Belly fat reaches a new high during midlife, it even gets its own name, midlife spread. For most women in midlife one of the most traumatic changes is the change in body shape. The tummy starts growing out of the blue and the waist line becomes a distant memory. Pear and upper triangles body types become apples. There are different types of belly fat. If you are asking why does this happens and what can one do about it, keep reading.
We can blame it all on hormones and certainly they play a role, but there can be many other causes or contributing factors. Although most abdominal fat requires the same advice to eliminate it: healthier eating, more movement and less stress, there are some differences between the different types of belly fat or abdominal fat require more than the conventional advice, specially during perimenopause and menopause.
Let’s take a look at the different types of belly fat and potential solutions for each type. Let’s keep in mind that excess fat always requires eating a healthier diet.
Lower body fat
This type of fat can be hormone-related or inactivity related. Even very skinny people can have it. Usually this type of body fat is more common before perimenopause and menopause.
Excess estrogen can play a role in this type of belly fat, but inactivity, too much sitting, and poor posture are more common as well as a combination of these factors.
What can you do about it?
- Eat a healthier diet and drink plenty of liquids.
- Try not to sit down for long periods of time
- Workout and try to add more activity to your life. Try exercises to strengthen your core.
- Cut down on sugar and dairy
- Watch your posture during the day. Try to sit correctly and stand up straight, lightly contracting your tummy
- Try to move during the day
Belly fat that looks like pregnancy
This fat can be common during midlife. It tends to be firm and it can have many causes. This can be hormonal body fat, and is not directly linked to estrogens but to cortisol and/or insulin. It is very common in people with insulin resistance.
This type of tummy fat is directly related to high stress levels (physical and emotional) and high sugar and/or alcohol consumption. This type of belly can also indicate liver problems such as fatty liver; this is the reason it is associated with alcohol consumption. Read about thyroid and weight gain
What to do to lower this type of belly fat?
This type of fat is the most damaging type because it is directly affecting the vital organs and it’s the result of a combination of unhealthy habits. To lower this type of belly fat, the keys are stress management and toxin elimination. You can accomplish it with these recommendations:
- Lower stress levels
- Sleep at least 7 hours a night
- Lower alcohol and carbohydrate consumption
- Make sure you are eating only healthy fats
- Try to eat only healthy animal products
- Avoid regular dairy
- Avoid commercial baked goods
- Eat enough omega 3
- Lower or eliminate caffeine intake
- Try to eat healthy most of the time. Be careful following any diets that will contribute to more stress in your life. The best way to eat is to follow anti-inflammatory guidelines
- Try to include activities to relax, such as participating in sports, yoga, dancing, arts, walks in nature, etc.
- Be kind to yourself
- Workout, but avoid workout stress such as running too much, boot camps, CrossFit, competitive apps, etc.
- If you have a religion, pray, ask for help and leave it to God; if not you can practice meditation. The bottom line is to relinquish control, worry and other emotions that generate stress, anger and sadness.
- Observe yourself to identify allergies such as those from foods, molds, pollen and others. These are physical body stressors that can cause thyroid problems.
- Remove or lower toxins from your life such as regular cleaning products, cooking at high temperatures with Teflon, etc.
- For some people, a paleo or keto lifestyle for a short period of time can be very beneficial. For me the answer was intermittent fasting and you can follow this way of eating for long time.
Upper tummy fat (AKA love handles)
This is pure fat and an active lifestyle and healthy food in the right amounts can correct it.
Hormonal belly fat
During menopause and perimenopause, we are very likely to accumulate belly fat. This is the result of lower estrogens and higher cortisol. It can be solid fat as in the previous case or loose fat all over the tummy area.
To eliminate this type of belly fat there is no one size fits all cause, because there are many causes. Usually it comes with other body changes such as bigger or smaller breasts, bigger back and in some cases, smaller butt.
In general, to improve this situation we need to bring more balance to our hormones, lowering stress and making sure our thyroid is doing its job. To accomplish this we need to strengthen the liver, adrenals and thyroids. You can read this article where I have more detailed information on menopausal belly fat.
You can read more on why we gain weight during perimenopause and menopause
This is fake belly fat. You get up in the morning with a flat tummy and this keeps growing as the day progresses. This is caused by gases and/or liquid retention and not by fat accumulation.
The next question is why does it happen? There are many reasons, though, the most common one is food intolerances. There also can be digestion issues caused by stress, illness or allergies.
What to do?
- Do an elimination diet to identify if you have allergies
- Eat slower, chew your food very well; this improves your digestion
- Avoid drinking large amounts of liquids during meals. Warm or lukewarm liquids are better than cold liquids.
- Lower stress
- Ayurveda can be very effective to treat and correct these digestive issues
This is the tummy that comes out of nowhere and it is loose. If you are gaining weight and it is mostly going to the tummy, but you feel that you are eating the same and having the same level of physical activity and you are in midlife, this is probably hormonal weight. Read why this happens
However if the fat is solid, and hard in very few cases, it can be related to conditions that need medical attention so you should see your doctor.
What not to do when you are experiencing hormonal belly fat
- Don’t worry, there is a lot you can do to reduce your tummy. Think of a growing tummy as a messenger, telling you to watch out because something may need more balance in your body.
- Avoid extreme diets. If you have a lot of weight to lose or if you suspect that you may be insulin resistant then a Paleo or Keto diet can be appropriate for some time. But if you are experiencing many other menopausal or perimenopause symptoms, for most people it is better to start eating healthier and do some light intermittent fasting. There has to be a balance between weight loss and stress reduction.
- Remember joy. Joy is very important in our lives, joy makes our body healthier and contributes to hormonal balance. Look for joyful activities outside food. Make your food delicious.
- The main thing you can do for your health is to cook at home from scratch. If you use some organic ingredients even better, but just eating home cooked meals will make a difference in your health.
What about liposuction
It certainly works, but it is a surgery and you have to consider it carefully. However, if the weight comes back (the person gains the weight back) some of the fat will go directly on top of vital organs. Most people who have liposuction end up gaining back the weight, because they haven’t learned a healthier, happier lifestyle.
During perimenopause and menopause it is important to pay attention to the hormones and try to balance them because if not, they will also cause other issues, the tummy is only one of them. Perimenopause and menopause are a good time to recalibrate our bodies to have a healthy second half of our lives.
What about hormonal replacement therapy (HRT)
HRT and BHRT will help control tummy or abdominal fat while taking the hormones. You can read this article about HRT and BHRT. I personally will still recommend lifestyle changes to avoid other problems and to develop a tummy as soon as the hormones are stopped. Read more about HRT and BHRT
Learn more about how to be healthy during menopause and avoid symptoms: BLISS in Menopause