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The Top 5 Reasons Menopausal Women Have Trouble Losing Weight
Remember the old days when taking off 5 or 10 pounds just meant eating less and exercising more? I have a down pat formula – if I want to get into my “skinny” jeans, I put down a double order of onion rings and ride my bike a few extra miles. Whoosh! It came.
Now that I’m in those wonderful menopausal years I don’t work at all. I hear the same cry from my clients, and I’m sure you’ve felt the same if you’re a boomer woman. I feel your pain. So, what is the problem here and what should we do about it?
1. Hormones, hormones, hormones. Aren’t you tired of hearing about these pesky little critters – and – the havoc they create when they’re out of balance? Hot flashes, night sweats, migraines and of course weight gain are some of the problems associated with estrogen and progesterone imbalance. The ovaries produce estrogen, and when production starts to drop, our bodies start looking for it elsewhere. Fat stores are one of the places where estrogen enters the body. So if your body is struggling to maintain hormonal balance, body fat becomes very valuable and the body will hold on to it for dear life.
Solution: First, consult a healthcare professional to check your hormone levels. There are countless alternative therapies, and every woman is different, so there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Keep in mind that often, as we continue to produce estrogen, low progesterone is the culprit. Natural progesterone creams are widely available and easy to administer. But get a level up or you could do more harm than good.
2. Pressure. Adrenaline and cortisol, the “fight or flight” hormones, are released in our bodies in response to a physical or psychological threat. When the threat passes our bodies are meant to return to rest and continue living. It worked well for our ancestors with the occasional bear attack. But stress today is constant and chronic, so these hormones remain in our system. Our bodies interpret chronic stress as starvation and store every calorie as fat.
Solution: Some form of stress is a given in most of our lives. It is important to identify where your stressors are and do your best to reduce or eliminate the cause. If that’s a problem, learning some stress-management techniques like deep breathing, meditation, time-outs (for yourself or for yourself!), mini-vacations — anything that brings you peace and/or comfort. Girlfriends are especially helpful in this area. Use them!
3. Diet. Combine a high stress lifestyle with a low fat/high carb diet and weight gain is inevitable. Irritability and anxiety can cause you to crave and eat sweets, starchy foods (some say comfort foods) and caffeine, leading to a temporary elevation in energy and mood. However, this is short-lived, the insulin surge causes your blood sugar to plummet and you crash! And on and on you go. Yo-yo diets put stress on the body and really screw up your metabolism. Again, the body goes into starvation mode and stores more calories than you consume.
Solution: Now I don’t believe carbs are evil, but if you want to get on the merry-go-round of weight gain you need to eliminate or significantly reduce them. Carbohydrates are measured by the glycemic index, with white bread topping 100. The higher the glycemic number, the faster the sugar goes into your bloodstream and the faster you crash. So, avoiding white rice and white flour foods like muffins, pretzels, bread sticks, bagels and pasta will go a long way in improving your diet. Fruits and vegetables are your friend, the wider the variety the better. And protein helps keep you satisfied longer so you don’t get those nasty cravings.
4. Decreased metabolism. As we age, we lose muscle tissue – about ½ pound after age 28-30. Fat is metabolized in muscle, so if you have less muscle your metabolism will slow down.
Solution: Yes, we lose muscle as we age, but the good news – no matter how old you are – you can regain that muscle and increase your metabolism. Weight training is an essential component of your exercise program, so start incorporating it into your regimen. If you are absolutely clueless about how to do this, consult a fitness professional. If you’re already engaged in an exercise program and have hit a plateau – it’s time to step it up. Going high and hard one or two days a week will help jumpstart your metabolism. Also, try different exercises that recruit different muscles so you can surprise them. When our bodies become accustomed to a certain type of exercise and intensity, whether your goal is weight loss or increased fitness, they perform, but do not make any progress.
5. Insulin resistance. The low fat/high carb/processed food diet mentioned above can make your body’s cells resistant to insulin. Insulin delivers glucose to cells and cells have receptor sites to let insulin in. If there are fewer receptor sites, glucose “hangs around” and waits to be taken in and eventually stored as fat.
Solution: Insulin resistance does not affect everyone – in fact around 25% of the population is prone to the condition. If you know you’re one of them again, cut back on high-glycemic carbs, eat protein and carbs together to lower blood sugar levels, and eat less often.
All these points could be an article or book in itself. Indeed, volumes have been written. You now have at least an idea of how to overcome the nemesis of weight gain that wreaks havoc on our physical and mental well-being during the peri-menopausal years and beyond. One last piece of advice that is extremely helpful – get support! However it looks for you – girlfriends, church group, mothers, aunts, neighbors. We can all do it – with a little help from our friends.
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