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by: Bossa Bars
September 13, 2022
90% of all women gain 12 to 15 pounds during the stages of menopause… Ouch! Weight gain around the middle aka “Belly Fat” is associated with increases in blood pressure, fasting glucose, and cardiovascular disease, so managing weight gain is no longer about vanity, it’s about longevity.
As we age, our muscle mass decreases so we burn fewer calories, we often have more chronic stress, and we sleep less. These factors contribute to weight gain AND can make weight loss even more difficult. Fortunately, there are choices within our control to start feeling better faster.
Here are 3 simple but powerful levers you can push to help support midlife weight loss: what you eat, when you eat, and how much you eat. You can push one, two, or all three of these levers depending on how you currently feel, how you want to feel, and how quickly you want to feel better.
Eat to balance your blood sugar. A plant rich diet is nutrient dense, low in calories, and full of fiber. Fiber is a Meno girl’s best friend. It helps keep you full longer, reduces depression in premenopausal women, and feeds the gut microbiome -- a key factor in keeping the immune system strong and metabolizing estrogens.
A good rule of thumb is to fill half your plate or more with non-starchy vegetables (cooked or raw, or both). Think leafy greens, broccoli, cauliflower, peppers, tomatoes… Then add a portion of protein (animal or vegetable), and some healthy fats (olive, coconut, avocado, and their oils, nuts, seeds, and butters). Fill out the rest of your plate with a portion of whole grains, starchy vegetables, or fruit if desired. A lower carb diet can help many manage blood sugar. Snack smartly with something that has protein, fiber, and a little fat to keep you satiated. Minimize processed foods and those with added sugars.
Remember enjoying a few glasses of red wine in your 20’s and making it to work the next day all full of energy? You may have noticed that you don’t tolerate some foods as well as you might have in the past. Now is a great time to listen to what your body is telling you, even if you don’t like what it says. Notice which foods don’t leave you feeling as well after consuming them, such as alcohol, coffee, dairy, gluten, or other grains. Experiment with removing them, and then add them back and see what happens.
It is easy to get into the habit of eating when we aren’t hungry. Instead of grazing all day, eat distinct meals and snacks. We want to give our bodies several hours to digest and for our blood sugar to come down before we eat again. Increased blood sugar throughout the day leads to higher insulin levels and more weight around the middle.
One effective way to manage your midlife middle, is to give intermittent fasting a try. Leave at least 12 hours between dinner and breakfast. Once you have mastered that, you can play with adding another hour or two or more to your fasting window. Don’t let yourself get so hungry that you are tempted to eat too much. If you are new to intermittent fasting, increase your fasting window slowly. Make sure to break your fast with something that has some protein, fiber, and healthy fat.
As our lifestyles change, our energy demands may decline. Imagine the serving size difference between your high school athlete daughter and your mother. Most of us eat what is on the plate and we may be eating too much. Practice the Japanese tradition of “Hara hachi bun me”, eating to 8 tenths full. The best way to do this is to eat when you are hungry and stop when you have had enough, as opposed to being full. Put your fork down between bites. It will help you eat more mindfully and slowly so you can notice when you have had enough. Studies show that slow eaters eat less food.
Make your calories count. 100 calories of candy will affect your body very differently than 100 calories of broccoli. Also, if you notice that you are following all of these interventions and not losing weight, you may be getting too many calories from nuts and seeds, complex carbs (whole grains, starchy vegetables, dried fruit…), or alcohol. If so, reduce those foods by one-third to see if you start noticing a difference.
Equally important to managing how much you eat is managing your intake of water. Stay well hydrated by drinking half your body weight in ounces of water each day. Dehydration makes us feel tired and we reach for sweets and caffeine as a pick-me-up when we really need to drink more water.
The more muscle mass we have, the more calories we burn - even in a resting state! So after checking with your doctor, find a set of dumbbells and start adding in an at-home resistance training workout 2 to 3 days a week. If resistance training (weight lifting) is new to you, you can find many 10-minute beginner workout videos online, and also lots of workouts for more advanced lifters as well. And in case you are wondering about the age-old question of whether you will get “too big or bulky,” the answer is NO! Use lighter weights (3 to 10 pounds) with more repetition to build lean and long muscles. Just pick up a set of dumbbells, find an easy and short free workout on YouTube, and your sexy new arms and abs will thank you for it!
Let’s be honest - managing menopause belly fat is about health care first, and vanity second. Use this time to transition your thinking about what, when, and how much you’re eating to optimize your health and longevity. While it may feel overwhelming, approach this time with curiosity and listen to your body. Adopting a nutrient dense, plant rich diet will nourish you from head to toe, rebalance your weight, and before you know it you’ll be saying, “Bye Bye Belly Fat!”.
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