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Shape Shifting: Why is belly fat harder to move after 40?

Shape shifting is a real thing as we age. No longer is the weight going onto your legs and bum, but more and more it’s morphing onto your abdomen, and becoming a belly where you didn’t previously have one.

The massive hormonal shifts of the perimenopause can affect us in many ways, from our moods to our temperature, our shape and our quality of life, However, the good news is that there are lots of steps that you can take to limit the symptoms.

Sex hormones and belly fat

Progesterone is normally the first sex hormone to start declining. This can cause all sorts of changes, including migraines, hot flushes, dryness, hair loss, anxiety and increased belly fat.

Our oestrogen levels can start to go haywire too. Oestrogen tends to encourage fat to be deposited on our hips and thighs to begin, but as this hormone declines too, the pattern changes to more of a male-type pattern of belly fat. However, there are two other crucial hormones which relate to weight gain, and these are insulin and cortisol, both of which have a huge impact upon our changing shape.

Blood sugar, stress and belly fat

During perimenopause many women become ‘insulin-resistant.’ This basically means that your cells aren’t as sensitive to the signals from insulin and no longer allow insulin to take glucose out of your blood and into your cells to be used for energy. Too much sugar builds up in your blood and this can cause havoc with your other hormones and contribute to weight gain.

Cortisol release is triggered by stress. It increases blood sugar levels to give us energy for the stress we are facing. Of course, this used to be running away from a man-eating lion, but now it’s more likely to be because of a red traffic light or a moody teenager! One bout of stress can take 8 hours to get your hormone levels back to normal. So, if we are bouncing from one stress to another, then they may stay permanently high all day.

And if we’re not running away from that lion to use up that energy, then guess what? It will all be laid as fat around your middle!

What can we do to reduce blood sugar imbalance and that unwanted belly fat?

1. Cut down on sugar and refined carbohydrates. I know you've heard it before, but watching our sugar and refined carb intake at this age is more important than ever. Try to cut out white foods like white bread, pasta and rice, and replace them with wholegrain varieties instead, but also limit the amount you have of each of these foods.

2. Eat protein and healthy fats with every meal. Women often struggle to get enough protein and healthy fats into their diet. Both protein and fats not only keep you full for longer but also help to slow down the release of glucose from carbs into the blood.

3. Cut down on alcohol. Alcohol sadly is not our friend and especially so when we hit perimenopause. Alcohol affects blood sugar and as we age, plus which we become less able to detoxify it, which explains those worsening hangovers.

4. Focus on reducing your stress. The connection between stress and weight gain is very real. There are so many ways we can do this but some of them include making sure we take time for ourselves each day – whether it be a walk in the fresh air, 15 minutes of yoga, or perhaps meditation or journaling.

5. Track your cycle. This doesn’t mean just track when your period starts and finishes, but your daily symptoms throughout the cycle. This can be eye-opening for many women and can help you to identify patterns. It can also be super helpful for planning activities. There are many apps that can make this easy for you, too. Once you have a better understanding of what is going on and understand the options available to restore balance, then perimenopause and menopause can become enjoyable phases in a woman’s life - and they really should be. For more support and nutritional advice, then click here to take the first steps with a FREE Better Health Chat with Marianne Andrews, Nutritional Therapist.

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