Weight loss and menopause
The rules are not the same!

Fitness tip
Research now finds that putting a little something into your system before working out first thing in the morning actually increases calorie burn and ability to exercise.  A half a banana dipped into a couple of ounces of plain Greek yogurt with vanilla extract, cinnamon and stevia (optional) is all that is needed to get the best bang for your workout buck first thing in the morning!

Here we are in the middle of summer, the most body-baring time of year.  And for many women who are 45 and above, it is bitter sweet. We want to enjoy the great weather wear easy, comfortable, summer outfits, yet our bodies seem to be defying everything we do to lose weight and get toned. We are following all the recommendations for weight loss and it seems as if weight gain is the only result!

If this is you, then know that you are NOT crazy!  What you need to do in order to lose weight in peri-menopause and menopause is very different than what is recommended for younger women (and men).  The good news is you CAN lose, especially belly fat, once you know what to do for this distinct time of your life cycle.

Right now HIIT, or High Intensity Interval Training, is very much the flavor of the month.  Programs such as Tabata, P90X and the newer releases, and Cross Fit are a few of the current popular programs involving HIIT training.  All these programs promise that by doing short intervals of high intensity exercise the participants will increase metabolic rates, enhance the body’s ability to burn body fat, and increase exercise capacity.

While all this is true, and these programs all have merit, the lower estrogen in peri, menopausal and post-menopausal women throw a monkey wrench into the equation.

When we are under stress of all types, the human body releases cortisol.  Deep levels of belly fat are highly reactive to cortisol.  The more cortisol the harder it is to burn the deep belly fat.  Estrogen acts as a buffer against cortisol. So in younger women and men, when cortisol is released under the conditions of high-intensity exercise intervals, estrogen does its job at modifying the cortisol and belly fat reserves can be reduced.  But in menopausal women, estrogen is no longer as available, so the additional stress of high intensity exercise on top of the stresses of everyday life, actually works as a block to accessing belly fat. Combine this with the common behavior of eating when stressed and we have the perfect storm ….not for fat loss…..but for fat GAIN in menopausal women!

Menopausal woman are better served to schedule moderate cardiovascular workouts that are sustained for a longer duration OR broken up into several smaller bouts of moderate work in order to access that hard to burn belly fat.  For instance, doing a 75–minute challenging hike or a bike ride is better than sets of 30 second kamikaze burpees.

This doesn’t mean NEVER doing high intensity cardio for menopausal women. Once a week, a high intensity workout with intervals is a good thing.  But trying to do intervals every workout is not and will actually inhibit fat loss in menopausal women.

But, when it comes to strength training the opposite is true. Menopausal women are in the age bracket where muscle loss accelerates unless you are doing something to reverse it.  Metabolic rate decreases as muscle decreases.  Even when eating the same food, body fat will increase if muscle goes down.  Menopausal women should perform sets of heavy weight training in order to gain muscle mass as the best strategy for fat loss. 

Unfortunately, most menopausal women are doing the opposite and taking group classes such as Body Pump, Pilates, and other high-rep body workouts which involve high repetitions of low to moderate weights.  These classes do not utilize high enough weight loads to gain muscle and at best will be a moderate calorie burner. But don’t expect to get the same results as a workout involving higher weights, drop sets and sets of 8-12 reps.

Menopausal women are best served doing moderate and sustained cardio workouts with one high intensity interval workout per week combined with two times a week of heavier weight workouts. The weight should be about 85% of the maximum you can lift at one time.

The superficial layers of belly fat are very sensitive to insulin which is a hormone produced by the pancreas when carbohydrates are eaten to move the glucose from the blood so that homeostasis is maintained.  When we eat a high amount of carbohydrates (good and bad ones!) our bodies become insulin resistant and more insulin must be released to get the same blood sugar regulation.  At the same time, going too low in carbohydrates can stress the body.  We already know that menopausal women are set up (due to lower estrogen) to horde belly fat when under stress.  For this reason, if menopausal women go too low in carbohydrates it can lead to a harder time of losing fat, particularly belly fat.

Menopausal women are best served to follow an eating plan that is not too low in carbs and where the majority of carbs comes from plants (vegetables) and fruits with some whole grain, such as brown rice, farro, steel cut oats, etc. Minimizing refined grain products and milled flours of all types (even gluten-free products are made from refined flours!) will serve everyone trying to lose weight, menopausal or not.

You can lose fat, and particularly belly fat, even in menopause and beyond.  You can wear comfortable and summery clothes and feel great. When estrogen is decreased, the rules change.  So you may have to modify the guidelines being given for what is the best way to exercise and eat in order to see the results you expect! You can download more information on Menopause and Weight Loss at and click on the Shop tab.

Enjoy the summer!

Judy Torel is a USAT certified coach, has a Master’s degree as a psychotherapist/life coach, is a certified metabolic nutrition coach, 200 RYT yoga instructor, and ACSM certified fitness specialist. She is an ultra-distance runner and 6 time Ironman competitor. She can be reached at and her office is located at 116 Everett Road, Albany.


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