Many of us gain a pound or so every year as we make our way through young adulthood, ending up fat and flabby at age 40 and beyond. Even if you're not close to 40 yet, midlife weight gain may already be on your mind. It is for many of us, who worry about the impact of hormonal changes on our shapes and weight.
The truth is, your hormones, can wreak some havoc with your metabolism. This is true. But hormones only account for about 2 to 5 pounds. The rest is the result of overeating, poor lifestyle choices - such as not exercising enough - and stress. However, we've seen many women successfully maintain their weight and lose weight during and after this life transition, and now new research sheds a little more light on which strategies work.
In the University of Pittsburg study, researchers tracked more than 500 post-menopausal women for several years. After six months, they found that four specific behaviors led to weight-loss: eating fewer desserts and fried foods, drinking fewer sugary beverages, eating more fish, and dining at restaurants less often. After four years, eating fewer desserts and sugary drinks continued to be associated with weight loss or maintenance. And in the long-term, munching on more produce and eating less meat and cheese were also found to be tied to weight loss success.
The great news about this research is that the same tried and true techniques we know to be effective earlier in life worked to support weight loss after menopause. In other words, you don't have to resort to a drastic diet or feel doomed to grow wider as you grow wiser.
So the burning question remains: How can I lose this belly?
Controlling stress is key. Unfortunately, the modern world triggers the stress response on a nearly endless basis. Money problems, relationship issues, family concerns. This constant stress response weakens the adrenal glands, which, in turn, undermines mental function, causes fatigue, and triggers weight gain. It also triggers hormone imbalances that lead to symptoms of PMS and menopause discomfort. You may respond to stress by making poorer lifestyle choices, such as not eating healthfully and not exercising enough. Look at your nutrition - in terms of quality, quantity, and frequency of eating. You should eat often, 3 to 5 small meals per day. Quality is all about eating whole foods, fruits, and vegetables, whole grains, lean protein.
Processed foods are bad. Anything that comes in a family-size bag, turn in the opposite direction and run.
Quantity is where a lot of people fall. The majority are baffled by what a serving size should look like. When eating out, and in doubt, eat half of it or less. Be accountable for calories. You need a general idea of how many calories you need. An average woman, in her 40s or 50s, needs about 1,500 to 1,600 calories a day, on average, if she is exercising. But you may be saying "I'm 40-plus, eating right, and exercising but not losing weight. Why do I have midlife weight gain?" If you have tailored your portion sizes to ones that are appropriate, added proper supplementation to balance your hormones and support your Adrenal glands, look at the frequency of your eating. Eat every three or four hours. But not too late at night. The later you eat, the lighter you eat is a good rule.
Eat a balance of lean protein, fats, and carbs. Make the fat good fat, not palm oil or hydrogenated oil, but high-quality good fats [such as those in nuts]. The protein should be lean - a turkey burger, grilled chicken breast or fish. Most people have been doing the same exercise routine for years, and your body gets used to it. Fat cells at 40 are stubborn! You've got to shake it up! Mix up your exercise routine. Take a class. Hire a personal trainer. Exercise at least five times a week, and I mean cardio.
Add intensity. Add some level of weight training, and challenge yourself with the weights. [Getting professional instruction is advised if you're a novice.] Weight train two or three times a week. Building muscle gives you that metabolic edge, since muscle mass burns more calories than fat and it keeps burning fat hours after you've finished your workout.
What's up with this belly? I never ever had one before.
Some call it the menopot. On a man, it's the manopot. It's also been referred to as meno-pudge or the midriff bulge. You know... that ever increasing mid-section of yours that may resemble a flotation device. Excess body fat occurring in the midsection is associated with aging, after 40. You can thank Perimenopause for that. This excess body fat is normally only 2 to 5 pounds and is more likely due to a drop in activity rather than hormones.
Can I boost my metabolism?
Absolutely. You can boost your metabolism throughout life by maintaining the highest level of exercise you can, within the limits and constraints of your life. If you want to shed pounds, weight loss is no different during menopause than before it. "If you take in less calories than you burn for a long period of time, you're going to lose weight," says Dr. Minkin. Any balanced diet that cuts calories - and that you can stick with in the long run - will do the job. Note: If you lose muscle mass [by not exercising], obviously your metabolism is going to drop.
What workout or workouts are best for me?
Creative cardio. Burn 400 to 500 calories a day in cardio. On the elliptical, for instance, you can burn about 400 calories in about 35 minutes. Cross train as much as you can. Burn the 400 to 500 calories all at once or accrue it. And don't forget the weight training.
Here are a few simple strategies to focus on today, and tips for putting them into action.
Rethink that drink
Red wine gets a lot of press for its impact on heart health, but for menopausal women the drawbacks of alcohol might outweigh the benefits. "One drink a day has been linked to an increased risk of breast cancer", says Dr. Manson. "So while it has been linked to a reduced risk of heart disease, it really is a trade-off for women." If you enjoy a glass of Pinot, try watering it down with mineral water to make a spritzer (you'll cut calories too). Also keep in mind that red wine and other drinks may bring on hot flashes as a result of the increase in blood-vessel dilation caused by alcohol. Another important tip is replacing just one can of regular soda per day with water would save you the equivalent of five 4-pound bags of sugar each year. Or better yet, just say NO to soft drinks, your body will thank you.
Get your fill of fiber
Fiber fills you up, but fiber itself doesn't provide any calories because your body can't digest or absorb it. Also, a German study found that for every gram of fiber we eat, we eliminate about 7 calories. That means consuming 35 grams of fiber each day could essentially cancel out 245 calories. The best sources are fruits and vegetables with an edible skin or seeds or those with tough stalks, as well as beans, lentils, and whole grains including oats, wild rice, and popped popcorn. You can also take a fiber supplement or drink. My favorite way to get a nice big dose of fiber every morning is by drinking a nice tall glass of Garden of Life's "Super Seed Beyond Fiber".
Keep a food journal
A Kaiser Permanente study found that keeping a food diary can double weight-loss results. One reason it's so effective is that many of us overestimate how active we are, overestimate our food needs, underestimate how much we eat, and engage in a lot of mindless eating. Journaling keeps you aware and honest, and can allow you to identify unhealthy patterns and change them.
These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. The information on this site is for information purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for advice from a physician or other health care professional or any information contained in product labeling. You should consult a healthcare professional before starting any diet, supplement or exercise program, before taking any medication, or if you have or suspect you might have a health problem.
Valerie Martinez is the co-founder of "Women's Health Made Simple", your online virtual nutritionist for all things concerning natural health for women. Please visit http://womenshealthmadesimple.com for all your feminine health needs. Read our blog, watch our videos, look up your symptom or concern, and find HELP for your HEALTH today!
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