Say hello to the ‘meno belly’, says Rachel Johnson

Like my friend Alexandra Shulman of this parish, I suffer (if that’s the right word) from a rare syndrome that we have decided is called ‘body eumorphia’. A rich and strange condition among us women, this condition means when we look in the full-length mirror in a state of undress we don’t feel like crying. We – more or less – like what we see. 

Well, I did – until, that is, I hit the menopause and, about five years ago, a mysterious wodge of flab appeared almost overnight above my knicker line. I ignored it, as I do my baby blonde tache – for me every month is Movember – and pale leg hair, which I like to pretend are both invisible to the naked eye. 

But then I was playing tennis one Saturday and a skinny friend with washboard abs on the adjoining court shouted over as one of their balls had bounced into our court. She knows who she is. And now you do, too. 

‘Hey, Fatty!’ Bella Pollen yelled. ‘Ball, please!’ 

Rachel Johnson explains how since menopause her tummy grew by six inches - this she recognised as 'meno-belly'

Rachel Johnson explains how since menopause her tummy grew by six inches – this she recognised as ‘meno-belly’

Fatty? Me? I went home and looked at my side silhouette in the mirror. There was no doubt at all that there was a bit of a balcony over the shop. Nothing like a distended male beer belly, but a distinct protrusion that probably precluded bikini-wearing next summer unless I got to grips with it – and fast. 

My aim was not to lose weight; the Americans have a wise saying that after the age of 40 or so you have to choose between your ‘face’ and your ‘fanny’ (an Americanism for bottom). Well, my bum is already on its last legs (geddit?) and ideally I would relocate the excess fat on my tummy to prop it up, but I don’t believe in such extreme Brazilian-type measures. 

So I resolved to embark on a strict diet and exercise regime. I’d only try old-school tried-and-trusted sit-ups and starvation-style therapies and so on to address the ‘meno belly’ and gave myself until Christmas to regain the svelter shape of my child-bearing years. Surely, I told myself, a bit more plank and a bit less sauvignon come wine o’clock would sort it out? 

Hah! Maybe when I was 30. But not, it appears, when you’re 57… 

Surely more plank and less plonk would sort me out. Hah. Maybe if you are 30 but not over 50

My first port of call was the gym (I use the Soho House super-gym in West London’s White City) where my trainer David Wiener measured me with callipers and wrote me an extensive circuit plan – exercises and repetitions – to do home alone with weights/dumbbells and a mat. He also told me to have carbs at only one meal a day if I could (more of which later). 

‘All the exercises will work to build, tighten and define key areas including legs, shoulders, arms, abdomen and glutes, while also building strength and stamina that will improve future training performance,’ he said, all of which I am sure is true – if only I did all the exercises as often as I was supposed to, which of course I didn’t. 

I did, however, try to do the most important thing, which was the cardio/ fat-burning on the stairs/treadmill once a week after he told me that, ‘Stairs are designed to reduce fat levels, bringing out definition in key areas, and increase muscular endurance levels and condition of your body.’ (He also told me that I had to do it for one hour three times a week, which was never gonna happen, even after him showing me before-and-after pictures of his clients. Before: dad bods and mum tums; after: ripped six-packs.) 

I also carried on playing tennis at least twice a week, and trained in the gym once a week. I cut down on carbs – or tried to. Reader, nothing seemed to happen very fast so I threw the kitchen sink at the problem and added a tech intervention to speed up the benefits of this reduced diet and additional exercise. 

I went to a medi-spa salon up the road from me in Westbourne Grove called Young LDN, where I booked in for a four-session treatment called EMsculpt, a high-tech contouring procedure that uses electromagnetic energy to make muscles contract. If it’s good enough for Jennifer Lopez, Kim Kardashian and Drew Barrymore… 

Body eumorphia is a condition when we we look in a full-length mirror in a state of undress and don't feel like crying - we more of less like what we see. Rachel had this until she hit menopause about five years ago

Body eumorphia is a condition when we we look in a full-length mirror in a state of undress and don’t feel like crying – we more of less like what we see. Rachel had this until she hit menopause about five years ago

The first thing Sarah, my therapist, did was whip out a tape measure to encircle my waist. When she told me how big it was I screamed out loud. The meno belly is real. Since menopause mine is six inches bigger (I’m not giving you the diameter) and I no longer have the bikini body I had ten years ago. 

For the treatment, I lay down on a massage table and – a bit like being brought to life by a crash team – the lovely Sarah bound my waist with a contraption containing paddles with electrodes that shock your tummy into doing the equivalent of 20,000 crunches in half an hour while the heat, in theory, melts your fat. ‘On average clients see a 30 per cent reduction in fat and a 25 per cent gain in muscle mass following a course of four EMsculpt NEO treatments,’ she promised. 

So, Reader: how did I get on? Did I see results? Before the reveal, bear this in mind: I was more careful about what I ate. I trained twice as hard. I did have four sessions of EMsculpt on my midsection. At one stage in November, I even spent a few days at a delicious hotel spa in the South of France where I was put on a reduced-calorie regime and had a massage de fermeture, ie, firming massage, that included a spell with a cryotherapy (fat-freezing) wand. 

