In my nutrition practice, a build up of hard-to-shift fat around the middle is probably one of the commonest complaints I hear from women in their 40s.
As if there wasn’t enough to deal with in middle age, it seems nature hasn’t been very kind to us women. There are two factors at play here.
First, oestrogen is produced by fat tissue so as oestrogen levels decline, the body builds up fat stores. And second, those fat stores tend to collect around the middle. The reason for this is that a drop in hormones makes us naturally more insulin resistant. And this leads to any excess carbs getting turned into abdominal fat. Great I hear you say and I empathise.
Middle age spread as it is sometimes called isn’t just a problem of looks either. It brings other health issues with it. For example, abdominal fat increases the risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease. When it comes to preventing heart attacks, it is often men who are the target of health campaigns. However heart disease in women is a major issue (more women die from it in the UK, than from breast cancer). Not forgetting also that anyone with a heart condition is considered at increased risk of more severe complications of Covid-19.
It is declining levels of oestrogen with ageing that put women more at risk of heart disease. Oestrogen has a protective effect on the heart and blood vessels and helps maintain balanced cholesterol levels and blood pressure. The takeaway of all of this for women is that the time to start tackling fat around the middle is now, not only to feel better about yourself and how you look but to avoid storing up health issues for the future. There is plenty you can do diet and lifestyle wise.
What is the best way to combat Midlife Weight Gain?
Compared to your younger days, you may have to work a little harder to lose weight and keep it off during mid life. It’s all about maintaining balanced insulin and blood sugar control. A lower carb, antioxidant rich, Mediterranean style diet definitely helps in this respect. A simple step to get you started could be replacing some of your regular pasta with spiralised vegetable noodles. Courgettes work particularly well for this or sweet potato.
What else you will need to do depends on how much abdominal weight you need to lose and other individual factors such as food intolerances, digestive function, gut health and blood sugar balance etc.
I believe it’s really important that healthy eating is enjoyable and that you look forward to meals.
Yes, too much sugar, processed fats, carbonated drinks, salt and alcohol won’t help.
But simply cutting out whole food groups and not balancing up your diet, can often leave you feeling energy depleted, deprived and ready to sabotage your intentions with a binge on sugary or junk food! You may find it helpful to work with a nutritional therapist to help break down the actions you need to take into simple steps and keep you supported, inspired and accountable.
You’re probably familiar with the phrase “sparking joy” coined by Marie Condo, the well known Queen of Tidying! Her philosophy is that if a possession, be it clothing or ornaments, doesn’t spark joy, get rid of it. In ancient Chinese medicine joy was the emotion associated with healing the heart. It was closely linked with connection to others and connection to the natural world.
It’s thought that the benefits of the Mediterranean diet don’t come just from the food itself. It’s also HOW the food is eaten i.e. sharing the food in company along with the pleasure and enjoyment that brings. Time is taken over meals and they become opportunities for families and friends to socialise. Not so easy in the time of Covid 19 but you get the point.
Stress and Weight
Another factor that you may not connect with weight issues is the importance of relaxation and switching off. When we are stressed and the adrenaline is pumping we are in a state of emergency so we can cope with the perceived threat.
If instead of being a short lived response, stress is ongoing, it becomes chronic. It is widely accepted that stress has negative impact on our health. Some studies suggest that stress may also impact our ability to lose weight.
Ongoing stress also causes inflammation which goes hand in hand with fat around the middle, raised blood pressure, blood sugars and cholesterol. These factors make heart disease more likely.
Two Simple Actions you can take Today
I will leave you with a couple of steps you can implement quickly.
1. Check out my delicious healthy, antioxidant rich, warming winter soups https://nutritionistlondon.co.uk/healthy-soup-recipes/ These soups work well as part of a weight loss plan as they are nutritious but quite filling.
2. A well as looking at your diet, go get some downtime, and do whatever it is that deeply relaxes you!
Want Nutritionist Support?
Penny Crowther is Over The Bloody Moon's Nutritionist Advisor, running her own practice, Nutritionist London (note Penny provides support across the UK) with personalised nutrition plans. Penny is a regular writer for various magazines and publications and has qualifications from BANT and CNHC - the gold standard for nutrition and complimentary health.