Middle Aged Spread - causes and tips for women
It was great to see the BBC backing the discussion about the menopause on TV, radio and social media last year. We need to talk about the menopause more. Every woman will go through it but so many feel ill prepared.
So welcome to the just one in a series of blog pieces looking at some of the most common issues, why they happen and how tweaking your diet might help.
"First up, weight gain"
Whilst not an inevitable part of your menopause transition, many women do notice that their waistline expanded without reason. Why? Is it your genetic makeup? Your hormones? Your diet?
It’s possible that a combination of some or all of these factors contribute to weight gain but, as ever with the menopause, it’s complex.
Your genes play a part in your body composition, affecting either how much you weight or how fat is distributed in your body (1). But as nutritional therapists are wont to say, “Genes load the gun but lifestyle pulls the trigger.” In other words, because you’re genetically predisposed to putting on weight doesn’t mean that you will.
Hormones could be a factor, with levels of oestrogen fluctuating during the peri-menopause. Whilst it’s generally accepted that oestrogen declines with menopause, levels can periodically be 20% higher during the peri-menopause (2) impacting your behaviour, notably binge/emotional eating. As the oestrogen made by your ovaries subsequently starts to reduce, your body finds other ways to produce this bone, heart and brain protective hormone. And it’s fat. Our body deposits fat cells around our bellies that can manufacture oestrogen (3).
It’s fiendishly clever when you think about it. But a real pain.
This is a hotly debated topic but it's possible that if you’ve been a regular dieter you may have programmed your body to create more fat. Creating and storing fat is your body's way of future-proofing itself against the next diet. Most dieters go back up to their original weight within 3-5 years (4). It’s a vicious circle.
Talking of fat, whilst high levels of saturated fat aren’t healthy, some fat is essential. These “essential” fats support a healthy metabolism which can help with weight loss and maintenance.
If you’re reducing fat to reduce calories, check lower-fat products for added sugars which can contribute to weight gain. Even with calorie restriction, the type of food you eat may contribute to weight gain. So, skipping lunch but having pizza and wine in the evening could impact the bathroom scales too. In fact, it’s sugars that may encourage the added kilos. Refined carbohydrates such as sugar and white bread, pasta or rice quickly release glucose into your bloodstream and Dr Marilyn Glenville describes how this releases insulin, high levels of which researchers have found to “cause you not only to change your food into fat, but … may also prevent your body from breaking down previously stored fat.” (5)
What tweaks could you make to your eating habits? Here are some tips:
Avoid artificial sweeteners
You can’t trick your brain. Research shows that they can increase your appetite, increased your calorie consumption and lead to weight gain (6)
Increase your fibre intake to 30g a day
Fibre fills you up and feeds your gut flora, positively impacting your weight (7). Use a free app like MyFitnessPal to track your fibre intake
Eat protein and healthy fats at every meal
Research shows that unsaturated fats keep you fuller for longer and can support your metabolism. Go for olive oil, avocados, nuts including almonds, brazils and walnuts, seeds, and oily fish (8).
Stabilise your blood sugars with a low Glycaemic Load (GL) diet (9)
Choose whole foods (brown bread vs white bread for example) that are digested slowly to stabilise your blood sugars and minimise insulin spikes that may lead to fat storage
Have protein with every meal to keep you fuller for longer (chicken, fish, eggs, tofu, lentils, Greek yogurt)
Include lots of low-GL vegetables at every meal which are filling, full of nutrients you need and low in calories. Think carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, celery, tomatoes and courgettes
Enjoy apples, berries, apricots, peaches, plums, pears and kiwi as snacks
Pop peas, beans, chickpeas and lentils into soups, salads, or to replace white pasta or rice
Dressing your salad, vegetables, fish or chicken with olive oil and lemon juice or vinegar reduces your meal’s GL
Find out more about the Glycaemic Load (GL) approach here
Or talk to me about a personalised nutrition plan based on your symptoms that fits in with your lifestyle.
An assiduously chosen supplement can give you nutrients you need where insufficient levels are detected or where research shows benefit. Talk to a nutritional therapist before taking any of these suggestions and always talk to your GP if you are taking any medications before starting a supplement.
Japanese scientists found that the Maitake mushroom stops certain cells from becoming fat cells (10) and noted weight loss without any change in diet (11).
Omega-3 fish oil
Whilst study results vary based on dose and the time the supplement is taken for, there is some evidence that including 1.3g of fish oil per day reduced participants’ appetite (12). Avoid if you taking blood thinners such as Warfarin.
B vitamin Complex
Help your body turn food into fuel as well as supporting your metabolism-influencing thyroid.
Low levels of Zinc can reduce your sense of smell and taste, driving an urge for very sweet or salty foods which could be high in calories (chocolate, peanuts, crisps).
1 Shungin, D. et al. (2015). New genetic loci link adipose and insulin biology to body fat distribution [online] Available at https://www.nature.com/articles/nature14132 [Accessed 30 Jan. 2019].
2 Prior, J. (2010). Progesterone Therapy for Symptomatic Perimenopause [online] Available at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3987489/. [Accessed 30 Jan. 2019].
3 Lizcano, F. and Guzmán, G. (2014). Estrogen Deficiency and the Origin of Obesity during Menopause. BioMed Research International, 2014, pp.1-11.
4 Legenbauer, T. et al. (2010). Do mental disorders and eating patterns affect long-term weight loss maintenance? General Hospital Psychiatry. 2010 Mar-Apr; 32(2), pp.132-40.
5 Glenville, M. (2014). “The Nutritional Health Handbook for Women”. 5th ed. London: Piatkus, pp.459.
6 Pearlman, M. et al. (2017). The Association Between Artificial Sweeteners and Obesity. Current Gastroenterology Reports, 19(12), p.64.
7 Chakraborti, C. (2015). New-found link between microbiota and obesity. World Journal of Gastrointestinal Pathophysiology, 6(4), p.110.
8 Maljaars, J. et al. (2009). Effect of fat saturation on satiety, hormone release, and food intake. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 89(4), pp.1019-1024.
9 Soeliman, L. & Azadbakht, L. (2014). Weight loss maintenance: A review on dietary related strategies. [online] PubMed Central (PMC). Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4061651/ [Accessed 30 Jan. 2019].
10 Nakai R, et al. Effects of maitake (Grifola frondosa) water extract on inhibition of adipocyte conversion of C3H10T1 /2B2C1 cells. Journal of Nutritional Science and Vitaminology 1999; 45, pp.385- 390
11 Yokota M. (1992). Observatory trial of anti-obesity activity of maitake mushroom (Grifola frondosa). Anshin, July1992, pp.202-203.
12 Parra, D. et al. (2008). A diet rich in long chain omega-3 fatty acids modulates satiety in overweight and obese volunteers during weight loss. Appetite, 51(3), pp.676-680.