Last year, in my early 50s and perimenopausal, I lost 20 pounds. I did this the old-fashioned way — by eating less and exercising more — and I enjoyed feeling my muscles become stronger and my jeans become looser. I never took my measurements, so I’m not sure what my waist size was at the beginning of the year and what it was at the end, but if I had to guess, I would say that I lost about a half of one centimeter in my waist. My thighs became thinner, and so did my hips, my butt, and even my face — but my perimenopausal belly fat barely budged.
How is it possible, I wondered, that I could lose 20 pounds and still have the same waist size I did before? Was the problem aging? Lack of estrogen?Belly bloat? Or simply too many low-fat ice cream treats and not enough time at the gym?
There were only three ways to find out (and by that, I naturally mean: Read health and scientific articles and books, do more abdominal exercises, and study the Instagram account of Halle Berry).
What is menopause belly fat?
Perimenopause is the time period (anywhere between two and 10 years) when estrogen and progesterone levels decline and menopausal symptoms ensue, but before actual menopause — which is defined as 12 consecutive months without a period — starts.
As estrogen levels fluctuate and drop, body fat is redistributed from the hips, thighs, and buttocks to the waist, and as progesterone levels decrease, cortisol levels increase, which can also cause the body to hold onto stubborn menopause belly fat.
In other words: Ugh.
Why Menopausal Belly Fat Is More Than Just a Bummer
There is more at stake than just bikinis and vanity when it comes to having a “meno-pot.” You may or may not like having big thighs, but they pose no health threat; belly fat, on the other hand, comes with an increased risk for mortality even with a normal BMI, and with an increased risk for heart disease, breast cancer, uterine cancer, diabetes, hypertension, stroke, sleep apnea, and many other serious and life-threatening diseases.