Tips & Advice

From Dr. Liz Herself

September 29, 2015
Belly Fat and Hormones: How come no one told me this was going to happen?
Woman Stretching After Hormone Treatment for Belly Fat

A friend of mine (one of those string bean ladies), naturally thin now in her late 40’s, lifts her shirt, pinches her tummy and says, “Why didn’t anyone tell me this was going to happen. I have a tummy I never had before. I wish I would have known this was going to happen. I would have prepared.”

So what is happening to us during menopause (and perimenopause) with our tummies, and can we prepare?

Belly weight gain is often triggered by stress and the hormone called cortisol. This hormone is critically important for regulating the metabolism of fats, carbohydrates, and proteins, as well as sodium and potassium. Fluid balance (water retention in and around the cells) is controlled mainly through sodium moving in and out of the cells of the body, and cortisol affects this cellular movement of water.

Researchers at Yale University, for example, found slender women who had high cortisol also had more abdominal fat. More results published in the journal of Psychosomatic Medicine in 2000 established a link between cortisol and increased storage of abdominal fat.

Many things affect cortisol production including stress, foods we eat, and medical illnesses. Foods that increase cortisol levels include all of the “white” foods, including white sugar, white bread, and white rice.

Extra belly fat can also indicate one or more of the following hormonal imbalances: high estrogen, low testosterone, low DHEA (a hormone of the adrenal glands, check out my next blog), high insulin and high cortisol. It’s important to find out if any or all of these things might be going on in your body.

Lack of sleep is another real factor in the extra belly fat battle. A 2004 study at the University of Chicago was the first to show sleep as a major regulator of appetite-controlling hormones – it boosts leptin, the hormone that tells you to put down the fork. In the same year, researchers at the Stanford School of Medicine found that subjects who had only five hours of sleep per night experienced an increase in their BMI, regardless of diet and exercise.

Another 2007 study from the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism linked abdominal obesity in postmenopausal women with low growth hormone secretion, elevated inflammatory markers and increased risk of cardiovascular disease.

Yes, there is a lot you can do to manage belly fat, eat right (good proteins, less processed foods), get enough sleep (try melatonin to get a deeper sleep), keep your hormones balanced as much as possible work with your doctor, create ways to have less stress, (deep breaths and counting to 10 really works), taking time for yourself, a walk around your office or home alone with no phone or music does give you a reboot of alone time.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll go into more detail about all the hormone topics I brought up in today’s article.

Sleep and stress management are the number one factors in managing your weight, especially belly fat. These two things are critical for healthy hormone balance.

Getting your hormones balanced now will help you a lot when you hit the weight loss bandwagon in January!

Let me know your biggest sleep or stress challenge, and your favorite tip on handling that challenge.

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