Oh hey there! Pull up a chair and stay for a while, cause we 'bout to dive into the hormonal purgatory that is perimenopause. If you're a woman between the ages of 40-50ish, you know exactly what I'm talking about.
Here's how the usual conversation goes:
"I'm busting my butt in the gym and following my diet to a "T". What the what is this fluff on my belly????"
Here's the good news. If this is you, there's NOTHING wrong with you. It's biology. The hormonal changes that occur during perimenopause ARE a big deal and cause a lot of stress to your body. You're not crazy, you're just realizing how big of a deal losing estrogen really is.
The gradual petering out of our ovaries and estrogen production is called Perimenopause. Estrogen is a big-stinkin'-deal-hormone. It has the capacity to turn on and off your genes. Turning on and off genes has BIG TIME effects on other hormones, and if this process gets screwed up, things can get nuts in a hot minute. No pun intended.
Loss of estrogen is what makes us feel bat poop crazy, gives us hot flashes, and screws with fat distribution in the body (loss of estrogen points fat straight to the belly, hang with me, I'll explain why in a sec). Because estrogen controls so many other processes, when it gets screwed up, all those other processes are affected, putting your body under a lot of stress...so, cortisol (stress hormone) levels start to rise.
Being the incredibly smart machine that it is, your body is hardwired for survival. If your body thinks that you're threatened/stressed, it reacts in order to try to protect itself, beginning with protecting the parts of you that keep you alive. This is why cortisol is released. Cortisol directs fat storage to your abdomen because this is where all of your vital organs live. Your body doesn't know that you're in the 21st century and that you've got food and shelter. When you are super stressed from all directions (perimenopause, exercise, emotions, work, family, husband), your body thinks you're in the desert.
In reality, the side effects of weight gain during perimenopause that we view as unfavorable are really just a sign that your body is doing exactly what it was meant to do: protect itself in times of stress.
How do we lessen these side effects? Here's my two-cents:
1) Do everything you can to de-stress. Exercise is a form of stress, so if you don't want to give that up (especially for those of you who use exercise as therapy), consider prioritizing more time for yourself to relax, even if that means giving up other things that are keeping you running ragged. Tell Stacy "No, I can't." when she invites you to her cousin's baby's gender reveal party bash. And DO NOT FEEL GUILTY FOR IT. Let. It. Go.
2) Diet wise, consider lowering carbohydrates moderately to 25-30% of your daily calorie intake versus 40% and above. This is helpful for belly bloat (carbs bind to water and cause you to hang on to it. Lowering carbs = less water retention = less bloat). Lowering your carbs to this level should not cause you to feel like a zombie. This ain't Atkins. I love a carb.
3) Get plenty of Calcium and start resistance training ASAP. As we get older, our metabolism slows and bones build more slowly than they break down due to loss of estrogen. Muscle protects our bones. Pick up some dumbbells and come work out with me.
Above all, TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF and remember, you're totally normal and it'll be okay.