Read the full video transcript below
Today I’m going to talk about that weight gain around the middle. This is such a common problem in the menopause. It’s also extremely distressing for us.
Suddenly, we lose our waist, we lose our figure. This can affect our self-worth. It can affect the way we feel about ourselves, about the world around us. It can cause depression. It can also interfere with our relationships with their partners because a lot of women feel that they’re no longer attractive because they’ve lost their shape.
So, it’s a very difficult one to put right as well because the usual means of dieting don’t often work with this. So why does this happen, and why is it so hard to lose? And the main thing here is to understand what exactly goes on to put this weight on us. And once you understand that, then it’s actually a lot easier to try and deal with it.
How your nervous system impacts your weight
Now, I’ll try to explain, but it might be a little bit long-winded. You’ve all no doubt heard of fight-or-flight situation. So this is where hundreds and thousands of years ago, when human beings were developing if you like, our nervous system was built to cope with very sudden shock or disaster or an emergency, and this is where the fight-or-flight comes in.
So if you imagine you’re living in a cave, you’re going out one morning, and you’re looking for something nice to eat for breakfast, but you turn round the corner and there’s a huge saber-toothed tiger eyeing you up for its breakfast. Your nervous system is geared to work and jump in really suddenly to help to save your life.
What happens is, the blood will be diverted from your digestive system. It will be directed towards your muscles. You will start breathing really heavily and quickly, and your brain will get extra sharp, because in that second, you have got to decide what to do. Do you run up that tree? Do you climb the tree? Do you pick up the big stick and fight the tiger or do you jump into the river and swim to the other side?
And in that one second could be the difference between you having breakfast or you being breakfast. So you thought very quickly, you jump into the river, you swim over to the other side, you clamber up, and hopefully the saber-toothed tiger doesn’t follow you, and you sit on the bank and you go, “Phew,” and that’s it.
That emergency for you is over, and it might be days, and days, and days until something actually happens again. Now, that’s great because that emergency was helped by how quickly your nervous system responded to the disaster. But today, it’s completely different for us and our nervous systems. Our nervous systems haven’t really caught up with the 21st century.
So when we’re in the menopause, there’s two main issues. One is, the minute your hormones start to change, that is going to stress your nervous system. So even if you have an easy menopause, if you have an easy ride through the menopause, your nervous system will be stressed to some extent.
If you then add on all the day to day stress that we have as women, then our nervous system is continually triggered. And because our nervous system is stressed regularly, it becomes much more sensitive, and it overreacts to absolutely everything.
So here we are, the alarm goes. It wakes you up with a jump. Already your nervous system is running, it’s in that flight-or-fight mode. You’re rushing around getting ready to go to work. You’ve got to think of your breakfast. You can’t find your car keys. You’re worried you’re going to be late. You end up in a traffic jam, the boss is shouting at you at work. You come home. You’ve got piles of ironing to do, and everybody’s asking you to do things.
So during one day, your nervous system is basically firing constantly. It doesn’t get a break, never mind a few days break, it doesn’t get a second’s break. And this continues day after day, week after week, month after month, and year after year, and this is where we get the problem with weight around the middle.
Going back to the day when we swam the river, and we saved ourselves from the saber-toothed tiger, the body was very clever. Our bodies are very clever because it goes, “Woah that took an awful lot of energy to run and to swim over the river. I need to make up that energy, because if this happens again, I’ve got to make sure that I’m fast enough, and I can think quick enough.”
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The role of cortisol
So the body actually releases a chemical called cortisol. And one of the things that cortisol does, and it does a whole load of things, and some of them can interfere with the menopause as well. But one of the things that cortisol does in this instance is that it makes us hungry, and it also makes us crave sweet things.
Now, in the saber-toothed tiger example, that’s very sensible because we have to very quickly make up the energy that we’ve lost in this situation. So by craving sweet things in those days, we would go for things like berries and fruit, and we would try and find as much food as we could over the next couple of days in order to replenish that energy.
If you then fast forward to today, because our nervous system doesn’t get a break, cortisol is produced practically all the time. So we’re always in a state of hunger. We’re always in a state of craving sweet things, and today because food is plentiful, we’ve got it at hand practically 24 hours a day, so we tend to eat a lot more of the sweet things, and it’s not fruits and berries. It tends to be biscuits and cakes and anything with sugar in it. And that is one way in which the weight will start to creep on.
The other thing that happens is that the body is going, “I need to have a store of energy because these emergencies are happening all the time, so I need to have a store of energy that I can get to and break down really quickly.” And the one place that’s the easiest to do it is round the middle. So the body will start to put down a layer of fat underneath or just the inside of the abdominal wall, and they see where the spare tire starts to happen.
