Ladies, you know the drill: mood swings, hot flashes, night sweats, and weight gain. Menopause brings a host of unwelcome changes, and it's never easy to navigate. But did you know that there's a direct link between menopause, stress, and belly fat? Yes, you read that right. And I'm not here to tell you to give up carbs or start running marathons. Instead, I'll share some tips and tricks on how to outsmart the hormonal game and win the battle against the bulge.
Menopause, Stress, and Belly Fat
First things first, let's talk about stress. Hormonal changes during menopause are linked to mood swings, irritability, and anxiety. When we experience stress, our body releases cortisol, the notorious stress hormone. Cortisol sends a signal to our brain that we're in survival mode, and it urges us to stock up on calories for the long haul. This mechanism might have been useful for our ancestors, but it's not doing us any favors in today's society of abundance and desk jobs.
To make things worse, cortisol also disrupts our sleep patterns, which, in turn, affects our metabolism and hunger hormones. Studies have shown that women who sleep less than seven hours per night are more likely to gain weight, especially around the belly area. So, if you're tossing and turning and waking up groggy, it's time to prioritize your sleep hygiene. Turn off the screens, dim the lights, and create a peaceful bedtime routine that will help you unwind and relax.
Relaxation, Stress and Cortisol
Another way to combat the stress-belly fat connection is by practicing mindfulness and relaxation techniques. When we're stressed, we activate the fight-or-flight side of our nervous system, called the sympathetic nervous system. In this state, our breath becomes shallow, muscles contract, and our mind races. By focusing on our breath - or simply slowing down the rate at which we breathe - we can activate the parasympathetic nervous system, also known as the rest-and-digest side. This shift calms down our body and mind, lowers our cortisol levels, and reduces our cravings for sugar and comfort foods. Other ways to activate the parasympathetic side of our nervous system is to practice restorative yoga, meditation, going on a peaceful walk, reading a relaxing book or doing anything else that you perceive as relaxing.
Menopause + Weight Gain
Now, let's talk about weight gain during menopause. As we age, our metabolism slows down, and we lose muscle mass - something called sarcopenia. The amount of muscle we lose year-over-year is significant but not profound. You can do a lot to compensate for the loss. Strength training, for one, is an excellent way to offset muscle degeneration. You don’t have to life extremely heavy weights, but you do need to stress your muscles.
As metabolism shifts, it’s a good idea to be conscious of unhealthy snacks and empty calories. Unless your body can use it, really think twice about eating it. Usually when women’s metabolism changes, there is the knee jerk reaction to cut calories dramatically. Doing this actually stresses your body out. Instead, focus on high quality calories that offer your body nutrition.
Instead of cutting out entire food groups or counting calories obsessively, focus on eating a balanced and varied diet that includes plenty of protein, healthy fats, and whole grains. Eating plant-based is always a healthier way to maintain hormones throughout menopause and beyond.
If you have my menopause meal plan, fantastic! Stick with it. This meal plan has changed the bodies of the women who follow it. If you don’t have it, download the Menopause Meal Plan here.
The key to remember is that your body didn’t change dramatically overnight. The bodily changes that come with menopause happen over months or sometimes years. That being said, you don’t need to make dramatic shifts in your diet if you’re already eating fairly healthy. Make small changes, stick with them and see what works best for your body and your body’s hormones.
Menopause + Belly Fat
Lastly, let's address the elephant in the room: belly fat. It's no secret that menopause can lead to an increase in abdominal fat, which not only affects our appearance but also our health. Visceral fat, the fat that surrounds our organs, is linked to insulin resistance, inflammation, and chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease. But don't despair, as there are ways to reduce belly fat without resorting to extreme measures.
First and foremost, prioritize strength training. As I mentioned before, muscle mass is responsible for a significant portion of our metabolism, and it declines with age. By lifting weights or doing bodyweight exercises, we can increase our muscle mass and tone our abs, glutes, and arms. But don't worry, you don't have to become a bodybuilder to see the benefits. Start with two to three sessions per week and gradually increase the weight and intensity.
Posture + Abdominal Muscles
Another way to tackle belly fat is by being mindful of our posture and alignment. For those of us who are sitting at a computer all day slouched over, we’re compressing all of our organs between our chest to our pelvis.This disengages our core muscles and pushes our belly out; we get weak!
By standing tall, engaging our core muscles, and pulling our shoulders back, we create space in our abdomen and strengthen our back muscles. Plus, good posture can boost our confidence and energy levels, which are always welcome during menopause.
Bottom Line: menopause doesn't have to be a doom and gloom period. Yes, it comes with its challenges, but by understanding the hormonal and metabolic shifts, we can make informed and empowering choices. By prioritizing sleep, relaxation, a balanced diet, healthy plant-based protein, strength training, and good posture, we can outsmart the hormonal game and experience a smoother transition. Remember, you're not alone, and there's no one-size-fits-all solution. Listen to your body, be kind to yourself, and don't forget to laugh and enjoy the journey.