Everyone is talking about it. Here are some proven tips to help you eliminate it…and stay healthier and more vibrant.
Sally couldn’t believe it. Her girlfriends said that this would happen, but she never really bought into the idea. Instead, she pretended to agree, nodding her head and trying to be sympathetic of their plight. “There’s no way I’m getting fat like that,” she thought; though she knew she was being mean. “Come on, how hard could it be to get to the gym?”
Sally was certain that her girlfriends were exaggerating about how much they exercised. They simply ate way too much. She had almost been stabbed by flying forks as her friends powered through the shared desserts at girls’ night out. It was like watching sharks in a feeding frenzy whenever a chocolate lava cake was placed in the middle of a table full of women.
Sally was certain her friends had lost all their willpower as soon as they discovered the miracle of Spanx®. As she struggled to pull her own Spanx over her expanding middle, she thought it might just be bloating and a lingering effect of Chinese takeout from a few nights back. “I think the dry cleaner is shrinking my pants,” she said to her husband one morning on her way to work. He was smart enough to keep his mouth closed.
Women often complain their diets are the same but their waistline is different
It seemed to Sally that the day after her fiftieth birthday, her body suddenly changed overnight without any notice or warning. It was like some terrible nightmare; her flat tummy was gone and in its place was a doughy, thick roll of fat. Sally had always exercised and watched what she ate. Nothing was different from what she had been doing for years, but she was aghast at her reflection in the mirror; month after month, it never got thinner. Like her friends, she would have to make a few changes if she wanted to fit into her clothes again.
Sally decided to increase her exercise by adding a walk every evening, and she added weight training twice a week. She also increased her vegetable intake and switched from sandwiches to salads at lunch. It took three months, and the process was slow, but with a few simple changes, Sally lost most of the added flab at her midsection.
Research on Weight Gain in Menopause
Research supports what countless women and Sally have discovered for themselves: menopause brings with it a rapid accumulation of fat smack-dab at the waist, the menopot belly.
Many experts believe that the shifting sands of declining hormone levels cause our bodies to redistribute fat from our arms, legs, and hips and plunk it down at our waists. In addition, lower estrogen levels and age-related changes all add up to a net decrease in lean muscle mass. Less muscle means that it’s more difficult to burn the same amount of calories as we did in our twenties, thirties, and even five years previously. Women often complain that their diets are the same but their waistline is different – the only recipient of all the calories.
Understanding our metabolism can be daunting. It’s a lot more convoluted than simply calories in as food and calories out as energy. There are so many hormones at work and intricate pathways that influence how much fat we store and how resistant it is to being shed.
The Nitty-Gritty on the Menopot Belly
Studies haven’t shown a direct correlation between the drop in hormone levels in menopause and insulin resistance, but they have shown that accumulation of fat at the midsection is associated with increased insulin resistance, increased hunger, and a change in carbohydrate metabolism. So while there isn’t a direct line from lower estrogen levels to insulin resistance, there may well be a more circuitous route that leads to the same destination: elastic waistbands.
Here’s how I explain the “Menopot Belly” to my patients:
• As we age, we naturally lose lean muscle mass.
• Ounce per ounce and pound per pound, lean muscle burns more calories for fuel than fat (about 6 calories per pound of muscle and about 2 calories per pound of fat).
• The same number of calories taken in will now produce a little extra fat, which gets deposited in the arms, hips, thighs, and midsection.
• The same amount of fat doesn’t weigh as much as muscle or the water in our bodies.
• Women can eat the same number of calories, be losing muscle mass and replacing it with fat, which weighs less, so the scale doesn’t change, and yet there’s a greater percentage of fat than previously and a reduced percentage of muscle.
• Around menopause, some of the excess fat deposited around the body decides to have a big family reunion at the waist. So seemingly overnight, women wake up to a Menopot Belly.
• The more fat that’s deposited at the midsection, the more likely it is that your body isn’t metabolizing carbohydrates as efficiently, which can lead to insulin resistance and diabetes.
• As fat accumulates in the midsection, something even more insidious occurs: that fat sends out more of the hormone ghrelin to the brain, which acts to increase appetite.
• What seems to be a sudden occurrence is actually a few years in the making.
Don’t be discouraged. By understanding the science behind the Menopot Belly you can lose weight, be healthier, make better choices about what and how much to eat, and how much to exercise. It can be as simple as adding a thirty-minute walk to your day and a little resistance or weight training to your exercise routine.
How to Lose Weight: the Real Secret
Ready to lose weight around menopause? It requires a combination of three things.
# 1 Eliminate emotional eating by increasing your awareness of what and why you eat. For instance, if you feel sad or stressed, try to understand why instead of automatically reaching for a snack to feel better.
#2 Build up more lean muscle mass with resistance and weight training.
#3 Eat smaller portions of food regularly throughout the day for fuel and reduce your carbohydrate intake.
These are the clever tactics. Reduce excess blood sugar. Increase the ability to burn calories by increasing muscle mass, and finally, be more mindful of every choice with food and drink. It’s important to have a balanced approach, not to look at weight loss as all or nothing and to avoid deprivation.
You can get more information, tips and ways to lose weight in menopause from my book, The Hot Guide to a Cool Sexy Menopause, which is available on Amazon.
Find out more at www.NurseBarb.com
By Barbara Dehn NP