Menopausal middle, fat and forty, or middle aged spread.
A few months before I made the decision to give the ‘low carb thing’ a go, I remember looking at a recent photo of myself, and being shocked by my appearance.
I had been kidding myself for a while that I wasn’t putting on weight, how could I be? I exercised regularly; in fact I had completed a half marathon less than two months before the photo was taken. I was eating a “balanced” diet, high in complex carbs and very low in fat. I was eating everything in moderation, I was doing everything right. I was 47 and my body was in its slide into first base of menopause and it was looking like it might not end well!
A suggestion by a friend, to “give low carb a go…. not because you need to lose weight or anything Julia……”, started me on a life changing pathway. I do believe he had my wellbeing at heart. For me it was also the beginning of a major scientific investigation, and one that did end well!
Now I am in my 50’s in not perfect but, good shape and feeling better than I have in years, I am still concerned when I bump into friends and colleagues who appear to be in a similar situation to the one I found myself in several years ago . I know I have some knowledge to help them, but it’s harder than that. When did “Can I help you lose some weight?” get a good reaction?
What’s going on in our bodies in the lead up to menopause?
Here’s the physiology – oestrogen declines as we age. This hormone that has kept women protected from heart disease and a step ahead of the men in the general health stakes is deserting us. Worse, many of us will now have the same expanding waistline as our men. This excess weight is bad for our health, and be honest, no one enjoys being overweight.
Oestrogen is a metabolic hormone. It is part of the control system for weight, movement, and appetite. As it declines we move less and eat more. Estrogen is also low when we are pregnant – move less, eat more – store fat. This prepares you to help your baby survive the uncertain Palaeolithic hunter-gatherer lifestyle. Our modern day bodies are still wired for this. It used to be in cycles (monthly) but in the lead up to menopause it’s a permanent condition.
But avoiding weight gain over the pre-menopausal phase is more complex than eating less and exercising more. Several key changes to women’s metabolism and hormonal status are contributing to this weight gain. Thanks to the decline in oestrogen;
Food takes a longer time to digest. Research shows that digestion time doubles!
Insulin increases over this prolonged digestion time.
Fat is stored through increased insulin (the fat storage hormone).
Enzymes called lipoprotein lipase (LPL) are opening the door into your fat cells, welcoming the excess glucose from your blood stream.
Fat cells are zipped up and fat is stored ready for the upcoming famine, believe me, there is no famine coming!
These fat cells are now re-positioning themselves from your hips and thighs to your stomach and waist.
A diet low in carbohydrate and higher in fat can fight the hormonal fireworks display playing itself out in our aging bodies. Low carb high fat diets reduce the production of insulin and prevalence of insulin resistance. What we need to do is to force our bodies to burn fat as its first energy source. By controlling those insulin levels with a low carbohydrate high fat diet you will have more control over your expanding waistline. Remember that everything you have read about low carb is a lot more relevant as you approach menopause.
But we can’t discuss menopause without also considering those common menopausal symptoms, hot flushes and night sweats. Studies show a link between the degree of insulin resistance and frequency of hot flushes. Women who experience frequent and intense hot flushes also have a greater risk of heart disease later in life. This little gem just adds weight to the advantages in consuming foods that reduce insulin resistance and promote fat burning. It’s the best way to lose weight, prevent weight gain, and ease those menopausal symptoms.