As you get older have you noticed your waist measurement going up no matter what you seem to do? Not only can you expect more wrinkles as you get older, but it seems like that trim tummy you had when you were younger is long gone.
Naturally lean ladies may start to struggle with lower belly “pooches” but it’s even worse for “apple shaped” ladies. The ones who have reasonably lean arms and legs but store fat in their abdomens. They really struggle with belly fat as they age.
So what’s going on? What causes belly fat as we get older? Another burning question on my mind when writing this post was – is it inevitable?
Belly fat is a complex topic.
There’s no one specific cause and there’s no one quick fix – despite what so many fitness programs and diets promise.
What Causes Belly Fat As We Age
1. Your slimming hormones are declining.
As we age, hormones that help keep us slim naturally decline.
DHEA, human growth hormone and progesterone are all hormones that keep you lean and block the storage of belly fat. Unfortunately these are the hormones that decline naturally as we get older. For some women, these hormones start waning in our 30s.
Estrogen probably plays a role too. It’s uncertain whether lower estrogen as we age causes weight gain in the belly or whether it causes the fat to shift from other areas of your body to your abdomen. Regardless of how it happens, studies show that menopause is significantly associated with increased belly size.
2. You are stressed out.
Belly fat is clearly linked to stress. Cortisol, in the right amounts, is healthy. But too much cortisol will keep your abs covered in fat.
Belly fat has more cortisol receptors than anywhere else in our bodies. So women who are always stressed out, even at these lower levels, are reinforcing their muffin top by feeding it with a constant supply of cortisol.
Chronic cortisol also keeps your blood sugar slightly elevated, which in turn elevates insulin. In the long run, this causes insulin resistance. The mechanisms are complex but what you need to know is that stress + elevated insulin = weight gain around your belly.
You should know that I’ve never, ever been able to help someone who is chronically stressed out lose weight. When someone is stressed, the weight just won’t shift. The weight only comes off once they find some space to start looking after themselves and relaxing more.
One final thought. Ever wondered what is going on when you or someone you know has relatively slim arms and legs but a bigger belly? Here’s a good explanation:
Chronic elevation of cortisol depletes the body’s muscle mass, wasting the bulk of the arm and leg musculature, ultimately resulting in the typical middle aged physique: big belly, skinny arms and legs.
(from the book Lose Your Middle-Aged Middle, by Dr M. Eades).
Even if you aren’t an obviously stressed out person, you can still be chronically stressed at a low level. Working too much, raising children, eating poorly, worrying and not sleeping enough are all sources of stress.
3. You do the wrong type of exercise.
Doing the right kind of exercise in the right amounts is one of your best defences against belly fat. If you want to lose belly fat, you need to be active.
But, because your body releases cortisol when you exercise, you don’t want to overdo exercise either. Endurance training or doing extra long cardio sessions in an attempt to lose weight may elevate cortisol for too long. This will interfere with your body’s fat burning and muscle building functions and it may also cause you to feel hungry and have cravings.
Weight training, on the other hand, elevates cortisol but it also elevates other hormones which help with fat burning.
As noted in the previous section, chronic elevation of cortisol depletes muscle mass. This, in turn, will increase your apple shape because your belly fat will increase while your limbs get skinnier. One of the best ways to counteract belly fat as you age is to do everything you can to maintain and increase your muscle mass. Muscle helps your body deal with insulin better and to be more efficient burning fat. I’ve written indepth about the importance of muscle mass as you age here.
Doing more cardio (ie. running) isn’t the answer. Weight training and activities that reduce stress, like walking outdoors, are more effective for belly fat.
4. You eat too many carbs/too much sugar.
You might be saying to yourself, “This doesn’t apply to me. I watch what I eat.” You might think you eat well, but if you’ve got belly fat, adjustments to your macronutrient ratios can often help.
Learn more here: The Typical Female Diet – Why You Can’t Lose Weight
If you struggle with belly fat, remember that sugar and stress together are a surefire recipe for a muffin top. Chronically elevated insulin eventually leads to more fat storage around your belly. Reducing your sugar intake may be one of the most effective ways to start addressing belly fat.
It’s also important that you eat regularly. If you are someone who skips meals – especially when you get stressed out – it will be hard to get rid of belly fat. Your body senses danger when you skip meals and raises cortisol levels. To make things worse, many women turn to sugary quick fixes and coffee when they are stressed out.
It’s absolutely critical that you look after yourself when life starts getting crazy. Not only for your long term health, but for preventing more belly fat.
What You Can Do About Belly Fat
Realistically, our priorities change when we get older. We start having kids, focus on our careers and we have more money to enjoy the finer things in life. You probably aren’t going to get a six pack or the flat stomach you had when you were younger. Not unless you want to go through extreme effort.
But, as you learned in this article, you can optimize your hormones to help prevent and reduce belly fat as you age. It comes down to three things:
- Manage your stress.
- Implement a proper weight training program, use cardio strategically and walk lots.
- Eat well, reduce sugar and look after yourself when everything goes crazy.
Some of you will be wondering – “I do all these things but I still have belly fat!”. As I mentioned earlier, most women think they are eating right but they underestimate how many carbs and how much sugar they eat. So that’s where I’d start. If you want some help assessing your diet, you can book a session with me here.
Read more about belly fat: Nutrition Tips To Lose Belly Fat