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If you’ve never had a problem dropping weight in your 20s and 30s, you may not be prepared for what can happen when you hit 40 and up when you decide it’s time to lose your midlife belly.
Muscle mass decreases. And so does the number of calories you burn during the normal course of the day, whether you’re sleeping, sitting or running for the bus. This means weight gain is inevitable.
The absolute worst thing you can do at this point is to go on a crash diet and exercise like crazy.
So here’s a good bit of news for a change. The answer is not to eat fewer calories and exercise more. It’s thankfully to eat more calories and exercise less.
Things are getting easier. And so they should. I reckon we deserve it.
What has worked when we were younger
What we’ve been taught when we were younger with regard to exercise and what we should eat doesn’t relate to women in perimenopause. menopause or post-menopause.
In fact, I don’t think it really relates to women at all.
And what’s always worked for us before was usually to cut calories down to a few lettuce leaves and some cottage cheese and maybe a diet soup or two.
And to exercise like crazy as often as you could. I’m certainly guilty of that I’m afraid.
Well, ladies, the goalposts have shifted but losing belly fat as you age is not difficult if you know what it takes.
Since perimenopause, the less you eat and the more you exercise, the tighter your weight holds on and it’s generally right around your middle as belly fat.
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Why how we lost belly fat when we were younger doesn’t work now we’re older
Thankfully it’s not all doom and gloom and it’s just a small shift in thinking and maybe a slight tune-up of your habits to get the weight that has gone on around your middle to shift.
When you cut calories to very low levels, your body will go into starvation mode and your metabolism slows down to preserve energy.
So when you start eating normally again, your metabolism doesn’t snap back to what it was. Nope, it stays right where you left it and the extra food your now eating compared to when you cut calories, well that goes on as fat.
And in midlife, it will almost definitely go on around your middle. This is because as Estrogen declines the distribution of fat in our bodies changes. This difference is not being that fat that would have once been stored on our thighs and hips will not be visceral fat or belly fat. Visceral fat is deep subcutaneous fat that collects around our organs.
I’m not saying don’t cut calories, of course, your energy coming in needs to be less than your energy going out to lose weight.
But there are easier ways that you can achieve this.
The stress hormone
Due to the demands of life when women hit middle age, such as possible change of employment, ageing parents, kids moving out of home and financial issues there is the added issue of higher stress levels.
When the stress hormone cortisol remains high in our bodies one of the side effects is weight gain.
Estrogen can play a part in keeping cortisol in check. As estrogen declines for another layer of belly fat.
Include a healthy diet and regular physical activity
Try getting most of your calories from nutrient-rich whole foods that are mainly plant-based.
Some examples are:
- Cruciferous vegetables: broccoli, cauliflower, Brussel sprouts, kale and cabbage.
- Nuts and seeds: almonds, walnuts, brazil nuts, chia seeds and linseeds.
- Legumes: black beans, chickpeas, lentils, and cannellini beans.
- Grass feed meat beef, chicken breast, turkey, salmon and sardines.
- A little dairy such as natural Greek yoghurt.
Cut out as many empty carbs from your diet as you can. you know, the sort of carbs I’m talking about.
- Potatoes and chips
- Bread and pasta
- Junk food
These are empty carbs that will convert to energy quickly and easily. If you’re not doing daily exercise that energy will go on as excess belly fat.
Regular exercise is important
You don’t have to get up at crazy o’clock and pound the heck out of a treadmill or the pavement for an hour.
But you do need to do some form of aerobic exercise.
I stress here that it doesn’t need to be vigorous exercise. Hard exercise will only trigger a stress response in your body. We’ve already talked about what stress does to you in midlife
Seriously though, just a nice bike ride a brisk walk or maybe a dance with your friends is enough and do it as regularly as you can.
The other very important exercise you need to be doing to burn fat is some form of weight training.
All that is needed here is a couple of dumbbells in a weight that you find challenging and a simple set of exercises. There are plenty to be found on the internet.
Weights will help you build lean muscle and muscle is our very best friend in midlife.
Muscle mass is more metabolically active than fat. The more muscle you have, the higher your metabolism is and the more calories you burn at rest which means you’re burning fat in your sleep.
Don’t do this
Now, just a quick tip you need to know.
Make sure that you’re not making the last meal of your day one that is high in carbohydrates. If you’re not doing activity after that meal the carb will go on mostly as abdominal fat.
One more small habit for you
And this one is super easy.
We have a hormone that tells our brain when we are full, it’s called leptin. Leptin decreases like everything else as we age. Except for our bellies, it seems.
Leptin decreasing means we’re more likely to eat more than we need and store the extra as excess belly fat.
A tip here is to eat more, good quality protein is a game changer.
Protein triggers leptin and has been shown to significantly decrease the number of calories consumed in a day making it easier to lose belly fat.
Try adding in:
- white fish
- chicken breast
- grass-fed beef