Belly? … what belly? … OH! … that belly. I swear it just randomly appeared one day when I noticed my reflection in the mirror (or was it Yoda?) … followed by a very loud expletive.
The menopause transition years, known as perimenopause, are not for the faint of heart. It is a grand adventure that every woman experiences – some more intensely than others. Estrogen levels fluctuate sometimes leading to the loss of natural body contours, and then the joyful discovery of menopause belly…(HA!)
But what is menopause belly?
It is the accumulation of excess abdominal fats around the stomach and the abdomen. The menopause belly or the belly fat is characterized by a weight gain in your middle section. Reducing this weight is important not just for appearance, but to also reduce health hazards such as acute myocardial infarctions, high blood pressure, diabetes and other inflammatory conditions (1).
Where does it come from?
Let’s see how changes in your nervous system impact your weight. Let’s look at cortisol and sweets.
First, you need to understand that as a woman moves towards menopause, her body can undergo some drastic hormone changes. This may have a significant impact on her nervous system. She tends to get overly stressed about the slightest issues like being stuck in traffic or having a pile of work that she hasn’t completed.
There are endless jokes about a woman’s moodiness with menopause. Her nervous system is working overtime as shock and stress signals are constantly being sent to it due to circumstances in her environment. Her body is looking for a well-deserved break from the stress. In this process, the body releases a chemical called CORTISOL to create a balance in the system (2).
Cortisol acts as the body’s pressure valve. What it does in the body is to create a deep craving for sweet things and constantly keeps us in a state of hunger, not for healthy fruits and vegetables, but things like sugar dense cupcakes and process foods. This stress merry-go-round is not helping with menopause belly.
So what’s the answer?
• Magnesium is your friend. Ensure that the foods you take are rich in magnesium. Magnesium promotes good nerve function. This means that it will have a better handle on shock and will be able to keep your mood up. Magnesium promotes good sleep, regulates the body’s blood pressure and is vital for your hormones. Foods like avocados, kale, spinach and whole grains are rich in magnesium. (3)
• Try to avoid instances that may lead to stress. Taking calming herbs is a good way to go if you are feeling out of sorts. Avoid taking foods that stimulate your nervous systems like coffee and alcohol. Change your lifestyle and take a few minutes away from the hustle of your job and family to have a little time to yourself. Organize your work to avoid last minute rushes through deadlines. (4)
• Exercise is good for the body. The right exercise will lead to a good body shape without stressing your nervous system. Ensure that your joints are mobile. There are many exercise regimens. Find one that works for you, and unless you are an athlete, be cautious of boot camps and extreme workouts. Consider limiting your routine to short exercises that aren’t over-the-top strenuous. (5)
• Eat a well-balanced diet. You already know how this works. Consider having a meal that is rich in protein, vitamins, and carbs as well. Snack on healthy proteins and fruit and vegetables. This will go a long way in showing the body that there is plenty of food available.
• Food synergy: Do not lose sight of the bigger picture; for best results and a fully functional body system, endeavor to eat different energy-rich foods that will ensure you reap the full benefits of eating nutrients from a variety of foods.
• Eat more real food without cutting calories. Real food can be defined as food close to nature. It’s not processed. Think fresh meat, vegetables, fruit, healthy bread. So instead of buying processed juice, nosh on the fruit. Instead of eating potato chips, try roast potatoes; eat vegetables instead of vegetable flavored chips; and water instead of soda. This will ensure that your body is well nourished allowing you to cope a little easier with stress, whatever form that may take for you. (6)
And if you must reach for sugar, reach for quality dark chocolate; it will take the edge off that sugar craving. Use it wisely though – a little bit goes a long way.