As part of women's health month here at Jan de Vries I thought i'd take a look at weight gain around the middle – a problem many menopausal women struggle with. I explain why the menopause can cause you to put on weight around your stomach and why it can be difficult to lose if you don’t understand what is causing it! Plus, I offer my tips and advice on how you can deal with your stubborn menopause belly fat.
Weight gain around the middle
This is a common and slightly distressing problem that often occurs in the menopause however, it's not just a physical issue. Many women experience a drop in their self worth when all of a sudden they lose their waist and their figure. That's not all though, in some extreme instances it can lead to depression plus it may even interfere with the relationships women have with their partners. Although its certainly not the reality, many feel they’re no longer attractive because they’ve lost their shape.
So, weight gain around the middle is a very difficult issue to put right, especially as dieting doesn’t often work.
How your nervous system impacts your weight
You’ve probably heard of fight-or-flight, our body's response to stress. Hundreds and thousands of years ago, when human beings were developing, our nervous system was built to cope with sudden shock, disasters and emergency situations and this is where fight-or-flight came in.
If you imagine you’re living in a cave, you go out one morning to look for something nice to eat for breakfast but, as you turn the corner, there’s a huge saber-toothed tiger eyeing you up. At this point the nervous system is set up to jump in and help save your life. Blood will be diverted from the digestive system towards your muscles, plus you will start breathing heavily and quickly. Your thoughts may also go into overdrive as you work out what to do. Do you climb a nearby tree? Do you fight the tiger? Do you jump into the nearby river and swim away?
You think very quickly and opt for the river, swimming away to safety. Phew! The emergency is now over and it might be weeks until something actually happens again. Now, that’s great because the emergency was resolved, partly because of how quickly the nervous system responded to the stress. However, today the situation is completely different for us and our nervous systems.
As your hormones change during the menopause, it acts as a stressor to your nervous system (in the same way that the tiger did back in the cave men days). However, if you then add on all the day-to-day stress that we have as women, it means our nervous system is continually being triggered and it can become much more sensitive as a result. This stress continues day after day, week after week, month after month, and year after year, and this is where we can get problems with weight around the middle.
The role of cortisol
The body releases a chemical called cortisol when it is stressed and this, amongst other things, can cause cravings and make us hungry.
Now, back in the saber-toothed tiger days this was very sensible because we had to make up the energy that we'd lost in escaping that big scary animal. If you then fast forward to today however, the constant stress in oour modern lives means cortisol is produced practically all the time. This means we’re always in a state of hunger and, when it comes to cravings, we tend to go in search of sweet things like biscuits and cakes (or anything with sugar in it!). So, this is one way in which the weight will start to creep on.
The other thing that happens is that the body is goes, “I need to have a store of energy because these emergencies are happening all the time. I need to have a store of energy that I can get to and break down really quickly.” Unfortunately for our waist line though, energy is most easily stored around the middle.
Why dieting doesn't work
When it comes to tackling that belly fat, sadly normal methods of dieting such as cutting down calories and exercising just won't work. That's because you’re in this state of emergency and if you cut your calorie intake down, the body will go “I’m not getting any food. Help, this is another emergency.” Plus, if you go to the gym and exercise excessively, the body will go, “Woah, I’m using up an awful lot of energy here. This is another emergency. I’m going to slow down the metabolism.” As a result, you can end up putting on more weight even though you’re cutting calories and exercising.
First of all, it's important you deal with the stress. This will help to support our nervous system so that it does not get over-worked.
Top up your magnesium intake
Wassen's We Support Magnesium B tablets can be taken once a day. They contain 300mg of magnesium combined with a vitamin B complex (vitamins B1, B2, B5, B6, B12 and folic acid) which all help to reduce tiredness and fatigue, whilst also supporting the nervous system.
Destress your nervous system
Here A.Vogel's AvenaCalm may come in useful as it is a gentle stress remedy. Made from fresh oat herb, this product can help to ease mild stress and anxiety which will give your nervous sytem a little break.
Also, its important to give your nervous system a break from time to time so why not set aside a little time for relaxation each day?
Take 30 minutes, shut yourself away with no telephone, no television, no talking and just relax. Studies have actually shown that 30 minutes of relaxation a day can reduce cortisol levels quite considerably, so this is a really important one to get into your daily regime.
Eat well without cutting calories
Next up, you need to eat well. As i've already mentioned, cutting calories will not help to tackle belly fat during the menopause so instead we need to fool the body into thinking that there’s plenty of food available. This means opting for a high protein diet, whilst also cutting down carbs. However, don't forget to eat lots of fresh fruit and vegetables, as well as nuts and seeds to achieve a really good healthy diet.
Also, remember to snack because, again, you want the body to think that there’s plenty of food around. Nuts and seeds, dried fruit, yogurt and fruit are all excellent options to keep your nervous system well balanced.
However, don't forget that certain foods can trigger your nervous system including coffee, fizzy drinks and alcohol, as well as foods with a high salt and sugar content.
Exercise the right way
It’s really important to exercise well during the menopause to keep your joints mobile and your muscles strong. However, doing an awful lot of exercise for hours at a time is not going to help the fat around your middle so instead do small amounts everyday.
A few things you need to be aware of
Hopefully this has given you an idea of how to deal with fat around the middle but there's a couple of other things you need to be aware of.
If you try this regime and find that it doesn’t help, then take a visit to your doctor to get checked over.
Putting on weight around the middle is sometimes an indication that your blood sugar balance is not quite right. Also, if you put on weight really quickly, if you seem to have just put on weight overnight, then this may mean that your thyroid is going a little bit off.