Visceral belly fat at one time in my career was something that required an explanation. Back in the 90’s and early 2000s we began talking about it as the low and non-fat era gave way to increasing obesity numbers not just in adults but children.
And now, here we are, many women, who never experienced a problem with visceral belly fat, just maybe a muffin top, or baby weight, are finding menopause and post menopause has not been kind.
Why Now? It’s Heart Health Month
It’s heart health month so I’m tackling related topics and tips all month. I’m popping into our Facebook page regularly to answer questions and share tips. This one about visceral belly fat is an important one, and related to menopause, your fitness, and your future. So here we go.
Before we dive in, this episode is sponsored by my very own Fit-U program. Losing weight, specifically fat weight, for women is different than men. After 50 (and menopause) it’s different than prior to it, and it’s different if you have more than 20 lbs to lose than if you’ve got a couple. The program does all the research – not the heavy lifting – that’s you girlfriends. Like every Flipping50 program the research and protocol behind the program featured women in menopause or beyond. I’ll link to it in the show notes. This month enrollment is open for 50% off, with BONUS Metabolism Makeover, and an Intermittent Fasting component to boost your program results.
What and Why Now is Visceral Belly Fat a Concern
Visceral Belly fat can accumulate easier in women post menopause. Reduced estrogen levels are a primary reason. But read on for more. It poses a greater heart health risk and may release more free fatty acids into your blood stream as well as inflammation-causing hormones.
I’ve shared many times and many places that there’s no/nada/zero correlation between menopause and weight gain. In a study of over one million women (published by ACOG in 2018) it was clear that body composition changes were not related to menopause. However, clearly many women gain weight in midlife. Why?
- Reduced activity – both in exercise and daily movement
- Increase social eating and drinking
- Insomnia – itself, and causing lack of activity or poor choices the following day
- Wake up with coffee, Good night with alcohol, dehydrated in between
- Changes in gut health and observance of outdated “healthy” habits making them worse
- Loss of muscle
What Can You Do to Combat Changes and Habits?
To Improve Fat burning
- Exercise (more below)
- Remove stressors
- Use adaptogens and natural ergogenic aids
- Start eating at the right time and with the right food
To Decrease Fat storage
- Fix your Cortisol Coping
- Avoid Dehydration
- Reduce or eliminate alcohol (sugar)
- Reduce insulin spike at meals
- Eat early … not late for fasting (Insulin spike higher later in the day stops fat burning)
- Avoid whey protein or high carb and easy to digest protein shakes (ever, really) but especially away from workouts as your blood sugar spikes, then gets stored instead of used
- High intensity early, followed by high protein
- Alternate your strength and your HIIT workouts
Change Focus: Lose Fat Not Weight by Gaining Lean Muscle
Resistance training + protein timing improve muscle, improving blood sugar stabilization
Science: Visceral Belly Fat and Insulin Resistance
- Insulin resistance causes higher insulin and blood sugar levels
- More and more insulin = more fat storage
The main cause of elevated free fatty acids is often eating too many calories and carrying excess body fat. Having a low fat breakfast of a bagel and fruit for breakfast after a cup of coffee?
You’ve gone from your lowest blood sugar in a 24-hour period of time to a rapid spike followed by a rapid spike in insulin that will take hours to come down. Meanwhile you’re primed for fat storage, and a crash, and you’re likely to repeat your mistake because you will want another “hit.” The sugar rush your body got from fruit and bagel were like crack.
You’ve Never Had this Problem Before?
It’s not unusual for hormonal shifts to change things in a big way. This is especially true for women who are in a perfect storm.
Solutions for Visceral Belly Fat
Exercise for Visceral Belly Fat
- Strength training and some high intensity exercise along with some low intensity walking or other all-day activity.
