As women approach or go through menopause, they often complain about unexplained weight gain, especially around the mid-section. Despite all of the effort, no amount of diet or exercise seems to melt this newly gained belly fat. It appears that what worked in the past to stay lean is no longer working.
What’s going on here? Hormonal fluctuations are to blame. During perimenopause estrogen levels can rise and fall and be all over the board. After menopause estrogen production often declines. Both scenarios have a profound effect on memory and mood, ability to maintain your normal weight or lose weight, and your overall sense of well-being.
Hormone imbalances experienced during menopause (and andropause for the guys) can cause elevated insulin and cortisol levels and declining thyroid hormones. So, the very first step to losing mid-life belly fat is to prioritize the balance of two hormones, insulin and cortisol. If these two hormones are not balanced, no amount of exercise or dieting will reduce the belly fat. In reality, skimping on food and over-exercising will create an even greater hormone disaster. Balancing insulin and cortisol can be achieved with a combination of a healthy wholesome diet, an intelligently designed exercise program, sufficient sleep, reducing your toxic load, stress management techniques and correcting nutrient deficiencies.
A study published in the June, 2011 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine revealed that certain foods and lifestyle behaviors are what lead to the middle-age belly bulge. This 4 year study involved 120,877 men and women who were healthy and not obese at the start of the study. On average, the participants gained one pound every year, however some gained much more, approximately 4 pounds in one year, while a few managed to stay the same or even lose weight.
Although the information from the study isn’t breaking news, they confirmed these factors that influenced weight gain or weight loss:
- Increase physical activity. People who increased their physical activity gained less weight than non-exercisers. However, if you are fairly active and fail to pay attention to your diet, you will still gain weight! Bottom line, even if you exercise, you cannot have your cake and lose fat! Finally, in the research, what I’ve been preachin’ and teachin’ for the last 20 years: interval and resistance training are the winners for fat loss versus endless hours of LSD (long slow distance) aerobic exercise.
- Get your sleep! People who slept <6 hours a night or >8 hours gained the most weight.
- Limit television time. Increased TV-watching led to an average weight gain of one-third of a pound for every hour of TV watching per day.
- Monitor your food choices. It’s no surprise that these foods were linked to the most weight gain:
|French fries (>3 lb)|| |
processed meats (0.93 lb)
|potato chips (1.7 lb)||sweets and desserts (0.41 lb)|
|potatoes (1.28 lb)||refined grains (0.39 lb)|
|sugar-sweetened beverages (1lb)||other fried foods (0.32 lb)|
|100-percent fruit juice (0.31 lb)|
- Include more fiber from vegetables, leafy greens, fruits and nuts. The participants who lost the most weight consumed at least 3 servings of dark leafy greens or vegetables every day. A simple tip to increase your intake of veggies – a green smoothie!
- Contrary to conventional advice and what most people believe, eating fat does not make you fat. Fat loss was greatest among those who ate more healthy fats (nuts, seeds, avocado, wild salmon and seafood, coconut oil and olive oil).
- Limit alcohol intake. Just one drink a day caused .41 pound increase in weight. No significant effect was found among those who had one glass of wine a day, but increases in other forms of alcohol packed on the pounds.
Although stress reduction was not mention in this particular study, managing your stressors must be factored in. Anyone with increased fat in the mid-section may have an cortisol imbalance which triggers hormonal fluctuations across the board.
Researchers found that the types of foods people ate had a larger effect overall than changes in physical activity. Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian, a cardiologist and epidemiologist at the Harvard School of Public Health and lead author of the study, said in an interview, “This study shows that conventional wisdom, to eat everything in moderation, eat fewer calories and avoid fatty foods, IS NOT the best approach. And, what you eat makes quite a difference. Just counting calories won’t matter much unless you look at the kinds of calories you’re eating. The notion that it’s O.K. to eat everything in moderation is just an excuse to eat whatever you want.”
Even though the information from this study is not a news flash, I love how this study shows that small changes applied for diet and nutrition, healthy lifestyle modifications and exercise will result in profound changes in losing body fat. It’s the exact concept I wrote about in my book, The Power of 4; implement two healthy changes each week, and every week thereafter you add two more healthy habits. This is something most people can commit to in order to avoid or reverse disease, lose belly fat, alter body composition, and look and feel their best ever! The time is now to take control and responsibility for your choices. When you make health a priority, fat loss happens naturally!
Although hormones shift as a normal aspect of the aging process, you can reduce belly fat, boost your metabolism, and balance your hormones naturally with a nutritious wholefood diet, a smart exercise program, nutritional support, and lifestyle modifications (managing stress and ensuring that you’re sleeping 8 hours every night).
Looking for a custom program to help you lose your mid-section belly fat? Contact me to get started.
Sources: Mozaffarian D., Hao T., Rimm E.B., Willett W.C., Hu F.B. N Engl J Med 2011; 364:2392 – 2404
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