Battle of UNDERSTANDING the Menopot (Part 2)
Note: I struck through the word “Battle” because it suggests struggle and stress. Since I’m trying to reduce the cortisol in my life (see below), I’m going with a softer, gentler approach.
A lot of women in their 40s and 50s feel panicked about the way their bodies are changing. SO MANY have approached me in frustration and desperation, lamenting that while they’re eating and exercising the way they always have, the number on the scale keeps creeping up and their clothes are getting ever tighter. And the new fat is in a different place than it used to be (often the belly) … They don’t know what is happening and they don’t know what to do about it.
When we talk to our doctors about this particular concern, many repeat the same old thing … “You have to eat less! Exercise more! Have some DISCIPLINE. You’re no spring chicken, ya know!” Their advice can feel sort of judge-y and we leave there feeling “unheard” and more frustrated than ever.
When I complained to my own doctor about my unexplained weight gain a couple of years ago, she actually said, “You’ve got to start counting calories. Do you KNOW how many calories there are in a tablespoon of peanut butter?!” Uh yeah, I’m a fitness coach. I do actually know the calorie count in nut butters. AND THAT’S NOT THE PROBLEM. I knew there was more to it than that, but she kinda shut me down.
The good news is, there really IS more to it than “calories in-calories out”. The bad news is, there really IS more to it than calories in-calories out.” ????
WHAT’S WITH THE BELLY?!
We could get very science-y here, but if you’re the kind of person who likes to skip to the bottom line, this wildly simplified explanation should work for you:
This is a tale of four hormones who live together in relative harmony for 45 to 50 years (on average). Their names are estrogen, progesterone, cortisol and insulin. There are other players involved, but these are the heavy hitters in terms of hormonal weight gain in a middle aged woman.
As we get older, our ovaries slow (and eventually cease) estrogen and progesterone production. When this occurs, the ratio (the relationship, as it were) between those two hormones changes.
This is problematic in terms of fat gain because all of our lives, estrogen and progesterone have worked together to keep cortisol (the stress hormone) and insulin (the sugar hormone) in check. You see, cortisol and insulin like to STORE fat, instead of burn it for energy. And they ESPECIALLY like to deposit fat in the abdominal area. When estrogen and progesterone levels fall and they can no longer exert influence over the fat storing tendencies of cortisol and insulin, many of us start to notice excess body fat in places that we hadn’t seen previously. (*Remember, this is a simplified explanation and it doesn’t describe EVERYONE’S body or story, but it’s scary common).
Here’s the important take-away:
YES, calories matter when it comes to fat loss/gain in middle age. But hormonal balance (or lack thereof) could be just as important (perhaps more important) when it comes to why we’re gaining weight, where we’re storing it, and how we get rid of it .
Sure, we need to eat healthfully and get regular exercise. We all know that. But specific to hormonal weight gain, here’s what needs to happen:
1. Manage your stress.
There are lots of ways to do this (get plenty of sleep, enjoy calming activities, practice meditation, eliminate some of the stressors in your life, etc.), but it’s a discipline.
It’s WAY easier to do the same ol’ thing the same ol’ way, ending up with the same ol’ stressed out results (which may include the care and feeding of a menopot). But the more you PRIORITIZE reducing the stress in your life, the lower your cortisol levels will be, which in turn will help control fat gain. It’ll also help you lose it.
2. Reduce carbs ☹️
Just as cortisol is sensitive to stress, insulin is sensitive to carbohydrates, particularly the yummy ones (flour, sugar, starchy veggies, the sweeter fruits). In order to keep insulin levels low, and to keep it from depositing fat in our midsection, we need to eat less sugar and fewer carbs. Period.
Understanding the biology behind my menopot (which made it’s appearance on my otherwise fit body at the age of 49), has made it easier to CHOOSE certain behaviors in the name of good health and a flatter stomach, then to simply resentfully DEPRIVE myself.
Hey I don’t love that I can’t eat bread and drink wine every night without my pants getting tight. But I do appreciate the probable explanation behind it – it gives me some control, and that feels good. It even somehow makes sugar and grains slightly less compelling. I’d never thought I’d say that, but it’s TRUE.
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