Dr Louise Newson (www.balance-menopause.com) and Davina McCall speaking out and raising awareness of menopause, hoo-flippin-ray!

One of the biggest things I get asked about is why menopausal people put on belly fat, and can’t seem to do ANYTHING about it, despite going on various (and often many) diets – keto, protein, calorie restricted, fasting and so many more. 

Why does menopause cause belly fat?

There are three main reasons, and they are triggered by the reduction/loss of oestrogen and progesterone that happens as we enter peri-menopause, through to full menopause.

  1. Insulin levels rise 

Higher insulin causes increased hunger and increased fat storage

2. The impact of cortisol increases

The menopausal person becomes exquisitely sensitive to stress, at a time in life when stress levels tend to be on the up as we try to balance careers, older children and/or elderly parents

3. Dopamine, Serotonin & GABA levels change 

These brain chemicals impact mood, hunger and cravings. This makes it more likely a menopausal person will eat more and feel less satisfied, all during a time where any extra calories will be stored as fat in the middle of the body.

So people, if you’re taking care to look after yourself and eat well, then MENOPAUSAL WEIGHT GAIN IS NOT YOUR FAULT.

There are lots of things you can do to help your body cope – in this blog, we’ll talk about eating, and in the next blog, we’ll talk about stress, sleep and exercise.

How does the food I eat affect me in menopause?

So, with insulin rising, we become very sensitive to carbohydrates – we just can’t process them the way we used to and the body misguidedly stores them all as fat, around the middle (which, you may note, is where most men store extra weight). The biggest thing you can do to help yourself is to look at what carbs you eat, probably reduce them, but do NOT eliminate them; instead, make better choices.


We can loosely categorise carbs as refined and starchy. Refined, processed carbs, such as cakes, chocolate, baked beans, white bread, pasta, rice, sweets, alcohol, mash, pop, hot chocolate/milkshakes, ready meals – you get the picture – are genuinely going to make the insulin response and weight gain worse.

So, reduce or eliminate those, and replace them with starchy, fibrous carbs such as skin on potato (white or sweet), brown rice, wholegrain/seeded breads, quinoa, root veg, bananas, oats, legumes/beans and all green veg.

Making swaps like using sliced courgette instead of pasta in lasagne, spiralising veg instead of spaghetti and making cauliflower rice will be massively helpful, even if it’s only occasional. If time is a factor, you can buy many of these off the shelf – just watch out for additives, especially sugar. Make sure you do have some starchy carbs at each meal though. Quite often at this phase of life, we are slightly insulin resistant (think of it as pre-pre-diabetes) so if you don’t have a little starchy carbs, you can have blood sugar lows, often mid-afternoon. I find that if I have one slice of toast and eggs for breakfast, and then something like mashed carrot & swede (I know, weird, but it’s my fave atm!) with lunch, I can function in the afternoon.


Protein is slow to digest, so will keep you fuller for longer and can help to balance out blood sugar fluctuations, so that eggs on toast for breakfast is good because the protein reduces some of the impact of the toast. Eat protein with every meal – add some protein powder to your porridge or replace some of your oats with ground linseed, chia seeds and or ground hemp.

If you are veggie or vegan, being aware that some of your protein sources (lentils, chick peas, beans) are also a source of starchy carbs. A good quality protein powder can be massively helpful in balancing your dietary intake and keeping you feeling satisfied.


Again, we can loosely classify fats into 2 types; saturated and unsaturated. We have been conditioned to believe that all saturated fats are bad and unsaturated fats are good; this is not the case – we need a bit of both! Saturated fats are those from animal sources and coconut, and unsaturated are from oily fish, seeds/nuts, olives, avocados.

Another of the downsides of eating processed foods is that they can contain really unhealthy sources of fat (man-made trans-fatty acids & hydrogenated), which can contain a LOT of Omega-6. Omega-6 is a polyunsaturated fatty acid, which is good for us BUT eaten in quantity it is inflammatory to the whole system. Not all unsaturated fats are good – ‘vegetable’ cooking oils go through a really complicated manufacturing process (unlike olive or nut oils which are just pressed). Consider reducing your dependence on cooking with veg/sunflower/canola/rapeseed/corn oils and invest in olive, coconut, or avocado oil instead. However, this may come with a price tag, so cooking with real butter or lard is OK, as long as it’s in small quantities.

So, eat fat with every meal and consume animal sources sparingly.

A few things to consider

Be mindful that beans/legumes/pulses are about 70% starchy carbs, and 20% or less protein. They are a good carb source, and decent protein for vegetarians. Just factor in that starch.

If you like to monitor your macros, try around 40% Protein, 20-30% Carbs, 40-30% Fat. Or try to stay under 100g of carbs/day (rough rule of thumb).

Don’t overload on fruit

Fruit contains fructose, which is sugar. Fortunately, it contains lots of fibre, vitamins & water too. Just be mindful of how much fruit you eat per day. Dried fruit is concentrated fructose, with some of the vitamins/fibre content but little water, so take care.

Eat protein for breakfast – you can use protein powder in your porridge (especially helpful for vegetarian/vegans), eggs, fish. Banana pancakes have 3 ingredients – banana, 2 eggs and a scoop of protein powder – makes enough for 2 serves.


If you can, avoid cooking in plastic, filter your water, use toughened glass or metal water containers, and don’t use non-stick pans. Quit smoking, reduce caffeine (consider mornings only), reduce alcohol.


Your skin is absorbent – if you can, use organic or natural washing products. Have you seen the ingredients in shampoo?! Do you need to use deodorant every day, or are you just conditioned to use it?

Gut bacteria

Eat fermented foods to increase the number and variety of your gut bacteria. Kombucha (watch the sugar content, plenty out there now with no sugar), kefir drinks, sauerkraut, miso and apple cider vinegar are all good.

It was a bit of a lengthy read, but you got through it! Feel free to ask me any questions about dietary intake and or menopause middle, and look out for the next blog on reducing stress and inducing sleep with exercise.