If you have been diagnosed with Hashimoto’s, chances are it happened during postpartum or menopause. These are two periods in a woman’s life when she is most likely to get diagnosed with Hashimoto’s. Also, these are when hormonal changes favor storing belly fat. Stress and sleep deprivation don’t help, either. Compounded, these factors can make it seem impossible to lose belly fat, despite your best efforts to eat well and exercise.
The good news is that you can lose your body fat by working with, rather than against, your body. And since belly fat can produce inflammation and increase many health risks, it’s actually a good idea to reduce it—not just to look better, but also to better manage your Hashimoto’s.
In this article, we’ll explain the science behind belly fat and how to work with your body to lose it and keep it off.
What is belly fat and why does it matter?
During menopause, your midsection weight gain is like having hormonal insurance. Now that your ovaries have stopped estrogen production, your body relies on your adrenals and fat cells to keep making the estrogen you need.
But, the location of the extra fat can also be a problem. Fat cells in the belly and in between organs are special in that they can take up the extra calories that other muscle and fat cells don’t want to take. Also, they produce inflammation that can worsen autoimmunity and insulin resistance .
So, having more belly fat increases many health risks, such as [2–4]:
- Metabolic syndrome
- Type 2 diabetes
- Cardiovascular disease
- High blood pressure
- Joint pain
This is true even for women who have never been overweight or obese. Hashimoto’s already slows down your metabolism, tends to cause weight gain and joint pain, and increases these health risks. Having more belly fat can make all of these worse. Yet, trying to lose the postpartum and menopausal belly fat is truly an uphill struggle.
Most conventional diet and exercise programs for women with Hashimoto’s can make matters worse. For example, many doctors may advise gentle yoga or cardio exercises. You may have also been told to eat less and exercise more. Instead, what you should do is build muscle and balance your hormones toward less belly fat storage.
Here are the five pillars to losing belly fat with Hashimoto’s
1. Resistance training
Strength and muscles are your best friend if you’re struggling with Hashimoto’s and belly fat .
Through my own personal experience healing from Hashimoto’s, strength training was key to overcoming much of my joint pain and debilitating fatigue. Hundreds of women in my Thyroid Strong program have had the same experience. The strength allows us to move around more and live our lives rather than being couch-bound. This reduces our risk of weight gain.
Gaining muscle uses a lot of calories, making it easier to lose fat. Also, having more muscles makes you more insulin sensitive, so you’re more likely to put the calories you eat into your muscles rather than your fat cells.
Understandably, like many women, you may find the weight room intimidating. And Hashimoto’s symptoms could keep you from exercising for so long that you don’t even know where to start. Also, most lifting programs for people without Hashimoto’s can be too much, especially for beginners.
This is why I created Thyroid Strong, where I teach women with Hashimoto’s the right way to train, enough to build muscle but not so hard that it sends you to the couch for days. You can learn about functional movements and the right duration and intensity to exercise. That way, you can train in a way that improves your Hashimoto’s and reduces belly fat, rather than making things worse.
2. Balancing your blood sugar
Poor blood sugar control and insulin resistance leads to belly fat gain .
The Standard American Diet (SAD) or even the healthy diet advice of eating a lot of whole grains tend to cause poor blood sugar control. Many people also are not getting their best sleep. These can lead to insulin resistance, which shows as belly fat.
Losing weight without balancing your blood sugar can be very difficult because you’ll be hungrier and craving more sugar. Also, the belly fat will tend to stick around even after you’ve lost some weight.
To balance your blood sugar, consider:
- Building and using your muscles. Your muscle cells take up the blood sugar, making you more insulin sensitive .
- Getting good sleep every night. Even one night of sleep deprivation can cause insulin resistance and increase cortisol .
- Eating enough protein. Protein makes you more satiated and helps stabilize your blood sugar. It also requires more calories to burn and preserves your muscles. Aim for 30 grams of protein per meal to stabilize your blood sugar and support muscle growth.
Inside Thyroid Strong, I recommend an Autoimmune Paleo Protocol diet and 16-hour fasts, which can help balance your blood sugar. By lowering inflammation and being high protein, high fat, and low carb, the diet can significantly improve your insulin sensitivity .
To balance your blood sugar, lose belly fat, and manage your Hashimoto’s, I recommend focusing your meals on high-quality protein, good fats, and fiber, while eliminating common food sensitivities and simple carbs.
3. Managing cortisol levels
Cortisol, or stress hormone, is another reason your body holds onto belly fat because it can increase your blood sugar.
With chronic stress, you have more cortisol, leading to overeating and insulin resistance. There is now a well-established link between chronically high cortisol levels and weight gain .
Despite living in our stress-packed modern society, there are numerous ways to quiet your mind, cultivate inner peace, and get a good night’s rest.
These don’t have to drain you of resources, either. Spending time in nature, practicing mindfulness, hugging a puppy, or using inexpensive meditation and sleep apps can all do wonders for lowering cortisol.
Choose your own adventure here, and find your favorite stress reliever. It’s best if you can incorporate it into your daily routine.
Be sure to practice good sleep hygiene, too. Reserve the bedroom for sleep and sex only (bonus: sex is a great cortisol-lowering activity!), avoid screen-time before bed, and keep your room comfortably cool.
4. Finding a functional medicine doctor
Belly fat is a problem when your hormones are imbalanced, so you want to work with someone who can help you get to the root cause.
As we mentioned earlier, belly fat can be linked to insulin resistance, inflammation, high cortisol, and low estrogen. Functional medicine doctors can help you get to the root causes of these issues with laboratory testing and a thorough intake process to determine your individual health needs.
You’ll then get a treatment plan tailored to your needs to get you back to your best health and body composition. These doctors usually recommend lifestyle changes, supplementation, and occasional pharmaceuticals.
You may have been stuck with belly fat and Hashimoto’s is that because so far you’ve only received cookie-cutter advice. So, don’t settle for that. If you’ve felt frustrated with conventional medicine and its one-size-fits-all model of health, functional medicine may be a better fit for you.
5. Exploring hormone replacement therapy for menopause
As I mentioned before, when the ovaries cease making estrogen during menopause, your body grows belly fat in an attempt to keep up with hormone production.
For many menopausal and perimenopausal women, getting on an HRT protocol can result in major improvements in body composition and wellbeing . It can also make it easier to reduce midsection fat . That said, there are some health risks associated with HRT and it is a personal choice, so you want to do your research and speak to your doctor before making this decision.
Belly fat isn’t your fault! It’s frustrating to try so many diets and exercise programs only for the belly fat to stay. Also, many of the wrong diet and exercise advice could actually be making things worse, especially if you have Hashimoto’s
This is why I created Thyroid Strong to empower you with the right tools to help you lose weight, including in the midsection. The program will also help you regain your strength and quality of life.
Cheers to you and your health,
Dr Emily Kiberd
Here is Cheryl’s success story:
Lose Weight & Regain Your Energy
How to lose weight as a woman living with Hashimoto’s.
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