Why dieting doesn't work
The problem is that the normal methods of dieting such as cutting down calories and exercising just doesn’t work because you’re in this state of emergency and if you cut your calorie intake down, the body’s going, “I’m not getting any food. Help, this is another emergency.” If you are then going down the gym and exercising like mad, the body is going, “Woah, I’m using up an awful lot of energy.”
So not only is the body not getting enough calories, but it’s using up too much energy so the body will think, “This is another emergency. I’m going to slow down the metabolism,” and this is what happens. So you end up putting on more weight even though you’re cutting calories and exercising.
I actually had one woman contact me. She was down to 800 calories a day and she was exercising for an hour at a time in the gym five days a week and she was still putting on weight, and this is why normal methods just don’t work. So hopefully you’ll have understood the explanation, but what can you do to actually help with this situation?
How to deal with stubborn belly fat
We’ve got to be crafty. We’ve got to learn to fool the body in certain ways. So first of all, the most important thing is to deal with the stress. Is to support our nervous system so that it’s not getting over fired, and so it actually gets a break.
Take a magnesium supplement & eat magnesium-rich foods
So especially for those of you who were watching last week, number one, loads of magnesium. Get supplement, get loads of magnesium-rich foods into the diet. You can take a vitamin B supplement as well.
You could try…
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These one-a-day tablets contain 300mg of magnesium combined with a vitamin B complex (vitamins B1, B2, B5, B6, B12 and folic acid) which all contribute to the reduction of tiredness and fatigue, whilst also supporting the nervous system.
Destress your nervous system
Look for calming herbs. So we’ve got something called AvenaCalm, which is a nice very gentle stress remedy.
You can look at passiflora. If you’re feeling a little bit down, if you’re not on any other medication, then you could try the herb hypericum. It’s a nice one just for gently lifting your mood.
Remember the foods that can trigger your nervous system. So this is things like coffee, fizzy drinks, alcohol, high salt and sugar foods. These will all really switch on your nervous system very, very quickly actually compounding to the problem, so try and cut those out to save everything. The other most important thing for your nervous system, remember the daily relaxation. Give your nervous system the break that it actually needs.
So that’s 30 minutes, shut yourself away. No telephone, no television, no talking, just relax, listen to some nice music, and that can make a huge difference. Studies actually showed that just doing 30 minutes proper relaxation reduced cortisol quite considerably, so this is a really important one to get into your daily regime.
Eat well without cutting calories
Number two, you need to eat well. Don’t cut calories because that will not help at all. We need to fool the body into thinking that there’s plenty of food available. So you’re looking at a really good high protein diet, cut the carbs down as well because they tend to rev everything up. And loads of veg, a little bit of fruit, nuts and seeds, so have a really good healthy diet.
Remember to snack because, again, you want the body to think that there’s plenty of food around. So just go for your healthy snacks. Your nuts and seeds, a little bit of dried fruit, some yogurt or maybe a pear or an apple or something like that. So eat well, but eat enough calories every single day, and have those snacks because they’re really important for keeping your nervous system nice and balanced.
Exercise the right way
Exercise, now it’s really important in the menopause to exercise well. You’ve got to keep your joints mobile. You’ve got to keep your muscles strong. But doing an awful lot of really concentrated exercise for hours at a time is not going to work here if you’ve got the spare tire.
So one of the best things to do is just keep active every single day. Do walking, run up the stairs, do short bursts of exercise. And the other form of exercise that is really coming to the fore now, there’s a huge amount of research on it, and it seems to work very well for just about everybody, is the high-intensity interval training. And this is where you do a huge amount of exercise. You really put yourself into it, but you only do it for a few minutes at a time.
And if you do exercise like that, then basically you’ve done the exercise before the body gets, “Oh, exercise. I’m doing too much.” So the high-intensity interval training can work really well. There’s loads of DVDs you can get on Amazon. I’ve got a couple of really good ones. Just get up in the morning. I do it 20 minutes. It’s over and done with, and that’s my main exercise for the day. I can get on with the rest of my day, and I can actually have time to relax at night instead of running on a treadmill down at the gym.
A few things you need to be aware of
So hopefully this has given you a little bit of an idea of how you can deal with fat around the middle. A couple of things you need to be aware of. If you try this regime and find that it doesn’t help, then I would advise that you just maybe go and check with your doctor.
Get them to check your blood sugar levels. Pre-diabetes and diabetes can actually appear in the menopause even if you’re looking after yourself well, even if you’re getting a really good diet.
And putting on weight around the middle is sometimes an indication that your blood sugar balance is not quite right. The other thing is that if you put on weight really quickly, if you seem to have just put on weight overnight, then again get this checked out by the doctor because it may mean that your thyroid is going a little bit off, which again is another really important issue with the menopause.
Until next week...
So hopefully this has helped. If you try the regime and it works, please let me know, and I will look forward to talking to you next week on A.Vogel Talks Menopause.