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how to lose belly fat

The Facts About Midlife Belly Fat

Whether you call it a pooch, a muffin top, a tummy, love handles, or a spare tire, excess belly fat is possibly the most universally loathed form of weight gain. It can be especially difficult to lose weight from this area of the body, and unfortunately, it seems it’s even easier for extra pounds to accumulate there. Why does this happen? And is there anything you can do to lose that belly fat?
how to lose belly fat
The Hormonal Connection
Even if you’ve worked out and stuck to a healthy diet your whole life, as you get older you may start to get softer around your midsection. For women, this added abdominal fat is a symptom of peri-menopause and menopause. Even though it’s brought on by hormonal changes, those extra pounds and inches still bring with them the added risks already associated with a higher body weight, including hypertension, cardiovascular diseases, Type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and osteoarthritis.
Hormonal balance is what ensures that women have regular menstrual cycles, a normal libido, and a stable weight during their prime reproductive years. Even minor changes, like the fluctuation in progesterone prior to menses, can be enough to bring on mood swings, bloating, and other symptoms of premenstrual syndrome. When the body enters peri-menopause, hormonal imbalances become more apparent both in symptoms and appearance, until hormonal balance is virtually a thing of the past. This can actually begin earlier than you’d think, in a woman’s early to mid-thirties. (For men, the hormonal shifts associated with aging generally hold off until the early forties.) Some of the issues that are related to hormonal imbalance, like excess belly fat, begin around this time, too.
How Hormones Work
Before we get too far, let’s review what hormonal balance means. When your body is optimally producing hormones (basically from menarche until roughly the age of 30), estrogen and progesterone work together. Estrogen spurs the physical changes of puberty, stimulates cell growth (including creating uterine lining), maintains the menstrual cycle, and supports the health of the uterus. Progesterone acts as a natural diuretic, stimulates bone growth, helps maintain the uterus, and is important for a healthy pregnancy. Progesterone also reins in estrogen’s cell growth effect, providing protection from diseases including ovarian, uterine, and breast cancer. (In men, progesterone provides the same safeguard against prostate cancer). Last, progesterone is a natural antidepressant for both men and women—it helps you stay calm and promotes healthy sleep.
When estrogen and progesterone get out of the proper ratio, problems easily start. An excess of estrogen (also known as estrogen dominance) means progesterone can’t hamper all of that cell growth. This is a reason why the average person—both men and women—will add one to two pounds around the waistline per year between the ages of 35 and 55. Why does it happen to men, too? The hormonal equation is slightly different, but the outcome is the same. Men have more testosterone and DHEA than women, which is why men tend to have more lean muscle mass than women. When age causes the levels of these hormones to drop, excess estrogen can turn six-pack abs into a beer belly. Research has found that as long as estrogen dominance is impacting your body’s cellular metabolism, those extra pounds around your midsection won’t be going anywhere.
What Happens to Hormones During Peri-menopause?
The decline in estrogen production by the ovaries is often thought of as the key change that occurs during menopause, but it’s actually the decreased level of progesterone that causes many of the early symptoms of peri-menopause. Though your ovaries are making less estrogen, they are creating even less progesterone. The term “estrogen dominance” might make it sound like your body is creating too much estrogen, but it’s really that the ratio of estrogen to progesterone is no longer balanced. Symptoms that progesterone used to help inhibit—like mood swings, bloating, fatigue, and headaches—become more pronounced.
Estrogen dominance creates changes in where body fat is deposited. Prior to peri-menopause, a normally balanced woman will naturally tend to gain weight first in her thighs and buttocks. When hormone levels drop, however, both women and men tend to accumulate fat around the abdomen because abdominal fat has more estrogen receptors. That’s why without addressing hormones neither exercise nor diet will put a dent in stubborn belly fat.
The “extra” estrogen that’s no longer kept in line by other hormones causes an increase in the size of the body fat cells in estrogen sensitive areas like the waist, hips, and thighs, because fat tissue is where the body stores estrogen. In a cruel twist, fat tissue is also a place where the body produces estrogen. More body fat means more estrogen is produced—and then even more body fat is accumulated in order to store that estrogen. Estrogen dominance also means your body is no longer able to metabolize body fat as well as it used to. Instead of being burned for energy, that fat is used to store estrogen.
Xenoestogens, endocrine-disrupting chemicals that mimic your natural hormones, are another factor in estrogen dominance. Xenoestrogens are found in a wide array of products, including pesticides used in farming, plastics, building materials, personal care products, and makeup. Even though it’s not “real” estrogen, your body treats xenoestrogens in the same way as the actual hormone: It’s not broken down by your body and is stored in fat cells. A buildup of xenoestrogens can create the condition of estrogen dominance even in the absence of changes like menopause, and these chemicals have been linked to conditions including diabetes, fertility problems, and breast, prostate, and testicular cancer.
