Menopausal belly fat: how to stop the middle age spread
Menopausal Belly Fat: How to stop the middle age spread.
Dr Michelle Woolhouse
If a woman is fortunate to grow into older age, she will go through the biological transition into menopause. Menopause in some cultures is cause for celebration, however in our youth focused culture, it is often a transition that many women dread. One of the most feared aspects that commonly occurred for women in this age group is not only a change in their weight but a change in the fat distribution and body image. One of the physiological changes that we see as the hormone levels decline with the loss of ovarian function, is a rise in metabolic health issues and cardiovascular disease.
With the decline in oestrogen brings a decrease in the overall fat free mass, meaning that the muscle quality and density declines and there is a tendency for fat to accumulate around the abdominal region. This type of fat distribution is called visceral fat and is associated with insulin resistance, inflammation, glucose dys-regulation, hypertension, high cholesterol, oxidative stress and a rise in cardiovascular disease risk. Not only that, weight gain is associated with increased risk of dementia, cancer, arthritis, depression and sexual dysfunction. When muscle mass decreases and fat mass increases this leads to less overall daily energy expenditure, despite no change in the level of physical activity. Meaning if you continue to keep eating the same foods and doing the same exercise, these changes are still possible.
Even though it appears to be a common experience for many women the research can’t seem to draw a distinct conclusion as to whether it is inevitable.
Like all people who carry excessive abdominal fat, the key to long term sustainable weight loss is to take a holistic approach. One of the main drivers of this kind of fat distribution is of course insulin. What many people are not aware of it that estrogen is an insulin sensitizer, so when the levels of estrogen drop, you can become more insulin resistant.
Focusing on a broad approach may be the secret to success.
Looking at an issue holistically can broaden the solution options. One solution may be to make sure you have adequate protein and good quality fats in your diet: these 2 macro-nutrients only have a small impact on insulin levels. In addition, having adequate protein helps to maintain muscle bulk as well, which can take a dive during this time. We need to expend energy to break down the protein, so they tends to help us manage weight issues better.
Try to keep carbohydrates to a minimum and if consuming them make sure they are eaten towards the end of a meal, avoid simple sugars at all, and make sure the carbohydrates you eat are complex and full of fibre. Carbohydrates such as white breads, rice, pasta, noodles, cakes and pastries: these are often filled with what we call empty calories. This means they don’t really have a high level of nutrient density compared to their caloric load. These key messages go a long way to supporting healthier insulin messaging and therefore can help with weight management.
The second part of the solution is to maintain, support or start a good muscle building exercise program. Physical activity is often harder to sustain as muscle strength declines, which is why it becomes so important during this time. Remember old age starts today and becoming very considerate of our changing needs is vital during this key transitional phase. Activities that build muscle are resistance exercise, such as weights, Pilates, strong yoga and functional training. Good muscle bulk, acts like powerful fuel factories for the body and help the body maintain the required energy needs, facilitate detoxification and increase fat burning even in between meals.
Minimising stress is important, and striking the balance can be an effective contributing factor for weight management and weight loss. If emotional, mental, and/or physical stress is excessive, then the corresponding changes in cortisol ( our key stress hormone), may amplify the insulin resistance. Remembering too, that exercise can be a source of stress if excessive, done when fatigued or poorly slept.
The bi-directional impact of stress and sleep can become a challenging situation to sort out during menopause, especially when hot flushes, issues wit anxiety and depression can become more apparent during this trying time. Sleep supports you during times of stress and stress management helps you to sleep. So seeking help from appropriate health professionals can help you strike that balance.
Taking a holistic approach is so important, seeking help if you are stuck in a particularly tricky rut and working from a foundational level is vital. Starting somewhere, building slowly, being consistent and finding support are the underlying strategies that may be of great assistance during this challenging and life transforming time