Welcome to the week of Weighty Matters: a website- and podcast- series devoted to weight-related issues that have popped up among the #motherrunner crowd and seem to have resonated.
In each of the website series, we pose the issue and then offer perspective and tips from an expert. The #motherrunner + the expert will then discuss the situation and thoughts on an Another Mother Runner podcast: the two episodes will air on April 26 and May 3.
Because we don’t want to leave them—or you—hanging we will then follow up with the #motherrunners on posts the week of June 24 and a podcast on June 28 to see how integrating the expert tips + perspective worked for them.
Weighty Matters: The Belly Fat Conundrum from Jennifer
This popped up on the Many Happy Miles Facebook page, and there were plenty of affirmative responses and suggestions, including connecting with Simply Nourished Nutrition's Ellie Kempton, who is our expert for this round.
Anyone struggling with losing belly fat? I am 47, I have reduced calories and carbs-seeing only tiny weight loss! I am trying to find a lifestyle that will help me avoid this constant struggle!
Some athletic background: I have been running for 20 years. I’ve done multiple triathlons, half-marathons, local 5k/10ks and one marathon. In my 30’s I had an extra 10 pounds on my wedding-day weight. Over the last three years, I gained 10 more, then I gained 10 more pounds this last year. It isn’t budging. And it's landed almost all on my belly.
Some physiological background: I wish I knew where I was in menopause cycle. I dabbled in unsuccessful fertility treatments in my 30s, trying to give my only daughter (conceived naturally) a sibling. About five years after we boycotted that mission, my cycle got wonky.
At age 45, hot flashes and night sweats began so I started on estrogen patch and progesterone, and didn’t get my period for two years. Then I started to feel different tired, unfocused, and not like myself, and I found out that my testosterone level was low. So got me some of that. Three weeks later, I was stealing tampons from my daughter’s bathroom. Go figure.
I am discouraged that weight and food seem to ALWAYS be a discussion in my head. I have tried many fad diets; most provided a little weight loss. That said, the combination of constantly trying and decision fatigue has created an exhausting cycle of hunting the new shiny thing—and I’m exhausted too.
THE EXPERT WEIGHS IN:
“The female body is designed with one priority: to preserve fertility. That can be terribly frustrating when you’re 42 and don’t want your belly to be a warm, cozy home,” says Ellie Kempton, MSN, RD, owner of Simply Nourished Nutrition in Denver and creator of Simply Nourished Like a Mother + Metabolic Reset in the Train Like a Mother Club. “Women typically start seeing fat around their bellies when there’s an imbalance between estrogen and progesterone. Compounding the situation, those hormones fluctuate wildly in perimenopause, so it can be like chasing a moving target.”
Here, Ellie shares tips for women like Jennifer who are beyond their child-bearing days and are fed up with extra layers around their midsection:
o Get your sex hormones (estrogen, progesterone, testosterone) tested. That’s always my first recommendation for women over 40 in this situation. Your ob/gyn should prescribe this test, as well as any hormone replacement therapy. Urine is the most accurate way, especially when you time it properly in re: your cycle. Right after you ovulate is the most accurate time; if you’re in peri-menopause or don’t have a reliable cycle, using an ovulation test (found at any drugstore) is a great idea.
o And make testing an annual event. Proactively have your sex hormones tested when you turn 40. If you wait for signs or symptoms of imbalance or repletion, it won’t be too late, but it’ll take more time to solve any issues. In an ideal world, you would take a urine hormone test like the Dutch panel every six to twelve months.
o Evaluate your stress. Hormone therapy can definitely do wonders, but it’s also really important to look at stress levels. Progesterone is heavily impacted by stress and cortisol, its associated hormone. When your body is producing high levels of cortisol—the one that kicks into production when stress kicks in—progesterone levels naturally fall. When they plummet, then the hormone balance is inevitably thrown out of whack.
o Start in the AM. One of the most effective ways, in my opinion, to manage daily stress is to manage your morning. If you’re waking up and the world feels like it’s on fire from the get-go, you pretty much know how the rest of your day is going to go. On the other hand, if you are intentional about your morning routine and tasks, you can streamline that perspective into the rest of your day. Check out My Morning Routine for some inspiration.
o Take an inventory—and breathe. Another way to lower stress levels? Sit down and make a stress inventory. What raises your cortisol levels the most? It is an overfull email inbox? Your communication with school? Your responsibilities for an aging parent? Think about what you can do to manage that situation, whether it’s changing everything about it or simply your approach to it. Simply making time for a short meditation or body scan (I like the free one on Insight Timer) prior to approaching a stressful task can make a noticeable difference.
o Bring exercise into the inventory. Exercise also raises your cortisol levels. I’m not saying don’t exercise—I know that’s sacrilege to say around these parts, and movement is a vital part of physical and mental health. Instead, I’m asking you to be aware of how intensely you exercise on a daily basis. If you are running every day, consider subbing in a gentle yoga class, a walk, or a rest day for a run or two.
o Decrease your exposure to estrogen. As women enter into menopause, they tend to be estrogen dominant simply because stress depletes progesterone and boosts estrogen. One simple way to mitigate this imbalance is by cautiously choosing your dairy sources, seeing as dairy is a potent source of estrogen.
Look for dairy alternatives like almond milk or cashew yogurt. Please know: I’m not advocating to forgo dairy completely, but rather choosing it intentionally: sample a great cheese platter with friends or enjoy a delicious ice cream cone. Worried about the missing calcium and other nutrients dairy provides? Don’t. Instead, up your consumption of leafy greens, and especially spinach, which offer a one-two punch of calcium and vitamins and minerals for female vitality.
o X it out. Similarly, look at your exposure to xenoestrogens, which are foreign sources of estrogen found in plastics, hair products, cosmetics and cleaning products. Looking for simple products—ingredients you can pronounce and recognize—is the best call. (And an easy lemon and vinegar cleaning solution? One of my favorites.)
o Don’t forgo carbs. Carbs a vital macronutrient—but unpackage them to minimize sugar and maximize the nutrition they offer. Unpackage means they’re minimally processed, and generally not in a wrapper. Consider potatoes over potato chips; fruit instead of fruit loops; roasted chickpeas instead of crackers. Bonus: Unlike a bag of chips, it’s also much harder to overconsume unpackaged carbs.
o Finally, realize that honing a sculpted six-pack is a full-time job. You can definitely manage belly fat, but as you do, also try your best to keep a grateful perspective of how much your body has done for you—and how much it continues to do on a daily basis.