Why You Gain Belly Fat After Menopause (And Why It's OK)

In my practice I see a lot of women who are in the midst of developmental milestone. Sixteen year olds who are settling into their post-pubescent body, young adults who are noticing that their body no longer looks like they did when they were 16, new mom’s who are navigating changes in their postpartum body, and of course, women who are going through menopause.

While every life stage challenges our body image and self-perception, I find that many women feel like their body gives up after menopause. There’s a sense of hopelessness. It doesn’t help that everywhere you look for information on menopause there are a million articles on how to “fight” menopause, or how to “lose belly fat” after menopause. I couldn’t find one (mainstream) article that said something that all women need to hear: This is something we ALL go through (if we’re lucky enough to live that long).

After seeing this time and time again, I really wanted to help change the narrative on menopause, and aging in general. Full disclosure: I have not gone through menopause, so I’m sure many of you might be thinking something along the lines of, “wait until you’re MY AGE.” I know that I can’t speak from personal experience, but I can speak from clinical experience, so hear me out before you ex-out.

Menopause Fun Fact #1: All Bodies Age.

You can try all of the creams and supplements, and drink all of the green juice you want, but aging is part of our natural biological process that we just can’t avoid. As the reproductive organs (like the uterus and ovaries) age, reproductive hormones like estrogen and progesterone decline as well. The decrease in these hormones is the main trigger for many of the symptoms that women face as they go through menopause, such as hot flashes, night sweats, elevated heart rate, sleep disturbances, mood changes, urinary tract issues, and vaginal dryness.

Menopause Fun Fact #2: Fat is Your Friend.

When your ovaries no longer produce estrogen, the body’s adipose tissue (fat tissue) takes over to produce and regulate estrogen in the body. An increase in body fat is our bodies’ way of adapting in order to regulate estrogen production as we age. Since estrogen depletion is the main cause of many of the negative side effects associated with menopause, increased regulation of this hormone can help mitigate many of these undesirable symptoms.

Menopause Fun Fact #3: Lack of Fat Equals Lack of Estrogen.

Estrogen depletion can lead to changes in the brain and nervous system (which might present as memory loss), can lead to increased risk for cardiovascular issues like heart attacks and strokes, can lead to increased risk for low bone mineral density (leading to osteopenia and osteoporosis), and can exacerbate to all of the other symptoms I’ve mentioned above. Most surprisingly, estrogen depletion can also lead to decreased water holding ability and elasticity in the skin, which can cause dryness, itching, and increased wrinkling. So if we’re going to waste our time obsessed about our external appearance this little fun fact proves we’ll never be able to have it all!

I think it’s fascinating that that magazine and blog articles are swimming with information on how to lose weight post-menopause, but nobody is talking about just how harmful that mission might be. The sad truth is, no matter how convincing my argument, it’s never going to be enough for many women to stop living in fear of fat. This is an issue of body image, not body fat. And we cannot improve our body image if we are constantly trying to force our body into fitting a social ideal that goes against every single one of our body's natural biological processes.

I think it takes recognizing that this change in your body is not because something is wrong with you. You are not malfunctioning. You are simply living in a culture that isn’t accepting of fat bodies and old women. So, instead of putting our energy towards fighting fat and hiding your age, let’s redirect it towards fighting fat and age phobia. This means doing the work to not only embrace the fat on your body, and your age, but to embrace fat on all bodies and women of all ages. These means even the largest bodies, and even the oldest ages. How will you start to embrace? Let me know in the comments below and let’s get a conversation started.