As for the data – well, the numbers are in. I’m comfortably back in my 28-inch skinny jeans, and as for my meno belly… When I started my regime my abdominal fat was at 26 per cent (!). After my pre-Christmas training for the New Year New Start, it had dropped to around 24.5 per cent. ‘Nearly 1.5 per cent down, which is great,’ said my trainer. ‘Remember, women have essential fat of 14 per cent.’ If I turn sideways my stomach also looks sleeker, and the pocket of adipose tissue over my C-section scar has melted down a bit. 

So what did the trick? Look – I’m not a scientist. I have no idea whether the diet, the exercise or the electric shocks did the heavy lifting but I can certainly tell you which was the toughest to endure. Not the training, and certainly not the electrode-induced tummy muscle convulsions (although EMsculpt is expensive). It’s the dietary changes that are killer. For fellow cakeists (I like to have my cake and eat it) that is pretty penitential. My last meal on earth would be a whole freshly baked, still-warm French baguette with cold unsalted French butter. 

Conclusion: when it comes to tackling the meno belly, there’s no such thing as a free lunch. 

  • EMsculpt costs £1,800 for four sessions at


Got a meno belly that won’t budge? Dr Haver (below) hears you – she’s been there. She tells Maddy Fletcher that her Galveston Diet is the answer – loads of healthy fats, and almost no carbs. Sigh 

While working as a gynaecologist, Dr Mary Claire Haver found that her menopausal patients would all come to her with the same problem. ‘They would grab their tummies and shake them at me,’ says the 54-year-old Texan. ‘They were like, “What is this?”’ 

Haver is now a trained nutritionist whose programme for menopausal women, The Galveston Diet, has had more than 100,000 participants. But back then, she did not have a satisfactory answer. Instead, for 20 years, she trotted out the same line to patient after patient: eat less, exercise more. It was, she admits, all she had been taught in medical school. It was only when Haver gained almost two stone herself that she began to question her ‘more calories out, fewer calories in’ mindset. ‘I was going to the gym twice a day, I was calorically restricting to a dangerous level.’ 

Yet nothing changed. ‘I’m not saying that calories aren’t important,’ Haver says. ‘But if you’re trying to lose weight and you’re menopausal, counting calories is simply not enough.’

Why? Because menopausal weight gain is influenced by hormones. Specifically, when your hormone levels change, so do the areas where you develop fat. Pre-menopause, most women tend to gain weight around their hips, thighs, breasts and bottoms, says Haver. ‘But once we start seeing hormone changes, we see a new and dangerous deposition of fat in the intra abdominal cavity in the viscera.’ (For non-boffins, that’s your stomach.) 

So what can you do about it? Haver’s debut book The Galveston Diet, which comes out this month, has some answers. 


Haver reckons you should have a 16-hour period of fasting and an eight-hour window of eating. The good news? Eight of those 16 fasting hours are when you’re asleep. Fasting helps lower inflammation and boost metabolism, altering hormone levels to make stored body fat easier to burn. In particular, growth hormones can increase as much as five-fold when you fast intermittently – these are the ones that help burn body fat and create lean muscle.


When the hormones fluctuate in menopause, inflammation tends to worsen, too. This is a nasty cycle: inflammation triggers weight gain, weight gain triggers inflammation. What helps is to avoid actively inflammatory foods (those with omega-6 fats) and to eat as many anti-inflammatory foods (those with omega-3 fats) as possible. Actively inflammatory foods contain refined vegetable oils such as sunflower, corn, soybean and cottonseed oils. They also pop up in snacks (biscuits, crackers) and fast foods. Luckily, anti-inflammatory foods are yummier than they sound. Try fatty fish (salmon, mackerel, sardines), some plant foods (flaxseeds and walnuts), and grass-fed meat. Taking an omega-3 supplement such as fish oil helps as well. 


This is the step that makes sure you don’t put weight straight back on. As Haver states in her book, ‘Your body must shift its energy usage to rely more on fat as its fuel, rather than on glucose. If you don’t burn all the glucose you have in your bloodstream, the excess is stored as body fat.’ 

Glucose normally comes from carb-heavy diets and processed food with heaps of added sugar. Haver’s suggestion is this: your diet should consist of 70 per cent healthy fats (avocado, olive oil, seeds, raw nuts, mayonnaise, butter), 20 per cent lean protein (grass-fed meat, wild-caught fish, eggs) and 10 per cent quality carbs (fruit, veg and wholegrains). 

The Galveston Diet is not short-term – Haver encourages people to follow it for life. But she promises the effects are worthwhile: ‘Not only are we going to lose the pounds that are irritating us, we’re going to get healthier, we’re going to live longer, and we’re going to have a better quality of life.’ 

It’s also not as daunting as it sounds, she promises. If you’re knackered and want to take a break from the diet, do. (‘I always say, if you get a flat tyre, don’t slash the other three.’) And you shouldn’t make all the changes in one huge, exhausting, lifestyle-altering swoop. (‘You’ll overwhelm yourself’.) Instead, Haver encourages a one-step-at-a-time approach. ‘Just try to get one per cent better every day. That’s it. Just one per cent every day and then over 365 days that will add up.’ 

  • Dr Haver’s book The Galveston Diet will be published on 12 January by Penguin, £16.99. To order a copy for £14.44 until 22 January, go to or call 020 3176 2937. Free UK deliveries on orders over £20 


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