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Understanding Weight Management After 40: Why Can't I lose the Belly Fat?

Introduction:

So, you've hit your 40s, and suddenly, it feels like the rules have changed. What used to work for you a few years ago, no longer works. Weight management has become a puzzle, and you find yourself wondering if it's your hormones or if you're just lacking willpower and should "eat less and move more" like the muscly male trainer on Instagram tells you.


In order to understand the best way to move forward in this new age and stage, it can be helpful to have an understanding of the physiological changes our body is experiencing and what that means for you.


Perimenopause Physiology:

Understanding the physiological changes that come with age is crucial. During the perimenopause transition, women experience a decrease in estrogen. This change is associated with increases in fat mass, particularly around the abdomen (this is the stubborn belly fat that you've been trying to get rid of), along with additional health risks such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure, insulin resistance, and type 2 diabetes. Perimenopause may also result in a decline in physical health (e.g. reduced sleep health and reduced bone density) and emotional challenges like such as mood swings, anxiety, and depression.


We know that hormonal changes experienced in perimenopause lead to accelerated gains in fat mass and simultaneous losses in lean mass. As these processes are happening at the same time, you might not notice a significant change in your weight, but you will notice a change in your body composition; for example feeling 'fluffier' or 'puffy', noticing an increase in belly fat and clothes feeling tighter.


This suggests that using your weight alone is not going to tell you the full story and a waist measurement is likely to be a better indicator of where things are at. As a guide, a waist measurement of <80cm is considered lowest risk and <88cm is reduced risk.


So what does that mean for my weight?

Firstly, loss of muscle mass can lead to a decrease in your basal metabolic rate (BMR), the energy that you burn just living, breathing, sleeping. This is like installing a smaller engine into a car, it is smaller and more efficient and therefore burns less fuel. In your case, the engine is burning less calories.


Secondly, the research tells us that the level of physical activity throughout the menopause transition decreases. This could be due to a number of factors such as being time poor (juggling work / kids / life) as well as the fact that the perimenopause symptoms that women experience, such fatigue and joint pain may affect their ability to exercise.


So although you might not have changed anything with your eating, it is likely your activity levels have dropped AND your body's engine is burning less calories as a result of the decreased muscle mass; all of which will be contributing to your weight changes.


A Holistic Approach:

When I talk about weight loss, I am essentially talking about fat loss. As discussed earlier, body weight is not going to be the most reliable indicator of progress at this stage, so there is value in focusing on healthy habits and healthy living and any positive changes in body composition are a happy side effect of these habits.


Taking Control:

So, what can you do to address these changes? It's a combination of understanding your symptoms, lifestyle factors, and making manageable adjustments.


Firstly, if your perimenopause symptoms are impacting your ability maintain healthy habits such as exercise, there is value in discussing your treatment options with your GP. Consider filling in a symptom tracker and taking it into your appointment.


Next, consider where there is room to make some improvements in terms of your lifestyle. Ideas for change include:


1. Prioritize Protein and Plants:

Fuel your body with protein and fibre-packed, plant-centric meals. The body will thank you for including nutrient dense foods, your gut will be happy and the additional protein will help to protect your muscle mass and keep you feeling satisfied.


2. Consider Carbs:

We're not saying bye to carbs; just consider moderating them to match your activity levels. Opt for whole grain options where possible for that extra fibre.


3. Mind Alcohol and Caffeine:

If hot flushes are your enemy, watch out for alcohol and caffeine – they can exacerbate these symptoms. Plus, cutting back on alcohol will help with calorie control.


4. Maximise Muscle:

Hit the weights. Strength training is your ticket to maintaining and building muscle. It also helps to keep those calorie-burning engines revved up. If you're not sure where to start, see your local exercise physiologist or an experienced trainer for guidance.


5. Step Up the Steps:

Life is busy. But making time for more steps is crucial. Prioritise physical activity, even if it means squeezing in short walks throughout your day. Boosting your daily step count can go far in terms of helping you feel better, more energised, reduce weight and improve insulin sensitivity.


6. Calm the Farm:

Sleep and stress management are unsung heroes when it comes to health and well being. If your sleep has been severely impacted as a result of perimenopause, talk to your GP about your options. Aim to establish a bedtime routine, create a sleep-friendly environment, and find ways to manage stress.


Conclusion:

Understanding the physiological changes in your 40s is vital, but it's equally important to recognize what you can control. Hormones might play a role, but by prioritising a nutrient-dense diet and regular physical activity, you can better navigate this transition. It's not just about the weight on the scale; it's about embracing a holistic approach to health and well-being. Remember, it's about setting up healthy habits today that will make the transition into perimenopause smoother.


 

➡️➡️➡️ Feeling like you're doing "all the things" but not getting anywhere? Let's chat! My 1:1 coaching program is designed to simplify weight loss for busy women and help people like you navigate the changes that come with perimenopause. Book in for a free kickstart call to find out more!




ARTICLE/CONTENT DISCLAIMER

The information provided in this blog is for your personal or other non-commercial, educational purposes. It should not be considered as medical or professional advice. We recommend you consult with a GP or other healthcare professional before taking or omitting to take any action based on this blog. While the author uses best endeavours to provide accurate and true content, the author makes no guarantees or promises and assumes no liability regarding the accuracy, reliability or completeness of the information presented. The information, opinions, and recommendations presented in this blog are for general information only and any reliance on the information provided in this blog/article/handout is done at your own risk. Any third-party materials or content of any third-party site referenced in this blog do not necessarily reflect the author’s opinion, standards or policies and the author does not assume any liability for them whatsoever.


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