As we age, a number of hormonal changes take place within women’s bodies. And in perimenopause, these changes can result in a greater amount of belly fat storage, despite you making no changes to your daily diet or exercise routine. This hormonal belly fat can put us at greater risk of developing serious health conditions such as heart disease and diabetes.
The following paragraphs will help you understand hormonal shifts that cause you to gain weight around your midsection, and what you can do to lose hormonal belly fat.
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Hormone Shifts and Holistic Solutions
Hormonal fluctuations are a natural part of the aging process, but these changes often impact our mood, metabolism, energy, and how we hold on to abdominal fat.
Belly fat can be more than a cosmetic concern—it’s often intricately linked to hormonal shifts that go beyond diet & lifestyle choices, such as insulin resistance. Understanding these hormonal imbalances, especially during perimenopause, reveal the keys to reversing hormonal belly fat storage and promoting holistic well-being.
Losing weight (or maintaining a healthy weight) with age is all about knowing how to fuel a healthy metabolism, sleep, eat, and exercise for your needs. But despite everything we know about metabolism and hormone health, many women still struggle to connect with their body, and how to listen to their own feedback about what it needs.
I recommend testing important metabolic markers about once a year, including: thyroid hormones, estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone, fasting insulin, and others. You’ll want to work with a qualified integrative or holistic doctor to keep an eye on these levels.
Belly Fat & Perimenopause
Hormonal changes during perimenopause amplify belly fat storage (1). This leaves many women frustrated that they haven’t changed anything in their routine, and yet continue to increase around their midsection.
Weight gain in perimenopause is common, and many women report a change in how their weight is distributed with increased fat stored around the abdomen versus the lower body.
Belly fat during perimenopause is due to two main factors (2):
- A drop in the hormone estrogen (which prior to menopause causes female bodies to distribute fat in the lower body)
- A decrease in muscle mass.
This decrease in muscle mass, coupled with changing hormones, means your calorie furnace isn’t burning quite as hot as it once was, resulting in a gradual slowing-down of your overall metabolism.
Read more: Losing Weight During Perimenopause
Why Belly Fat Increases with Age
As we age, our insulin sensitivity decreases, which means our cells are less effective in using glucose for energy. This often leads to increased blood glucose levels, causing the pancreas to produce more insulin.
Higher levels of insulin in the body can promote fat storage, particularly around the abdomen (3).
When you’re insulin resistant, you’re more likely to have trouble losing weight, or maintaining a healthy body weight. If you think you’re eating healthy, but still not losing weight, you may have become insulin resistant.
Insulin resistance is a huge problem in the Western world. Currently, more than 1 in 3 U.S. adults have pre-diabetes, which means their cells are becoming insulin resistant.
Shop: The Hormone Box
Stress Hormones Trigger Fat Storage in the Abdomen
Additionally, cortisol levels may also increase during the years around perimenopause (4). Cortisol is known as the “stress hormone” and excess levels can lead to increased appetite and cravings for unhealthy foods, ultimately leading to weight gain and belly fat storage
High levels of cortisol can also stimulate abdominal weight gain. Many women begin to exercise more often and with higher intensity when they notice increasing belly fat, which can actually make the problem worse. Long or intense bouts of exercise can increase cortisol levels (5).
During perimenopause—and if you’re struggling with stubborn belly fat—you may benefit more from slower, more restorative forms of exercise. Try yoga, tai chi, or strength training about 3 times per week, with plenty of time for recovery in between sessions.
Estrogen & Testosterone Changes During Perimenopause
Estrogen plays a role in weight gain, too. As estrogen levels decrease during perimenopause, so does our metabolic rate. We burn fewer calories at rest and during physical activity. Additionally, low estrogen levels can also play a role in insulin resistance, leading to increased belly fat (6).
Testosterone is mostly associated with men, but it plays a role in women’s health, too. Declining testosterone levels as we age can lead to a decrease in lean muscle mass, which slows down our metabolism and makes it harder to lose weight.
Thyroid Hormones Decrease with Perimenopause
Hormone imbalance and stress during perimenopause can reduce healthy thyroid function (7). And although there’s no proof that perimenopause directly causes thyroid disease, changes in hormones like estrogen and progesterone affect overall hormone function–including your thyroid hormones.
In some women, thyroid issues and menopause have similar symptoms. If thyroid hormones are low during perimenopause or menopause, it may go unnoticed and can cause unnecessary complications.
How to Combat Belly Fat Storage during Perimenopause
- Prioritize Resistance Training – As we age, it’s important to continue incorporating resistance training into our exercise routine. This helps to maintain muscle mass, which in turn boosts metabolism and aids in weight loss.
- Focus on Whole Foods – Eating a diet full of whole foods such as fruits, vegetables, proteins, and healthy fats can help regulate hormones and prevent insulin resistance.
- Manage Stress – Finding ways to manage stress, whether it be through exercise, meditation, or a creative outlet, can help lower cortisol levels and reduce belly fat storage.
- Consider Bioidentical Hormone Replacement Therapy – BHRT uses hormones derived from natural plant sources that are chemically identical to those produced by the body. Unlike synthetic hormones, bioidentical hormones can be customized in dosage and delivery method to suit each woman’s unique needs. I cover more on this in my latest book, The Hormone Shift.
- Get Enough Sleep – Lack of sleep has been linked to insulin resistance and increased belly fat storage. Aim for 7-9 hours of quality sleep each night.
For more on how to effectively lose weight (and belly fat) after 30, check out this post.
Do Weight Loss Peptides Help with Hormonal Belly Fat?
Weight loss peptides are growing in popularity to help with weight loss. Peptides such as ipamorelin, MOTS-C, and semaglutide, are promising tools for reducing belly fat caused by hormonal imbalances, but they aren’t the right tool for everyone.
These peptides stimulate the production of human growth hormone, which can enhance fat burning, improve insulin sensitivity, and help spare lean muscle mass while you’re losing weight.
Weight loss peptides may be beneficial for women who have already tried to lose weight & improve their body composition with diet & exercise, and who have a significant amount of weight to lose.
By understanding the hormonal shifts that can lead to increased belly fat storage during perimenopause, we can take proactive steps to prevent it and navigate these changes with ease. Incorporating holistic lifestyle changes and working closely with a healthcare provider can help promote overall wellness and maintain a healthy weight as we age.