Many women resign themselves to the fact that getting older means weight gain. They assume because so many women gain weight as they approach menopause, that this is a normal part of aging.
To add insult to injury, this menopausal weight gain is often focused on the belly area. Belly fat is not only difficult to hide, it’s also dangerous for your health. In fact, this type of fat, known as visceral fat, is linked to an increase in heart disease, metabolic syndrome, and certain types of cancer.
Menopause and perimenopause can — and do — cause weight gain in the midsection, but it’s not simply because of aging or poor dietary habits. In fact, a woman’s hormones play a crucial role in a woman’s body fat distribution as she gets older. Even women who exercise and eat a sensible diet may find a decrease in muscle and an increase in belly fat because of a shift in hormones.
Many people mistakenly think that they simply need to exercise more and eat less, and the belly fat will go away. Unfortunately, this is often not the case because menopausal weight gain is a complex issue.
Here’s how a hormonal imbalance can wreak havoc on your waistline.
1. Low estrogen and progesterone affect insulin
Before menopause, women have higher levels of estrogen and progesterone, two hormones that are responsible for menstrual cycles and fertility. As a woman moves out of her childbearing years, both estrogen and progesterone naturally decrease.
Research shows that lower levels of estrogen directly affect how the body recognizes and uses insulin. Without enough estrogen, a woman is much more likely to develop insulin resistance. Insulin resistance makes it harder for your body’s cells to use sugar, so it circulates in the blood and causes the body to hang onto excess fat. This leads to an increase in belly fat and a risk of type 2 diabetes.
2. Insulin resistance leads to leptin resistance
Insulin resistance can have a domino effect, causing other changes in the body that make it even more difficult to lose weight.
Consistently high levels of insulin, which can happen because of a drop in estrogen at menopause, can cause high levels of leptin. Leptin is an important hormone that helps regulate appetite.
If a woman has consistently high levels of leptin, her body doesn’t recognize fullness signals as easily. This makes it difficult to control appetite and can make you feel hungry all the time.
3. Hormone fluctuations interfere with sleep
Insomnia is a major problem for many women who are approaching or beyond menopause. Even women who have slept well all their lives often find that sleep becomes elusive as they get older.
Fluctuating levels of estrogen and lower levels of progesterone can make it difficult to fall asleep, and therefore can lead to a number of health problems associated with a lack of sleep. In fact, The National Sleep Foundation recognizes these hormonal fluctuations as a cause of insomnia.
The lack of sleep can cause even more hormonal imbalances, including an increase in ghrelin, the hunger hormone. It also compounds other effects of menopause, such as increasing the risk of type 2 diabetes and heart disease. And, all of these issues add up to more belly fat.
4. Menopause causes an increase in cortisol
The stress of going through menopause, life changes, and the frustration of gaining weight despite your best efforts can all lead to an increase in the stress hormone cortisol.
How to rebalance your hormones
Unfortunately, many women have simply been told that their menopausal weight gain is a result of a poor diet or lack of exercise. This puts the blame on the woman herself and her lifestyle habits.
While these things can certainly contribute to weight gain at any age, they are often not the driving factor behind menopausal weight gain. A hormonal imbalance can easily counteract the effects of a healthy lifestyle that may have worked just fine for the woman in her twenties and thirties.
This is why many women find success in balancing their hormones with a two-pronged approach: Leading a healthy lifestyle combined with hormonal replacement. By balancing hormones, you can make it easier to eat right, get plenty of sleep, and have the energy to exercise. You help eliminate that underlying factor that could be sabotaging your best efforts to lead a healthy life.
A healthy eating plan such as intermittent fasting is also a great way to naturally balance hormones and reduce inflammation in the body while you find your hormonal balance. This type of plan, combined with hormone replacement, is a powerful way to counteract menopausal belly fat.
Your 40s, 50s, and beyond do not have to result in an automatic gain of belly fat or a dreaded spare tire. If you’re able to keep your hormones in balance and live a healthy lifestyle, you can maintain a healthy weight and avoid menopausal weight gain that affects so many people.
You can take control of your hormones with the help of Garcia Weight Loss and Wellness Centers. Dr. Garcia and his staff not only offer customized weight-loss plans, but we also work with women to prescribe hormone replacement therapy that will help them look and feel their best. Contact us today for your no-cost HRT consultation!