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  • Vicky Wilson

Understanding the Effects of Perimenopause and Cortisol on Belly Fat

Perimenopause is a transitional phase that typically occurs in women in their 40s and 50s, leading up to menopause. During this time, hormonal fluctuations can lead to various symptoms, including weight gain, particularly around the abdominal area. One of the key hormones involved in this process is cortisol, often referred to as the "stress hormone." Elevated cortisol levels can contribute to the accumulation of belly fat, which can be both frustrating and concerning for many women. Fat is stored around the middle, so it is closer to the liver and ready to be converted back to energy. In this blog, we will explore the relationship between perimenopause, cortisol, and belly fat, and provide practical tips on how to manage this with diet and lifestyle changes.


The Role of Hormones in Perimenopause

Perimenopause is characterised by significant hormonal shifts, especially in oestrogen and progesterone. These hormonal changes can affect metabolism, appetite, and fat distribution. As oestrogen levels decline, the body tends to store more fat, particularly in the abdominal region. This type of fat, known as visceral fat, surrounds internal organs and we need some to protect those organs. However, having too much can lead to increased risks of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and other health conditions.


Cortisol and Belly Fat

Cortisol is produced by the adrenal glands in response to stress. While it plays a vital role in various bodily functions, chronic stress can lead to prolonged elevated cortisol levels. We need a bit of cortisol to give us the ‘fight or flight’ response but most of the time we don’t need to run away from danger. High cortisol can increase appetite, lead to cravings for high-calorie foods, and promote fat storage in the abdominal area. The combination of hormonal changes during perimenopause and high cortisol levels can make managing weight particularly challenging.


Diet and lifestyle changes to help reduce belly fat

1. Balanced Diet

  • Prioritise Whole Foods: Focus on consuming whole, unprocessed foods. Include plenty of fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains. These foods provide essential nutrients and help maintain a steady blood sugar level, meaning less hunger cravings and reducing the likelihood of overeating.

  • Healthy Fats: Incorporate sources of healthy fats such as oily fish, avocados, nuts, seeds, and olive oil. These fats can help reduce inflammation and support overall hormonal balance.

  • Fibre-Rich Foods: Eating fibre-rich foods like legumes, whole grains, and vegetables can promote feeling fuller and help control appetite, which is beneficial in managing weight.

  • Reduce salt and add in spice which can help with blood sugar regulation.

  • Limit Added Sugars and Refined Carbs: Reduce the intake of sugary foods and drinks, as well as refined carbohydrates like white bread and pastries. These can cause spikes in blood sugar and increase fat storage. Swap for healthy snacks or stick to 3 meals a day.


2. Regular Physical Activity

  • Cardiovascular Exercise: Engage in regular cardiovascular exercise such as walking, jogging, cycling, dancing or swimming. Aim for at least 3 sessions of moderate-intensity aerobic activity per week.

  • Strength Training: Incorporate strength training exercises at least once a week. Building muscle mass can boost metabolism and help reduce overall body fat, including visceral fat.

  • Stress-Reducing Activities: Participate in activities that help reduce stress, such as yoga, meditation, or deep-breathing exercises. Even reading a book or taking a relaxing bath. Lowering stress levels can help reduce cortisol production and mitigate its effects on belly fat.


3. Sleep and Recovery 

  • Prioritise Sleep: Aim for 7-8 hours of quality sleep each night. Poor sleep can elevate cortisol levels and increase appetite, making it harder to manage weight.

  • Rest and Recovery: Ensure you have adequate rest and recovery time, especially if you are engaging in regular physical activity. Overtraining can increase stress and cortisol levels. Have at least one rest (non-exercise) day a week.

  • Be kind to yourself and prioritise your time. Focus on what’s important to you. This isn’t being selfish as you’ll be more efficient and happier when you spend time with friends and family.


4. Mindful Eating

  • Eat Mindfully: Pay attention to your eating habits. Eat slowly, savour your food, and recognise when you are full. Mindful eating can help prevent overeating and reduce stress-related eating. You also absorb more nutrients and are less likely to suffer heartburn and indigestion.

  • Stay Hydrated: Drink plenty of water throughout the day (6-8 cups). Sometimes thirst is mistaken for hunger, leading to snacking.

  • Reduce Stimulants: Alcohol and caffeine can both increase the stress on the body.


Managing belly fat during perimenopause can be challenging due to hormonal changes and elevated cortisol levels. However, by making conscious diet and lifestyle changes, it is possible to reduce these effects. Focus on a balanced diet rich in whole foods, engage in regular physical activity, prioritise sleep and stress management, and practise mindful eating. These strategies can help you maintain a healthy weight and improve overall well-being during this transitional phase.

If you are on regular medication please consult your doctor before making any major changes.

I recently worked with a client Jo who was struggling to lose weight and was lacking motivation. By the end of our sessions she had dropped 2 dress sizes, had lost 8kg and fat. She also had the confidence to leave a job and find one that suited her better. Here’s what she had to say: -

“I’m taking lunch breaks, have joined a gym and am the lightest I’ve been in 5 years.

Thank you for helping me with my health and all the improvements in my life. You have a special gift”.

If you are struggling with hormonal belly fat or any other health issue I can help and support you with personalised nutritional therapy and accountability. I offer free 30 minute clarity calls to find out about my various plans and also food intolerance testing. Book via my website


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