Belly fat – how can I lose it? You’ve been exercising 5 days a week, following a low fat diet, watching how much you drink and although you look okay front on in the mirror … when you turn sideways … the belly is there. And you can grab it in both hands. It just doesn’t seem to be shrinking or changing, in fact, some days it seems to be getting wobblier. Hormonal imbalance whether it is due to Polycystic ovarian syndrome, perimenopause, menopause or high carb diet: all have their roots in the same cause.
So what is going on inside your body at the cellular level? Why aren’t the things you’re doing working? You always believed that so long as the calories consumed are less than the calories burned you would lose weight. But now you’re in your 40s and 50s this magic formula just doesn’t seem to be working any more. Why not?
First, you need to take a long look at what you are putting into your body on a daily basis, including stress. And then take a look at what happens inside your body to all those things you consume or release. Without question, stress is one of the biggest causes of belly fat and it is important to understand why.
Reducing belly fat is all about balancing hormones and cortisol and insulin are both hormones. Insulin is the only fat storing hormone in the body – if insulin levels increase, the message given to your body is to store more fat, especially around the middle. Cortisol is a glucocorticoid hormone, in other words, a steroid hormone, which influences blood glucose.
We need a certain amount of stress and cortisol is an important part of how our body works: it can increase energy, boost mood, help concentration and boost immune function. Chronic stress, however, leaves the body confused and we often become tired, lacking energy, unable to get to sleep, or stay asleep. Reduce stress: remove toxic people from your life, consider changing your job, working fewer hours, getting help with the housework, Cortisol levels increase at night, which is exacerbated if we go to bed overtired or worried. It becomes a dangerous pattern of not sleeping enough, cortisol levels continually increasing, which prevents good sleep – all the time your weight is increasing.
Now that we have looked at what is going on inside our bodies that might cause stubborn belly fat, it is important to be honest with ourselves about what we are expecting our bodies to do on a daily basis and how we treat them.
Exercise is a stressor to your body, even if it makes you feel better because of the endorphin rush. Some exercise is good, but high intensity exercise in particular produces more cortisol because your body is under greater stress. Stress releases cortisol hence the blood sugar levels increase and insulin production is triggered to deal with the blood sugar. The presence of insulin signals the body to keep storing fat, especially round the middle.
You cannot exercise fat off, even if you are working out 6 times a week. Burning calories is not the answer to losing weight, balancing hormones is.
Replace your high intensity exercises with weight training or walking, or resistance training. Within approximately three months of swapping spin class, boot camp, HIT cardio class for resistance bands, weights and walking you will have lost belly fat and be stronger. The goal of exercise is to balance and optimise insulin and cortisol. Resistance training helps the body increase insulin sensitivity and thus the pancreas is more efficient at managing blood sugar. Over time your pancreas will produce less insulin. Insulin is the only fat storing hormone. If less fat is being stored by insulin over time the body has to mobilise stored body fat and burn that for energy.
Using resistance bands or doing resistance exercises is a slow burn and it takes time to build up the amount of resistance being applied to your muscles: as the muscles adapt and grow stronger they become more metabolically active. If your metabolic rate increases your body will burn more body fat in the same amount of time.
We all know about ‘empty calories’, but after a busy day we often seek solace in a glass of wine to relax us. What is actually happening in our bodies? Not just with a glass of wine, but all liquid calories: fizzy drinks, coffee drinks, energy drinks, smoothies and fruit juices. The sugar in them, even ones using artificial sweeteners, raises your blood sugar levels and more insulin is produced to deal with it. Remember, insulin is the only fat-storing hormone, so we want to avoid too much of it in our bodies.
Refined carbohydrates are the body’s enemy because they convert to glucose/sugar in the blood, which trigger insulin production. Eating an iced cake will result in insulin levels soaring and if this happens on a regular basis your liver, muscles and brain stop responding to the insulin and the blood sugars continue to rise. Eventually, a condition called ‘insulin resistance’ or ‘prediabetes’ occurs, which is to be avoided.
The difficulty arises because the body needs some carbohydrates, but only if consumed in the right quantities and at the right time. If your quantity of carbs drops too low and you are not eating enough fat or protein the tendency will be to binge eat or drink, to stop yourself feeling very low in energy and generally rather unwell.
This is where healthy fats and protein come in. Fat does not raise the blood sugar and insulin levels, so it can be eaten to replace some of the lost carbohydrates and will help with mood swings and energy levels. A key point to note here though is that when fat is eaten with carbohydrates there is a significant impact on blood sugar and insulin levels, but this can be navigated by keeping fats and carbs separate where possible. Think fat and protein for breakfast and lunch, but protein and carbs for your evening meal.
One of the most important organs in our body is the liver. It is key to energy metabolism, or burning fat to give us energy. If we mistreat our livers by consuming too much caffeine, alcohol, sugars and medications, alongside living stressful lives, eventually this vital organ will stop working efficiently, or may stop working at all. Without efficient liver function we will experience fatigue, digestive issues and weight gain, in particular around the belly.
To summarise this complicated and sensitive issue, always look at what you are putting into your body, in terms of food, drink, lifestyle and exercise. Think about your body from the inside out and gradually the outside, your belly fat, will start to disappear.
For more information about Dr Meyer or if you’re interested in booking a consultation with her, visit https://menopausetreatment.co.uk/your-consultation/ or contact the clinic directly here.