Woman walking dog

Solving the Mystery of the Menopausal Middle

Last time I took my dogs to the vet, they were both slightly overweight. So, I started feeding them one less scoop of kibble, and adding a high-protein meal topper to their dishes. Within a few short weeks, I began seeing their visibly slimmer silhouettes.  

“Look how skinny you are!” I remarked as I fed them breakfast. Then I laughed and said to the dogs, “Ha! If only it were that easy for menopausal women to trim down our waistlines.” 

If only.  

Personally, I haven’t changed a thing about my diet or activity levels in the last, say…decade?! I walk a couple miles every day with my dogs; I do 20 minutes of yoga three or four days a week; and my diet is healthier than most people I know. (“Go drink your mushroom coffee!” my friends like to quip.)  

And yet…that dreaded “menopausal middle” is becoming quite apparent.  

Thankfully, my clothes still fit (or I’d be crying in my closet right now), but it seems that any remnants of muscle tone I had in my midsection have been surreptitiously replaced by flab. My usual efforts – which have always kept me reasonably fit in my adult life – are now failing me.  

Just a year into menopause, my body is betraying me.  

I now find myself shopping for flowy tops and shapewear that sucks in my belly under fitted dresses. Is this menopausal middle the beginning of my downturn from a once reasonably fashionable woman into an old lady? 

I flat out refuse to dress like an old lady in my 50s. But, if I have to keep finding strategic ways to disguise my belly fat, in the very near future I will most certainly not even “look nice for a mom” (as my teenage daughter lovingly tells me).  

I digress.  

Yet, I know I’m not the only woman who struggles – emotionally and physically – with menopausal belly fat.  

Are hormones the missing link?

Based on what I’ve learned from doing research in this field, the answer is emphatically, YES! Hormone balance is crucial to numerous inward and outward health conditions – including the menopausal middle. I’ve learned that you can do all the things you used to do, including eating well, but as your hormones naturally decline with age, your usual efforts may not be enough.  

Based on my understanding of how hormones dwindle as we get older, I’m sure I need to boost my testosterone to address symptoms like low energy, joint pain, and a nearly nonexistent libido.  

Progesterone imbalance could be the culprit of bloating and weight gain. And if estrogen has left the building, that might explain my occasional hot flashes and sleepless nights. 

I talk to brilliant pharmacists and Bioidentical Replacement Hormone Therapy (BHRT) experts every day. I read the blogs. I follow the Facebook groups. I see thousands of women who are struggling just like me – many of them with much more unbearable symptoms than myself.  

I see the fad exercise routines that promise to help me lose my menopausal middle “in just 10 minutes a day!” or try to convince me I need “this ONE supplement” to burn my belly fat. I read how I can “easily balance my hormones” eating some rare, organic herb.  

It’s admittedly challenging for me – someone immersed in the hormone replacement world – to decipher all the chatter and get the REAL help I need during the hormonal fluctuations of menopause. I imagine it’s even harder for women who are not in this profession to differentiate the real, medical therapies and weed out the latest quick-fix hype.  

Today, I got the names of some reputable BHRT specialists in my area. Scheduling an appointment to talk about my symptoms is on my high-priority to-do list, because I know I can feel – and potentially look – better than I do now. In the meantime, until I embark on my personal hormone replacement therapy journey, I’ll continue to eat salads, drink mushroom coffee, and get enough sleep and exercise for the long-term health benefits.  

I pull on my stretchy yoga pants and a loose tank top. “Come on guys!” I say to my dogs. “Let’s go for another walk.” 

Karla Socci Somers