Meno Belly: Why? WHY!?!

by WV Marshall

Exercise and good eating habits are two cornerstones for improving one’s health. However, women’s bodies seem to forget these two tenets as we enter the perimenopausal phase of life.

It is a given that age doesn’t help prevent that middle-age bulge whether you’re a man or a woman. But menopause magnifies the issue for women, Dr. Ekta Kapoor, an endocrinologist at Mayo Clinic said in an interview with the (Minneapolis) Star Tribune.

“Both men and women tend to gain weight as we age because we lose muscle mass and so don’t burn as many calories,” Kapoor said. “Even people who stay active don’t burn as many calories as they did when they were younger. Menopause amplifies the issue for women.”

Night sweats and hot flashes may garner the attention among the common symptoms of menopause, but Kapoor said women report that the most bothersome symptom is belly fat.

Premenopausal women tend to carry weight on the legs and thighs. That changes post menopause, when lack of estrogen in the body redirects the fat to the belly, the physician said.

“It sends excess fat to the wrong spots, regardless of your body type or how active you are,” she said, meaning maintaining a healthy weight takes more work, being more active and eating healthier.

**Menopause also has symptoms that make it tough to be healthy – night sweats, lack of sleep, depression can make it more difficult to exercise and eat well, she said.

“Your body is, in effect, working against you,” said Kapoor, also an assistant professor of medicine at the Women’s Health Clinic with an interest in menopause, obesity and menopausal hormone therapy.

Hormone therapy is the most effective way to address hot flashes, night sweats and lousy sleep in women without a history of breast cancer. Hormone therapy also can change the distribution of body fat by reducing fat around the belly, she said.

Menopausal woman also can watch what they eat – aka, count calories – and Kapoor advises against a carb-heavy diets.

“I’m not saying go carb-free, but to consume carbs in moderation,” she said.

Aerobic exercise helps shed body fat and strength training can help build muscle mass also will help burn calories, she said, recommending “about 200 minutes of exercise a week. Being active is important.”

“But diet is most important,” Kapoor said. “Stick to that caloric count.”

She noted “great” apps are on the market that make calorie counting easy. But if counting calories too burdensome, “find a structured weight loss program and have them do it for you. There is a lot of help and information out there.”

Kapoor said a woman’s caloric requirements change after menopause because their basal metabolic rate – the number of calories burned while resting – slows as one ages.

“As your muscle mass goes down, so does the number of calories you burn,” she said. “So we need to eat less.”

**Asked to name a “calorie killer,” Kapoor cited alcohol. **

“It’s just empty calories,” she said. “I advise women to stay away from alcohol as well as other simple carbohydrates like white bread, white pasta and desserts high in sugar. Avoid sodas and juices. These are pretty easy steps to take.”

Being realistic, though, Kapoor acknowledged there is only so much that can be done.

“If you’re eating well and staying active, there are changes in the body that we have to accept,” she said. “The bigger goal has to be maintaining your overall health.”