Despite the ubiquitous internet ads claiming to hold the secret to shrinking belly fat, experts really don’t know how to address the waistline expansion associated with menopause, Dr. Greendale said. Researchers are only just beginning to understand how and why the body changes in this life stage, and she’s careful not to promote a solution without evidence that it works.
“What worries me is that women who are trying to do right by themselves and keep up their exercise habits and eat a good diet may feel defeated” if their belly fat doesn’t budge, she said. “They may be doing everything they can, and their central fat may just have a mind of its own.” Excessive dieting and exercising too much can also be harmful, she pointed out.
That said, getting at least 2.5 to 5 hours of moderate physical activity per week has been shown to help prevent heart disease and diabetes, both conditions associated with increased abdominal fat. Following a healthy diet — including one that incorporates plenty of fruits, vegetables and whole grains, and that prioritizes fish, legumes, nuts, low-fat dairy and lean meats as sources of protein — can help protect against these conditions, too.
Physical activity also helps to maintain healthy muscle and bone mass and improves insulin functioning, Dr. Vieira-Potter said. “Even if you’re exercising and not losing weight, you’re doing lots of good metabolically.” Exercise feels good, too, and might help counter some of the mood changes that can come with menopause.
It doesn’t need to be intense or strenuous to be beneficial, Dr. Vieira-Potter said. “Just find something you love.”
And, if you’re still feeling discouraged by your changing body, despite a good diet and exercise program, Dr. Greendale recommended a dose of self compassion. “If my middle is resistant, I’m going to understand that may be part of the life stage I’m in.”
Alice Callahan is a health and science journalist.