... and what you can do about it!
THAT THICKENING WAIST
If you’re in perimenopause and experiencing your body composition changing (hello weird things in new places!) I'm hoping this new post could help you understand why.
In peri/menopause big changes in estrogen and progesterone occur and this midlife phase affects tissues and organs all throughout our body. This transition is a natural one as we age and as such, there are numerous changes to different structures around the body, such as our heart, blood vessels, liver, gut, muscles, nerves, skin and even our brain.
With disrupted/poor sleep quality and duration, changing liver health, lack of necessary vitamins and minerals through nutrition and exercise “how to” advice that’s completely irrelevant for most perimenopause women – combined with changing estrogen and progesterone we muscle as well.
All these factors impact our sleep, thyroid, blood sugar hormones (insulin et al) and it all contributes to weight gain – particularly the more dangerous kind – visceral weight gain around the abdomen. Watch my “How to Lose Belly” fat 3 part series HERE.
This natural aging process and the perimenopause transition often leaves us vulnerable to other issues, challenges and even dis-eases in midlife.
If you are putting on weight that you are struggling to manage, then please read on for some support and direction:
5 Possible Reasons for your Perimenopause Weight Gain & Expanding Waistline
1 - SLEEP
Wowzers this is my #1 most important point for you ladies and if you haven’t begun to build your life around prioritizing sleep yet – you should. Our changing hormones combined with a seriously lack of sleep (or lack of quality REM state), observing that less than 6-7 hours of sleep is associated with a substantial and gradual increase in waist circumference in perimenopause.
Research credit: Theorell-Haglow et al, 2010.
The “I’ll sleep when I’m dead” or “I’m too busy and need to get my work done when the kids are in bed” approach is a slippery one indeed in midlife.
When we lose precious deep REM sleep between 2-4 am (often the time when our disrupted hormones, cortisol, insulin, nervous system dysregulation from watching devices before bedtime kick in) then much of this weight becomes dangerous fat that goes around the waistline. MY BIG TIP: “If you aren’t sleeping, then you’ve effectively shut OFF fat loss”.
So to help reduce the waistline and combat peri/menopausal (and post menopausal) weight gain – the first answer is a restful deeps nights sleep. Easier said then done if you’re not used to arranging things around bedtime or suffering from hot flushes, night sweats, having to get up and pee, or restless legs and joint pain.
If so book yourself a 1-hour wellness coaching call and I can help you with a deeper dive into your situation and strategies.
But when you are awake night after night, this means that your glucose-carrying hormone called insulin, remains higher than usual overnight. So too, does your stress hormone called cortisol.
Insulin, cortisol, when these things are out of order they interfere with melatonin and another sleep hormone called adenosine (among others). With a deeper sleep debt comes higher risks of heart problems, anxiety, and depression, thus a vicious cycle of more sleepless nights and worsening night sweats.
Hence sleep is NUMBER ONE.
2 - ESTROGEN DOMINANCE
Are you aware of this? I know that for me it’s certainly played a HUGE factor in my own perimenopausal experience and weight gain (yes, even fitness coaches and trainers aren’t immune!). I was stunned when I started seeing amounts of fat tissue building up all over my body notably arms and belly as I approached 50.
And now that it’s there it’s much more challenging to lose, but like things worth having a slow process is better than no change at all.
When these midlife hormones change but we don’t make lifestyle changes in reaction to them, or don’t adjust the way we sleep, eat, and move for example, our fat cells can most certainly begin to store the excess estrogen (thanks to diet, stress, lack of sleep and even endocrine disrupting things in our environment).
When this happens, there is more estrogen stored in our fat cells which then takes over our internal physiological environment. As estrogen becomes the dominant hormone with the liver not clearing all the excess efficiently, the role of progesterone changes too (as estrogen goes up, progesterone down and vice versa).
This is why our liver and gut health is important to weight management as well as glucose (blood sugar) regulation. Thanks to the liver we clear excess estrogens. So, liver and gut supporting nutrition and/or supplements may help in this case*.
3 - MUSCLE LOSS
There’s a strong, undeniable correlation between muscle mass and metabolism. Thus, when we lose muscle, our metabolism is reduced as well.
Skeletal muscle has the BIGGEST effect on our metabolism.
