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Be a Lean Midlife Goddess

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Be a Lean Midlife Goddess

Ditch that spare tire around your waist!
Dr. Christiane Northrup
Dr. Christiane Northrup More by this author
Mar 06, 2011 at 09:00 AM

Many women struggle to maintain a healthy weight and develop a “spare tire” around their waist at midlife. This often starts around the time they turn 40 and also after significant hormonal events such as childbirth. We tend to blame midlife weight gain on hormonal changes.  And to some extent, perimenopause does favor weight gain. But that’s only part of it. This type of weight gain doesn’t happen overnight. In most women, it’s a slow gradual process that catches up with us in our forties and fifties.

In a nutshell, here is why it happens: During a woman’s 20s, she tends to become far more sedentary than she was during her school years. (If you participated in a team sport, this is doubly true for you.) When you become more sedentary, your body’s lean muscle mass gets replaced by fat. Fat takes up more room in the body. It actually weighs less than lean muscle mass. That’s why it’s possible to maintain your weight and actually gain inches over time.

As the body runs out of places to store excess fat in your muscles, it starts storing the excess in the abdomen. Eventually a “spare tire” is the result. But understand that by the time you have that spare tire around your waist, you also have an excess of fat deep in the abdominal cavity as well.

You are not doomed to carrying 20 extra pounds for the rest of your life, even if you’ve hit perimenopause. In fact, midlife is the perfect time to reinvent yourself on all levels. And that includes your physical body!

Here’s how to get started.

  1. Lose the stagnation. If you want to turn yourself into a lean midlife goddess, you have to start moving like one. If you look around, you’ll see that the people who are role models for health, beauty, and fitness are all regular exercisers. My own mother is a perfect example of this.
    Weight training is essential for building up muscle mass. Don’t cheat yourself with those little five-pound weights. Most women can get to the point where they’re using 10-, 12-, 15-, and even 20-pound dumbbells regularly. Just make sure to learn proper form when working with weights.
    Exercise does far more than build lean muscle mass, however. It also lowers the stress hormone cortisol, which is associated with increased insulin, fluid retention, sugar cravings, and weight gain. On the other hand, one session of aerobic exercise exerts a healthy, dilating effect on blood vessels, which increases circulation by stimulating the release of nitric oxide from the smooth muscle in the blood vessel walls.
  2. Follow the 80/20 Rule. Eat healthfully 80 percent of the time (or more). That means eating any combination of lean protein (chicken, fish, soy, egg whites, pork, or beef) and fruits and vegetables, and cutting way back on “white” foods such as bread, pasta, cookies, potatoes, cakes, and so forth. It’s okay to have dessert now and again. In fact, it’s important. But when you do, make sure that you have a truly delicious dessert that you savor slowly in full view of everyone. In other words, no gulping a bag of Oreos in secret.
  3. Go against the grain. Believe it or not, many midlife women (and that includes me) have to cut way back on—or even eliminate—grain products, even whole grains. It’s well known that if you want to fatten up a cow or pig for market, you feed them grain, right? Well, it’s the same with humans. In addition, many people are allergic to wheat. But it doesn’t show up as the usual allergy symptoms of runny nose, itchy eyes, and so on. Instead, the wheat allergy manifests as wheat craving and bloating.
  4. Eat protein at breakfast to set up healthy fat burning throughout the day. Eating protein early in the day—along with healthy omega-3 fats, plus or minus some healthy carbs—sets the stage for your metabolism for the rest of the day.
    Protein increases the hormone glucagon, which helps the body release stored fat. Eating protein also reduces or completely eliminates that late afternoon blood sugar drop that makes us feel as though we could eat the paper off the wall.
  5. Fortify yourself with healthy meals and snacks throughout the day so that your blood sugar stays under control. That means a mid-morning snack at about 10:00 a.m. (an apple and some low fat string cheese is one of my favorites), a healthy lunch (tuna over salad greens with vinaigrette dressing), a mid-afternoon snack (celery with peanut butter or a nutrition bar), and then a light dinner (broiled fish, a salad, grilled vegetables).
  6. Don’t eat after 8:00 p.m. Studies have clearly shown that the calories you eat earlier in the day are far more apt to be burned up while those you eat just before bedtime tend to stick around as fat.
  7. Avoid empty calories. There are a lot of foods that just aren’t worth it—ever. These include almost all snack foods such as potato chips and soda pop, which are nothing but empty calories. If you’re craving something sweet, skip the Coke and enjoy a brownie for the same caloric load.
  8. Monitor portion size. We tend to eat what’s on our plates. One of the easiest ways to lose excess pounds gradually and painlessly is to cut down on portion size. When you’re going out to eat, it’s a good idea to split an entrée with someone else and order a large salad for yourself.
  9. Sleep off the pounds. Most people need a minimum of eight hours of sleep per night. Some (like me) need even more! Sleep deprivation results in high cortisol levels, which can lead to weight gain and additional emotional stress.
  10. Lighten up on all levels. Our bodies are a reflection of our thoughts and beliefs about ourselves and our lives. The “lighter” our thoughts and beliefs become, the easier it is to lose weight and keep it off. Do you remember being in love for the first time and not being able to eat? I’ve seen women lose five pounds in a week when they’re in love. They’re so filled with the joy of the experience that food isn’t necessary. You’ll also find that when you’re enthralled with a project, it’s easy to lose track of time and forget to eat.

Remember that we build our bodies, our health, and our weight one thought at a time. And we lose weight one thought, one choice, and one bite at a time. Your power to have a goddess’ body at midlife is accessible right now!

This information is not intended to treat, diagnose, cure, or prevent any disease. All material in this article is provided for educational purposes only. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions you have regarding a medical condition, and before undertaking any diet, exercise, or other health program.

About Author
Dr. Christiane Northrup
Christiane Northrup, M.D., is a visionary pioneer and the world’s leading authority in the field of women’s health and wellness. A board-certified OB/GYN physician who graduated from Dartmouth Medical School and did her residency at Tufts New Engl Continue reading