While no one enjoys having to wiggle uncomfortably into their skinny jeans, or choose a looser size on their belt buckle, having more fat around your midsection often spells trouble for more than just your wardrobe.
Read on to learn what causes women to store fat around the belly, and 7 ways you can target belly fat with changes in diet, hormone health, and lifestyle.
The Trouble with Stubborn Belly Fat
Excess fat around your belly has been linked to cardiovascular problems, inflammation, poor live health, and diabetes. So while we often focus on the cosmetic concerns of belly fat, excess weight around the middle can actually indicate serious health imbalances that need addressing.
For example, an overburdened liver due to environmental toxins or a poor diet can lead to more systemic inflammation and fat stored around your abdomen.
Hormone imbalance can also be to blame, with things like insulin resistance or an increase in stress hormones like cortisol–your metabolism will choose to store more fat, especially around your tummy.
If you’re also experiencing digestive symptoms like gas, bloating, and diarrhea (or constipation), you may have leaky gut, or a microbiome imbalance.
Why “Diets” Don’t Work to Reduce Belly Fat
Drastically limiting your calories will probably not help you lose a significant amount of belly fat. In fact, in the case of hormone imbalance, reducing calories and healthy fats can actually worsen the situation.
Belly fat in women is difficult to lose because most solutions don’t target the root cause. You may try diet after diet only to get discouraged with minimal results and a worsening self image.
Quite the contrary, the holistic approach to helping women lose belly fat goes deeper than the issue itself, healing imbalances which cause increased belly fat in the first place.
What Causes Belly Fat:
- High stress
- Sugary foods
- Lack of sleep
- Insulin resistance
- Hormone imbalance
- Environmental toxins
- Overworked liver
Several of these aspects seem unavoidable in a modern lifestyle, like high stress levels and lack of sleep, but don’t worry. We’re going to look at the root causes of belly fat build up and what you can do starting today to decrease belly fat, and support these other processes as well.
Decrease Your Toxic Burden & Inflammation
A stressed out liver can lead to fat build up–especially around your belly.
You can think of your liver as your body’s laundromat–and it’s a very busy place! It’s constantly filtering toxins (like alcohol or medications), and metabolic waste from the blood. And it aids digestion by helping break down fats and absorb vitamins and minerals from food.
It also plays a central role in regulating blood sugar, insulin, and your body’s other hormones like estrogen, progesterone, and cortisol.
Considering the heavy workload it’s tasked with, your liver can become overworked and sluggish trying to keep up with its many duties. When this happens, you may notice other symptoms like fatigue, reduced immune function, or even trouble sleeping at night.
A holistic liver detox will support liver function and natural detox pathways, and may even help you lose weight. To lighten the load on your liver, increase green veggies, stay hydrated, and work to eliminate or reduce toxins in your food, water, and household.
As mentioned above, your liver is responsible for regulating two hormones–insulin and cortisol–and when these two get caught in the crosshairs of a stressed out lifestyle and a poor diet, our waistline is among the most noticeable things affected.
Is Too Much Cortisol Making You Fat?
By now, you’ve probably come to know cortisol as the stress hormone, and that it can cause you to store more fat around your belly. But is cortisol really to blame? And if so, how can we make less of it?
Cortisol is indeed produced in response to stress, but when this biological response developed, most of our stress was physical–like running from a predator. Cortisol was released and it would increase blood sugar (for super fast energy), so we had increased alertness, decreased need for sleep, and all other non-essential activities (like growth and digestion) got put on the back burner.
Insulin and Cortisol–The Absolute Worst Combo
In modern times, long-term, psychological stress has quite a different impact on our health. For example, work stress, relationship problems, or financial worries don’t result in a quick and intense burst of physical activity to burn off the increase in blood sugar.
So this chronic release of cortisol can cause an increase in insulin, which is released to try and lower our body’s blood sugar level which cortisol initially raised. And we know now that high insulin levels result in more fat storage–especially around the belly.
In one study, participants were given 50 mg of cortisol over 5 days and saw an increase in both insulin levels and fasting glucose (1), which can result in more abdominal obesity.
So the answer? Chronic cortisol and high daily stress do increase the likelihood of stubborn belly fat. Hormonal shifts (including cortisol) are a significant driver for more belly fat, and something that inevitably, every woman will have to navigate.
Belly Fat is Very Common in Menopause
Plummeting levels of sex hormones (estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone) also account for increased belly fat, as does a gradual decline in metabolism (2). Studies also show that cortisol levels rise in some women during the transition into menopause (3).
And this could be one factor for weight gain which seems to come out of nowhere, and leaves many women confused (and frustrated) because they’re eating well and exercising.
Menopause Slows Metabolism
As women age, metabolism slowly begins to slow. Some of this is due to hormonal changes (including cortisol), and some is driven by other changes. After about age 35, your body’s ability to maintain lean muscle mass declines. You can expect to lose anywhere from 3-5% of lean muscle per decade.
And this means a decrease in your overall metabolism and calorie-burning capacity.
Here are 7 things you can start today that will help you decrease your belly fat, especially if you’re transitioning into menopause or perimenopause.
7 Ways to Get Rid of Belly Fat
- Support your adrenal glands that build healthy hormones and help you respond to stress. Make sure you get plenty of healthy fats (coconut, avocado, nuts and seeds, and grass-fed butter or ghee), and quality protein in your diet.
- Move big muscles. This allows you to burn up excess cortisol, and help ward off age-related decline in muscle mass. Aim for at least 150 minutes per week of varied exercise you enjoy. And don’t forget to include strength training!
- Get better sleep to cut sugar cravings, lower cortisol, and decrease your stress response.
- Stay hydrated. Keeping your body hydrated supports detoxification in the liver and kidneys, and helps carry nutrients to cells.
- Get your greens. Detox-friendly spinach, kale, red-leaf lettuce, dandelion greens, and so many more support natural detox pathways and can help calm inflammation.
- Stress less. Decrease chronic cortisol production and promote healthy insulin and blood sugar levels by finding ways to manage your daily stress. There’s a free digital guide I’ve created which can help.
- Find out if a low carb diet works for you. No need to go full blown keto, but some studies show that a low carbohydrate diet can improve some of the hormonal and blood sugar dysregulation symptoms associated with the arrival of menopause (4).
Find out your Weight Loss Type to break out of the one-size-fits-all approach, and discover the holistic path to easier weight loss and less belly bloat.