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The Top 5 Reasons Menopausal Women Have Trouble Losing Weight
Remember the good old days when losing 5 or 10 pounds simply meant eating less and exercising more? I have a formula – if I want to wear my “skinny” jeans, I just stop ordering two onion rings and ride my bike a few extra miles. woosh! It came.
Now that I’m in those wonderful menopausal years, it just doesn’t work like that anymore. I hear the same complaints from my clients and I’m sure you’ve experienced the same if you’re a boomer woman. I feel your pain. So, what is the problem here and what do we do?
1. Hormones, hormones, hormones. Aren’t you tired of hearing about these pesky little creatures – and – the havoc they create when they’re out of balance? Hot flashes, night sweats, migraines, and of course weight gain are just some of the problems associated with an imbalance of estrogen and progesterone. The ovaries produce estrogen, and when production begins to decline, our bodies begin to look for it elsewhere. Fat storage is one of the places where the body accesses estrogen. Therefore, if your body struggles to maintain hormonal balance, body fat becomes very valuable, and the body holds on to it for life.
Solution: First, get yourself to a healthcare professional to get your hormone levels checked. There are many different types of replacement therapy, and every woman is different, so there is no one-size-fits-all medication. Keep in mind that often, because we continue to produce estrogen, low progesterone is the cause. Natural progesterone creams are widely available and easy to administer. But get the levels or you could do yourself more harm than good.
2. Pressure. Adrenaline and cortisol, the “fight or flight” hormones, are released in our bodies in response to physical or psychological threats. When the threat passes, our body will return to rest and continue life. This worked well for our ancestors with the occasional bear attack. But today’s stress tends to be constant and chronic, so these hormones stay in our system. Our bodies interpret prolonged stress as starvation, and store every spare calorie as fat.
Solution: Stress of some kind is a given in most of our lives. It is important to identify where your stress is and do your best to reduce or eliminate the source. If that’s a problem, then learn some stress-busting techniques, like deep breathing, meditation, time-outs (for yourself or your kids!), mini-vacations – whatever will bring you peace and/or comfort. Girlfriends are very helpful in this area. Use them!
3. Diet. Combine a high stress lifestyle with a low fat/high carb diet and weight gain is inevitable. Irritability and anxiety cause you to crave and eat sweets, starchy foods (some would say comfort foods) and caffeine, which results in a temporary boost in energy and mood. However, this is short term, your blood sugar plummets due to the insulin spike and you crash! And so you go. Yo-yo dieting also contributes to the stress placed on the body and really ruins your metabolism. Again, the body goes into starvation mode and hoards most of the calories you eat.
Solution: Now I don’t believe that carbs are evil, but there are some that you need to eliminate or significantly reduce if you want to lose weight happily. Carbohydrates are measured by the glycemic index with white bread topping the chart at 100. The higher the glycemic number the faster sugar enters your bloodstream and the faster you crash. Therefore, cutting out white rice and foods made with white flour such as muffins, pretzels, bread sticks, bagels and pasta will help you improve your diet. Fruits and vegetables are your friends, the more variety the better. And protein helps keep you satisfied longer so you don’t get those pesky cravings.
4. Metabolism is lowered. As we age, we lose muscle tissue – about ½ pound a year after age 28-30. Muscle is where fat is metabolized, so the less muscle you have the slower your metabolism.
Solution: Yes, we lose muscle as we age, but the good news is – no matter how old you are – you can get that muscle back and boost your metabolism. Weight training is an important component of your exercise program, so start adding it to your regimen. If you really don’t understand how to do this, consult a fitness professional. If you’re already engaged in an exercise program and have reached a plateau – it’s time to step it up. Walking longer and harder one or two days a week will help boost your metabolism. Also, try different exercise routines that recruit different muscles so you’ll surprise them. When our bodies get used to a certain type of exercise and intensity, they will maintain, but will not make any progress, whether weight loss or fitness improvement is your goal.
5. Insulin resistance. The low fat/high carb/processed food diet mentioned above causes your body’s cells to become insulin resistant. Insulin delivers glucose to cells and cells have receptor sites for insulin to enter. If the receptor site is lacking, glucose “hangs” waiting to enter and is eventually stored as fat.
Solution: Insulin resistance does not affect everyone – in fact about 25% of the population is prone to this condition. If you know you’re one of them again, cut back on those high-glycemic carbs, eat protein and carbs together to lower blood sugar, and eat smaller meals more often.
All of these elements can be articles or books on their own. Indeed volumes have been written. You now have at least an idea of how to overcome the enemy of weight gain that can damage our physical and psychological well-being during the years before menopause and beyond. One last very helpful suggestion – get support! Whoever is looking for you – girlfriend, church group, mother, aunt, neighbor. We can all do it – with a little help from our friends.
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