- Seek reduced impact, high intensity exercise
- Seek physical activity that provides energy vs. injury
Eating for Visceral Belly Fat
- Remove foods that are known sensitivities to test them for yourself
- Substitute other foods, don’t make this a low calorie “diet”
- Eliminate your snacks – and realize coffee and sweetener in your coffee your body thinks are breakfast
- Define an eating window – aka fasting
- Relearn “healthy” foods and the amount of protein you need in your diet
- Increasing fiber
- Decreasing or eliminating alcohol until you’ve made progress
Sleeping for Visceral Belly Fat
- Sleep quality can be improved from getting exercise and eating on track
- Bedtime routines and wake up routines
Science Studies that Reveal Health Truths
The Nurses Health Study is one of the largest and longest (both things that scream, pay attention!) studies to date that has measured abdominal obesity, looked at the relationship between waist size and death from heart disease, cancer or any cause in middle-aged women.
At the start of the study all 44,000 subjects were healthy and had measured waist and hip size.
After 16 years, women who had reported the highest waist sizes — 35 inches or higher –had nearly double the risk of dying from heart disease, compared to women who had reported the lowest waist sizes (less than 28 inches).
Even women with normal weight BMI (less than 25) with larger than 35 inch waists had 3x the risk of normal-weight women whose waists were smaller than 35 inches.
It’s not the only study that found similar relationship between abdominal fatness and death in normal-weight women. The Shanghai Women’s Health study also did.
Why is abdominal obesity so much riskier that fat on your hips or elsewhere?
The fat surrounding the liver and other abdominal organs is very metabolically active. It releases fatty acids, inflammatory agents, and hormones that ultimately lead to higher LDL cholesterol, triglycerides, blood glucose, and blood pressure.
Abdominal Obesity Measures Used by Health Agency:
AHA, and the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute both use Waist circumference (35 inches)
The International diabetes Federation uses Waist circumference (31.5 inches)
The World Health Organization uses Waist-to-Hip ratio (>0.85)
How to measure and calculate the waist and waist-to-hip ratio:
Smallest part of the waist
Largest part of the hips (widest part of the butt)
Divide your waist measurement by your hip measurement
Juggling the Challenge of Multiple Needs
It’s not just weight, it’s fat. It’s not just belly fat, it’s visceral belly fat. It’s not just about skinny jeans, it’s about long term health. On all counts I think we can agree.
The question is how do I exercise – and eat pre and post exercise – to support better hormonal function without causing more pain to my joints, or injury to areas where I’m already vulnerable.
You’ve got knees or hips, or feet that don’t care for impact or severe flexion. You’ve got a need to stimulate those major muscles and still provide TLC for the joints that connect them.
I hear you. I’ve been working with midlife and older adults for decades. I’ve got ankles and prior injuries too. They don’t stop me. Where there is one thing that won’t work, there are usually 3 that do.
As a medical exercise specialist and hormone balancing fitness expert I don’t isolate … I know you need an integrated approach. If you’ve got visceral belly fat, chances are you have 20 or more pounds to lose and chances are that’s stress to your joints that makes your exercise choices need to be thoughtful not random.
Support When You Need It
I created Fit U to use boxing moves, for intervals at home without equipment for women carrying extra weight. I alternate the boxing workouts with strength training. I have a nutrition, and a mindset component to this DIY program. And… I hop into the Facebook group and answer your questions live… each Sunday afternoon.
It’s 50% off right now, PLUS a Bonus Metabolism Makeover course that sold out last spring for $699, PLUS support using Intermittent Fasting if you’re just starting, or if you just want to optimize your exercise and your fasting timing… to lose the fat and keep the muscle.
I’ll link to this in the show notes. There are a limited number of the Bonus Metabolism Makeover Course available. The special enrollment and Fasting component offer ends Feb 28, 2021.
Zhang C, Rexrode KM, van Dam RM, Li TY, Hu FB. Abdominal obesity and the risk of all-cause, cardiovascular, and cancer mortality: sixteen years of follow-up in US women. Circulation. 2008;117:1658-67.
Zhang X, Shu XO, Yang G, et al. Abdominal adiposity and mortality in Chinese women. Arch Intern Med. 2007;167:886-92.