By Kim Schlag, Personal Trainer & Nutrition Coach 5-Minute Read
Kim Schlag is a personal trainer & nutrition coach who helps women over 40 age stronger, improve their body composition, and heal their relationship with food and their bodies through her eight-week course Fitter After 40.
Many a menopausal woman has been distressed by the sight of her changing midsection. In a society that has taught us to value youth with its taut tummies and trim waistlines, is it any wonder we feel like our bodies are betraying us?
By the end of this article, you will be armed with knowledge about what is actually going on with your midsection in menopause and what you can (and can’t) do about it.
Alongside this practical education, for your consideration, I want to present a question few people in the fitness industry pose—but which is worthy of introspection as we navigate this new phase of life.
You’ll also find my top three favorite ab exercises to try at home!
"When you have excess fat at this stage of life, menopause is shifting the storage of it to your midsection."
What Is UP With My Belly?
As your hormones shift in menopause, they cause a shift in your fat storage patterns. Whereas before menopause, you may have stored excess fat in your glutes and thighs or more evenly across your body...now you are storing more of your excess fat in your midsection.
A key word to pay attention to here is excess fat. Menopause isn’t causing you to gain fat or keeping you from losing fat, but when you have excess fat at this stage of life, menopause is shifting the storage of it to your midsection.
How Can I Get Rid of Belly Fat?
As frustrating as this new belly fat can be, there is good news. You can lose this fat if you so choose (more on that choice later). Let’s start with what doesn’t work.
❌ You can’t spot reduce fat.
Anyone claiming they’ve found the hack for getting rid of belly fat with a pill, detox, superfood, supplement, or belly blaster workout protocol is either just after your money, doesn’t know what they're talking about, or both.
❌ That burning you’re feeling when you do ab exercises isn’t fat burning. Ab exercises are awesome to build a strong core, and just like anywhere else in your body, if you want definition, you need to build muscle.
✅ You won't, however, see that definition until you remove that layer of fat off the top through nutrition. Specifically, you need to eat in a sustained calorie deficit. Not the sexiest of answers is it? Believe me, if there were a pill, potion, or workout protocol that worked, I would absolutely not only be telling you about it, but using it myself! Understanding how to set up a calorie deficit is beyond this article's scope, but if you would like help figuring it out, grab my Free Five-Day Fat Loss Crash Course HERE and I’ll walk you through it step by step.
"Is the juice worth the squeeze?"
To Lose It Or Not?
Here’s something to let your brain percolate on: Is the juice worth the squeeze? I’m not here to dictate the answer, just to suggest you consider it. Because women of our generation have been taught—at least since our teenage years if not before then—that our weight is of utmost importance...and the pinnacle of "fit and beautiful" is a perfectly flat stomach. So asking yourself if it's worth it to lose that last 5 or 10 pounds of fat in your belly might never occur to you because of course the goal is a flat stomach
Now, I want to note that a high amount of visceral fat—that fat deep inside around our organs (as opposed to the fat under our skin)—is not healthy for us. It’s associated with a higher risk of cancer, heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and more. So not having too much of it is important. How much is too much? Looking at your waist-to-hip ratio can be one useful indicator. Measure around your waist at your belly button and record it and then measure around the widest part of your hips and record it. Divide the waist size by the hip size to get your waist-to-hip ratio. The World Health Organization suggests 0.85 or above is an unhealthy ratio for women (.90 for men) and that 1.0 or above for both increases substantially the risk for health problems.
OK, so let's say you do that hip-to-waist ratio screening and you’re not in a healthy range. Looking to make changes to your diet and exercise will be key to improve your health.
"Even before menopause, how many of us didn’t have a perfectly flat stomach and chased it relentlessly or beat ourselves up about not having one, when in reality most everyone else didn’t have one either?"
But what if it's in that healthy range? I’m not suggesting you just accept it as is. I think the movement to push the idea that any intentional weight loss pursuit is "disordered" has missed the mark. It’s OK to want to change your body. AND at the same time, our entire lives, we have been force fed an image of beauty that is not reflective of most women.
The standard that we measure ourselves against is impossibly high. Even before menopause, how many of us didn’t have a perfectly flat stomach and chased it relentlessly or beat ourselves up about not having one, when in reality most everyone else didn’t have one either?
Victoria Garrick Browne, a podcaster and influencer, made a brilliant TikTok responding to someone commenting on her belly by patting her tummy and saying something along the lines of “Oh, I’m sorry. I can't carry my organs around in my pockets, so this is the handy pouch my body created to do it for me.”
@victoriabrowne hope this clears it up. #bodypositivity #bodypositive #athomeworkout ♬ original sound - Cecelia
So funny because it’s true. Our midsections are FULL of vital organs. Not to mention genetics play a role. Genetically, some people will see visible abs at a higher body fat percentage. Body structure plays a role. If you have a short torso, there's less room for things to go.
And yet, flat abs are the standard.
What if we were the generation to say “Enough. We don’t want to spend the next three decades fighting for a flat stomach because we've spent the last three doing that already. We want to adventure and explore and relax and grow and change the world and not obsess over our bellies being bellies.”
What a gift to give ourselves. What a gift we could give to the rising generations as we model being healthy, fit, and vibrant while having bellies that are not the idealized flat stomach. Something to think about.
"What if we were the generation to say 'Enough'"?
Build a Strong Core
Flat or not, strong abs are healthy abs. Having a strong core can prevent back pain, ward off injury, and improve posture, balance, and athletic performance.
You don’t need to do a thousand crunches per day for a strong core, either. Two to three sets of up to three ab exercises, two to three times per week, is plenty. Here are three of my favorite core exercises, with video demonstration of correct form:
If you want more direct help consistently incorporating these forms of exercise into your life (including personalized form feedback), please check out my eight-week course Fitter After 40. It’s a complete system for women over 40 to get in their best shape yet, including nutrition, exercise, and mindset.