Of all the changes that come our way during our 40s and 50s, weight gain around our tummies is often high on the 'most unwanted' list. It is fairly common for women to see more fat accumulate around their waists during peri-menopause through to post-menopause, even when there's been no change to diet or exercise. Even more annoying, it can be hard to shift this weight in midlife, which can add more stress to our lives.
By understanding what is happening to our bodies and what may be causing this change, we can work with our bodies and help prevent future unwanted abdominal weight gain. You can also mitigate the negative health impacts that come with more fat around our waist e.g. heart issues, diabetes and even some cancers.
As a 48 year old 'apple' shaped woman myself, this is something I have to actively manage. It almost feels like a moving target as I have aged, so I know only too well the frustration. BUT, by understanding and listening to our bodies, we can fight back.
Many factors can lead to more fat around middle and it's not just a case of calories 'in' and 'out'.
Before I go into how to tackle this issue, here's the low down on what's going on:
It's true our weight distribution can change as we age: We lose lean muscle from our mid-thirties, which contributes to a slow down in our metabolism. Our body need less calories, because it is burning less energy. So, even if we keep consuming the same amount of food, we may end up storing the excess calories as body fat.
Declining physical activity: Perhaps due to a more sedentary lifestyle, joint issues or perhaps even a weakened pelvic floor - can be a factor. Life can be pretty hectic and there can be a lot going on, meaning we make less time for ourselves. Less movement means your body needs less energy from food and again, any excess will be stored as body fat.
Declining and fluctuating oestrogen levels can also lead to weight gain: Some forms of oestrogen are used by the body to regulate weight gain. So when levels of this hormone change or decline, we may see more visceral fat around the abdomen. Especially when stress is an issue. When your adrenal glands are busy producing cortisol (your stress hormones) they stop producing sex hormones.
Stress is a biggie: Weight around the middle can be a sign of cortisol imbalance. You need to get a handle on your stress if you want to rebalance this. Abdominal fat cells have four times the cortisol receptors of anywhere in the body! Cortisol also drives cravings for sugary and fatty foods, which can lead to weight gain. So excess stress = weight gain around the middle.
Changes in mood also have an impact here:: Low mood and energy levels, anxiety and of course stress creeps up in the peri-menopausal years, which can have a knock on effect on food choices and also activity levels.
Sleep issues can also disrupt weight affecting the hormones that regulate our appetite: When the body is sleep-deprived, it can wreak havoc with our appetite, making us crave sweet and salty foods. Sleep also impacts mood and energy, so we are less likely to want to exercise.
So what can we do? Well, there's various things to address, but it will depend on your particular circumstances. Here's a few ideas to try:
Be mindful of what you eat: Downsize your portion sizes and avoid foods with ‘empty’ calories & zero nutrients. Excess energy can easily be stored as abdominal fat. You DON'T need to diet though - low calorie-controlled diets may seem appealing, but they can lower your metabolism, rob you of much needed nutrients, plus you'll be depleted of energy in the process!
Eat mainly whole foods: Eat a diet at least 80% made up of whole foods - fruit, vegetables, beans, nuts, fruits, lean protein etc...Your body needs nutrient-rich foods and the good news is these will fill you up for longer. This is so good for your gut and digestive health too! Opt for whole foods in place of heavily processed foods, which often provide you with ‘empty’ calories. It can be pretty hard to avoid ALL processed foods, so give yourself some grace. Be choosy though! There are some great healthy processed foods out there, so get savvy with reading labels. (Top Tip: If you don't understand an ingredient on a label, it's best avoided)
Energise your body by eating a diet that balances your blood sugar levels: Keep your energy levels up throughout the day and avoid 'highs' and 'lows' by eating to balance your blood sugar levels. Your body is always trying to do this, so give it a helping hand. The beauty of this approach is it encourages you to eat more whole foods and include protein and healthy fats, whilst reducing refined carbohydrates. The latter can cause peaks and troughs in energy, fuelling cravings and mood swings so they are best avoided. By opting for while foods you will be eating foods that genuinely fill you up, helping to alleviate cravings.
Stay well hydrated: Drink plenty of water to support your energy levels, mood and metabolism. Water should be a staple in your diet and a good 2-3 litres per day depending on your activity levels. Cut back on alcohol as much as you can as it's just empty calories. Drink lots of water with your alcohol if you are out drinking.
Manage your stress: By addressing stress and working to reduce the impact it has on your body, you can reduce the level of cortisol in your body. Remember, excess cortisol is stored as tummy fat. Chronic stress has a far wider impact on our health than just weight gain though, so there's much more to gain. If unaddressed, chronic stress can end up in burnout. So if you have ongoing stress take time to look at the root causes and create a plan to manage it. There are many options you can embrace in daily life that can be very impactful.
Increase the intensity of exercise and embrace strength training: Work on your metabolism by increasing the intensity of exercise. Short bursts of exercise such as HIIT (High intensity interval training) are particularly effective. Strength training is a real must - and you don't need to lift heavy weights! It will help to maintain muscle mass and keep that metabolism fired up! Great for your joints and bones too, helping to protect against osteoporosis. Plus you'll feel amazing. You'll have to trust me on this one :)
Make sleep a priority: Take a close look at the quality and quantity of sleep you're getting. Sleep impacts our food choices, so ask yourself - Are you getting a good 8 hours sleep? do you feel refreshed when you wake? If you have trouble getting tor sleep you could have an imbalance in your circadian rhythm.
Spend less time sitting down: Try working more movement into your day. Taking the stairs, walking instead of driving. Upping your step count and adding in some new activities. You could even consider a standing desk for work.
it can take a lot longer to lose weight as we age. So work on sustainable changes you can stick to. You don't need to be strict or perfect, just be consistent. Gradually work new foods and meals into your diet, rather than making loads of changes at once. The same goes for
If you'd like to talk about how my nutrition and lifestyle packages could support you to manage midlife health, please get in touch. I'd be happy to chat.