Battle the Bulge and Win!
Women in their 40s, 50s and beyond are often greeted with a host of unpleasant menopausal symptoms, but perhaps none is as unwelcome as the dreaded “menopot.” Haven’t heard that one before? Perhaps you’ll know it better by its other name: “muffin top.” Still not sure what we’re getting at? Here it is in plain English—it’s the accumulation of belly fat that often accompanies middle age.
“‘Menopot’ is something I’m talking about every day with my patients,” says Virtua obstetrician and gynecologist Kim Bridges-White, MD. “They’ll say, ‘The scale shows the same number, but my pants don’t fit. What gives?’”
There’s a short, easy answer to this question: as we age, our bodies produce less estrogen, and thus, the ratio of male-to-female hormones shifts inside us. Less estrogen means our bodies are receiving signals to store body fat in new ways—most notably around our midsection.
But are we doomed to just deal with it? “Absolutely not,” says Dr. White. “I would never recommend my patients to settle for ‘That’s just the way it is.’”
The truth is there’s a lot you can do to fight the midsection spread of middle age. Here are a few pointers to help you get started.
Make sure you’re eating enough
Crash dieting is never a good solution to any weight problem. “I’ll have patients come in saying, ‘I’ve been eating nothing but lettuce,’ or, ‘All I had today was an apple,’” says Dr. White. “The number of calories a body needs each day varies depending on weight, activity level, and body composition, but a few lettuce leaves are never going to cut it. If you eat fewer calories than your body needs, you may actually be holding onto extra fat. I highly recommend that my patients see a dietitian for a personalized eating plan whenever possible.”
Break out of the “dreadmill” drone
Your exercise routine might need a boost if your customary workouts are not helping you effectively battle your tummy bulge. “Cardiovascular exercise is fantastic,” says Dr. White, “but it’s really for the cardiac and vascular systems of the body. Your heart and lungs may be in great shape, but this won’t necessarily translate into less belly fat.” Forty-five minutes on the treadmill or elliptical machine may be within your comfort zone, but swapping in resistance training, free weights, and/or yoga/Pilates exercises that target “core” muscles may be what’s needed to trim those added inches from your waistline.
Don’t let a tight budget hold you back
Many women are under the impression that they need to spend a lot of money on an expensive gym membership or a personal trainer to get their body back into a youthful shape. On the contrary, a few dollars can easily be stretched into a long-term plan that will produce real results.
At Virtua’s William G. Rohrer Center for HealthFitness, for example, women don't need a monthly membership in order to take advantage of consultations with registered dietitians or athletic trainers. A single consultation can give you enough information to sustain a new approach to eating and exercise for several months’ time, and follow-up appointments a few times each year can ensure you stay on track. Many resistance-training exercises can be performed (for free!) in the comfort of your own home. If feasible, a gym membership just makes it that much easier to access the kind of equipment needed to facilitate a thorough full-body workout.
Stirring the “menopot” requires commitment, to be sure. “These exercises are not always comfortable for all women,” says Dr. White. “And the menopausal shift in hormones is a lifelong thing. Fighting the ‘muffin top’ is going to require a lifelong change in habits. Women often want a silver bullet, some new thing that will work in a few weeks with lasting results. That’s just not realistic.”Ultimately, Dr. White says, “there are different challenges required of us during each of the different decades of our lives.” We need not fear these challenges. There is much women can do to fight the dreaded “muffin top,” and we need only the courage to do our best, and to keep at it.
Updated March 15, 2017