Estrogen and Other Hormones
Estrogen dominance also impacts hormones beyond the sex hormones. For example, your thyroid hormones, which play an important role in metabolism (and thus in your weight), can be impacted by estrogen dominance. Estrogen dominance from too little progesterone can cause your thyroid hormones to become dysfunctional. This causes relative hypothyroidism, and it slows your metabolism down a considerable amount. By blocking or inhibiting the thyroid hormones from getting to the cells that need them, estrogen dominance can contribute to weight gain even when your thyroid gland is working just fine.
Estrogen dominance also impacts your body’s insulin production. It causes your body to release insulin both more rapidly and more often, throwing your blood sugar levels out of whack. These “extra” insulin releases mean you’re more likely to get hungry at seemingly random times. Plus, without the effects of progesterone, you’re more likely to feel irritable or overly tired, so when hunger pangs hit it’s much harder to resist the urge to snack.
Estrogen dominance is also related to cortisol (the “stress hormone”), which is produced by the adrenal glands. We think of cortisol as being produced in reaction to external stress (for example, a looming deadline), but your body also interprets hormonal imbalance as a stressor. The visceral fat cells in the abdomen respond to cortisol signals by staying put until the stressor is gone, so without steps being taken to correct estrogen dominance this is yet another reason belly fat is so stubborn. In women, the rising levels of luteinizing hormone that accompany menopause can also exacerbate this situation. Your adrenal glands have receptors for luteinizing hormones, and when these are activated cortisol is released.
Elevated cortisol also causes your body to store food as fat, and can have a negative impact on your ability to sleep soundly at night and maintain your energy during the day. Sleep deprivation caused by low progesterone or elevated cortisol can increase fat accumulation because it affects the production of growth hormone, which is responsible for keeping the body lean and maintaining your metabolism. Growth hormone itself is also involved in achieving that absolutely vital deep sleep.
How Can I Get Rid of My Muffin Top?
If you’ve read this far, you’re probably thinking the situation sounds hopeless. But there are steps that you can take to make that spare tire hit the road! Eating right, exercising, reducing stress, and keeping a normal sleep schedule are important, but there are more specific steps you can take that will specifically address estrogen dominance.
Eat to decrease estrogen. There are some foods that can actually help to naturally decrease your body’s estrogen load. Insoluble fibers—whole-wheat bread (if you’re not allergic to gluten), barley, brown rice, vegetables like lettuce, cabbage, onions, and bell peppers, and some seeds—bind to excess estrogen in the digestive tract, allowing it to be excreted.
Make proteins and healthy fats staples. Lean protein and healthy fat can help offset the metabolic shifts caused by estrogen dominance. Even better, snacks like raw almonds give you a dose of healthy fats and are easy to take with you for whenever hunger strikes. Cruciferous veggies and citrus fruits are also good eats when it comes to combatting the physical effects of estrogen dominance.
Cut out sugars and simple carbs. Estrogen’s outsized impact on your metabolism means that the glucose levels in carbohydrates and sugars are no longer efficiently converted to energy. It’s not that your body can’t have them, it’s that you can’t metabolize them the way you used to. Reducing sugars and carbs will help ensure that excess glucose isn’t getting stored as fat.
Get enough Vitamin D. The “sunshine vitamin” is actually a hormone that is created when the sun hits your skin. Even though it’s smart to stay out of the sun and to protect your skin when you are outdoors, making sure you get enough D is key. Research has shown that Vitamin D deficiency is often linked to higher levels of visceral fat.
Minimize exposure to xenoestrogens. Though they’re difficult to completely combat, because these toxins are in everything from building supplies to beauty products, there are steps you can take to avoid xenoestrogens. In beauty products, especially sunscreens, ingredients to avoid are parabens, benzophenone, and 4-methylbenzylidene camphor (4-MBC). Eat organic produce and hormone-free meat to minimize exposure to pesticides, herbicides, and excess hormones. Around the house, try to use chlorine-free and/or unbleached products, and avoid using plastic containers to store food and drinks.
Learn your hormone levels. If we’ve said it once, we’ve said it a hundred times: The key to combatting belly fat caused by a hormone imbalance is to address the hormone imbalance. In order to understand your body’s needs, it’s important to have your hormone levels tested. Standard blood tests don’t measure the levels of hormones that are actually bioavailable, which are often those linked most directly to weight problems. Rejuvé offers a painless saliva-based test that can identify imbalances in estrogen, progesterone, DHEA, testosterone, and cortisol. Blood tests can also be done to check sex hormones as well as thyroid hormones, insulin, Vitamin D, and other micronutrients. These tests can also help identify your risk for metabolic syndrome, insulin resistance, and diabetes.
Rejuvé also offers bioidentical hormone replacement therapy, which uses replacement hormones that are as close to the body’s natural chemical structures as possible. This means that patients generally have fewer side effects than with traditional hormone replacement, and also that the replacements are highly bio-available and able to be effectively and efficiently used by your body. To learn more, call Rejuvé at 408-740-5320.