Muscle loss is highest for us during peri/menopause and the rate of muscle loss continues to accelerate when we aren’t sleeping or if we’ve stopped being as active (because of joints, muscle soreness, lack of energy) or if we aren’t resistance training (known as strength training).
Losing muscle means that we don’t ‘burn’ as many calories as we used to be able to. This muscle loss is normal and is a condition called sarcopenia. But just because it’s normal doesn’t mean there aren’t some very powerful things, we can do to help minimize it and slow it down!
If not, however the overall result is a loss of mitochondrial cells (the powerhouse location for fat-burning and energy production in our body).
At a minimum starting to focus on implementing a strength training program (starting with bodyweight 2x a week), restoring a focus on sleep and improving energy along with things like walking for cardiovascular support are integral to begin doing!
4 - VITAMIN D
Declining estrogen levels may cause low vitamin D levels as well which can then contribute to increased fat storage. Our skin is our largest organ and is full of estrogen receptors.
Many women may be at risk of low vitamin D levels and because vitamin D may now be recognized as a hormone, low levels influence other hormones in the body too.
See research “Vitamin D vitamin or hormone” HERE.
Low vitamin D levels can cause hot flashes, and memory loss/brain fog. There can also be more muscle soreness as vitamin D is required in the production of calcium and our bones and muscles require calcium to help them to remain strong.
It’s indeed a powerful hormone for us to be aware of and have our primary physician monitor in peri/menopause. In relationship to melatonin, a sleep hormone, when vitamin D levels are low, our insomnia increases and our mood hormone, serotonin, is reduced.
Serotonin works with dopamine to help our mood and motivation. I’d recommend then to discuss with your doc or naturopathic practitioner to check your vitamin D levels too. Restoring vitamin D and sleep is crucial to your ongoing health and weight.
5 – STRESS
We may still feel like we’re 20 but are body and internal organs are aging, nonetheless. And with that, our ability to withstand and resist stress as well as we used to can be reduced as well, as can our blood pressure, heart rate and temperature go up more readily when we are feeling stressed and overwhelmed if we continue to lead overwhelmingly busy lives.
My main tip is: RESTORE BEFORE MORE
Some stress is good for us and some stress is positive, like exercise however in perimenopause too much stress (and this includes from not sleeping and/ or too much exercise) increases cortisol levels and it can also be a culmination of years of ignoring our need to rest and recover.
The time to STOP glamorizing being busy is now ladies. There’s no way to put it gently.
The powerful hormone cortisol is one of our stress hormones also working with melatonin, our “sleep” hormone.
Too much allostatic stress (stress from all things, including emotionally physically, mentally, spiritually, socially etc.) interferes with sleep, liver health and gut health. All these factors combined contribute to insulin levels staying high and shut down of FAT burning!
It’s a vicious cycle as so many women find frustrating if they don’t know how to break it.
✖️Changing gut health, poor nutrition (or lack of minerals/vitamins from food)
✖️Loss of elasticity in blood vessels
✖️Sore, achy joints
✖️Stress overload from all areas juggling too many plates in the air day after day, month after month
All these factors combine together to help create a so-called ‘perfect storm’ for weight gain and turning off fat loss during perimenopause... thus also creating lowered energy and metabolic disturbance, possibly even down the road disease.
The good news?
Combining a knowledge of where your stressors are, learning to say no and delegate, prioritizing sleep and strength training and having a support system can work wonders in helping you manage perimenopause and experience it as a joy and wisdom filled part of your life!
Don't have the energy to workout even though you know you should do something? Start with some of the lifestyle changes first and as sleep and energy improve layer in the exercise side.
Looking for a simple, fit into your schedule, hormone happy and non intimidating way to get a head start on that strength training to improve your healthy future outcomes? Try my next monthly kickstart – you can join for November now! HERE.
I’m also putting on a Kick Sugar workshop which could literally be invaluable to helping you manage and regain more normalized insulin/blood sugar levels to help your efforts in turning ON fat loss around the waistline.
--> Can't attend live on October 18th? NO PROBLEM! Sign up anyways as it's the only way you'll receive your own copy of the full recorded workshop AND all of the bonus handouts material to keep!
If you haven't yet, please feel free to watch my free 3 part series on Hormones & "How to Lose Belly Fat" HERE.
May God bless you and keep you in health and joy,