Many women find as the move into their 40s and beyond that it is harder for them to lose weight. The things that they did in the past to drop those few extra kilos don’t seem to work anymore and they are finding that they are a bit rounder especially around the tummy and the hips.
Unfortunately, there is no single solution to this problem because there are many different reasons why you can start to gain weight and struggle to lose it as you move into peri-menopause and beyond. Some of these reasons include:
- Hormonal shifts
- The use of synthetic hormones
- Thyroid issues
- Insulin resistance
- High levels of stress
- Eating more food than your body requires
- Eating the wrong food for your body
- Drinking too much alcohol
- Not moving enough
- Not enough sleep
As you move closer to menopause your hormones start to shift, they can be like a rollercoaster going up and down for a few years before they start their decline. As your oestrogen levels start to decline your body will look for other sources of oestrogen to keep it safe (oestrogen is a protective hormone), ideally it would get this hormone from your adrenal glands but unfortunately many women are quite stressed at this stage of life and the adrenals cannot make enough oestrogen. The other place where spare oestrogen is held is in fat tissue. It is for this reason that the body will tend to hold on to fat so that it can use the eostrogen that has been stored there over the years.
There are other hormones, besides the reproductive hormones, that also need to be considered when it comes to weight gain and these are cortisol, T4 and T3 and insulin. I will discuss these later.
Synthetic hormones like the pill, IVF hormones and HRT really mess with your natural hormones and can cause you to gain weight. These man-made hormones cause fluid retention, bloating and also interferes with fat metabolism due to the impact they have on the gallbladder and the liver. The use of these medications cause hormonal imbalances in your body which can take years to correct after you have stop taking them
60% of women in peri-menopause and beyond have a sub-clinical underactive thyroid, sub-clinical means that the thyroid function is not low enough to be diagnosed as a disease but it does impact the way a woman feels and looks. One the key symptoms of low thyroid function is lowered metabolism and increase fat storage. There are several reasons why thyroid function is low in women these include high levels of stress, diets which are high in grains such as wheat and nutrient deficiencies such as iodine and selenium. Women with thyroid issues tend to store their fat around their butt and hips, not always though.
Another hormone which impacts your weight is insulin. Our modern diet which is high in processed and highly sugary foods disrupts the body’s ability to regulate its insulin levels and blood sugar levels. Ideally when the sugar (glucose) levels in the blood are high the body releases insulin to store the glucose in the cells, over time if sugars remain high and the cells are full of sugar the body converts the sugar into fats and stores it around the tummy. Insulin resistance occurs when there is a constant supply of glucose in the blood, due to diet, and the insulin response slows down and converts more glucose to fat rather than utilising it in the cells.
As you age it is harder to shift this additional tummy weight unless you correct the insulin resistance with dietary changes. Over time insulin resistance can develop into diabetes if the diet isn’t changed.
High levels of stress
The problem of the 21st century is that most of us live highly stressed lives. The more stressed we are the more cortisol our body releases. The higher your cortisol levels the more your body stores fat around the tummy. The reason why your body stores fat when you are stressed is due to the feast and famine action of the body. When we were cave women the stress response was required to keep us alive and one of the actions of the body in times of stress was to conserve energy in case of famine. Obviously, we don’t live in a world where famine is a thing, but your body still reacts in this manner when there is long term stress happening.
By the time many women they reach their mid-forties they are tired and worn out from juggling a family, a career and many other things. Stress has become so normalised that we don’t even realise it is happening most of the time, we feel the being busy and overwhelmed is normal.
Eating more food than your body requires
As your reproductive systems starts to slow down you don’t need as much energy to produce an egg every month and you also don’t need to support the loss of menstrual blood each month. This means that you don’t need to be eating the same amount of food that you required when you were ovulating and menstruating monthly. Unfortunately, many women continue to eat the same amount of food and if your body can’t utilise the food for energy it will store it as fat.
