Menopausal Belly Fat
A frequent concern for women in their 40s and 50s is the increase in belly fat. It’s not so much the overall weight gain but where it is deposited – right around the belly button – that women find distressing. Even the more athletic women see changes in where the fat is deposited. I’ve often heard it call different names: spare tyre, muffin top and, my personal favourite, the menopot. Regardless of its name, we don’t want it, and we want rid of it. But can you shift it, or are we doomed to ever increasing belly fat?
First of all let’s look at why it happens:
It’s normal as we age to put on a bit of weight. This happens in men as well as women but women see more of that fat being deposited around the middle. Research shows that in 2008 abdominal obesity in women aged 40 to 59 years was 65.5%. Many different factors are at play here: fluctuations in hormone levels, loss in muscle mass, decreased activity levels and increased calorie intake. And that’s not all of them. As we age, we are faced with many physical, psychological and emotional changes. These changes are exacerbated during the menopause. Understanding these changes is a key factor in being able to overcome the challenges and transition happily through the menopause. Remember that weight gain doesn’t happen overnight and it doesn’t start with the menopause.
This is the primary female hormone, and a major culprit for weight gain during the menopause. Oestrogen is involved in many functions of the body: endocrine, immune and neurologic systems. As oestrogen levels decline, many women experience a myriad of symptoms, from hot flushes to forgetfulness, depression and insomnia. This usually occurs at a time when her lifestyle changes: children leave home, parents age, maintaining a work life balance becomes more difficult, relationships change or break down completely. This added stress produces the hormone Cortisol, the next culprit in the lineup for menopausal weight gain.
When we experience stress, the body becomes primed for attack and the adrenal glands pump out cortisol. When we experience chronic stress, whether that be from a high sugar diet or from feeling overwhelmed, the adrenal glands continue to pump out cortisol for extended periods of time, so cortisol levels remain high in the body. Chronic stress can cause excess fat storage deep in the abdomen (visceral fat). Cortisol levels are naturally higher in the mornings and taper down during the day, but when the body remains under constant stress, cortisol levels remain high regardless of the time of day. This leads to adrenal fatigue sometimes known as ‘burn out’ which can lead to depression, increases in abdominal fat, exhaustion, insomnia and foggy thinking. Before the menopause, oestrogen works against the impact that cortisol has on the body: optimal levels of oestrogen and progesterone regulate the body’s reaction to stress. As these levels fall during the perimenopause and menopause, the cortisol-buffering effect weakens, and that’s when all these side effects kick in. An interesting fact: deep abdominal fat has greater blood flow and four times more cortisol receptors than other types, which is why an excess cortisol in the body travels straight to the belly.
What can you do?
Chill Out !
This is the number one factor. Eliminate the little unimportant things that drive you mad. This is unnecessary stress. Each time something or someone upsets you say to yourself ” Menopot alert! Big belly alert! Not worth it!’ Trust me, it helps 😄
Stress will always be part of life. Learning how to cope with it is essential to controlling weight gain, belly fat and overall health and wellbeing.
Don’t wait: start NOW. It’s easier to maintain than lose weight during the menopause. Being active before midlife has advantages as it can contribute to entering menopause with a lower BMI, higher bone density, lower fat mass and higher lean body mass. Muscle mass decreases with age for every person, but this decrease is accelerated in women as they transition through the menopause. Eat healthily and match your calorie intake to your energy output. If you’re not moving like you used to do, you can’t eat like you did.
Don’t wait until you are unhappy with your body … live healthy NOW
Exercise, eat healthily, find a good balance between work and personal life and enjoy the important things in life that make you happy.
Stay happy and healthy. Don’t live your life on the deferred happiness plan: ‘I’ll be happy when ……..’
Be happy NOW
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