The number one reason it’s so hard to lose belly fat: hormones. With menopause comes a drop in estrogen; this decrease alters where the body stores fat, making women more prone to gaining visceral belly fat. Other hormonal imbalances during this time can leave the body feeling hungry, even after eating. Sleep disturbances, common in perimenopause and menopause, are associated with decreased levels of leptin (an appetite suppressant) and increased levels of ghrelin (an appetite stimulant).
The zero-calorie tag is particularly tempting when you’re desperate to drop fat, but honestly you’ll see better results if you avoid any artificial sweeteners in your diet. According to the Harvard School of Public Health, when your brain registers something as sweet but fails to get those calories associated with it, it causes your body to seek them elsewhere, leading to excess calorie intake. In addition, popular sweeteners like Splenda are 300-600 times sweeter than real sugar on average, and consuming them may send your sweet cravings through the roof, potentially leading to poor food choices. Steer clear of the fake stuff and reach for the real stuff in moderation if you absolutely need something sweet. However, if you’re really serious about getting rid of your excess fat it would serve you best to avoid added sugar at all costs.
Research also shows that workouts involving high-intensity interval training (HIIT) can help reduce excess fat around your middle. Besides working your core, try incorporating a day or two of more vigorous exercise into your weekly schedule. (You can start with these three beginner routines.) Keep in mind that you can lower your total body fat percentage even by moving around more at work, according to another study.
Instead of satisfying your sweet tooth with some refined sugar, turn to berries and enjoy a slimmer waistline in no time. Berries are loaded with antioxidants, which can help reduce inflammation throughout the body, and research from the University of Michigan reveals that rats given a berry-rich diet shaved off a significant proportion of their belly fat when compared to a control group. Berries like strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, and blackberries are also loaded with resveratrol, an antioxidant pigment that has been linked to reductions in belly fat and a reduced risk of dementia, to boot.
Strength training is another critical component in belly fat loss. You can't crunch your tummy away, but you can participate in a full-body strength-training program that addresses all the major muscle groups. Do this at least twice a week to build muscle, which helps boost your metabolism. The results of strength-training are gradual, however. One week of strength training won't induce the changes in your body necessary to improve your metabolism, but over the long haul you'll see improvements.
Visceral fat—a type of fat that lies deep inside your abdomen and surrounds your internal organs—is linked to a whole slew of terrifying health problems like heart disease and type 2 diabetes, according to the Mayo Clinic. Even scarier: According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), your risk of those health issues increases even more if your waist size is greater than 35 inches for women and 40 inches for men.