Eating the wrong food for your body
There is so much confusion about what type of diet is the correct diet, the answer is that there is no single diet that works for everyone. In fact, the diet that worked for you when you were younger may not work for you as you age, this is for many reasons (some which I have already written about above). You might find that you have less need for protein in your diet as you are no longer preparing your body for pregnancy each month. Too much protein can cause you to put on weight if you have a body which is prone to hold extra weight easily. If you are a quick thinker or do a lot of mental work or exercise you might have a need for more carbohydrates. The correct food for your body will depend on your genetics, your lifestyle and some other factors including your hormones. If you would like to learn more about the correct diet for you complete this short questionnaire and I will send you some further information.
Drinking too much alcohol
The highest consumers of wine in Australia are women over the age of 45 and in fact many women in this age group have an issue with alcohol consumption. In our society it is acceptable for women to have a wine or two (some other alcoholic drink) to wind down after a stressful day. This level of alcohol consumption results in a high level of sugar in the blood causing insulin resistance (see above).
High levels of alcohol consumption can also lead to liver disease known as Fatty Liver Disease which occurs when excess fat is stored around the liver. It must be noted that Fatty Liver Disease is not only caused by alcohol it can also be caused by insulin resistance. There is a growing number of women who are being diagnosed with this disease.
Not Moving enough (or exercising too much)
Many women, by the time they reach their mid-forties are living relatively sedentary lives. They don’t have time to exercise and they find that if they do exercise, they often are prone to injury or they feel very sore afterwards. This can be due to tendons and joints which can become stiff as the reproductive hormones drop.
On the other hand, we have women who are exercising a lot and not losing weight. Over-exercising and not allowing the body enough time to rest can cause the body to feel stressed which results in a release of cortisol. High levels of cortisol over a long-term results in additional fat being stored around the waist which is hard to shift (see above).
Not enough sleep
Most people underestimate the role that sleep plays in our health and wellbeing and particularly in our ability to maintain a healthy weight. When you don’t get enough sleep, you can get an imbalance in 2 important hormones ghrelin and leptin. These hormones regulate your appetite. Leptin controls your hunger response and this hormone increases when you don’t get enough sleep and Ghrelin controls your satiety (feeling full) response and this hormone decreases when you are sleep deprived. Sleep deprivation also impacts your cortisol and insulin hormones which I have already covered early in this blog.
How much is enough sleep? That depends on the individual but generally between 6 and 7.5hrs works well for most people.
And finally, evolution has not been that kind to women’s bodies as they age. The primary role of a menstruating woman is to attract a mate and to reproduce, once her reproductive years are over her roles shifts to protector and wise woman of the tribe. In times of famine it is the bigger (fatter) people who are able to keep the tribe alive because they can go without food and utilise their fat stores while the younger women and children get to eat the limited amount of food available. Also, once your reproductive years are over there is no need to attract a mate, so those curves are no longer required. Even though we live in a modern world we have bodies that were created hundreds or thousands of years ago, evolutionary changes have not kept up with our lifestyles.
As you can see weight gain and the inability to lose weight quickly in your mid-forties and beyond is multi-factorial, is it any wonder with all of these different factors at play that many women feel like they are fighting a losing battle. Does this mean you should just give up? The answer is no but you do need to change what you are eating; how much you are eating and the way you are living your life. But even if you made every change that I have suggested here you cannot change evolution. It is a fact that as your move into menopause your body will become softer and rounder and you might hold a few kilos that simply won’t shift. Your body is no longer 20 and it is unrealistic to expect it to look like it is. This is when self-acceptance and self-love are required. Time to ignore society’s ageist beliefs around the way women are expected to look.
If you are eating well most of the time, moving regularly, managing your stress and falling in love with the body you have then there isn’t much more that you need to do.
On the other hand, if you know that your diet could do with some improvement, you are too stressed, and self-love is something that you haven’t discovered yet then the embrace Program is for you. This 12-week program includes a personalised health plan, food lists specific for you, recipes as well as regular group calls to keep you accountable to your goals. The next round kicks off soon click HERE to learn more.