STRUGGLING to do up your jeans? These expert tips will help banish that stubborn belly fat for good.
Succumbing to the dreaded “midlife middle” in your 40s and 50s can feel inevitable, but you don’t have to just put up with weight piling on around the tummy.
So what causes it? Healthspan nutritionist Rob Hobson says a change in hormone levels during the menopause – mainly a drop in oestrogen – can influence body fat distribution.
“Reduced physical activity and loss of muscle mass, the number of children you’ve had, a family history of obesity, use of antidepressants, and eating out or ordering in more often, can also be factors,” he explains.
Nutritionist Pippa Campbell says too much insulin, the hormone that regulates metabolism, may be to blame.
“Insulin is responsible for converting sugars and carbohydrates into energy,” she says.
“When we fail to use this stored energy through exercise, it quickly converts to body fat that sits around the middle.”
The good news is you can lose the flab – however there’s no fad-diet quick-fix. But with these tips, nothing is totally off the menu.
Check your stress
Stress can wreak havoc on your belly.
“When your brain thinks your life is in danger, it stimulates the release of adrenalin and cortisol,” explains Rob.
“This fight or flight response is very efficient, providing immediate energy for five to 10 minutes, allowing you to quickly react to dangerous situations.”
But if you’re stressed and don’t have a specific “danger” to react to, the fat and glucose (essentially, sugars) swimming round your system get deposited as fat around your middle.
So if you stress eat a load of doughnuts, that’s going to land on your tummy.
Pippa says you can help think yourself thin by drastically cutting your stress levels: “You can’t eliminate stress completely, but you can reduce it with meditation, yoga, or deep relaxation,” she says.
Try the free Smiling Mind app for daily 10-minute meditations designed for all ages.
Mix up your workouts
There’s no two ways about it: exercise is an incredible stress-buster, flooding you with feel-good endorphins and giving you that post-workout high.
“The fact that during exercise we use more oxygen, creating more blood flow, also has a positive effect on the brain and how we’re feeling,” explains Maria Eleftheriou, head of barre at Psycle.
Mixing up your workouts in midlife is vital to keep tummy fat at bay. Barre (which uses ballet moves), Pilates and weights can make a real difference.
“Barre workouts are ideal, as the small, controlled body-weight movements help build strength and increase bone density,” says Maria.
“As you get older, your body won’t change by doing HIIT (high intensity interval training) or cardio classes alone.
You need isometric (when you contract specific muscles, like holding a plank) and eccentric (slowly lengthening a muscle, like lowering into a press-up) exercises, which work both short and long muscles,” says Maria.
So hit the weights, but don’t stop cardio – even a 30-minute walk or 20-minute bike ride will release all the endorphins you need, and won’t be harsh on joints.
“Interval training once a week can help support heart health and relieve menopausal symptoms, blended with a combination of yoga and stretching,” says Maria.
As if you needed another excuse for more nooky! Not only has sex been proven to help alleviate stress, thanks to all those endorphins, but sexercise can burn calories.
Libido struggling? Rob recommends foods high in zinc, such as oysters, lobster, red meat, nuts, seeds and lentils, as well as ginseng, via supplements or tea.
“Ginseng is thought to have a restorative effect that improves both physical and mental energy as well as stamina – hence its link to libido.”
Eat in order
“Research shows that the order in which we consume different food types can significantly impact our post-meal insulin levels,” says Pippa.
“Protein is best eaten first in any meal. Even certain vegetables can be starchy and contain carbohydrates, so by eating protein first, there will be less impact on your insulin levels.
The more you fill your body with insulin, the more you will have fluctuations in blood sugar, and this rollercoaster effect can cause food cravings, fat storage and irritability.”
Have eggs for brekkie
Step away from the toast. Pippa recommends ditching carbs at breakfast and lunch in favour of protein.
“Swap porridge oats or granola for a protein-rich breakfast such as two boiled eggs, smoked salmon or a protein shake.
This helps boost your metabolism at the start of the day. Lunch should be a large plate of salad with a variety of coloured veg and a lean protein such as chicken, fish or tofu.”
Thankfully, you don’t need to abandon carbs entirely. Rob recommends a Mediterranean-style diet big on fruit, veg, oily fish (sardines, mackerel, salmon), wholegrains and olive oil, but with meals that are still roughly 25% carb-based (such as rice, beans, potatoes and bread).
“During the menopause, this diet is useful as it contains many phytoestrogenic foods – substances that act like oestrogen, which is lacking in menopause – that may help manage symptoms such as hot flushes,” adds Rob.
We all like a packet of crisps every now and again between meals, but the more you eat, the more you fill your body with insulin and experience fluctuations in blood sugar.
“If you’re eating nutritious, balanced meals packed with protein and fibre, your body simply doesn’t need any more.
“Instead, try eating three smaller meals and no snacks,” Pippa says.
If you really can’t imagine a life without snacks (we feel you), grab a handful of almonds or apricots – they’re both boron-rich, which can help manage metabolism and may even prevent obesity.
You can drink wine!
Good news if you love a glass of cab sav on the weekend: wine isn’t a total no-no, but Pippa recommends making Monday to Friday alcohol free.
“Midweek, try drinking kombucha instead, which feeds your good gut bacteria.
“A happy gut also equals a happy mind, as serotonin, our happy hormone, mostly resides in the gut, so this also makes us more resilient to stress.”
Want to stay on top of things at the weekend, too? Opt for a vodka soda and lime instead of wine, for a boozy hit without the sugar.
Could your midlife middle indicate something more?
If you’re doing everything by the book and still find yourself clutching at excess tummy weight, it could be a sign of a thyroid issue. Visit your GP if you’re concerned.
Some genes can also contribute to obesity. “If you have a family history of obesity or type 2 diabetes, or are of Asian, East Indian, Native American, Pacific Island or Middle Eastern heritage, you are much more likely to be carbohydrate intolerant,” explains Pippa.
“Therefore, small amounts of sugar or starch will cause you to make way more insulin than others. This starts you on the vicious cycle of weight gain, hunger and fatigue.
“However, genes are not our destiny – they’re just a hurdle to work around.”