Middle age spread… no, not a new low fat breakfast food, but a common concern from women as they move through menopause and beyond.
What causes it? Can you shift it (and do you need to)?
“I eat really well and just can’t shift the weight”
“I used to be able to lose weight easily but since I turned 40 it’s so hard”
If you’re feeling frustrated about your waist line disappearing, take heart – there are things you can do to regain your waist. If you’re feeling comfortable in your skin – more power to you!
From my years of working with women, most would like some help, so read on for some practical steps you can take to help manage your weight.
The most common causes of weight gain are:
- Hormonal change
- Insulin resistance
- Lack of movement
- Extra food and alcohol
- Poor sleep
- Increased stress
Are you “of an age”?
If you’re over 40, chances are you have entered peri-menopause – the years leading up to menopause. This is the time we notice hormones levels start to change and it’s these fluctuations that can result in weight gain, brain fog, poor sleep and the list goes on. (Alternatively, you’re already post menopausal and your hormones have regulated again.)
Typically at this time, the female hormone oestrogen, drops and we see changes in testosterone and progesterone levels.
What does this mean?
- Declining oestrogen can change where excess fat is distributed and stored in the body – it tends to favour the waist area
- Some women find they develop an apple shape figure, which can indicate androgen dominance and low oestrogen
- Others become oestrogen dominant and progesterone deficient
A blood test can reveal what is happening with your hormones and whilst we can’t stop menopause occurring, there is a lot we can do to minimise the symptoms caused by hormonal fluctuation.
It’s a team effort
As with most things in life, nothing in the body happens in isolation and it’s the same with weight management. Whilst you may be experiencing hormonal changes, looking at how you move, eat, sleep and manage your stress will have a big impact on your weight as well as your overall mental and physical health.
Do YOU feature on your to-do list?
Women in their 40s – 50s, often feel like stuck in a sandwich between raising a family, caring for elderly parents whilst also juggling work, not to mention keeping a relationship alive.
This can be a busy time of life for many women and unfortunately it often means they come last on the list of to-do’s and all too often, exercise drops off completely.
But, I have to tell you, exercise is a non negotiable.
Whilst exercise might not result directly in weight loss, regular exercise supports weight loss efforts by keeping your metabolism revved up and burning calories more efficiently. Exercise also strengthens muscles making you looked toned and burn extra calories.
A few more reasons to move more:
- improved blood glucose and blood pressure
- it can help slow the progression to type 2 diabetes
- stronger bones which we all need as we age
- maintain flexibility and mobility – key to fall prevention
- lower stress, anxiety and mild depression symptoms
So I urge you: get up and get moving.
If you’re new to exercise, start small, find a supportive friend to exercise with and consider getting professional guidance to avoid injury.
Mix it up – varying the exercise you do will keep it interesting as well as targeting different parts of your body. Ideally you would include some kind of strength training for your bones and muscles, some “huff and puff” exercise for your heart health and some restorative moves for your flexibility and that “ahhhh” feel good factor.
You are what you eat…
In most cases, diet has the biggest impact on weight. Unless you have a medical condition or are on medication that affects your weight, what you eat and drink will determine your weight.
It can be difficult in today’s world of packaged and fast foods, to resist the temptation to grab a quick snack on the run. It takes planning and preparation to make sure you’re eating a fresh, whole food diet.
The benefits of changing how you eat can be huge, so spending an hour or so planning and prepping your meals is well worth the effort. It will also help you on those super busy days when you haven’t got time to cook so that you still have a healthy meal to eat.
Eating more fresh vegetables, fruits and whole grains will feed your gut bacteria, the fibre will keep you feeling fuller as well as helping with digestion and elimination (pooping – so important to get rid of waste products!!).
Here are some quick tips to get you started:
- cook double portions of meals and pop half in the freezer for busy days
- chop veggie sticks ready to grab on the run
- boil eggs for a quick protein rich snack
- have a few alcohol free days each week
Changing how you eat takes commitment and it can be a good idea to chat with a professional to make sure you’re getting all the nutrients you need.
I love this quote from Michael Pollan:
not too much
zzzz… lose weight while you sleep
sounds good doesn’t it? The fact is – improving the quality and quantity of sleep, can help with weight management.
The recommended guide for adults is 7 -9 hours of sleep a night. This gives the body time to rest, recover and repair. Getting enough sleep also helps regulate the hormones that govern how hungry we feel (ghrelin) and feeling full after eating (leptin). Prolonged periods of disrupted or short sleep can increase ghrelin so you feel hungier and lower leptin so you don’t feel as full.
Disrupted sleep is a common symptom during peri menopause – stress and night sweats certainly don’t help matters.
Start by developing a sleep routine, a bit like we do with babies:
- go to bed and get up at the same time every day
- banish screens from bedrooms and ideally and hour before bed (blue light is stimulating and tells the brain to wake up)
- cool your bedroom by opening windows or using a fan
- darkness is your friend – use an eye mask if you can’t get your room really dark
- do a “brain dump” before going to bed – make a list of what you need to do the next day so thinking about it doesn’t keep you awake
The recent lockdowns meant many of us were able to sleep a bit more – less travel, less commitments and not going out, and everyone I spoke to, felt better for it.
Argh!!! Is stress your undoing?
Stress is a normal part of life, but when it becomes a constant, daily thing, it can start to wreak havoc with your health, and yes, weight.
Introducing the stress hormone Cortisol. Cortisol and its partner Adrenalin, work together to give us super human abilities like strength and speed to get out of life threatening situations (stress). The thing is, cortisol and adrenalin are designed to spike when we need them, and then quickly dissipate.
Ongoing stressful living leads to long term elevated cortisol levels. Cortisol needs glucose for energy so the body responds by increasing sugar cravings to supply the glucose for the cortisol. However, most of us aren’t having to run away from or fight our stressors physically so the extra sugar we eat to feed cortisol, isn’t burned up and gets quickly converted to fat. Ugh! More stress!
Learning to identify what stresses you, how you react and what you can do to manage that (refer back to the exercise section above as a starting point. Boxing anyone?) will go a long way in lowering your stress levels.
Remember: nothing works in isolation: increasing exercise will help you burn calories, sleep better and manage stress. Better sleep in turn can make us better equipped to handle stress and eat better and when we eat better, we feel better.
Time to turn the vicious cycle of food-alcohol-stress-weight gain into a positive one of exercise – good food – more sleep – less stress.
Put yourself first lovely – this is a time to prioritise YOU.
Note: this information is general in nature and not intended to be a prescription. If you have ongoing weight issues and would like to deal with them, please seek the help of a specialist
If you’re struggling with peri menopausal symptoms, have a look at Unpause: the natural menopause program. I developed this program to help women understand why they feel like they do, and more importantly, what they can do to feel better.