Ask any woman about her least favorite body part, and most will point to their mid-section, affectionately known as a “belly pooch” or “muffin top.” Most women gain excess belly fat – especially deep inside the belly (known as visceral fat) – as they transition from perimenopause into menopause. That’s because as estrogen levels drop, fat is redistributed from the hips, thighs and buttocks to the belly. And as if that isn’t enough, with the shift in hormones during perimenopause and menopause, women may also experience generalized weight gain, lower libido, vaginal dryness, hot flashes, insomnia, depression and hair growth (and not the good kind). Not only is this belly fat a source of frustration to many women, but this visceral fat is bad, toxic fat that creates inflammation in your body and results in blood sugar dysregulation. This in turn can increase the risk for insulin resistance and diabetes.
There’s good news though. While the hormonal changes accompanying perimenopause and menopause, bring a wide range of unpleasant symptoms, there are safe, natural solutions that are clinically effective in reducing belly fat, improving the symptoms of hormonal imbalance and improving blood sugar balance.
Don’t underestimate nutrition
Pay attention to both the quality and quantity of food you eat. Generally speaking, diet should consist of whole, unprocessed foods that are high in fiber with a low to moderate amount of complex carbohydrates and lean protein source. Most patients excel on a low inflammatory diet, which is gluten-free, dairy-free, soy free and low in sugars. In addition, be present and mindful when you are eating and avoid having meals in front of a television. Finish your meal when you are slightly less than full and make sure your last meal is at least 3 hours before bedtime. For those who are struggling with blood sugar dysregulation or diabetes, monitor your blood sugar first thing in the morning and 2 hours after your meal to teach you about foods that are spiking your blood sugar so that you can reduce your intake of those foods.
Exercise should not be understated
Running tirelessly on a treadmill will not help you lose your middle, neither will performing 500 crunches per day. The magic formula to blast fat is a combination of aerobic exercise, weight lifting and core work. This can be achieved through interval training which is alternating high and low intensity bursts of exercise within one workout, 4-5 times per week with some yoga or pilates to trim the core and weight lifting at least twice per week. In addition, patients that are struggling with high blood sugars should take a 20 minute walk after meals to take advantage of the increased uptake of blood glucose (sugars) by muscle cells that occurs after eating.
Consider hormone replacement
Keeping in mind that belly fat and weight gain is associated with the hormonal shifts of perimenopause and menopause, it is important to consider your hormone levels. Some doctors choose to perform salivary or serum testing of hormones, while others assume there’s a general pattern that estrogen and progesterone are low once the ovaries cease to produce hormones. Doctors may choose to replace hormones with synethetic or bio-identical hormones in the form of pills, sublingual troches, creams, and vaginal suppositories. While it is well known that hormone replacement can improve symptoms of hot flashes, vaginal dryness, low libido and insomnia; the right combination and dosage of hormones can also help women lose weight and belly fat, when nothing else seems to help.
Get support from natural medicines
There is plenty of research demonstrating the effectiveness of blood sugar control using herbal medicines such as chromium, berberine and cinnamon. Gymnemma, a botanical medicine, can be helpful for sugar cravings. Fish oil can help reduce inflammation, improve insulin sensitivity, cholesterol and mood. Maca can help with mood as well as libido in perimenopausal women. In addition, there are numerous herbal medicines that can help balance hormonal levels, thereby improving symptoms such as hot flashes, insomnia, fatigue and low moods associated with (peri)menopause.
Work on relaxation, stress reduction and self-love
Manage stress with yoga, art, tai chi, meditation, journaling, deep breathing or whatever practice you find to be relaxing. This is important since high stress and cortisol levels will cause blood sugar dysregulation and weight gain. Remember that YOU matter! Think of exercise and healthy eating as a reflection of your self-love and respect; they are a means to realize your dreams of being a healthier and happier version of you.