Excess belly fat is a major concern for a lot of women over 50, myself included. As we age belly fat can be harder and harder to shed as our core constitution changes. Decreasing metabolisms and fluctuating hormones definitely don’t help, but there are some practical changes we can make to our lifestyles that will help us get on top of our increasing belly size.
I’m so excited to share with you the 5 factors that contribute to excess belly fat and what you can do to counteract the effects. These factors are exercise, insulin, stress, protein and menopause. Before we go into that though, I want to urge you to stop beating up on yourself because of belly fat. A bit is completely normal.
When I was young, I was bullied for being fat and that led to my entire self-worth being tied to the size and shape of my body. I starved myself and practiced some very unhealthy eating and exercise habits all in an attempt to lose as much weight as possible, and even then, my belly would be big some days! I became determined to find the answer to shedding belly fat in a healthy, sustainable way, which is what I would like to share with you here.
A big mistake I was making when trying to lose belly fat was exercising in the wrong way. It can be extremely frustrating when you are training hard and not seeing any results. The logical leap I made was that by exercising hard and repetitively, I would see some drastic changes. I learned quickly this was not the case.
We can’t spot reduce fat; in that we can’t specifically target one area of our body for weight loss. The solution to this is to vary our exercise routines to include a combination of cardio to boost our metabolism, high intensity interval training to increase our heart rate and strength training to build muscle. Regardless of whether we can see it or not, it’s also vital to develop a strong core. The layer of fat that sits over our abdominal is wall held in place by our core, so a weaker core will make our stomachs droop lower than they need to be, making our bellies look bigger.
The second biggest mistake we can make that leads to increased belly fat is neglecting to regulate our insulin.
When we digest our food, our bodies turn that food into glucose. This glucose is then regulated with insulin (which we already have in our bodies) that helps turn the glucose into energy for our bodies use. The problems start when there is an excess of glucose that can’t be used by our bodies and is stored as fat instead for later use. I will give you an analogy that help put this into perspective.
Insulin is the “taxi,” glucose is the “passenger,” and your body’s cells are the “shops” the “passenger” wants to go to. The taxi (insulin) picks up the passenger (glucose) and drives it to the shop (cell), where it can then be used for energy immediately, or stocked on the shop shelves for later use.
The problem is that if you store too much of this extra energy and never burn it, you end up with larger and larger fat stores, sitting on the shelf for later use.
So, what’s the solution? Insulin reacts differently depending on the foods you choose to eat. Foods rich in refined carbohydrates and simple sugars, such as white bread, white rice, and sugary cereals, cause a rapid rise in blood sugar and insulin levels, leading to an increase in belly fat storage. As a rule, it’s best to avoid, reduce or eliminate these types of food.
On the other hand, foods high in protein, healthy fats, and fibre slow the breakdown of sugar into the bloodstream, helping blood sugar levels remain fairly consistent during the day and preventing spikes in insulin.
You’ve probably heard this a million times, but it bears repeating: you need to eliminate as much stress from your life as possible. Stress leads to a myriad of different health conditions and is a prime contributor to excess belly fat. Below is a comparison shot of my belly on a stress-free day and when I am in peak stress mode. Not good.
Our bodies natural stress response is to kick adrenaline production into high gear to help us navigate tricky situations. Adrenaline causes fatty acids to be rapidly released for our bodies to consume as energy. This genetic trait is left over from our days as cavemen when we really had to hightail it out of a situation. Today’s stressors, however, require a little less physical exertion. Work, encroaching deadlines, relationships, quarantine! While stressful, these examples don’t really allow us to burn that new energy off, and as we know, energy not used is stored for later use as fat. It’s a vicious cycle.
To compound these effects, our adrenal glands release the hormone cortisol to help collect and store the unused fatty acids.
Sadly, cortisol loves your belly, so it tends to deposit fat there.
This is where exercise comes in. Exercise it the best way to de stress along with meditation and creativity to reduce your cortisol levels.
Getting enough of the right types of food each day will help lead to a decreased intake of calories. Making sure protein rich foods are chief among those will help you to feel full and satisfied for longer. This is supported by several studies which observed those who included protein in their diets and those who skimped. The results overwhelmingly pointed to the fact that high protein diets yielded less excess fat purely by virtue.
My goal is to consume 30 g of protein 3 times a day. Here is an example: I use lentils, nuts, seeds, yoghurt, collagen powder (you can add chicken, beef, fish) and I eliminate white bread, rice, sugar, cookies, cakes. In their place, I supplement with increased good fats, oils, coconut, avocado
If you are gaining belly fat during menopause, then please know this is very common. Just as it does during puberty, menopause causes an imbalance and fluctuation in our hormones. Though, unlike puberty where our hormones are signalling fat to be stored in our hips, menopausal hormones send the fat right to our abdomen.
To help you regulate menopause symptoms, everything I have outlined above will make a huge difference. Exercise, eating right and de-stressing will help you start to see improvement
There is a no quick and easy fix for belly fat reduction without going under the knife. This can be extremely frustrating, especially if you are trying everything you can to no avail. If we can make some simple, though effective, adjustments to our lifestyle, we will be able to keep our belly size in check. I really hope this has helped improve your understanding of how and why we gain belly fat and how you can make some positive changes.
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