Article by Dr Marilyn Glenville
Have you noticed that with the onslaught of menopause more weight accumulates around your middle? Your arms and legs may be acceptable looking, but your mid-section seems to defy all attempts at diet and exercise. Perhaps, your clothes feel uncomfortable, your waistband is too tight and you’ve got a “muffin top” pouring over the waistband of your jeans?
If this sounds familiar, be careful! Excess weight around your middle does not only look unsightly but it can also be very damaging to your health. The latest study proves, that fat around the middle is actually more dangerous than being overweight!*
Excess belly fat may increase your risk of Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure and even cancer (especially breast cancer). Unfortunately, this type of fat is also very stubborn – normal diets and rigorous exercise regimes rarely work.
With this in mind, we have asked Dr Marilyn Glenville, the UK’s leading nutritionist and author of bestselling Fat Around The Middle to explain, why we put on weight around our middles and help to discover the best ways to tackle this stubborn fat.
The main reason people gather more fat around their middle is specifically because of the action of the stress hormone called cortisol.
Millions of years ago, our bodies were designed to react quickly to danger. Just like wild animals, we were on constant alert so we could run or fight, if threatened. When your brain thinks your life is in danger, it stimulates the release of adrenaline and cortisol.
This fight or flight response is incredibly clever and thoroughly efficient. It provides instant energy for 5-10 minutes, allowing you to react swiftly to dangerous situations.
These days, many of us live under chronic stress. However, our bodies can’t distinguish between late trains, missed appointments, spiralling debt, infuriating work colleagues and the truly life-threatening stress. That is why our body still gears up to challenge and it reacts exactly the same, as it has always done.
The main problem with our modern lifestyles is that stress (our ‘perceived threat’) is almost continuous and comes without the natural release, that either fighting or fleeing might provide. Unless you are physically active (as your body is expecting you to) all that extra energy, in the form of fat and glucose, has nowhere to go. It must be simply re-deposited as fat.
Food cravings you can’t control
After a stressful event, cortisol levels in the blood often remain high for a while, effectively increasing your appetite. Your body thinks, you should refuel after all this fighting or fleeing. That is the reason, why people with stressful lifestyle quite often feel constantly hungry. Their body urges them to stock up on the foods that it thinks will be most useful after all that ‘activity’ – so they crave carbohydrates and fats.
If you don’t fight or flee when your body expects you to, the fat and glucose in your system get deposited as fat – around the middle of your body. Why? Fat targets our belly is because it is close to the liver, where it can quickly be converted back into energy, if needed.
10 golden rules for losing fat around the middle
- Stop dieting and don’t count calories, otherwise your body will think there’s a famine and will raise stress levels, which contribute to fat storage.
- Eat every three hours. Try to keep your blood sugar levels and energy levels stable by eating regularly. Eat breakfast, lunch and dinner plus a snack mid morning and one mid afternoon, with no longer than three hours between. Try not to eat carbohydrates after 6pm. This will stop those roller-coaster highs and sugar cravings. Because your blood sugar isn’t allowed to drop, your body will no longer have to ask you for a quick fix. As the blood sugar steadies, so will the mood swings.
- Don’t skip breakfast. If you miss breakfast your body immediately registers famine and hangs on tight to your ample stores of fat.
- Eliminate or reduce all added sugar and refined carbohydrates. Avoid any foods that make your blood sugar rise quickly, because – as blood sugar drops again – your body releases adrenaline and cortisol to stabilise it once more and you end up caught in a catch 22 situation. Swap to whole grain alternatives that release energy slowly.
- Add protein to each meal. It slows down the rate that stomach processes food and delays the passage of the carbohydrates with it. As soon as you add a protein (be it animal or vegetable) to a carbohydrate, you change it into a slower releasing carbohydrate, that keep your sugar levels at bay.
- Eat essential fats. Long term dependency on low fat products might mean that you’re consuming less saturated fat, but also that you deficient in the good fats – essential fatty acids, found in oily fish, nuts and seeds. They help to boost your metabolism so don’t forget to include them in your diet.
- Don’t eat on the run. It gives your body the message that time is scarce, you are under pressure and stressed. Furthermore, your digestive system will be less efficient. Make a point of sitting down and eating your food as calmly, as possible.
- Watch what you drink. Cut out all caffeine and sugary drinks and significantly reduce alcohol intake (cut it out completely for a month if you can). If you can’t live without your latte make sure you don’t drink it on an empty stomach as it gets straight into the bloodstream and triggers cortisol release.
- Exercise. Physical activity has never been more important. If you have fat around the middle of your body caused mainly by the activity of your stress hormones, exercise MUST become one of your priorities. By simply making time for exercise in your life, you can control the potentially damaging fight or flight response.
- Add magnesium. It calms the adrenal glands and helps balance blood sugar by contributing to the production and action of insulin If you are low in magnesium try eating more leafy greens and nuts, or alternatively try NHP’s Nutri Support ‘Lose your belly’ (www.naturalhealthpractice.com, £29.77). It contains all the most important nutrients, scientifically proven to help reduce fat from around your waist.