I’m sure you’ve had the experience of walking past someone who looks as though they are pregnant and then you do a double take as you realise that it is a man so they are obviously NOT pregnant.
Having enough abdominal (belly) fat is necessary to protect your vital organs but it’s a fine balancing act between having enough and having too much.
Storing too much fat around your abdomen can be dangerous and has been linked to some pretty nasty health problems. We’re talking heart disease, diabetes and even cancer, to name just a few. Scary, right?
Some of the culprits are obvious, especially if you’re eating a lot of processed foods and not doing much exercise. But as you enter perimenopause (the years preceding menopause, when hormone levels are declining), your weight distribution changes with the added weight accumulating right around your abdomen more so than around your hips and thighs. Hormonal changes alone don’t necessarily cause menopause weight gain. Instead, the weight gain is usually related to aging, as well as lifestyle and genetic factors.
There can be some other reasons behind belly fat though and these can come into play even if you think you’re living a healthy lifestyle. Here are some additional factors that can make you more likely to store fat in your abdominal area.
Factor #1 – You’re eating too much sugar
When you eat too many refined carbohydrates such as (white bread, biscuits, baked goods, crackers, etc.), you get an immediate and substantial increase in blood sugar levels. Excess blood sugar over long periods of time eventually lead to a condition called insulin resistance. In severe cases, an individual with this condition may be diagnosed with type 2 Diabetes.
The excess blood sugar is stored as fat (especially around the belly) so the answer is to eat a diet that keeps your blood sugar at optimal levels.
TIP: Eating three balanced meals a day filled with fibre, lean protein, healthy fats and low starchy vegetables will favour balanced blood sugar levels.
Factor #2 – You are drinking too much alcohol
You’ve no doubt heard of a “beer belly” and this is something that can affect women as well as men. Depending on how much you drink, it could be the culprit for stubborn belly fat. Some studies have shown that alcohol can make it harder to burn fat and makes it more likely that the extra calories it brings to the party are stored on and around the abdomen.
Factor #3 – You Don’t Eat Enough Fibre
If your diet is low in fibre, you can be more likely to store belly fat. Observational studies show that getting plenty of soluble fibre reduces the chance of this. In one particular study that involved over 1,100 men and women, every extra 10g of soluble fibre led to a 32% decrease in how much belly fat was stored. This has a lot to do with the fact that low fibre diets increase your appetite and your belly fat.
TIP: Add more fibre to your meals such as beans, green leafy vegetables, whole grains and fresh whole fruits.
Factor #4 – You’re scared of eating fat
For decades we’ve been told that the fat we eat turns to fat in our body, contributing to weight gain and generally poor health. But now this theory has been turned on its head.
As best selling author Dr Mark. Hyman explains in his book, ‘Eat fat, Get Thin’, a growing body of research is revealing the immense health and weight-loss benefits of a healthy fat diet.
Eating healthy fats can help you to lose weight by helping you to feel full for longer so you’re less likely to make unhealthy food choices that increase your potential for storing belly fat.
TIP: Eat a diet rich in eggs, nuts, olives, avocados, coconut oil and fatty fish that contain healthy fats.
Factor #5 – You’re stressed
Under a lot of stress? It could be one of the reasons why you’re storing belly fat. The stress hormone, cortisol, can lead to weight gain, especially in the abdominal area. Rather than depositing fat over your whole body, cortisol often encourages extra calories to be stored as abdominal fat.
In addition to that, when our cortisol levels go up so do our insulin levels and insulin is a fat storage hormone which causes our bodies to store fat especially dangerous belly fat.
TIP: Make sure you are switching off your stress response every day, even if just for a few minutes and even if you don’t think you are stressed. Practise mindfulness or meditation or if that doesn’t interest you do some deep breathing for a few minutes every day.
Try this: Breathe in for the count of three and out for the count of five (repeat this five times). This will lower your blood pressure and your heart rate and will allow your body to rest, digest, relax and heal.
Factor #6 – You don’t sleep well
If you spend a lot of time tossing and turning during the average night, there’s a much higher chance that you’ll store belly fat. Poor sleep is linked to weight gain in general and according to some studies, it also predisposes you to abdominal weight gain.
When we sleep less our bodies make less of the hormone, Leptin and more of the hormone, Ghrelin. Leptin is known as the “satiety hormone” because it notifies your brain when you have eaten enough and if your energy levels are sufficient or if they need to increase. Ghrelin is a hormone that has an opposite role to play to Leptin and is often called the “hunger hormone” because it stimulates appetite, increases food intake and promotes fat storage.
A large-scale study of more than 68,000 women found that those who were sleeping less than 5 hours per night gained a lot more weight compared to those who slept 7 hours or more.
TIP: Read my previous blog on 5 Tips to help you get a good night’s sleep here.
Factor #7 – You aren’t exercising enough
It’s easy to get into an exercise rut and it’s even easier to fall out of the habit of exercising at all. Ideally, to keep your weight in check, you’ll be working out five times a week — with the injection of some HIIT (high intensity interval training) — and it only needs to take 30 minutes. It’s extremely effective at keeping excess levels of body fat down and to help maintain stable blood sugar.
TIP: Move five times per week for a minimum 30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise and make sure to get in some weight training, even if it’s just using your own body weight.
The Wisdom of Menopause, Christian Northrup, M.D. Bantam Books, 2012
Eat Fat, Get Thin, Mark Hyman, M.D. Little, Brown and Company, 2016
Medical Disclaimer: All information contained in this blog is for informational purposes only. It is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent health problems. For all serious health issues, please contact a medical or nutrition practitioner. The information provided in this blog is based on the best knowledge of the author at the time of writing and we do not assume liability for the information within this email, be it direct or indirect, consequential, special, exemplary, or other damages. In all circumstances, it is always wise to consult your physician before changing your diet, taking supplements or starting any exercise or health program.