a tape measure around your middle, around your belly button.
  2. Make sure the tape is horizontal around the waist.
  3. Breathe out and check the measurement without tightening the tape.

Why It Matters:

  • Tracking Changes: Regular measurement helps track increases in visceral fat.
  • Health Assessment: A waist size greater than 40 inches for men and 35 inches for women is typically considered indicative of a higher risk of health issues associated with belly fat.

What to Do About Belly Fat

So now what?  The best place to start addressing perimenopausal belly fat is your lifestyle. Here are five easy things you can do to start:

1. Diet 

Fiber is a nutrition superstar when it comes to combating belly fat. Aim to include a variety of fiber sources in your diet, such as:

  • Fruits: apples, berries, oranges
  • Vegetables: broccoli, leafy greens, carrots
  • Whole Grains: oatmeal, quinoa, whole grains
  • Legumes: beans, lentils, chickpeas

Limiting sugar and refined carbohydrates can also help regulate your insulin response and decrease fat accumulation. Instead, focus on getting adequate protein, which can keep you feeling full longer and maintain muscle mass.

2. Exercise

Regular physical activity is crucial. You should strive to include both aerobic exercise like walking, cycling, or swimming, and strength training in your routine. Strength training is particularly important, as it helps maintain muscle mass, which naturally declines with age. Aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous activity each week, plus strength training on two or more days a week.

3. Sleep 

Don’t underestimate the power of good sleep. Aim for 7-9 hours of quality sleep each night. Sleep impacts hormone levels that control hunger and appetite; poor sleep can increase cravings for unhealthy foods leading to increased belly fat.

4. Manage Stress

Stress management can significantly impact your weight. High stress leads to increased cortisol levels, which can cause the body to store more fat. Find stress-reduction techniques that work for you, such as yoga, meditation, or deep breathing exercises.

5. Reduce Alcohol

Be mindful of your alcohol consumption. Alcoholic beverages often contain hidden calories and can contribute to weight gain, especially around the abdomen. If you choose to drink, do so in moderation.

Can HRT Help to Reduce Belly Fat?

HRT can be an effective treatment for perimenopause and menopause, by replenishing levels of  estrogen and progesterone. However, HRT does not specifically target belly fat. Some studies looking at the relationship between fat distribution and coronary risk factors indicates that HRT might play a role in managing abdominal fat, but more research needs to be done. 

Remember, if you considering HRT, it’s essential to discuss the benefits and risks of HRT  with your healthcare provider. 

If HRT is right for you, it’s still not a standalone treatment for perimenopause belly fat. It should be used in combination with our five lifestyle pillars, diet, exercise, sleep, stress management and reducing alcohol to manage your weight during this phase. 

When to Seek Medical Support

During Perimenopause and menopause, your body undergoes so many changes that can affect your health. It’s important to understand when these changes warrant medical attention. Here’s a few things to watch for:

Fasting Glucose:
Keep an eye on your fasting glucose levels as they can indicate pre-diabetes or diabetes.

Blood Pressure:
Regular monitoring of your blood pressure is vital. 

Lipid Profile:
Be aware of your cholesterol levels. Low HDL cholesterol or high triglycerides are indicators that you should seek medical advice.

Abdominal Obesity:
If your waist circumference is over 35 inches (88 cm), this is a sign of abdominal obesity, a risk factor for metabolic issues.

Other Warning Signs to Call Your Doctor:

  • Persistent fatigue or feelings of being unwell that don’t resolve with rest.
  • A sudden increase in waist size that isn’t linked to overeating or lack of exercise.
  • Notable shifts in mood or cognition, such as persistent feelings of depression, anxiety, or memory issues.
  • Experiences of severe hot flashes that interfere with daily life or sleep patterns, which may be a symptom of hormonal imbalances during perimenopause.

If you experience any of these symptoms or if your regular health checks show changes in the markers mentioned, don’t hesitate to reach out to a healthcare professional. It’s essential to address these concerns early to maintain your overall health during this key life stage.