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Let’s talk belly fat.
You may have noticed that as you’re getting older, you’ve been putting on more fat around your midsection. Yes, the way that it looks and the way your clothes fit now can be frustrating, but this type of fat could also be killing you without you realizing it - and unfortunately, all the typical ways of going about fat loss that you’ve tried in the past probably won’t work here with this kind of belly fat. We’re going to dig in to all of that right now.
Visceral fat vs. subcutaneous fat: what’s the difference?
- Visceral fat is fat that is found deep within your abdominal cavity. It surrounds important organs, including your stomach, liver and intestines. You can’t pinch and grab and visceral fat.
- Subcutaneous fat is the fat just below your skin - the type you can pinch and grab.
- Visceral fat is far more dangerous to your health.
- The leading cause of death in postmenopausal women is cardiovascular disease. And increased body fat around your middle, especially this visceral fat, is one of the major contributors to cardiovascular disease.
- Not only that, but women with higher amounts of visceral fat are also showing higher amounts of memory loss, dementia and even alzheimers
- Having excess body fat in general on your body can actually intensify certain menopausal symptoms, like hot flashes and mood disorders.
So all that to say, we have lots of great reasons to work on reducing fat mass, far more than just how it looks.
Why are women in midlife more susceptible to gaining visceral fat?
- Postmenopausal women have a much greater tendency for body fat being distributed more centrally around your middle.
- In fact, in post-menopausal women visceral fat my increase to 15-20% of your total body fat, as compared to premenopause, when it may have only been 5-8% of your total body fat.
- Your hormonal situation determines where excess fat gets stored.
- When you have a situation where high levels of cortisol and insulin meet up with low levels of estrogen/and or progesterone and higher amounts of testosterone, you have the perfect recipe for storing belly fat.
- What’s important to understand is that menopause itself does not seem to substantially influence weight gain. However, it creates the perfect environment for this.
Here’s your Belly Fat Plan of Action
Now that you understand how much your hormones are involved with the visceral/belly fat, you’re going to need to take a slightly more unconventional approach than you’ve perhaps considered.
1) Be a stress managing ninja.
- Why does this work?
- Visceral fat and stress go hand in hand. And when you combine higher stress hormones with lower estrogen production, your body is far more likely to store excess energy in the form of fat in your belly region.
- Estrogen and progesterone both oppose the fat storing action cortisol has on the belly.
- If you’re simply not stressed out, and you don’t have chronically elevated levels of cortisol in your body, the likelihood of your lowering estrogen levels still depositing excess fat in your middle goes way down.
- Make a point to do 2-3 things every day that ratchets down your stress levels, whether you feel like you need it or not
- Breathing exercise
- Go for a walk outside
2) Become a better sleeper.
- Why does this work?
- In a study of more than 68,000 women, those who slept 5 hours or less gained more weight than those sleeping more than 7 hours every night.
- Being sleep deprived reduces your insulin sensitivity and increases your corisol production, a bad combination for women with lowered estrogen/progesterone.
- Start by evaluating your current sleeping routine and see if you can make even the slightest improvements
- Things that impact your sleep:
- Alcohol before bed
- Taking too long of a nap earlier in the day
- Being stressed
- Consider hormone replacement therapy. It can significantly improve your menopausal symptoms like lowered mood, hot flashes and night sweats… all things that negatively impact your ability to sleep.
3) Eat like a healthy person.
- Why does this work?
- For two reasons:
- Obvious reason: Consuming excess calories will lead to excess energy in the body that needs to be stored somewhere
- Not-so-obvious reason: Foods that are high in sugars, starches and processed carbs and alcohol wreak havoc on your insulin production, and when you combine that with lower estrogen levels, you have the perfect storm for belly fat.
- Don’t try anything extreme
- Eat every 2-4 hours throughout the day (“if it’s a mealtime, eat. If it’s not a mealtime, don’t eat”)
- Aim for meals that are very high in protein and fresh produce. This is what we call “nutrient dense”.
- Avoid foods that are inflammatory & calorie dense - packaged/process
4) Move Everyday. Period.
- Why does this work?
- Guess what the number one cause of weight gain in midlife is? It’s a decline in physical activity.
- And this creeps up on you gradually over time. Your standards begin to simply lower.
- What happens? You have an injury. Kids are gone so they’re not getting you up and out of the house. You’re now only exercising twice a week, when 5 years ago, you were exercising 4 times a weeek.
- When you’re not as physically active, you begin to lose muscle mass, too.
- As your muscle mass decreases, your metabolism slows down and if you don’t change your food intake, any excess that you don’t need will get stored.
- It’s important to note that women who enter midlife with greater levels of physical activity and can actually maintain that, have a much lower tendency to gain weight.
- Move everyday. Period.
- “More Cardio” is NOT the answer.
- Muscle-stimulating/building work is your very best bet.
- A great pattern is strength training at a moderate/high intensity 2-3 days a week, buffered with low/moderate intensity recovery days in between.
- Build up to this.
It’s simple, but it can be challenging to be consistent with all four strategies.
When you bring together the combined hormonal & metabolic impact of all four components, you’re finally going to see that belly fat budge.
But if you don’t, and you ignore something on this list, the visceral fat is going to stick with you and even get worse. And it could kill you.
Real Life Stories
I know a fellow mom who has been struggling with gaining fat around her middle for the past 2 years. Over Christmas, she was telling me how she was really determined to finally do something about it, because it was starting to impact her health. She was experiencing severe digestive issues and her blood pressure was in a serious danger zone.
Her solution was to eat vegetarian. She had convinced herself that by switching to a fully plant-based diet, this would be the solution she was looking for.
While this is certainly not a terrible idea, eating a lot more plants will naturally cause you to eat fewer processed carbohydrates and processed meats, it’s just not the full picture. Knowing her personally, she’s always extremely stressed out and she very rarely makes time to exercise, maybe only once a week. Plus, she’s a night owl and stays up really late, not getting to bed until midnight or 1am.
In her situation, what would serve her best is to not focus quite so hard on the nutrition. That part came naturally to her. She needs to increase her physical activity and start exercising more, she needs to do stay on top of the stress in her life, and she needs to really make her sleep a higher priority.
The Big Takeaway
If belly fat and especially that visceral fat is a problem for you, you need to get serious about this. If you don’t make it a priority, it could kill you. But you CAN do something about it.
More Resources & Links
Need help getting started with a thorough routine that checks all the boxes? Click here for Megan’s Jumpstart 30 Program for Beginners
Back or hip pain standing in your way? Click here for Megan’s 30-day Back & Hip Fix program.
Episode 280. How To Combat Menopause Weight Gain and Belly Fat
Episode 258. Unlocking the Secret to Better Sleep
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