I wrote this post about nearly 5 years ago and while most of it is still true today I have dropped off from eating extremely low carb in favour of intermittent fasting and eating a little less meat and more vegetables. I find intermittent fasting rather than being a weight loss tool helps with so many other things such as my energy, digestions, sleep and yes a great side effect is maintaining my weight. My diet is still largely grain-free and sugar-free but I allow the odd treat. It is fair to say I did put a tiny little amount of weight back on but nowhere near all of it.
What is middle-age-spread?
Due to a combination of factors, including changes in hormone levels in particular estrogen, and a decrease in lean body mass, women in menopause have an increase in body fat.
This fat usually distributes itself around your stomach area once you have hit midlife.
This extra fat is called visceral fat, the deep abdominal fat that surrounds the internal organs in your abdomen. This is the type of fat that is associated with an increased risk of heart disease and Type 2 diabetes.
Is this weight gain inevitable?
For some women, gaining weight and changing body shape may happen for a variety of reasons. However, many women are able to maintain their weight by making a few simple changes to their diet and lifestyle. And to be clear I’m not talking about deprivation or cutting out whole food groups.
What causes women to gain weight around their middle during menopause?
Women in menopause experience a drop in estrogen levels.
Estrogen affects how our bodies respond to insulin. So this drop during perimenopause and menopause can result in decreased insulin sensitivity which means almost all the carbs we consume turn into fat most of which settles around our middle.
You may have heard it referred to as the middle-age-spread.
The older we get the harder it can be for us to be ‘seen’. We can feel sidelined with the who’s who of people who didn’t make it into the ‘cool’ group and there we lurch and stumble about nursing our massive mood swings, hot flushes, interminable hunger and ever-growing waistlines while forgetting the name of our firstborn and remembering the days that being ‘choice’ was a thing.
What can we do about it? Starve ourselves to death? Exercise like manic versions of Jillian Michaels? Fortunately, it is much easier than either of these unsuitable choices.
I managed it and so can you. I now feel healthier than I can ever remember despite having gone through menopause. It’s a bit embarrassing to admit that at 58 I feel better than I did at 35. I sleep like the dead, have plenty of sustained energy throughout the day and have lost 8 kgs since my 40’s, most of which was around my middle area.
First things first.
How do I reduce middle-age spread?
There are 4 things that need to happen for you to stop and/or decrease this layer of fat.
- Do resistance exercise to build muscle mass. More muscle increases your metabolism which means you burn more glucose while resting which. Burning fat in your sleep, that’s got to be good.
- Eat mainly plant foods with a moderate amount of good protein and healthy fats.
- Get at least 7 hours of sleep per night.
- Decrease stress.
There’s no deprivation here just good old fashioned healthy stuff.
I recommend you visit your doctor and get a blood test
Make sure you’re not experiencing symptoms of hyperthyroidism or some other condition not connected with menopause. Hyperthyroid symptoms can be similar to those of menopause.
The steps I took that worked to reduce my menopause symptoms and middle age spread:
- Decrease the empty carbohydrates in your diet. No surprise or tricks there!
- Increase the healthy fats in your diet. Yay! At last some good news.
- Exercise regularly – sorry but it needs to be done for your health’s sake.
- Keep protein to a moderate level.
- Get enough sleep.
- Keep stress to a minimum.
Eat a healthy diet
Use a program like My Fitness Pal to monitor what you eat. Input your goals and get a feel for what you can and can’t eat then ditch it. It takes time to constantly enter that info and who has lots of that laying around? If you go off course you can restart.
I stress that everyone is different and what works for one may not for another, but this is as good a starting point as any.
Try to eat more plant food than anything else. Maybe eat a small piece of beef, chicken or fish 2 to 3 times per per week.
Stick as much as you can to good fats such as olive oil, avocado and coconut oil etc. These won’t raise your cholesterol but will still make you feel fuller for longer. I swear by olive oil which i use like butter on my toast. It keeps all the wheels greased.
I allow myself minimal full-fat dairy items such as greek yoghurt. A girl has to have some wickedness in her life. Seriously though I have one heaped spoonful on my morning muesli.
For protein mix it up between good quality meat and fish, legumes, beans, nuts and seeds.
Add nuts to your cereal, make a lentil bolognese instead of using beef mince. It’s just the same only lentils replace the mince and it’s super delicious. Try it on zucchini noodles with plenty of parmesan and fresh basil. Super yum!
Limit alcohol and caffeine.
The 10 Weight Loss Mistakes women in midlife make cheat-sheet
What are the best middle-age spread exercises?
Yup! No mystic enchanted fairy tale here. There is a little hard work to be done.
Walking, running, swimming, dancing anything that uses many of your muscles and increases your heart rate. Start at maybe, 10 minutes a day but build it up to 30 minutes.
A 30-minute brisk walk up a hill and back is easy and is your exercise done for the day.
Do physical activity whenever and wherever you can fit it in. I run while I wait for the jug to boil.
Try not puffing and sweating while you work your way around a gym circuit training course that was set by someone 20 years your junior. That will only stress you and your body and bring cortisol out to play which will then tell your insulin to grab onto your fat because it thinks it’s going to need it for energy to get through the next gym session you do.
Strength training is my number one middle-age spread exercise!
Weight machines, resistance bands or handheld weights. As you get stronger increase the weight or the resistance or the reps.
The trick is that once it starts to feel easy increase the reps or resistance until you feel like you almost can’t do it.
This helps strengthen your bones and and builds lean muscle mass. The more lean muscle mass you have the more fat you burn.
Don’t forget to mix it up a little with varying exercises.
As we age we lose flexibility. Stretch after workouts.
Some other forms of exercise such as tai chi or yoga will help with physical as well as mental balance and flexibility. Three for one, that’s a bargain you won’t get at the end of year sales!
Get your sleep to improve fat-burning ability to reduce belly fat
7 hours per night minimum
If you are a stay up late kinda person or are not sleeping well through the night your cortisol doesn’t have the chance to lower itself and will cause your body to hold onto fat at a time it should be burning fat.
This is when all that movement you did throughout the day pays off because your body burns its fat to repair and maintain its processes while you are asleep.
Constant lack of sleep can lead to health issues that can be difficult to navigate such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
Do you notice when you’re tired you want to eat? I do. And it’s not healthy stuff you crave. For me, it’s usually hot chips or pies. But perhaps you’re more of a snickers bar or chocolate cake kind of overindulger.
These cravings are thanks to cortisol causing the hormones that control our hunger to be out of balance. If you recognise why you feel ravenous that’s a good start but get your 7 hours a night and it will definitely help.
Lower your stress levels to keep your hormones happy
If you are constantly stressed your cortisol levels will constantly be high.
Find some mindfulness practices that you like and do what you can to keep your stress levels down.
I meditate, have positive morning mantras, visualise, practise gratitude and do things like walking, yoga, and laughing with my family. Anything you can do to drag yourself out of your head and into the present moment will help keep your stress down.
Even watching the latest movie on Netflix switches of the brain for a bit although I don’t recommend this as your only form of stress release.
This extra weight around our middle
is not something that we just have to get used to and put up with if you don’t want to. It can be reduced. Just not in the same way that you might have overcome gaining weight in the past. But, seriously please, please, please do not make this more than it needs to be. Make healthy changes, don’t starve yourself, have treats and enjoy your life.
There you have it. Give these suggestions a go and see if you can improve your symptoms. If you have any questions shoot away and I will do my best to help. Share your story with us; it is nice to feel that you are not the only one out there going through this. If you would like more ideas on reducing your middle-aged-spread in menopause check out this post – 11 Tips To Lose Weight In Menopause For Good