Written by Jennie on June 10, 2015.
Bums, tums and thighs—especially tums—are problems areas for women that can occur at any time in life but in particular after having a baby, when stressed out and during the menopause. No-one likes the thought (or reality) of wriggling into jeans and having a muffin top of bulging belly fat. We’d all love to have a slim firm tummy so today let’s look at why fat accumulates around the abdomen and discover how to reduce belly fat.
Belly fat is made up of subcutaneous and visceral fat. Subcutaneous fat just under the skin: it is what you grab when you “pinch-an-inch” around your waist or what a personal trainer grabs with those embarrassing fat measuring clamps. Visceral fat by contrast is hidden, stored around the organs in your abdomen. Even slim women can have high levels of visceral fat hidden inside if they are inactive and have a poor diet.
Is carrying excess weight around your middle is simply down to eating too much, eating the wrong foods and not doing enough exercise? Perhaps yes, but also no for there is more to it than just this.
Visceral fat around your tummy is hormonally active which means it produces hormones such as oestrogen. Too much belly fat can upset your natural hormonal rhythm and during times of higher than usual hormonal activity—for example when you are stressed, pregnant, after having a baby or going through menopause, then your hormonal balance can become of kilter. This can effect your hunger, satiety and result in yet more fat being deposited around your middle. If tummy measures more than 35 inches, the risk of getting type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, hypertension and breast cancer are significantly increased. So more than just being comfortable in your clothes or being happy in a bikini, reducing belly fat is a good way to look after your future health too. Please don’t despair if you’re unhappy about your muffin top, you can still get a slimmer tummy and a created a healthier body. Here are my tips to help you…
Reduce Belly Fat: The Stress Factor
Stress is so very prevalent today that most of us simply accept it as a part of life and yet stress is at the root of so many illnesses and also can lead to weight gain. When stressed, the hormones adrenaline and cortisol are released into your blood stream, putting your body into survival mode. Evolutionary this change helped our ancestors run away or fight the sabre toothed tiger, but these bodily changes aren’t helpful in dealing with a tiger-like boss or simply the stresses and strains of everyday life. And yet your body still reacts in the same way. Stress also releases stored glucose into the blood stream raising blood sugar levels – again in readiness for the energy it perceives it needs to deal with stress. Finally, the body realises that running or fighting isn’t required, and so it releases insulin to ‘mop-up’ the excess sugar. This process converts the sugar into fat which is often laid down in the belly area. Then the double whammy: cortisol sends messages replace the energy making us crave sugary foods or stimulants such as tea, coffee, chocolate or alcohol. If we give-in to these cravings, then we send our blood sugar levels on a roller-coaster which will more than likely result in fat being stored around our belly.
Tips to help you deal with stress
- Breathe Deeply. I know this sounds too simple to be true, but when you’re stressed, your breathing becomes shallow which changes how your brain functions and therefore how clearly you can think. Breathing deeply tells your body that the danger is over and you can relax once more.
- Go for a walk. Even 10 minutes away from your desk or home can change your thinking and bring your stress levels down.
- Slow down—for everything. When stressed everything becomes hurried, even your eating. Preparing food from fresh gets you back into the idea that you are OK for this is an act of love. Mindfully eating the meal you have prepared also helps you release your stress and helps your body get back into synch.
- Although aerobic and core exercise can help reduce belly fat, if you are highly stressed this may be counter-productive if you push yourself hard. So exercise moderately, but regularly.
- See my article Are you */stressed!¿*% ?for lots more help on managing stress.
Reducing Belly Fat: After Having A Baby
When you see new celebrity mums back in their jeans just weeks after having a baby, please don’t think this the norm. It can take between 3–9 months for your body to return its pre-pregnancy shape. Immediately after the birth, hormonal changes cause your uterus to contract but this takes up to 8 weeks to complete. If you breastfeed, this increases the level of contractions in your uterus and as making milk for your baby requires additional calories. Some of the fat gained during pregnancy will be burnt up with milk production. However, losing those last few pounds around your belly may need some additional help.
Tips to lose your baby tummy
- When your body is ready—and please don’t start this too quickly—begin gentle and regular exercising. Brisk walking with your baby whilst focusing on your posture and drawing in your stomach muscles can help tone your tummy.
- Do the pelvic floor exercises that you’ve been taught!
- When you’re ready, add aerobic and core-strengthening exercises back into your life. Look out for post-baby yoga classes or start to swim/jog or go to the gym.
- Although the old-fashioned idea of “eating-for-two” has gone out of the window, most women eat more than usual whilst pregnant. Being creatures of habit, it’s easy this additional food eating to become your ‘norm’. Watch then your portion sizes. Increase the amount of coloured vegetables you eat and reduce the amount of starchy foods: bread, pasta, while rice and regular potatoes.
- Read more about Post Baby Belly at the Baby Centre.
Reducing Belly Fat: Menopausal Changes
The cycle of menopause takes around a decade to complete as your body slowly goes through a series of hormonal changes that not only halts your menstrual cycle, but also also changes your body shape. As oestrogen declines, fat stored around your hips, thighs and bum is redistributed due to changes in the sex-hormones. This results in fat moving to the tummy, so a bigger tummy may not necessarily be from gaining weight.
As you go through menopause, your body also needs less calories than before. Eating the same as you always have, can still lead to weight gain. However, it’s again about adjusting and making some small changes to help you.
Tips to stay slim post menopause
- Love your body – just as it is now. We live in a world where youthful bodies are the only ones deemed beautiful, yet the older body holds the old, wiser, more loving soul which can light you up from the inside. Let go of hating your body: look instead into the mirror and see yourself as a beautiful, mature woman
- If the early stages of menopause left you feeling tired, it’s easy to slip out of the habit of exercise. If this is true – it’s time to move again. Strength and core exercise help flatten and tummy and brisk walking is a great exercise that can easily be incorporated into your life. Walking briskly for 20-30 minutes a day helps boost your metabolism for several hours after the walk too.
- Cut out processed foods and ensure your alcohol intake stays within the health guidelines of no more than 14 units a week. Alcohol can play havoc with weight gain at all stages of life, but as you get older, your liver doesn’t process alcohol and food additives (found in processed foods) as well as it did when you were younger. This can lead to weight gain. See my earlier blog: Can You Drink Alcohol And Lose Weight?
- As your metabolism slows down, your calorie requirement is also slightly less. As you may already know, I’m totally against counting calories because it tends to lead to unhealthy food choices, but by increasing the amount of coloured vegetables and reducing the amount of starchy foods—white bread/rice/pasta and potatoes, will help you achieves this without counting.
Let me know your thoughts below and let me know how I can help you become and stay slim.
Eat Well—Be Well 🙂