How Do You Get Rid of Menopause Belly Fat?

Belly fat

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Belly fat is an emotive subject, and we frequently google how to get rid of it. When I googled it an article by the Fast800 team comes up; their marketing is powerful and appears to be backed by research so I thought I’d take a look.

How to Lose Belly Fat According to Science

Firstly, within an article that claims to be all about the science, we see some quite inflammatory language – albeit quite subtle. Phrases such as ‘so why won’t your body cooperate’ and taking a ‘three-pronged attack’ to banish the belly fat. I’m not sure this kind of language fosters a kind and compassionate relationship with ourselves. 

Why is this important? Surely disliking our bodies is motivation enough to do something about it?

Wrong.

Motivation born out of fear tends to be short lived. Attacking ourselves lowers our resilience and ability to make long-lasting change. Dieting itself has been shown to worsen body dissatisfaction and our psychological health overall.

How Do You Get Rid of Menopausal Belly Fat?

Despite this, many of us remain keen to lose the weight from around our middles that tends to be associated with transitioning into the menopause. We’re told it’s bad for our health, but is this true or is there more to it? Like with all things related to our bodies and health, it’s more complicated than that. Genetics will play a significant part as will a number of other factors. Understanding all the reasons why we gain weight in menopause is key, before we start working out ‘how to get rid of belly fat’. 

One hormone that crops up all the time in these debates is insulin. So,

Can Insulin Cause Belly Fat?

Insulin gets pulled into conversations about belly fat because it’s the hormone we need to allow glucose to pass into our cells to be converted into fuel. It’s also a storage hormone, so once glucose storage facilities are full, and there’s still glucose needing to be put somewhere, fat cells can also take it up and convert it to fat.

If insulin resistance develops, the cells become less efficient at taking up glucose, prompting the body to release more insulin to try and achieve the job. Lots of circulating insulin can trigger more weight gain, which in turn can make the cells more resistant to it, so it can be a bit of a vicious circle. 

The theory is therefore that by restricting carbs we limit insulin release which in turn helps us to lose weight. So, assuming this…

Do Low Carb Diets Help to Lose Belly Fat?

I was drawn to the studies that the Fast 800 team mention, as they use these to validate their argument that low carbohydrate diets are the way forward for ‘attacking belly fat’.

The Fast800 team say ‘studies have now shown that lower carb diets can lead to two to three times more weight loss than low fat diets’. So, let’s take a closer look at those studies in particular…

The first study was done on 26 people, a quarter of whom were male so not obviously relevant for the menopausal population. The average age in this particular study was 52 so many of the women would have been postmenopausal too. 

Perhaps not applicable to the menopause population then but in the 22 that completed the study, they found that at three months, the weight loss in the low carbohydrate group was greater. 

However, I’ve got carrots in my fridge that are older than three months so, I’m not particularly blown away by that research. 

The second study was a six-month study so slightly longer. This was done on 53 women with a BMI of 33. 42 finished the study, so 11 supposedly highly motivated trial participants didn’t.

They were randomised to either receive a very low carbohydrate diet in which they didn’t have restriction on how many calories they ate but were told to follow a very low carbohydrate diet, and the other group were randomised to a calorie restricted diet with 30% of their calories coming from fat. 

At six months the low carbohydrate diet was more effective for weight loss. This is really common to see, but research comparing low fat to low carb tells us that at 12 months the weight losses are pretty much the same.

And then the third study looked at severely obese subjects with a high prevalence of diabetes or the metabolic syndrome. They lost more weight during the six months on a carbohydrate restricted diet than on a calorie and fat restricted diet. So again, supporting the use of low carb. 

This finding, it says, should be interpreted with caution, given the small magnitude of overall and between group differences in weight loss and the short duration of the study. 

It goes on to say, further studies evaluating long term cardiovascular outcomes are needed before a carbohydrate restricted diet can be endorsed. So that’s the study itself saying that and yet, that’s one of the studies that the Fast800 team chose to reference, which I find quite bizarre. 

Nevertheless, low carb diets are certainly helping people initially to lose weight more effectively so, is it the insulin thing or is it something else?

Do Low Carbohydrate Diets Make You Less Hungry?

The Fast800 gives the impression low carb diets help weight loss because they lower hunger levels. The study they reference doesn’t actually prove this, but it does show there’s an association between low carb diets and participants feeling less hunger. Whether this is what creates the weight loss is unknown. 

Low carb diets are going to be proportionally higher in fat and protein and certainly these nutrients help with feeling full. But low carb diets aren’t going to give us the opportunity to hit our fibre intakes and fibre from more complex carbs also help with fullness. Wholegrains for example, contain 75% more fibre and 25% more protein.

Rather than fighting with the proportions of different macros, should we rather channel our energies into looking at the types of foods we eat? After all we eat food, not nutrients, and the optimal blend of foods that creates optimal fullness will differ from person to person, and also for that person day to day as there are so many other factors that influence hunger – hormones, sleep, stress, exercise to name but a few. 

Anyway, back to the big question:

Are Low Carbohydrates the Answer to Banishing Belly Fat? 

I remain unconvinced from this selection of studies I have to say. Whilst low carb diets may well have the edge on lowering belly fat, the fact still remains that these sorts of regimes have to be doable long-term, whilst also allowing us to eat a diet that is healthy overall. Weight loss after all is not the only measure of how healthy we are (or indeed much of a measure at all).

And if these sorts of diets are impossible to stick to, are we just doing ourselves a disservice by repeatedly losing and gaining weight? Research would suggest so, with the severe damage of weight cycling really evident

Should I Try a Low Carb Diet?

It’s clearly a complex picture and down to the individual to assess what will work for them. 

When assessing low carb diets and whether you are wanting to reduce your carb intake there are a number of things to consider:

     

      • What is your current carb intake from which you then go lower? Do you feel your current diet is high in carbohydrates?

      • Where does the carbohydrate in your diet come from? Is it high fibre carbs or more refined options?

      • If you take it out, what do you replace it with? This is a key one, because, like I say, we eat food, not nutrients. Taking carbs out and replacing them with foods lacking in nutrients and fibre will not improve your health. 

      • If you eat less carb and proportionally more protein and fat, how does this make you feel in your day-to-day wellbeing?

      • In true reality, does a low carb diet look like carb avoidance for most of the day and bingeing on sugar for most of the evening?

    Sometimes in our desperate search for the answer, we owe it to ourselves to pause, pull back and look at the bigger picture. I support women to consider their own dieting journey, where this has led them and what might be the most healthful and nourishing step forward.

    I take women from chaos to calm around food. If you’d like more understanding as to why your body is changing and you are gaining weight, then you will benefit from The Pause to Nourish Programme.

    This is what others have said about it:

    ‘I’ve read various things on diet and menopause before doing your course but haven’t managed to assimilate it in a way that clicked so hadn’t really engaged with it. Your course has enabled me to make connections that I hadn’t done previously’. 

    You can read all about it here to decide if this roadmap to better health and vitality is one map you don’t want to be without. 

    You can also hear me talk through this ‘Belly Fat – Should we Attack it’ debate in The Nourish Lounge – nourishing twice-monthly lunch and learn sessions over Zoom. Access the archive and register for the next one.

    Here are some other related articles that you may like to read: Is Intermittent Fasting Helpful for the Menopause? and Should we quit sugar?

    More To Explore

    Fancy getting some clarity around what to eat and easing the stress in your head?

    Download my menopausal meal planner and join Nourish Lounge chats for education and inspiration twice a month.